All the gigs of my life: Gig 63 – Manic Street Preachers, Monday, December 16, 2002, Cardiff International Arena

This was the final night of the Manics’ Forever Delayed tour in December 2002. And it just happened to be one of the best nights of my life.

‘How do I begin? Do I trawl through the day’s events, the loveliness of being back in Cardiff, the gaggle of boa’n’tiara’d fans already at the arena when I collected my ticket at 12.30pm, my killing-time trek thru the glorious, mad castle in the afternoon, then chilling out in my spacious modern hotel room hearing “Found That Soul” being soundchecked in the arena opposite?

Or do I go right in and say that this was the best night of my life??

You can tell from my ticket stub that this was not an ordinary gig experience for me. I’d never been one for hanging about outside venues to meet the bands after a show – mostly because of the need to leg it to the last tube home. But here I was in Cardiff, on a last minute trip I’d arranged just six days previously, suffering the post-gig depression after my last Manics gig at the Brixton Academy. And the stars aligned for me in every way for this gig: from my supervisor colluding with me to get me the time off work, to finding a hotel room directly across from the arena, to being able to have my first ever Actual Manic Encounter. But we’ll get to that later.

From my diary:

‘Oh I could watch the queue growing from my room on the fifth floor, as I was getting eyeliner’d and glitter’d. Watched it snaking round the back of the building. Had a few Getting ready For Gig Crises actually – first I realised I’d forgotten my hairbrush – no great trauma. Then I realised I’d forgotten my eyeliner. Crisis! Had to pile on the mascara instead. Then my glitter spray ran out before I could do my white jeans, and only had a little bit to spray on my hair. Least I had my shimmering white rollon glitter too.’

Oh, the many trials of the Manics fan!

‘Anyway, at half past sixish, the whole queue had finally disappeared into the venue, so I knew it was time for me to join them. Sauntered across the road and into the CIA. It’s obviously quite a new arena, and at first I feared it would be a bit atmosphere-dampening with its huge white tidiness and screens suspended seemingly in the middle of nothing.

How wrong could I be?

I broke with my Nicky Wire-obsessed gig tradition in a big way this time. ‘I stood James-side!!! I tried both sides actually, as soon as I got in, but since Brixton I’ve been intrigued by the James-side experience and wanted to try it out and besides, I have stood Wire-side at every Manics gig I’ve been to since Reading ’97. A change couldn’t hurt…

Oh lord no.

I was in such an incredible mood that night that I even enjoyed the abysmal support slot from Ian Brown. ‘Well his band were good anyway. He was himself an insufferable prat, spitting at the audience and pouring water over particular crowd members, just being generally childish and imbecilic. He nearly got chucked off the stage – as it was the lights came up during his last song, though he sang on regardless. But still. The one really good thing about his set, was that during it I was able to manoeuvre myself to a really good spot in the 2nd row, behind the barrier throng.

And then it was time for one of the most incredible Manics gigs I’ve ever experienced.

So, well, it was that “Speed of Life” thing and I was already a bit weepy then, watching those images of Manics Frenzies of Yore, just thinking Here I am, watching bits of Manics history unfold, again.’

It was a magnificent gig from the very beginning, with all the slight disappointments of the two London gigs I’d attended remedied. ‘The atmosphere and hyper crowd of Wembley without the dodgy sound, and Wire baring his thighs as God intended.

And from the very first song I knew I’d made the right choice to change my usual Manics gig position.

“Motorcycle” was glorious. It was brilliant being James side, even though he was much further into the middle of the stage than I’d have liked. But to be able to focus directly on him, the driving force of the Manics live experience, was actually quite exciting, a whole different gig experience. You know, I could see the Wire, and he was great. But I did not pine for the Nicky-side.

I think I may be converted.’

This was one of the most powerful and physically intense MSP gigs I’d ever been to. “My god this was a hot and sweaty gig! For the first half or so, ‘til I managed to grab one of the cups of water the security types were handing out (and have most of someone else’s spilt on me), I was in mild trepidation of passing out. “There By The Grace Of God” was welcome relief from crashing about. It’s wonderful live, just a huge tune. James memorably warbled along operatically to its opening keyboard riff. It’s really quite uplifting – punching the air to “with grace we will SUFFER! with grace we shall RECOVER!”

But then, so is screaming “But! I! Found that soul!!!” in a moshing frenzy.

The ‘first huge highlight of many‘ came with the “Holy Bible” track “She Is Suffering”. ‘It’s such an amazing tune live, I can’t understand why they so rarely play it, apart from the usual “Bible” reasons I suppose. Those soaring opening chords spiked with foreboding. It was just amazing.

Then came a snippet of the Guns’n’Roses classic “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and ‘we all sang along as if it were a hidden Manics classic, ‘til it segued so seamlessly into “Motown Junk” I was still singing it as the tune started.‘ Then Nicky encouraged us to ‘shout as loud as possible in the chorus of “Stay Beautiful” as it was being broadcast on Radio 1. We all did but I don’t think they broadcast that tune in the end, for some reason.’ Perhaps it was the very very loud repetitions of “Why don’t you just FUCK OFF!” that punctured the song.

The untouchable moments came hard upon each other. ‘“Despair” ruled, as usual. “Roses”, as at Brixton, James hollered the “Rudi! Rudi! Rudi! Rudi! Rudi’s gonna fail!!” line, which was fantastic, believe me. And “Forever Delayed” is just a wonderful, epic’n’huge live tune.’

As the gig went on into more melancholy, reflective songs, each suffused with memories of how much the Manics had meant to me for the previous decade, I became, well, a bit emotional.

The “Last Christmas” intro is gorgeous, oh yeah. But “The Everlasting” was just something else tonight, just powerful, beautiful, or maybe it was just because, at a quiet moment during the second chorus, I perceived James to be looking at my part of the throng, indeed he seemed to be looking directly at me, whichever it was, no-one around me had their arms up at that point, but I put mine up, in that way you do, when you’re at a brilliant gig, and James seemed to smile and nod slightly in acknowledgement… Perhaps that’s why “The Everlasting” had me a bit weepy for the 2nd time that night.’

In that state, and after the ‘eternally ecstatic‘ “Everything Must Go”, I feared I’d be done in completely by “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” when it came up towards the end of the set.

‘But I was not, despite its moving hugeness. I can’t really describe how moving it was when James, after a tumultuous “You Love Us” sung from the front of the stage, thanked us all by saying, “thank you from me, thank you from Nicky, thank you from Sean, thank you from Richey.” But naturally, what really did me in was “A Design For Life”, James upon the speaker stack directly in front of me now. It was just a perfect, perfect moment, just unbelievable, so powerful, so there, so everything. Bloody hell did I not want it to end.

And despite having been in James-worship mode for the evening, I had one moment of Nicky appreciation at the very end.

Final, fantastic moment before they disappeared: Nicky, displaying his skipping prowess once again with a lovely shiny pink skipping rope.’

So, it was time to return to reality. But I wasn’t ready. Not quite yet.

‘I kind of wandered-staggered away, slowly, bit of a daze really. Went to merch and bought some badges.

Then I wandered out. Wandered round the arena. Round and round ‘til I found myself amongst a crowd of fanatical glitterkids, well two crowds actually, one at either side of the arena’s exit, both held back with barriers. I thought, I’ll just wait and see what happens. In the freezing cold. With only a jumper over my tiny “Little Baby Nothing” t-shirt.

For once in my gigging life, I didn’t have to worry about getting home, as I was just a few steps away from my hotel room. And I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to maybe, finally, say hello to the boys who meant so much to me. Especially after such a brilliant, life-affirming, heart-exploding gig as this.

And I didn’t have too long to wait to see one of the boys! ‘After about half an hour: out walked Nicky! He signed autographs and chatted to the other side of the throng. We waited patiently for him to come to our side. He did not. He buggered off.’

Ah well. Maybe the other boys would be out soon!

‘An hour passes…

Ian Brown larking about in a limo

Arguments erupt over fan attitude to Ian Brown

Huddled bend double with cold…’

Some time after midnight, I decided I’d had enough. ‘I was just turning to retreat to the hotel when I heard cheers so I returned to my place. And Sean appeared! I was too numb and shivery to do anything but look at him at this stage. He did come to our side first though. And the other side amusingly began to sing “there by the grace of Sean…” He’s so tiny!!!

So. Two boys down, one to go. I wasn’t going anywhere now. ‘Frozen to bits by now, but I knew that James had to come out at some point, and it was him that I was most anxious to see. I just repeated a mantra of “I’ve come this far, I’m not giving up!” over and over in my mind. And I was rewarded.’

Because at around one am, out came James!

‘He did the other side first, sparking fears that he’d also neglect our side. Perhaps that’s why when he’d finished over there, we all shouted “James!” with much urgency. He came to us!! I had my ticket stub ready – that’s all I had on me that he could sign. I was second row, and when he got to the people in front of me, I held the ticket out above their heads. He seemed to take forever (well, too many seconds anyway) with them, and at one point I thought he might bypass me altogether. But no! Finally, he grasped my ticket with one hand while I was still holding it, signed it with the other, and turned to move on.

A sudden It’s now or never! situation was upon me. If I was going to speak to him, it had to be now. I could not emulate the jokey repartee of hardened MSP-meeters near me, who asked if they could go to the aftershow party (“there’s no aftershow party! It’s a myth!” replied James), or telling him he looked like Angel (he’d never heard of it). Still I might have hoped to be more eloquent than I actually was. “James it was brilliant!!” I blurted out. He did not reply for a second – he had moved on after all, and I would not have thought any less of him had he said nothing – after all, it was hardly the most inspirational or original of comments.

But James turned back to look directly at me and say, “Thank you very much, thank you”. Christ! He looked at me! He spoke to me! If I’d had more of my wits about me, I’d have realised that that moment would have been the one in which to say something else to him, but that concept did not occur to me until much later. As it was all I could do was say “thank you!” to him in the tiniest, awe-struck voice which he probably didn’t hear.’

Speaking to James for the first time ever may have, in reality, been tiny little moment, but it meant the world to me, that night.

‘I know it’s such a minuscule conversation, but the way he spoke so sincerely and looked directly at me like he wanted to make sure that I knew what I said had been heard and appreciated – my god it meant so much to me. To even in this tiniest way, express something of how I feel about the Manics to James, and have it acknowledged by him, was untouchable, priceless. Worth every freezing minute. Worth a million of them.’

Here as I sit typing this in 2019, just short of 17 years after that moment, the emotion of it comes flooding back. So much of this blog has been dedicated to expressing what the Manics mean to me – how much of my life has been shaped by them, in big and small ways, and how massively grateful I am, to have had this band in my life. I’ve no idea if James, Nicky or Sean actually read any of it – and why should they? But what I do know for sure, is for a few seconds on that freezing night in 2002, I was able to communicate a tiny fragment of how I feel about the Manics to James Dean Bradfield. And it meant everything to me.

‘So James greeted the rest of the crowd, signed stuff, had photos done, and I just watched him ‘til he left. Then I went back to my hotel room, and cried like a girl for an hour.

And I’m damn proud of it.’

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