A rousing, fun, singalong celebration of everything we love about the Manics.
It was summer 2003, and it’s safe to say I was in a pretty great mood. I’d finished the first year of my part-time Psychology Diploma and was now revelling in a freakishly hot summer in which all my time outside of work was free from studying and essay-writing. And on top of that, it was Manics time once again. Following their greatest hits album and tour six months previously, the Manics had now released “Lipstick Traces”, a collection of B-sides and rare tracks, and were off out on a series of festival shows and a signing at HMV.
So a week of Manics-themed festivities was upon me. The Monday before this gig I’d trekked to Oxford Street at the break of dawn, to procure a ticket for the following week’s signing at HMV. And then it was time for a jaunt to Manchester for this most celebratory of gigs. I was very much on a Manics high. From my diary:
‘I got to my hotel around one, and spent a happy and hyper few hours doing my nails, watching telly and stuff, trying to relax a bit but was too wound up, feeling actually quite dizzy and high but felt better after some crisps. Oh I got dressed up, khaki combats, tiny MSP disco tee, khaki shirt, explosion in a glitter factory etc and it was the most outrightly Maniccy I’ve ever looked and quite frankly, I looked fantastic. Militant glam. It’s the look for me.‘
And as I made my way to Old Trafford Cricket Ground, it became very clear that I was not the only one in Manchester that day who was drenched in the glam Manics spirit.
‘So I trammed it to Old Trafford, the cabin heaving with the boa and camo contingent. This was not so much a fest as one big Manics gig, and the crowd seethed with the faithful obsessives. It was a brilliant atmosphere.’
Once in the festival site, it was time to take my spot in the crowd. I’d been converted away from my usual Nicky-side position at my last Manics gig in Cardiff in December 2002, when I’d stood near James instead and had one of the best gigs of my life. But here in Manchester, I quickly reverted to my usual Nicky-worshipping habits.
‘After a brief wander of the cricket ground I made my way to the front Nicky-side! Ah well, old habits die hard. And Nicky was looking so goddamn gorgeous in the recent Glastonbury footage. I just couldn’t help myself really.’
Naturally, there were a few bands to get through before it was Manics Time. Luckily, they were all reasonably good. Teenage Fanclub were ‘sort of pleasantly dull‘ and Super Furry Animals were ‘still a great band‘. And then there were the Flaming Lips.
‘I saw them once before as a prelude to Mansun at Reading ’99. It has to be said, they were brilliant at getting the crowd going. What with their legions dressed up in animal suits bopping away, and chucking massive balloons and confetti into the crowd. The balloons got carried off by the wind very swiftly, and the confetti was just blown back into the band, but still, it was fun. Tunes weren’t bad either.‘
On this unseasonably blustery day, the balloons weren’t the only thing to be carted off by the wind.
‘In this, the hottest summer since the legendary mid-70s, Manics day was a shivering anomaly. I would never have thought it would be possible to be so cold, down the front of a gig. Multi coloured feathers from the myriad boas on display broke free and swirled hopelessly about. My teeth didn’t stop chattering until the Manics came on and the gig burst into blazing life.’
It was not quite 9pm, and still full daylight, when the Manics’ set started. I’d managed to slide my way into a barrier spot during the support bands and I was ready to scream my lungs out for the boys. And so, it seemed, was everyone else in the crowd that evening.
‘Naysmith appeared and squalled a noisy chord on the keyboard – the Heavenly intro to “You Love Us”! A brilliant opening, the crowd redefining the term Up For It, it felt like a huge massive MSP singalong, the crowd drowning out James at times but I didn’t care ‘cos it was so much FUN! Which set the tone for the whole gig really. It may have lacked the emotional intensity of last December’s gigs, but as a joyous celebration of this band we love so much, it couldn’t be beaten.‘
Following this explosive opening, the second song was even more incredible. ‘Dedicated to Simon Price, it was only “Die In The Summertime”. My fave Holy Bible track, the one I thought they’d never play, but there they were, James singing “scratch my leg with a rusty nail…”, those dark, jarring chords ringing out. Truly fantastic.’
You know it’s an unusual Manics gig when I’m this many paragraphs into my diary entry before describing how Nicky Wire was looking that evening!
‘Yeah there they were! James in a khaki t-shirt, Nicky in a camo suit – “leopard skin or khaki camouflage?” he enquired of the throng. God he looked beautiful. The Nicky-side crew were fantastic, screaming and waving and shouting “I love you Nicky!!!” every time he cast the merest glance in our direction, much to his amusement. We got many waves and lovely grins. ‘Twas fantastic fun.‘
This whole night just felt like a wonderful celebration of the Manics and what they meant to us. The greatest hits shows of December may have been a showcase of their mass appeal, but these 2003 shows, speckled with rarities and surprises, felt like they were aimed directly at us, the glitter-drenched, boa-waving MSP obsessives, and it was a glorious thing.
‘Little things I love about being a Manics fan: the way we all sing along with James’s little vocal idiosyncrasies, like the “you gi-iii-iii-i i i – IIVE!!!” in “Motorcycle Emptiness”, which came next, completely ecstatic. It was followed by “Masses Against The Classes”, and respite from joyful mayhem did not arrive ‘til the next tune “Ocean Spray”.‘
One of the highlights of the gig for me was the recently released lost post-Holy Bible track “Judge Yr’Self”, which had quickly become one of my favourite Manics songs and remains so to this day.
‘ “Judge Yr’self” – the greatest Manics single that never was, every line a righteous proclamation to shout whilst punching the air, surely we have claimed it as out new anthem. “Blessed be the blade, blessed be the sighs” Not even released, and the crowd holler along to every word. Genius.‘
The band played some covers which featured on “Lipstick Traces”, “Take The Skinheads Bowling” was ‘much fun especially Nicky’s backing vocals’, and “It’s So Easy” was ‘riotous rawk‘. And there was an acoustic rendition of “Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky” which was ‘utterly gorgeous, and the first time that evening I could actually properly hear James sing rather than the thousands of disciples‘.
And there were even more exciting moments to come, with the most exciting moment for me was one I’d wished for but not really expected to happen. ‘Introduced by Nicky as “one of our favourite b-sides” – mine too – “Prologue To History”! WHAT a storming tune live, those urgent piano chords blasting out in controlled chaos, heart-burstingly exciting. How I hope they keep this in their set forever.’
The thrills continued apace. ‘Oh we got joyous things like “Tristesse”, “Tsunami”, “Everything Must Go”. We got major treats like “This Is Yesterday” in full band, and “Little Baby Nothing” complete with its fiddly intro.’
I was well and truly feeling the Manics love that night.
‘Little things I love about being a Manics fan, again: the way James let us take over some bits of songs: “ever / sorrow / swallow” in ME, “history / memory / happy” in EMG, “in between in between in between IN BETWEEN!!!” in “Tsunami”, and perhaps most joyously and fittingly of all, “You Stole The Sun From My Heart”’s “I love you all the same!!!” For this song, James got down to the second level of the stage, closer to the crowd, with Nicky still towering up on high. A lovely sight.‘
But all good things must come to an end, and this gig ended in typically epic Manics-style. ‘Then there was the band introductions, which I can never remember, but the screams for Nicky were of teen-hormone hysteria levels, and so what could I do but join in? And “Design For Life” to finish. Was it during this last song that Nicky came up to the front of the stage and jumped up and down like the springy beanpole he is? Whenever it was, we of the Nicky collective loved it.‘
And so ended this most thrilling and just downright entertaining Manics gig. At the ancient age of 28, it had been a long time for me since I’d found myself crushed at the barrier of a raucous gig of rawk thrills, and I felt the pain of it the next day, in the best way possible.
‘Oh, it was the return of the bruised ribcage the next day, which made me very happy…’
There’s nothing quite like the experience of being down the front at a gig by your favourite band. ‘Pounding and kicking and kneeing the barrier in time to the music, standing on my toes for entire songs, leaning over as far as I could, to reach out as close as I possibly could to the three glorious boys on stage… and all the while thinking, I’m going to meet them in three days…’
Which I did! But that’s a story for my next post.