A sweltering night of shouting along to Manics rarities whilst squeezed between racks of CDs.
When I look back to 2003, I often think of it as a year of transformation, even if I didn’t realise it at the time. I was enjoying something of a gigging renaissance, going to more gigs that year than I had since I’d first moved to London in 1997. But unbeknownst to me, it would be my last year of youthful musical obsession, and the decade ahead would see my passion for gigs and bands dwindle – temporarily! – to almost nothing, as other interests and distractions took hold.
However, all this was yet to come. In July 2003, I was still very much in Manics Obsession Mode, as evidence by this wall of my room in the hospital staff accommodation where I lived:
Such was my obsession that precisely one week prior to this gig, I’d queued from 6am outside Oxford Street’s flagship HMV store to procure myself a sparkly green wristband to ensure my entry. During this early morning excursion I’d managed to break out of my shell of shyness and make a few new friends amongst the fellow fans that I recognised from the Forever Delayed forum, which was a thriving site full of Manics gossip and friendly discussion.
The week had passed, containing within it the outrageously cheerful singalong gig at the Move festival, on a chilly day when the record-breaking summer temperatures had taken a quick holiday. But on HMV day, the heat was back in force and it was the hottest day of the summer so far. From my diary:
‘I was striding through the sticky grime of Oxford Street to HMV. I hovered outside the front of the shop for a bit, as there seemed to be a suspiciously small queue, until some helpful soul wandered past saying that the queue was actually around the other side of the building.’
When I finally found it I was a bit distressed to see the length of the queue, stretching down Adam and Eve Court. But one of my new friends came to my rescue!
‘I spotted Livvi near the front and went up to say hello and have a quick chat. I was just turning to drag myself to the end of the queue when she said “you can come in here if you want”. Did I ever! Felt a bit guilty but hey, no Manics fan could pass up an offer like that.’
And it was brilliant to find myself amongst a crowd of rabid fans, many of whom I recognised from the forum. ‘Two boys were taking it in turn to strum acoustic versions of Manics songs which the fd crew hollered enthusiastically. It was so much fun, so great to feel a bit of the fd community spirit spilling over into real life. Even if I could not find it in me to chat all that much. Never mind.’
We were due to be let in at 8.30pm, but it was well past that time when the doors finally opened. ‘I wandered in, kind of disoriented, going into this familiar store in an unfamiliar way. But eventually I found myself between two tarpaulin-covered CD racks, staring at the video screen that usually blasts random videos out to the shoppers, now just saying HMV and occasionally showing the assembled obsessives in all our trash glitter glory.’
And this is how we were arranged, in five or so aisles crammed uncomfortably with Manics fans pressed up against the Jools Holland CDs, listening to a playback of “Lipstick Traces”. ‘I was five or so rows from the front but had a decent enough view, in the centre aisle as far Nicky side as I could get in the circumstances. And we waited and waited some more. 9.15 came and went – the time the gig was meant to be over and signing commencing, and in the airless heat it was surely a miracle that no one had passed out by this point.’
But finally, after the many hours of waiting, the time was upon us!
‘The lights dim, the Manics are announced and screams of a hysteria surpassing even that of Move pierce the air. The Manics appear, so very very near, and announce a song they wrote when they were 17: “Strip it Down”! Bloody HELL it was like a surreal dream, seeing the Manics playing in a record store, doing an ancient B-side so proficiently you’d never know it was years since they’d last done it. I mean, it was BRILLIANT! But also, quite weird.‘
Next up was “Prologue to History”, ‘as brilliant as at MOVE – they HAVE to keep this song in their set! The crowd attempt to mosh as much as is possible in the confined circumstances.‘
The band would go on to play “Prologue To History” after this gig – but not for another 16 years, when they toured the anniversary of “This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours”. I guess good things come to those who wait!
After “Prologue” there was an even greater treat in store for me – one of my all time favourite B-sides from the era I became a Manics fan. ‘Nicky introduced a song that they’d never played live before – one of his favourite lyrics by Richey – called “Donkeys”. Oh my GOD! You would never have known it was the first time they’d done it – it was a flawless gorgeous rendition. By this time I was finding it all a bit too much to take in – I just clung to the barrier at my side, staring, singing along and feeling it was all a bit too unreal.’
As I wrote my diary entry a few days after this gig, I couldn’t quite remember whether it was “Judge Yr’Self” next, or “Mr Carbohydrate”, or “4 Ever Delayed”. ‘But what matter? Whenever it was, I can remember little about “Judge Yourself” and what I remember about “Mr Carbohydrate” is Nicky singing along to almost every word, ‘tis his own personal anthem, after all. And it was wonderful to hear “4ever Delayed” again, bringing back memories of December. ‘
The crowd did their best to go crazy in the somewhat cramped surroundings.
‘My bit of the throng had perhaps fewer arms in the air moments than one might expect, tho’ there was a spirited attempt at re-enacting Move’s shouting-at-Wire frenzies. We got a few grins, a wave I think, but it was all too cramped and chaotic to really tell. It’s a wonder no one passed out, packed so tightly as we were in this airless store. The girl in front of me chucked some flowers to the stage during one song, which to her delight were picked up by the Wire afterwards and attached to his mike (“they’re from me!!!” she hollered.) Ah yes the Wire!’
Yes, it’s now time for my obligatory Nicky Wire Appreciation Moment – except this night James actually took my interest a bit more. ‘Well, he was in camo trews an a khaki t-shirt and damn him, he never took his sunnies off all evening! James therefore, in his white t-shirt, managed to steal away with the prize for Most Attractive Manic of the evening. At one point he quipped, “HMV are only letting us do this gig because they have so many unsold copies of ‘Know Your Enemy’”. ‘
The final stretch of songs was made up of some classic covers. ‘James mutters something about a song with the line “turn around bitch I gotta use for you!” and apologises for the choice of early covers and then “It’s so easy” and a pogo frenzy is attempted by any who still have the energy. And they finish with “Take the skinheads bowling” which I was slightly more familiar with now having listened to Lipstick Traces all day, and sung along a bit and it’s all over far too quickly and we are left standing there, waiting for something to happen next.‘
What happened next was the Manics appearing at the other side of the shop and sitting down at a desk. As I was fairly close to the stage I was now miles away from them, and I figured it would be ages before I got my chance to meet them, but I was wrong!
‘After only a few minutes my bit of the crowd was directed round the front of the throng, down an empty aisle and towards the three waiting Manics! Christ did my stomach do jumps as we moved ever closer to the boys, far too quickly for my nerves. I had my THB booklet out, as well as my Stay beautiful 7” sleeve, tho’ I put that away before I got up to the desk as no one else seemed to have more than one thing and I was just too chicken.’
And here follows my in-depth chronicle of Meeting the Manics.
‘So I got up to the desk and the bloke in front of me is having a leisurely chat to Sean and I’m just looking at the three and suddenly am not nervous at all. Then I am on front of Sean! and I say how fantastic the set was as he signed my CD and he thanks me.’
‘ Then – oh god – in front of Nicky! And I’m watching him take a leisurely swig of his coke! which is very strange. Then he’s signing my booklet and I mutter much the same words as I did to Sean and go to take his photo before hesitating a bit and asking him if I could, which must have seemed kinda silly but hell! Anything to extend my precious seconds with Nicky by the merest fraction. He uttered some languid reply in the affirmative and I did so before moving on to James.’
‘And – you guessed it – thank him for such a brilliant set as he scribbled on my booklet. He was, as in December, all politeness – I was being shuffled away by security almost immediately and was already away from the desk as I was trying to take a photo of him, but he turned towards me as he took the picture before moving on to the next person. And yeah! 15 seconds and it was all over, and I was being directed swiftly out of the building.’
Reflecting on the experience later, I took a sanguine approach.
‘So yeah! It could have been better. I could have said something interesting, had a real conversation. I could have got more things signed, as many of the forum were able to do. Could have asked for a photo with them. But despite all this, I’m not disappointed really. I’m just glad that it happened, and I was there. The most important thing seems to be that I took part, that I went out and did it. Yeah it would be nice to have a special word or comment to remember it by, but reading the excited reports of so many fd-ers who did have some special moments almost makes up for my lack of one. I feel closer to the band in a little way, and more a part of the fan community in a big way. And that is what really matters.’
So, looking back on this event, it seems that what mattered most to me was the sense of community and friendship that being a Manic Street Preachers fan had brought to me, especially through the Forever Delayed forum. And it continues in a small way even to this day, as the forumites comprise a big part of the readership of this very blog. So thank you FD – this one’s for you. May we continue to discuss and dissect, idolise and criticise, and queue at unreasonable hours just to get a decent glimpse of our boys from the crush of the mosh, for as long as we possibly can.