Seeing out my gigging 2004 in the best way possible: a Manic Street Preachers winter tour.
It was a year and a half since I’d last seen the Manics, at Move festival and the HMV signing of summer 2003, and my life had changed drastically in that time. 2004 had been a year marked by a massively busy social life, the likes of which I’d never known before, bringing with it a whirlwind of messy emotions, secrets and lies, and many alcohol-fuelled midnight frolics through the streets of London.
But it was now the end of the year, and it was time to take a breather from my hectic social calendar and delve back into my happy home of the Manics. Once again, a winter tour from the boys was upon us, and this time it was to accompany their astounding latest album “Lifeblood”.
Over the years since it was released, “Lifeblood” has sneaked its way into being my favourite Manics album of all. It has a wintry, icy beauty, full of a sense of melancholy and yearning for things lost mixed with a positive face towards the future, and it matched my life perfectly as 2004 was coming to a close. Nothing encapsulated the mood of the year for me better than the lyrics to “Glasnost”:
“When did life get so complicated? When did life start accelerating?”
At 29 – the very very end of youth – the hope mixed with resignation and resolution in songs like “1985” could not have been more apt, as the Manics sang: “we’ve realised there’s no going back”.
So it was time once again to head out into a wintry December night to witness the Manics live, just as I had done in ’96, ’98, ’99 and ’02. It’s a mark of how much my life had changed since these past tours that, for the first of these two gigs, instead of spending the pre-gig hours applying bucketloads of eyeliner and glitter then sprinting off to the venue early to secure a place at the barrier, I relaxed in the pub with some pals until it was time to head to Wembley. (Just like normal people do! Wonders never cease.) From my diary:
‘Well, never thought I’d see the day where I’d sit casually in a pub with my mates for a couple of drinks before strolling off to a Manics gig, rather than rushing insanely to the venue to get my spot down the front. But, you know, it was a Thursday! Cadogan night! So I had a couple of JD & cokes and hence was completely dying for the loo by the time I got to Wembley.’
Ah, the downside of pre-gig socialising. I do admit that it was for this very reason that I spent most of my youth completely perplexed by the idea that people wanted to drink booze at gigs – I mean, what could be worse than having to sprint to the loo and miss precious minutes of your favourite band??
As I entered the arena, the support band Razorlight were on. I was ‘not overwhelmingly impressed with them, to be honest’, despite the intriguing fact that their stage set featured a ‘nice big lampshade.’
But of course it was My Boys I was there to see, and having spent a tumultuous 18 months since last seeing them, it was wonderful to be back in the world of Manics gigging that I’d belonged in for so many years – though it took a little while to re-acclimatize.
‘The Manics! Back I was in that familiar land of throwing my arms in the air and leaping about to “Faster” and “You Love Us” and all the rest. They started with “1985” and “Faster” and I was nearly out of energy by the end of those two, but I soon found the flow.’
The Manics were in brilliant moods that night. ‘I was second-row Nicky-side, as ever, and he never stopped grinning, ’twas lovely to see.‘ Peak Nicky adoration occurred when he returned after James’s acoustic turn ‘in a glorious seethru leopard mini (and Nicky was looking very pretty indeed, I must say).’
This tour saw some changes to the usual order of Manics setlists, with classics that usually close the show coming in early.
‘”Tolerate” was third in – weird to hear it so early in the set, as with “You Love Us” which came about halfway through.’
Although “Lifeblood” would eventually replace it as my favourite Manics album, I was still at this time very much of the camp that favoured “The Holy Bible” as the Manics’ masterpiece, and was thrilled to hear many tracks from the album which was celebrating its tenth anniversary that year. ‘So many THB tracks! “Yes” and an amazing “Die In The Summertime” and “This Is Yesterday” after the acoustic bit.‘ The lyrical genius of Richey, so evident in all the “Holy Bible” songs, had been also represented in said acoustic bit which was ‘an utterly gorgeous “Small Black Flowers”. ‘
As for the “Lifeblood” tracks, the guitar solo in “The Love Of Richard Nixon” was ‘a highlight‘, and “I Live To Fall Asleep” was ‘brilliant to hear, being as it is one of the most beautiful songs in the universe. They had to stop and restart it half way through as someone had fainted in the mosh.‘
And that is all I wrote about this, my first gig on the “Lifeblood” tour, and the only date of that tour in London. But I was still young and excitable enough – just – that I’d booked myself a trip to Manchester the following week to catch another show…
…and then failed entirely to write anything about it in my diary. I don’t even have the ticket stub – I imagine it was taken away from me at Manchester Arena. All I have in my diary from this second gig is the poem that the Manics had displayed during their pre-show montage – “Love Poem” by Elizabeth Jennings – which had moved me so much that I’d subsequently googled the few lines I could remember and printed out a copy of it.
I did write a sentence about the poem, however – saying that it was ‘cutting very close to something inside me at the moment‘, before concluding: ‘Been a weird week.’
And indeed, it had been, but not because of the Manics. I’d been edging towards commencing what would eventually become a monumentally messy affair with the colleague I wrote about in this post, and it turned out that even for a scruffy, music-obsessed girl like me, affairs of the heart obliterated any urge I might have had to record intricate details of my latest Manics gig.
So, sadly, I have very little to recall about the Manchester gig, which would be the last time I’d see the Manics outside of London until 2017. More significantly, it was also the last gig I went to in my 20s, and a decade of my life was about to begin when music took a back seat in my obsessions, beaten down by Real Life endeavours like moving home, going back to university (again!) and, yes, a few ill-fated romantic pursuits.
But then, maybe it’s actually fitting that my only record of this gig is of the poem that I discovered during it. The Manics are very probably the only band that comes with a reading list, and nothing is more true to the nature of the Manics fan than being inspired to new literary discoveries by the band. So I’m glad that, at the very end of my twenties, and despite all the changes going on in my life, I was still, to my very core, a true Manics fan.