For months Simon Tucker had been lined up to cover Manic Street Preachers “Holy Bible” show at Cardiff Castle. Ultimately, though, a greater power decreed he couldn’t make it, but luckily for him the gig was being screened on TV, from whose coverage this review is drawn.
Distraught, disappointed, dismayed, disgusted, a whole lot of other words that summed up my feelings when, due to Lemony Snicket, I was unable to attend last night’s Manic Street Preachers concert at Cardiff Castle.
The fact that so many of my close friends and relatives were going to be there made things worse but that was NOTHING compared to the look my wife gave me when she realized that our nonattendance was now inevitable. Now, my disappointment was not down to the fact that I would not be seeing the Manics per se, I’ve already seen them a few times and whilst they remain a great live outfit, I really didn’t need to see them do A Design For Life again, nor was it down to the fact that they would be playing the capital (I’m not really big on nationalism if I’m honest. I love my country, but all that media driven “cool Cymru” guff used to make me gag slightly), no, what was really hard to stomach was the fact that the band would be playing the imperious The Holy Bible … in full … in a castle. I mean, how gloriously subversive is that? Poetic musings on holocaust, crystalline missives on anorexia, and brutal opinions on capital punishment, cascading through the grounds of an 11th century medieval castle … perfection. Unfortunately I was not going to be there though. “Nothing turns out like you want it to” indeed.
It’s fairly safe to say I am a massive fan of THB. One of the greatest albums to come from Wales, THB is a dark, dripping masterpiece that claws into you and lingers for the rest of your life. It read like Poe, but played like rock and it still has a lot to say, touching a raw nerve during these times of war and austerity. Crestfallen, I resigned myself to the fact I will never see this slab of death-art performed live. But then…
“The BBC are showing the Manics gig this Friday.”
Wait what? You serious? With these words my wife had managed to salvage some of our optimism and had given us at least a slight moment of relief as we realised that we were indeed going to be able to witness this moment – albeit from our living rooms. This was to be high coup for the BBC and the world of music television in particular as the days of great music TV are slowly fading into the recesses of memory. Everything about music TV these days is so fucking beige. Later… has become a dull rehashing of itself conforming to conformity, playing it safe, using the same tried (tired) and tested formula every week and not giving us anything exciting. There’s a lot more I can say about Later… but that has been done so well elsewhere that it’s pointless me doing so here and now. The only bastion of good music TV out there is the newly launched, Marc Riley show All Shook Up which is still at the pilot stage really so GO WATCH AND SUPPORT NOW!!! Sorry for shouting there…
The fact the BBC will be airing the show instantly took me back to a time when gigs were constantly being aired on our screens from Live Aid to Queen at Wembley (wait, did all the gigs on TV back then feature Queen??) and beyond, you could often find a gig to enjoy from the comfort of your living room and there is indeed a return to this slowly reemerging albeit via the web as bands stream shows with the best example of this being Mogwai’s incredible set in Bristol’s Colston Hall.
So, after pushing ourselves to the front of the bar (kitchen) and getting the beers in (tea) we settled down for what was surely destined to be a water-cooler moment.
A polite “hello” and an a brief, unnecessary, explanation that we were about to hear THB, and we are falling deep into opener ‘Yes’. Surely this has never happened on TV before? A band launching into a song whose opening line is “For sale, dumb c*nt saying dumb questions” was quite a thrill. Maybe it was not so bad being stuck at home after all.
The band seemed tight yet slightly nervous, but that could be expected and as the cameras panned the audience you could see a lot of disinterested faces. Now maybe this is a bit unfair, as I wasn’t there so can’t really comment on the atmosphere in the venue but my thoughts were reaffirmed by my man on the ground who later text:
“Futurology got a better response than THB. Who’s responsible, you fucking are. That would be my headline.”
Anyway, the Manics then played the taped intro to ‘ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart” which sparked a chorus of boo’s as Thatcher’s name got mentioned before launching into the driving main riff and snap / crack drumming that constitutes the song itself. Again, this was a glorious moment as a song about fucking priests and of morals that “only run skin deep” are not often aired at 9:40pm on a Friday night.
It was at this point that I realized that something was off, something wasn’t right. Ah yes, the problem was I could see EVERYTHING. Now, being someone who has been of a vertically challenged nature all their life, I am used to only seeing the backs of tall persons … well back (I swear they hunt me out just to stand in front of me and don’t even get me started on those selfish clowns that sit on someone’s shoulders. If you’re over 15 and you do this then you deserve every bit of litter that gets thrown at you). I proceeded to fix the issue with the help of my little blue friend (see photo, right). NOW it’s a gig.
Back to the music then and the band delivered a blistering performance of Of Walking Abortion which really showcased the guitar skills and vocal prowess of James Dean Bradfield and then we were treated to She Is Suffering which seemed to wake up many of those in attendance and gave them wanting something to sing-a-long to a moment to join in (personally I would have been singing, badly, along to everything from the get-go).
Then it happened, the band went into Revol and it dawned on me that we were not going to get the full show. Where was Archives of Pain? There would indeed be edits and I started to get concerned that they would cut out my favorite moments from the album. A concern that would later to be proven to be completely justified. Whose decision it was to edit THB section I simply don’t know. Was it the bands or the broadcasters? Was it due to scheduling issues? Either way it felt like an opportunity squandered as the full show should surely have aired especially as it was meant to be the end to the BBC’s inaugural music day, whatever that means.
After Revol, we were shuffle buttoned into Faster (missing out the genius 4st 7lbs and the stuttering post-punk Mausoleum) which is still one of the finest moments in the band’s oeuvre. A sledgehammer song that rapid-fires points of view and incites emotional outrage, Faster is one of those songs that can never be dulled by repeated listens and is still connecting with young and old alike. Outsider music for outsider views, Faster is something you can nail your flag to and use as a shield of armor deflecting those emotional blows that are sent to try us and one which also helps shapes a young persons views on themselves and the world in which we walk. The band are now in full swing and are clicking sweetly. You get the sense that they have now relaxed and are enjoying the fire and brimstone that they are hailing down on the crowds below.
After a few words from Nicky Wire explaining what the song is about (“comfort in tea and chocolate” amongst other things) we are caressed by This Is Yesterday, one of the most beautiful songs in the MSP’s canon.
Unfortunately, the shuffle button is then applied again as we are sent jerking into the album closer P.C.P missing out Die In the Summertime and this writer’s personal favorite THB moment. The Intense Humming of Evil. What the crowd thought about the former I will never know, but to have heard this industrial-swamp song about the Holocaust live would have been “a moment” for yours truly.
During P.C.P I had the unfortunate need for the toilet, and as all gig-goers know, this is a huge dilemma. Will I miss something? Will I find my group again? Will I be stuck at the back? Well I did end missing a whole 20 seconds of P.C.P but I did manage to find my way back to the front of my armchair again, where I also found my group (wife) in their original spot (the sofa).
So that was it, THB was over and after a brief interlude we were now onto the “hits” section of the show. Forgive me at this point as I was now not as much interested in the gig as, like I have previously stated, I have seen the Manics plenty of times and know to expect quality from them. It was, though, nice to see them perform songs from the acclaimed Futurology in amongst the standard hits and I was glad to see said songs get a good reaction from the crowd.
JDB performed the Welsh national anthem quite well, and the band very much enjoyed playing You Love Us (you could feel them throwing off the shackles of expectation and just enjoying what they were playing at this point) but it was this point I made my way to the exit and whilst the crowds fought their way to the (forever) delayed Arriva Trains I was in bed before the final note had finished ringing out. So I guess this watch-gig-on-TV thing isn’t that bad really.
I would LOVE to see more of this kind of thing happening. If broadcasters kept the fact they were airing the show to themselves until a few days before, then ticket sales wouldn’t be damaged so the band’s vital income wouldn’t be affected (though if they have a good manager they could get a nice chunk of money from the broadcasters themselves which would be the correct thing to do) but they simply cannot edit chunks out a show. Many people, like myself, were unable to attend so for us, a live broadcast would be a small glimmer of sunshine in our black regretful selves.
The Manics are continuing this tour and I hope you don’t miss out as to see this album live would be a sumptuous experience, however, if you are indeed going but only plan on enjoying the second half then for shame on you. Go to the gig and let THB cast its dark spell over you. Lose yourself in its reality. Let its message hit home. This is music not for a “lets-get-drunk-and-watch-a-band” scenario, it is a piece of art that demands you pay it the attention it so rightly deserves.
Thanks James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, and Sean Moore for having the foresight to allow this gig to be televised. I really do appreciate it.
This is my truth, now tell me yours….
Manic Street Preachers play Latitude Festival on July 15th and OnBlackeath, London on September 12th.