Music biographies are two a penny – literally, in some dreadful cases. I’ve read a handful of them over the years, and have some still on my list to go through. More often than not they suffer from slack research, limited access to the artists, or a lack of critical distance – I still shudder at the gushing and poorly-disguised hagiography I encountered in a Kate Bush biography read in the nineties. Urgh.
Simon Price’s Everything (a book about Manic Street Preachers) is an exception, however. Price, a Welshman, music journalist of considerable voice and confessed fan seems the ideal author for an act that poised itself in the media at every opportunity from early on; yet suffused as they were with their own manifold, often intellectual and sometimes conflicting messages (Nicky Wire, Price reminds us often, gleefully claimed the band’s right to contradict themselves at will), the fledgling Manics at least needed an understanding music press to deliver their voice. Inflammatory outbursts and shocking photo ops were what the band were known for, but Price sensibly deconstructs Richey’s ‘4 REAL’ self-mutilation and Wire’s frequent crowd-baiting jibes to align both with what he sees as a sophisticated and methodical attempt at broad communication in, it could be added, a media world that still relied on paper, radio and television as its delivery vehicles. Not to mention live performance – the number of concerts Price reports , often seemingly from first hand, is astonishing, and tell a story in themselves; from small-audience early outings in provincial wales, through to a dogged attempt at conquering London and the greater cities, Europe and Asia, and reliably, doomed assaults on a US market. It’s a well-researched and diverting read.
Through this we deal with Price’s initial fervour, his dogged pursuit of the band and all-in fan adulation, his one-on-one interviews with Wire and Edwards, and ultimately his growing disillusionment with the group post-disappearance, post-Everything Must Go. Price’s status as something of a fan confidante as well as a fan himself gives the book a genuine and intimate air, particularly so in the closing chapters of the unfortunate Richey, to whom (along with Nicky Wire) Price gravitates. Throughout the book are essays by price concerning aspects of the band (its lack f US success, their Welshness, their ‘rock’ approach) and its individual members. Wire and Edwards are the clear winners here, each given the lion’s share while James Dean Bradfield is probed from a distance, offering little to counteract his reputation for distance and prickliness itself, and as for Sean Moore, you’ll read of his boyishness, his love of DIY and spending and the occasional nod to his reticence overall, but there’s no mystery plumbed here.
What mystery is plumbed is the nature and disappearance of Richey Edwards – a significant portion of the book which I read over a two-hour car trip and once through, sighed with relief. It’s heavy-going, and Price deserves credit for his balanced approach to the details behind the case, even though the author later reportedly urged fans not to buy the book due to its publishers withholding some of his criticism of the police’s investigation.
But perhaps it’s more a case that the story lies with Richey in chief – his disappearance occurs around the three-quarters mark, and Price’s impression of the band, which becomes more evident and singular as the book progresses. Small asides at the Manics’ seemingly-undeserving contemporaries – the dreary Radiohead, the pretentious Blur, the boorish Oasis and appalling Levellers; Stone Roses are described ironically as “a Led Zeppelin tribute band from Manchester”, and U2 a “conceptual rock band” (a fair point given their mid-Nineties creative slump.) Price’s bias towards early Manic Street Preachers is voiced quietly, tacitly, but it’s there towards the book’s end, the gentle condemnation of a band who the author sees as having abandoned their youthful anger and righteousness for a rock and roll millionaire lifestyle which wouldn’t trouble Guns N Roses with its scandal. Price seems to westle with the task of reminding the reader (and himself) that the successes of EMG and especially This Is My Truth are earned and deserved – clearly there is regret that Richey was not around to share in them, and it’s not a point which Price sticks on for long; but it’s clear to me that the division felt by a good many fans between ‘old’ Manics and ‘new’ Manics is felt by the author too – especially in the proprietorial closing chapters where the newer ‘casual’ fans are castigated for their blundering into an established act’s history on the strength of a best-selling single; Price asking “where were you in 92?” The answer isn’t needed - the question is redundant.
But at the end of the day, this is a splendid book, and by the last pages it’s plain to see there won’t be a follow-up. Rice effectively dusts his hands of the post-Richey Manics in the politest way, challenging them to make good on their early promise of mass appeal, mass influence. Personally, the ten years since this book and This is My Truth (given pretty short shrift compared to its predecessors) reveal the ground the band have and haven’t covered in the interim - in short, they grow, they mature, and they change, to the distress of some fans, while accruing new ones. You’ll not find a better record of the early days than this, at least not until the band themselves take pen in hand.