Twenty years ago this month Manic Street Preachers released their landmark third album 'The Holy Bible'. Emily Mackay explains why it will never be forgotten.
Confessional journalism not something I am a fan of, but since my favourite band, Manic Street Preachers, have to spend the next few pages returning to the bad times in order to celebrate the work of their friend and bandmate Richey Edwards on their mighty third album 'The Holy Bible', it's only right I should do the same in order to try and explain why it remains such a powerful record.
I became anorexic just before I turned 14. I moved from Aberdeenshire to England, mostly recovered, a year afterwards. It was then that I chanced upon 'The Holy Bible'. It struck me hard, but not as you might expect. People sometimes think of 'The Holy Bible' as an album for wallowers in teen angst. It's the exact opposite.
Listening to '4st 7lbs', the first song recorded for the record, and one that was informed by Richey Edwards' own experiences of anorexia, was not like being seen, it was like being through. Sympathy, sure, but not the comfortable kind that talks of 'illness'. "This discipline's so rare so please applaud/Just look at the fat scum who pamper me so". Listening to it, harshly cleansing as wire wool, sounds exactly like the moment when you look in the mirror, and rather than admiring how much more fat you've dropped, suddenly realise you look like you're dying. And then you catch your mother's crumpling face in the mirror behind you. So when I say it hit me hard, I mean it hit me like a good hard slap. It sounds like waking up.
I still find it quite hard to listen to nearly two decades later, but then 'The Holy Bible' is a deliberately difficult listen. Not in the sense of 'difficult' that music critics often prize; it doesn't revere abstraction or melancholy. It's difficult because it's a record that studies its authors' own miseries and weaknesses in a hard, cold light, then ranges outward furiously, linking present, personal pain to structures of society and the failures of history, uniting seemingly petty woes with great wrongs, with an invigorating anger. It's a record that says yes, your rage and pain are valid and important, but there is more going on; look up, look sharp. Or, as 'Faster' puts it, "Self-disgust is self-obsession, honey" - a line Richey borrowed from the Manics' press officer's verdict on his own self-loathing.
So 'Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart' furiously alternates between detailing the heinous interventions of US post-war foreign policy and the anodyne positivity of its global dominance of media and pop culture ("Images of perfection, suntan and napalm/Grenada, Haiti, Poland, Nicaragua") as the refrain condemns transatlantic racism: "Conservatives say, 'There ain't no black in the Union Jack'/Democrats say, 'There ain't enough white in the stars and stripes'. 'The Holy Bible' is an album that takes all those things you learned about at school or read about in the news and then shoved to the back of your mind as you lived your life and shouts: Look at this. Look at it. Make the links.
The political and the personal interact with particular power on 'The Holy Bible' when sex is involved, as in the needling, frayed, deadened and deadly sarcastic opener 'Yes'. Richey's fascination with prostitution was linked to his alienation from love, which he often spoke of as a distracting fallacy. Questionable as that view (and, indeed, his paying a young girl for a handjob while on tour in Bangkok) is, his diatribe day-in-the-life of an unwilling, brutalised sex worker dunging out the basement of patriarchal capitalism - "Power produces desire, the weak have none, there's no lust in this coma even for a 50" - still rings horribly true. The only semblance of love or desire on the album is the eerie, weary 'She Is Suffering', a study of the siren power of despair: "A vine that can strangle life from a tree/Carrion surrounding picking on leaves"; the only 'gentle' moment a brief longing for release in 'Die In The Summertime'.
Yet, in an inversion of the navel-gazing melancholia that seemed to pervade popular culture in 1994, particularly following Kurt Cobain's suicide, 'Of Walking Abortion' rails against all our complicity in everyday atrocity: "Fucked up - dunno why - you poor little boy... The massacred innocent blood stains us all/Who's responsible?/You fucking are".
'The Intense Humming Of Evil' stares into the heart of Europe's darkest guilt - the Holocaust - raising the awkward spectre of Churchill's support for eugenics and opposition to social reform: "Churchill no different/Wished the workers bled to a machine". 'Mausoleum', meanwhile, questions if, judging by our behaviour, we can really say we honour the memory of victims of that genocide. 'Archives Of Pain' argues for the death penalty as it recognises the killer urge in us all.
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It barely needs pointing out how relevant the lyrics still are, with Western intervention abroad still causing mass bloodshed, the far-right on the rise in Europe and the UK, racism still rife on either side of the pond. 'The Holy Bible' only seems to grow more relevant, and the only thing that's really changed is that we have the internet now so we can all sign an online petition and then look at funny animals instead of worrying about it.
It's a textbook's worth of furious lessons, but on paper, it doesn't sound much fun to listen to. What turns it from a self-righteous lecture into something genuinely inspiring is the thrill and energy of the music. Post-punk revivals come and go, but few people have ever produced such raw, cold, stark and yet joyous noise. 'Faster', where Richey, his life no longer becoming a landslide, but becoming something bigger than itself, is a kind of avenging angel of working-class intellect ("I an stronger than Mensa... Miller and Mailer, I spat out Plath and Pinter... I am all the things that you regret/A truth that washes, that learned how to spell"). It's brilliant to dance to, with its lunging, sawing guitars and almost gleeful fury. 'PCP', a rejection of linguistic lip service in place of actually acting against injustice has an anthemic, speedy jubilance, stomping all over liberal consensus with indecent enjoyment. (It's perhaps the only song on the album that now needs some context and translation, when today 'political correctness' is merely the bugbear of racist TV presenters and misogynist comedians.) And then there's 'Revol', its grotesque imaginings of the sexual proclivities of tyrants and world leaders driven by a huge, breathless release of a chorus.
It's an album that gives if not exactly something as easy or trite as hope, then an energy just clear of cynicism, something particularly laudable given the mental state of its main architect at the time. Some lyrics, such as 'Of Walking Abortion' and 'Revol' hint at a feverish brain, skirting around the edge of comprehensibility; some of the lyrics Richey left behind when he disappeared early the following year were, as seen on 'Journal For Plague Lovers' and according to Nicky Wire Wire, even denser, more cryptic and heavier. Here, sharp, bright and fully formed blades such as 'Faster' and 'Ifwhiteamerica...' are pulled free of any mental mire.
It's also an album that tends to have an electrifying effect on those who really listen to it, one that sets people reading books, researching, learning, knowing. In their earlier days, the Manics were often derided by contemporaries for flashing slogans, displaying literature and philosophy like a bookshelf that might get you laid, but 'The Holy Bible' is heavy with hard thought, genuine knowledge, and a real fire to make people see. Many Manics fans will attribute their educational choices, their careers, their whole way of thinking to the effect 'The Holy Bible' had on them. There's not many records that can really change people's lives, but this is still one.
From Cardiff's red district to Thailand and oblivion, the Manics give Dan Martin an exclusive blow-by-blow account of their greatest ever album.
Where were your heads at to lead you into making an album like this?
Nicky Wire: "It was a mixture of a really good feeling of regaining self-control and thinking we were gonna be 100 percent truer to ourselves, going back to Cardiff, [recording in a] shitty demo studio. But there was a post-'Gold Against The Soul'  emptiness and a realisation that we hadn't got as big as we thought we would have. There was a kind of empty hole within 'Gold Against The Soul' that needed to be filled."
So a move away from expensive studios and doing the rock-star thing was in order?
NW: "Not so much the rock-star thing. That album had some of the greatest guitar solos ever committed to vinyl! But there was a hollowness. The accusation of there being too much bluster was perhaps accurate."
James Dean Bradfield: "I remember being on holiday down in Bishopstown, towards west Wales. I didn't have a mobile, I was calling the office every other day, asking, 'Anything happening, anything happening?' No festival offers coming in, nothing. I thought, 'This could be the end of the band. Fucking hell, we could be over after two records.' And quickly everybody was feeling like that, Nick and Richey, and then this mission statement appeared: must record in red light district of Cardiff, must forego big name producer, must go home and sleep at parents' house every night. And that's what we did! And it did feel great straight away. I'd just been dumped by my girlfriend, I remember the first song we did was '4st 7lb', and... I felt there was tension and there was pressure, but it just felt good straight away. I felt alive with something again, whereas before that I was just fearing things - the end of the band, being a fuckwit because my girlfriend had dumped me, the world not even wanting us to play some shit festival - and as soon as we stepped in the studio and started doing these songs I felt alive with something I hadn't felt for about six months. It was actually a really strange way of feeling good, all your nerves were on end, but it just felt great."
It was a do-or-die thing?
JDB: "I dunno if it sounds too dramatic but it did feel like that. Nobody at the record label made us feel like that, it was ourselves."
NW: "It's quite strange, Rob Stringer [Columbia Records chairman] recently told us that we were quite close to being dropped; he was the one who kept us. There were three signatures and one of the chiefs said, 'They'll never have the X factor.' But Rob insisted n keeping us. Even through something as dense and grim as ['The Holy Bible' track] 'Archives Of Pain' he could tell that there was something important as well as commercial."
JDB: "We were always aware that we were on a major label and they put out 'The Holy Bible', which has no commercial concessions on it whatsoever - from the artwork to the lyrics to the music. Let's face it, anybody who thinks 'Faster' is a fucking smash hit first single of a campaign is fucking nuts, but we did. And I suppose we'll always recognise that while other people have had bad experiences with major labels, Rob and Sony gave art a chance, I suppose. Gave the artist a chance."
Did you know what you wanted to make?
NW: "We'd all somehow gravitated back to listening to a lot of the crucial records of our lives - [Echo & The Bunnymen's 1981 album] 'Heaven Up Here', I was constantly listening to the Skids, James was listening to Magazine, Sean was listening to PiL. It wasn't a forced record at all, it somehow became really natural. The Apocalypse Now Bunnymen look was in our heads before we even made the record, because we'd tested it out on [1994 EP] 'Life Becoming A Landslide' - we started doing the camo look on the last tour of that. So there was definitely some serious intent. It's hard to explain how tiny the studio was, I mean, it was really small, the kind of office that me and Richey would sit in... A lot of people wouldn't even do their demos in it. But it did have this magical fucking drum room, which sounded great and somehow reacted really well with James' voice. There's something magical on that record vocally..."
Of course it came out on the same day as 'Definitely Maybe' - you couldn't have been further from the zeitgeist.
NW: "It did!"
JDB: "I remember being in a taxi with Richey and we heard 'Supersonic' on the radio for the first time. We all felt a bit bowed by it, in a strange commercial kind of way, didn't we?"
NW: "Yeah, we knew it was the fucking business. And we were in the studio doing ['The Holy Bible' single] 'Revol' when we heard [Blur's] 'Girls & Boys'. And I thought, 'Fuck, we've just written a song about group sex in the Politburo and really the biggest thing out there from an indie band is about going off on holiday to Ibiza. We couldn't be fucking further from the musical explosion than we are now! And I should say that a big influence was visiting the death camps, we did this terrible tour of Germany on 'Gold Against The Soul', Richey was drinking Johnnie Walker, and what did we visit? Dachau, Belsen... It was the maddest thing ever - what do you do on a day off? We had two days off on the whole tour and we visited death camps. And that inform 'Mausoleum' in particular, and 'The Intense Humming Of Evil'.
"Anyway, you could feel the collapse of Europe. Bizarrely there's a lot of European references on 'The Holy Bible', like there is on our current album 'Futurology'."
You've always had an awkward relationship with 'Revol'...
NW: "For a long time we fell out of love with that song."
JDB: "We thought we'd finished 'The Holy Bible' and then two songs came at the end, which were 'This Is Yesterday' and 'Revol', which just goes to show. 'This Is Yesterday' is a lot of people's favourite moment because it has some kind of tenderness, some kind of openness, some kind of oxygen in the structure of the song. And 'Revol' doesn't. And they were the two last songs, written side by side. And I think I fell back in love with 'Revol' because it's one of those songs that actually becomes a tiny bit more relevant as time passes. You can't live in the age of Berlusconi and not actually find a tiny bit of relevance in 'Revol'. That hubris and folly actually feeds into ['Futurology' track] 'Sex Power Love And Money'."
NW: "I'll never forget Richey giving me the lyric. He was just mashed out of his head in Portugal, he was a mess and we weren't on 'til three in the morning in fucking Porto or somewhere. It's one of his finest, I think."
JDB: "Richey foretold bunga bunga parties [disgraced former Italian prime minister Sylvio Berlusconi's group sex parties] before they even existed!"
Can you put yourself in his head? Where does an idea like group sex in the Politburo even come from?
NW: "I think via a kind of highly intellectualised, oversaturated intelligence where Richey's got so much information going on. For him, what's coming out makes perfect sense. It's the classic sign of what you call the true artist I guess, whereas I always worry about how I communicate. Some people think my lyrics are fucking clunky but Richey was always like, 'Well I understand it, so that's enough!' Then you get something so fucking forceful and real and true that... I think they speak their own language, Richey's lyrics. On 'The Holy Bible', in terms of rock music, I think he invented a new lyrical language, which wasn't easy for James to fucking put music to!"
It's considered Richey's record, but how did the division of labour work?
NW: "Well, I'd always been really honest about it and [said that] 75 percent of the lyrics are Richey's. Having now done the reissue for it, rummaging through my archives and notebooks there are probably a few more lyrics from me than I thought. Certainly on 'Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart', 'Of Walking Abortion', 'Mausoleum'. Something like 'She Is Suffering' is purely Richey's lyric, apart from the title. 'This Is Yesterday' was pretty much me, he added a few great lines. I'm happy, fucking hell, most of it I'd never want to take or have taken any credit for it. I'd say it's 30 per cent me, 70 per cent Richey."
Did you write together?
NW: "We'd kind of stopped really, which is a bit sad, but again finding this archive, there are a couple of bits where it's my writing and he's crossed out and dropped the odd line in. So maybe it wasn't as severe as I thought. I found some quite interesting stuff, actually. I think my working title for the album is 'The Poetry Of Death'. Which is even more grim!"
JDB: "Fucking hell, for once you out-grimmed Richey!"
The record is inextricably linked to something very bad. So are you able to look back on that as a happy time in any way?
NW: "Well, the making of it was a really good feeling. The four of us were getting on great, Richey had just bought a flat down the Bay that he was decorating and collaging. I'd just got married and bought a house in the valleys - the joy of having a record player and stuff on my own little terraced house."
JDB: "I was still living with my parents."
NW: "James was the most feverish I've ever seen him work, really. I don't think he ever missed anything before three in the morning."
JDB: "Me and [engineer] Alex Silva would stay behind every night. We'd work with Silva before, he'd recorded [1992 charity single] 'Theme From MASH (Suicide Is Painless)'. We wanted to use somebody local. Local recording engineer for local music! Even though he's about five years than us, he knew the reference points we were talking about because he'd seen those gigs. He'd been with Magazine at gigs. He understood it all and he was just looking for his break, he was looking to move away and get somewhere so he was committed to it too. There was a bit of serendipity. Richey really got on with him as well, so he was a central part of it, it all fell in place. But it was seven-day weeks, we'd take half a Sunday off, that kind of thing."
NW: "The building was so cheap."
JDB: "Everything felt essential. There's only one B-side from 'The Holy Bible'. One: 'Sculpture Of Man'."
NW: "The darkest lyric ever!"
JDB: "That's completely Richey's. But that just shows how bullet-nosed we were. As the crow flies the studio's two minutes' walk over there [gestures]. There was a guy who used to walk round with a big gin blossom nose, he was a poor homeless chap, you know, and he had a bag of glue and he was always asking for 50p. And I saw him up until about 10 years ago, walking round here, and his numbers hadn't gone up with inflation - he was still asking for 50p for glue. That was the backdrop for the recording of the record. And people used to get shagged in the alley where the studio was, because it was where all the pimps used to do all their work. It really was grim, it was fucking grim! And I was getting a taxi home every night. Once every two weeks I think I was allowed a room in the Marriott Hotel. It was actually brilliant because it felt like we'd again committed to a vision of something, and in my mad raging adolescent world then it felt like method acting."
NW: "I'm trying to think if we had a car..."
JDB: "We did, Richey used to pick me up."
NW: "Oh yeah, I'm trying to think... He'd pick you up, but for some reason I wasn't on the route, so I'd get the bus from Wattsville to Newport and then get the train. It was freezing cold, it was a really cold winter, I had a football manager, Brian Clough-style sheepskin coat."
JDB: "I had a really bad donkey jacket."
But you were getting off on the whole bleakness of the scenario?
NW: "We were, but like I say, we were all getting on really well, Richey was in great spirits because he had his little typewriter set up, Sean had bought a primitive sampler. Sean was like a fucking jazz machine as well, the drumming on that record is out of this world. 'Ifwhiteamerica...', I'd never heard anything like that. And he was happy because he loves putting a fucking uniform on and being mean and grumpy at the best of times!"
JDB: "Once he'd found his United Nations beret he was fucking ready for it."
NW: "He couldn't wait to fucking just buy tons of badges and lapels. Everywhere we'd go around Britain we'd raid the army and navy surplus stores."
JDB: "The best one we found was in Hull."
NW: "Oh, it was fucking amazing!"
JDB: "And it just felt so simple. Once you know you've got a look as a band it feels so simple, it's such a relief to have that militaristic thing going on. It did seem to tie into the lyrics, obviously there's a lot of post-despotic-era Europe references. It did feel like there were signposts within the symmetry of the look, the lyrics, what we'd experienced prior to the recording of it."
NW: "We went to the NME Awards because we were given Best Radio Session for ['The Holy Bible' single] 'She Is Suffering', it was a Lamacq session - it was the height of wall-to-wall Fred Perry, Oasis, Justine and Damon having rows. We went full-military and I've never felt so intimidating and intimidated. Those awards shows in those days were just everyone calling each other a cunt, no recriminations as such, it was just fucking mad. But I remember feeling really fucking on my own."
JDB: "It felt like we were taking the band really, really seriously again. Whereas on 'Gold Against The Soul' we'd do the backing track and then I'd spend half a day doing a solo."
NW: "Half a day?! '(Laughs) Get The Strat! Let's try it with the Strat!'"
JDB: "It felt like a big monolithic slab of stone had just planted itself in the middle of the band and we just had to follow every route. It was good feeling again. It kind of felt like a restart."
NW: "And then all that goodwill kind of collapsed when we went to Thailand [in April], I think. That was when we realised what we'd made and that we had to play it every night. Even though those gigs in Thailand were fucking out of this world... 5,000 people two nights running, a country we'd never been to. Military police hitting people, the hottest, horriblest feeling. You've only got to read [Barbara Ellen's] NME piece, really, it's the best document of a band on the edge."
Richey had his own stuff going on but what was so bleak about it for you two?"
NW: "I just felt increasingly fucking awful in myself, let alone the worry of Richey as well. There was something about that whole tour that unleashed a symptom that felt incurable to me. And I felt it as soon as I got home. When we'd been making it, it was our fucking private universe. But then unleashing that onto the world - I think 'Faster' came out the week after that, I remember hearing it on the radio and thinking... that sounds odd. From then on it just felt like a long summer of calamity. Things starting falling apart."
You mentioned method acting... how does one put oneself inside the head of an anorexic teenage girl?"
JDB: "And how does one go about putting oneself in the lyric of 'Yes'? Don't try too hard to be honest! Sometimes I asked questions about the references in the lyrics. I can't pretend to dive headlong into the lyric of 'Yes' and know what's going on all the time, and obviously on 'Die In The Summertime'."
NW: "I think 'Yes' is easier to dive into because it's more of a clarion call, but 'Die In The Summertime' is where you start to feel... slightly uncomfortable being the right words, really."
JDB: "I wouldn't delve too far into those lyrics because I don't think I'd ever come back if I did. But the potency of it, how committed the lyric is, I can't deny sometimes I'd see some of them and be like, are you sure you want to... are you sure that the Brady Bill [the 1993 US Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that implemented background checks on people buying firearms] is that bad? 'Oh it is,' he'd say. He'd stare you in the eye and say, 'Yes, and it needs to be written about, fucking do it'. So sometimes it's just about believing it as much as the author believes it. 'Faster', I felt, was a really good commentary on how accelerated culture was becoming, how there was a collision of sensibilities that could only lead to bad things sometimes. Which again has a bit of prophecy in it, I think. So sometimes it really was not about questioning anything in the lyric but just going along with it because you knew there was this militancy here that would only work if you're 100 per cent committed to it."
So you're in Thailand and the wheels are starting to fall off. Talk us through the chronology of that.
NW: "I think it was Thailand, then would it have been Glastonbury after that? You can [discern our] vividness and and the utter contempt and hatred at that show, you've only got to watch it online to see. I'm not sure why we were all so ridiculously nasty and puerile and spiteful. It makes for great rock'n'roll but you could feel it that whole summer, doing Reading as a three-piece because Richey had been hospitalised. So it kind of goes it stages, really. When did we release 'Revol'? [August 1994] Was that before the album as well? Because 'Faster' was released in fucking June."
JDB: "You may be right. Because [I remember] waiting to see if 'Revol' had sold any more albums and it hadn't! I think in Thailand, there was a bit of a bad feeling among the band - he [gestures at Nicky] was having a bit of a wobble to say the least."
NW: "Well, if you look, I'm actually thinner than Richey in Thailand. I'm six-foot-two, I had this liver problem that wasn't diagnosed at the time, either. Richey was still kind of... we were worried about him, but for someone who had written so unremittingly about disavowing yourself of false gods and false beliefs, etc, and speaking truth, he suddenly became obsessed with getting a girlfriend didn't he, there was a bit of that. Not obsessed with getting a girlfriend, but was he loveable? There were a lot of conversations about that on the bus."
NW: "And about playing guitar - all of a sudden he cared about what he was playing and stuff. Just petty little things really that shouldn't really matter... the idea of being 'stronger than Mensa' just started to deteriorate."
JDB: "It started to taper off a bit. He'd gone off message himself, which worried us a bit."
NW: "And you know, the fact you could see the way the drink was affecting him. It affects you quicker when you get into that alcoholic phase. He looked withered, he looked small as that summer went on. This fucking endless summer of just... we didn't even do that many gigs I don't think. We did Glastonbury, we did Reading, I think we did [Dutch festival] PinkPop as a three-piece when Richey was not well."
How much was he drinking?
JDB: "I dunno if I'd want to put a target on it, but a lot.
NW: "His resistance became low to it as well, it's just that classic alcoholic's thing."
JDB: "Suddenly it went from feeling we were an impenetrable division to it just starting to drift away. Richey started doubting everything, absolutely everything and so suddenly from feeling impregnable and completely indestructible, that just started to fade away completely."
NW: "The more exaggerated and more tabloid and bigger Britpop got, the more fucking internalised and weak and on the edge we started to feel. All those gigs are pretty... the Reading without Richey and wanting to smash everything up, I just stood there looking at the fucking crowd... I don't know where that bravado came from. Because there was no good feeling around, apart from thinking we may have done the best album ever."
JDB: "Usually [when you release an album] you fucking book the back page [advert] of the NME and the first inside cover or whatever. The advert for 'The Holy Bible' was the middle two pages of the NME with all the lyrics, and nothing else. We were realising that the music was completely beholden to the lyrics for once. You've got to buy into that, but once you start doubting it then things can... it really is a miserable experience. It's almost like setting up what a political party's gonna stand for and halfway through you're thinking, 'Fucking hell, dunno if some of this is right.' It's that bad feeling of 'we can't quite deliver the message if we're not all on the same page."
NW: "The tactic for the advert was brilliant as well - 'Well, they'll all be reading it at Reading and want to go and buy the album!' And Rob Stringer was like, 'That's a fucking good idea'."
JDB: "And Rob, the king of fucking unit-shifting, even bought into it."
NW: "It's a long fucking process, we'd finished the album for a long time as well."
JDB: "It was in our pocket for a long time. That's why two other songs got recorded at the end. We'd lived with it for so long that we realised just in time that it wasn't balanced. Well, in its own fucked-up way."
How close were you to quitting at this point? [They mishear the question as being about Richey quitting.]
NW: "Well, when Richey was in the Priory and we did those gigs as a three-piece just to pay the bills and stuff, I can't say he was in brilliant spirits but he was trying to work the programme."
JDB: "And everything was put on the table, you know, you can be like [Saint Etienne's] Bob Stanley, actually be in the band but not be onstage. Didn't wanna say Brian Wilson because, you know, no-one wants to say you can be like Brian Wilson. Or you can just write lyrics and be in the band that way."
NW: "Basically anything you wanna do, or you can fucking leave."
JDB: "We can split up, blah blah blah. Every single option was put on the table and just batted back remorselessly, he just so wanted to be in the band and he wanted to go on tour."
NW: "And that's what he fucking did. We did three massive tours. We did the UK, we did a tour of France with Therapy? and a tour of Europe with Suede and then did the Astoria in London."
The Astoria was where you famously trashed everything.
NW: "That was the worst thing that I can remember personally. There was really high tension and I don't remember [the time] that fondly, really. Apart from the gigs, which were fucking electric, but there was a lot of tension around."
JDB: "It was probably the least we've gotten on, just for those couple of days actually, just the tension. Richey was not nice to be around those couple of days."
NW: "I don't think he realised it."
JDB: "I don't think he was being spiteful at all."
NW: "Sean was particularly fucking angry, spiky, prickly."
JDB: "To smash everything up was just for effect - you know, 'I've had a bad couple of days at work here!' It was literally that, there was no pre-planned, 'Oh, I hope somebody's taking a photo of this', because actually there aren't that many photos."
NW: "It was Pennie Smith and she didn't take many!"
JDB: "We barely even had any gear left that worked after that gig. It was all the good stuff."
NW: "But the tours leading up to that had been alright. Funnily enough the Therapy? tour was kind of enjoyable, nice and comfy and we were playing ['90s games console] Mega CD."
JDB: "I'd gone back into being a complete pisshead again, unfortunately. Sean'd be playing [video games] every night, Richey was actually getting on with Therapy?'s Andy Cairns quite well, they were talking about Foucault and that sort of thing. Although he had some dark moments on that tour, he was engaging with people."
NW: "The Suede tour was a bit harder because it was so long. Someone left my suitcase on the side of the road instead of the bus so I lost my clothes."
JDB: "We'd lost the guitar that most of 'The Holy Bible' was written on."
NW: "Suede were fucking cracking up because Bernard [Butler] had left. It was a good meltdown tour."
JDB: "Pre-Britpop, everything was as miserable as sin, wasn't it? Then Britpop came along and it was like the first fucking era to be about nothing but celebration. You woke up one day and everything's fucking changed!"
NW: "The only bad thing was I remember me and Richey being gutted that we hadn't won album of the year in the NME. I think we were number five or six. Who would have won? Probably Oasis." ['The Holy Bible' was Number Five, 'Definitely Maybe' was Number One.]
JDB: "But you know, contrary to popular belief, most people did genuinely fucking love that album. We went to play at the universities and it was these kids who got a first in English Lit, sort of thing... It was an intense period for people you would call the quintessentially 16, 17-year-old indie heads. But you meet people and they've gone on to live fairly positive lives. It's one of the great reader albums."
Why did you call it 'The Holy Bible'?
NW: "That is the one thing that I thought you might ask and I don't actually know, and I still don't know why. Obviously because it's Richey's fucking... whatever you wanna call it, his tract, but I don't actually think I ever talked to him about why. As soon as he said it, it just felt right. It sounded better that 'The Poetry Of Death'! There was never any discussion about it really, or any kind of controversy. And Rob Stringer came down to the studio and we played him 'Archives Of Pain' and he was shouting 'horses and chains'! He totally wanted us to follow our map, really. I think they refused to release it in Italy at the time because of the title."
JDB: "It was the post-Nirvana age where you could hear the record company just thinking, 'Yeah, this bunch of fuck-ups might just have a chance on college radio!' That guy from [North Carolina hardcore band] Corrosion Of Conformity liked it, that sort of thing."
NW: "There was a lot of crossover into death metal circles, you know. And it was a rock beast, so vital. In a cult, Jane's Addiction way. And we had this huge [US] tour lined up with this band called Sponge. Obviously it never happened, but it felt like they'd remixed it and they were going to give it a push. I never really felt in my heart of hearts that we would go."
You always said that however things had gone, [1996 follow-up] 'Everything Must Go' would have been less aggressive, more melodic?
JDB: "Yeah, basically what happened before Richey went missing was that he gave us those booklets, he was giving us lyrics. Stuff like [third single] 'Kevin Carter' - I wrote the music to it because you could see it, there was a fully formed narrative of somebody's story that you could understand if you were given the background to it. Whereas with 'The Holy Bible' there's just not many songs like that at all. [Album track] 'Small Black Flowers That Grow In The Sky' was coming from that booklet of stuff he'd given us. And again we'd done a demo of that shortly before he went missing and we could feel that there was a humanity there, perhaps, there was a bit more empathy for his subject matter. And so we were going in that direction. But there were other songs there that were divorced from the empathy that 'Kevin Carter' and 'Small Black Flowers...' had. We just couldn't see ourselves carrying on. [Producer] Owen Morris told us he liked 'The Holy Bible' but that it goes too far. And we were aware that to go farther down that road probably would've been caricature. It would've been too bloody-minded for us, personally and artistically. I just didn't wanna write music to '4st 7lb' again. I didn't have the energy for it, I'll freely admit, I just didn't. It was lovely to move away from this airtight space. Just that thing of needing a change, it was as simple as that."
Is it enjoyable to play songs from 'The Holy Bible' now?
NW: "It's taken a long time to make sense live, undoubtedly. Probably the last year or two with stuff like 'Die In the Summertime'... 'Faster' has never been enjoyable. It just doesn't work, unless you're feeling so hateful and strong and empowered. But it's been a long time, so I guess we feel that as a pure piece of art, we can celebrate it in that sense really. It took a long time. I think doing [2011 'farewell' compilation/tour] 'National Treasures' helped a lot. Doing that O2 show it did feel like perhaps we could leave a lot of... not the memories but the fucking baggage behind. It's always good to hear Richey's words playing to 25,000 people at Glastonbury trying to work out what 'Die In The Summertime' is saying. There is a real power in those last words of 'PCP' and everything. Just the desperation in that."
Have you decided whether to mark 'The Holy Bible''s 20th anniversary with shows yet?
JDB: "I dunno. There's a strong urge to play it live, but there's a massive question mark in our heads. I think Sean can fucking do it. I don't wanna speak for Nick, but I just want to know if I can do 'Ifwhiteamerica...', sing all those words to '4st 7lb', 'Mausoleum' - the bridges in that require you to not breathe for 55 seconds on end. For me to get those guitar sounds back, for me to link in with Sean's drumming on 'Ifwhiteamerica...'. Sean could do it tomorrow."
NW: "James has got the biggest ask, really. If we were to do it - and it is a big if - there would be a kind of symmetry. I'd like to look at doing something like the three Astorias. I'd like to do an American tour of it because we never took it to America and Japan. Obviously Richey disappeared so it would be drawing a line under that as well. Playing [this year's] Glastonbury 20 years on feels like... not putting the memory to bed because I loved the first time. But it's a big question mark. Because if we do it and it's shit, that could be the end of us."
JDB: "It's as much on as it is off. The decision will be made downstairs when we plug in and just play those songs and nothing else."
NW: "I think if we can do it [we'll] present it almost as an art installation rather than as a gig."
Anything else to add?
NW: "Just the power of the words, really. Sometimes music is diminished or bands' memories are diminished but there's something about 'The Holy Bible'. Those lyrics are kind of in a pre-digital world. The amount of fucking information and intellect crammed into them, on a portable typewriter. There's just no technology involved, it's just pure fucking... knowledge."
[Originally published: New Musical Express, 16 August 2014]