by Vanessa Thorpe, arts and media correspondent
In revealing interview to mark 20th anniversary of The Holy Bible, the last album Edwards worked on, the band say it was difficult to admit how desperate the guitarist was.
Almost 20 years after the tragic and mysterious disappearance of guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards, the remaining three members of Manic Street Preachers have spoken publicly of their joint inability to admit how desperate Edwards was and have steeled themselves to once more play all the tracks from their third, critically acclaimed album, the last before Edwards, their schoolfriend, disappeared.
"I probably blanked it out," said bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire, speaking to the BBC's John Wilson for Radio 4's Mastertapes programme on Monday. "We told ourselves he was writing about these dark things in a journalistic kind of way, writing from the point of view of an anorexic, and so much of our stuff was loaded in that way."
The grimly intense songs that made The Holy Bible a landmark in the history of alienated rock music tackled issues that haunted Edwards: self-harm, anorexia, prostitution and the Holocaust. But the Welsh band's lead vocalist, James Dean Bradfield, agreed it had been easier to assume that Edwards was simply imagining the pain of others in his songs: "I thought he was being a bit more vicarious about it all than he was. I didn't assume it was all about him. It is a very nihilistic album, infused with intent and ideas and observations. We did see a lot of dark introspection there, but he was looking outwards as well."
As they wrote the album (which had the original alternative title of The Poetry of Death, Wire reveals) it seemed as if Edwards was on a creative high.
"He was reaching some sort of peak of intelligence," said Wire, explaining the band's reaction to Edwards's high rate of production and the fresh literary references tumbling into his lyrics. "He was reading so much stuff, and this was the pre-digital age, that we couldn't keep up with him. Some of his lyrics are like brilliant bits of prose."
During the recent radio recording session at the BBC's Maida Vale studio, the band also recalled the powerful impact of visits they made to the Nazi concentration camps Dachau and Belsen before recording The Holy Bible. It was clear to them that the album was going to examine "the cruelty of humanity filtered through Richey's amazing intellect". The bleak song Faster, which was to reach number 16 in the British charts despite its pessimistic tone, was the last lyric written by both Wire and Edwards. "It was the last time we swapped lines of lyrics together as we wrote," said Wire.
Asked about the day before Edwards disappeared, leaving his London hotel room secretly one morning and later discarding his car at the Severn Bridge, Wire said: "I prefer to block it out to be honest with you. Once I knew he was missing there was a mixture of extreme panic and a nagging feeling that there was something wrong."
A few weeks after a series of anarchic gigs at the London Astoria in December 1994, Bradfield had been supposed to travel to America with Edwards, but he disappeared. Bradfield spoke of his early attempts to find him. "I was in the hotel and had to go and knock on the door. I got a porter to let us in," he said.
Wire said the question the band is most regularly asked about Edwards concerns "finding closure" but, he explained, this is not something he particularly wants. "Richey was a son and a brother as well."
He had not seriously considered giving up the band, Wire added, and writing the hit single A Design For Life had kept him going.
Edwards, who is thought to have taken his own life, was legally presumed dead by court order in 2008.
The band will release a 20th anniversary edition of The Holy Bible and perform gigs across the country next month.
[Originally published: The Guardian, 16 November 2014]