by Jason Arnopp
February 1, 2000 marks the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of Manic Street Preachers guitarist Richey Edwards. Over the next pages, Kerrang! pays tribute to the man who walked out of London's Embassy Hotel and into the wilderness...
First and last impressions of a person apparently sink the deepest. Looking back over the four years which Richey Edwards spent in the public eye, this theory rings particularly true.
In May 1991, the country got its first shot of Richey Edwards, both in terms of photography and rousing shock value. The guitarist in a new band called Manic Street Preachers, the diminutive Welshman startled journalist Steve Lamacq by unflinchingly carving 4 Real into his forearm after a confrontational interview where the Manics' authenticity had been questioned. The resulting photograph, with an impassive Richey staring at the camera as those vivid gashes glistened horribly, would prove to be the most enduring image of him. For better or for worse.
On February 1, 1995, Richey disappeared from London's Embassy Hotel and instantly fed the mainstream media their most sensationalist rock star drama since Kurt Cobain's suicide the previous April. In the coming weeks and months, Richey's face stared out from newspaper pages beneath such tacky headlines as 'Is Richey The Wild Rebel Of Rock Alive Or Dead?', 'Can Rock Lyrics Kill?', 'Suicide Fear As Rock Star's Car Is Found' and 'Mystery Of The Pop Star Who Vanished On The Brink Of Fame'. All of which were delivered with a callous disregard for Richey's bandmates (James Dean Bradfield, Sean Moore and Nicky Wire), his family and friends.
Fourteen months later, when the remaining three Manics scored their biggest hit with the anthemic 'A Design For Life' in April 1996, Richey Edwards' place in the general public's consciousness was cemented. To the hordes of new mainstream fans attracted by endless daytime radio play, Richey was a symbol of self-mutilation and depression.An almost incidental figure who had disappeared into a wilderness of his own making. To the band's longtime devotees, however, Richey was regarded with an almost evangelical zeal, and became a totem of the Manics' former purity, intelligence and virulence.
The Manics' new-found, self-confessed "men at C&A" image also highlighted the fact that, with Richey's disappearance, the band's sense of swaggering rock 'n' roll glamour had also evaporated. In its place stood an even greater need to make music that mattered.
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Richey Edwards was clearly a man with problems - a fact which you can largely attribute to his razor-sharp mind thinking intensely about every aspect of life, good or bad. Yet his depressive genius was strongly tempered by a wicked sense of humour and omnipresent grin.
The first time I met Richey was in the summer of '93 when he came into the Kerrang! office, alone, to review the singles. Hardly resembling the glamourous rock star, he wore a white T-shirt and round shades. In the coldness of print, his damning one-liners could appear so caustic that you'd imagine he spat them out in a rage, but in reality his voice was so low you had to crank the interview tape up to hear him properly. Again, that little grin accompanied his every word - especially when he knew he was being vicious, amusing or, more likely, both. At that time, Richey knew what the press wanted and enjoyed tossing them quotes like fish.
It was confirmed when I met Richey for the second time in Tokyo on '93's 'Gold Against The Soul' tour in November of that year. While he kept to himself most nights, preferring to get quietly drunk in his hotel room, on the first night of our stay he came out to a restaurant with the rest of the band and crew. Afterwards, in a games arcade, he chatted away intensely while attempting to win a toy on a grabber machine. Perhaps because of the potent sake we'd consumed, he seemed to be speaking in headlines - missing out connecting words in sentences like 'the' and 'is' - and I could barely understand what he was babbling on about.
He won an elephant and took it back to his hotel room, where his suitcase already bulged with toys and books given to him by adoring fans.
Somehow, this seemed to perfectly illustrate the man's complex and contradictory character. On the one hand he could spit out venomous headlines, while on the other he clearly appreciated the cuddly things in life.
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Quite what prompted Richey Edwards to walk out of the Embassy Hotel on that fateful morning is anybody's guess. In fact, if anyone knows, no one is telling. As the fifth anniversary of his disappearance looms, there are no new clues as to his whereabouts.
It is, of course, easy to resort to cheap melodrama when discussing Richey's disappearance. The most important thing to remember is that, like all the characters in Kerrang!'s world, Richey James Edwards was (and hopefully still is) a human being: he laughed, cried, got drunk, loved dogs and in all likelihood stubbed his toe. He was not simply a posing rock god, or a pretty face in a magazine - he deserves better than to be frozen as a page of grimly-romantic rock mythology. While Richey undoubtedly held a fascination with the cult of dead rock stars, you suspect that he would ultimately agree when Kurt Cobain's mother bitterly labelled it "that stupid club".
What follows, therefore, are a series of recollections from fans, band members and associates which hopefully paint an accurate picture of Richey minus the mythology: the real Richey Edwards...
John Robb (journalist/Gold Blade frontman; wrote first ever Manic Street Preachers cover feature for 'Sounds' magazine in early '91): "The first time I interviewed the Manics was when 'Motown Junk' came out. They used to send me letters and tapes before that. I think Richey was responsible for most of those. People have this idea that Richey was this manic depressive crawled up in the corner, which is totally untrue. He was the one who actually drove the band."
Mark Yrionides (MSP fan from Weybridge, Surrey): "Richey was definitely the main inspiration behind the Manics. I can't stand Nicky Wire. It's Richey's songs and the way he looked that made them special. Whenever I think of the Manics, I think of Richey."
Nicky Wire (bassist, Manic Street Preachers): "Certain people believe that Richey was always locked in his bedroom chopping himself up and drinking. They want to believe that he was perpetually tortured, and any kind of ordinariness they just don't want to see. They'll never believe that Richey and me played cricket for hours on end."
Danny McCormack (Ex-Wildhearts, now in The Yo-Yo's. Supported MSP in '92): "Richey and Nicky were inseparable at one point - you'd never ever see them alone. It was like two big leopard-skin jackets walking towards you I could tell they were a very close band."
Tania Alexander (TV producer/director. Interviewed Richey several times between '91 -'93 and contributed interview footage to MSP TV documentary 'Close Up'): "In the early days Richey had an awful lot to say. It was well-articulated bullshit, basically and Richey enjoyed playing with it. You really sensed he wanted recognition. Although, once he got it, I'm not sure he knew quite what to do with it."
Midori Tsukagoshi (journalist/photographer who worked with the Manics from their 'Motown Junk' days onwards): "Richey made me laugh all the time. When it came to the band or the music, he was very serious, but he wasn't when talking about other things. He just sounded big-headed, as the spokesman for the band because he knows exactly what he wants and he has a very clear vision."
John Robb: "Richey looked you right in the eye when he spoke. Somehow, he was really in your face. It was almost like he'd worked out the interview beforehand. He'd rehearsed it. It was like he had a blueprint on how to be the ultimate rock 'n' roll band. More bands should do that."
Ginger (Ex-Wildhearts frontman, now solo. Supported MSP in '92): "I don't recall Richey speaking much on tour - probably because he couldn't get a decent conversation out of many people on the road. One major part of Richey's character was being hyper-intelligent. Journalists couldn't spar with him on words because he would have made mincemeat out of them."
John Robb: "Richey wasn't a massive extrovert, but he was obsessed with rock 'n' roll. He was a shy guy and it was almost as if rock 'n' roll made him reach out and talk to people. The way he talked was half positive and half with a complete disgust of the music industry."
Ginger: "One of my fondest memories of Richey was the way that, whenever he opened his flight case, it had a 'Learn How To Play Rock Guitar' book in it! They didn't actually put him through the PA in those days - it was just James. So the Manics don't sound much different now, but Richey definitely had the best shapes."
Danny McCormack: "During one of their soundchecks, I thought they were taking the mick. James was pointing at Richey's guitar, showing him what chords to play. Then I realised that Richey really was learning the songs, right there and then."
Gillian Docherty (MSP fan, London): "Everyone said Richey couldn't play, but fans liked him because he had his own style. He was like a glamourous urchin. You also felt he was dangerous because of his intelligence and that's what made people fall in love with him."
John Robb: "The last time I interviewed him was just after 'The Holy Bible' came out. He'd started drinking and he had a bottle of vodka by his bed. He was saying things like, 'I need to drink a bottle of vodka to sleep', and 'I'm an alcoholic now', which I thought was quite strange because most people who are alcoholic don't realise they are."
Paul Elliott (Kerrang! journalist. Interviewed MSP several times): "The last time I bumped into Richey was at a friend's wedding in 1994. He was there with his friend and press officer Gillian Porter. I remember becoming involved in a lengthy argument with him regarding the coverage of rapper Snoop Dogg in the UK music press. I couldn't help feeling that Richey enjoyed playing devil's advocate in the discussion, gently stoking up the argument, although it never became too heated. The discussion ended when a four-year-old girl interrupted us, looking for her mother. This is my last memory of Richey - a rock star you could invite to your wedding. There aren't many of those"
Tania Alexander: "The last time I interviewed Richey I did see a huge deterioration in him. It was shortly after the death of (MSP manager) Philip Hall (in December '93), and Richey just seemed as though he was trying to grin and bear his way through it all. He looked really terrible, but he was still so incredibly polite."
Alexander Deekard (MSP fan from Coalville, Leics): "When I found out Richey had disappeared, I wasn't surprised. He was like Kurt Cobain. He didn't understand why people had to revere him, when all he was doing was writing for himself and from the heart. It seemed he couldn't get to grips with being hailed as a genius and all the adulation, he had to get away."
Nicky Wire: "Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain were the two Richey icons. The Hendrixes and the rest were just decadent. But Kurt and Ian meant to take their own lives - took control. That was more fascinating to Richey."
James Dean Bradfleld (guitarist] vocalist, Manic Street Preachers): "I wouldn't try and put it on the same level as the Cobain thing. Richey's thing was a bit different, although I do think a lot of the press were indulging in knee-jerk armchair psychology."
Midori Tsukagoshi: "I speak about Richey in the present tense because I believe he is still around. I really hope he finds the way he wants to be. He always had a big passion for poetry, but he wrote it for himself and hardly ever showed it to anyone else. I'd love to see him publish a book of his work."
Patrick (MSP fan, London): "I went to see Smash at the former Polytechnic Of North London in '94 and I got very pissed. Richey was there and we were talking bollocks about Wales. He told me I had lovely blue eyes! About a week after he went missing, I was backstage at a Jeff Buckley gig in London. I saw James Dean Bradfield at the bar and he looked so lost, just devastated. I went over and asked if he was alright and he said yes and thanked me. But I had never seen anyone look so shattered and alone."
Ginger: "I do miss Richey, because he was a character. Unfortunately, people on this Isle sometimes aren't missed until it's too late. It would be nice for him to come back - he'll always have a place in my band!"
Alexander Deekard: "I don't think he's dead - that's a bit too over-the-top 'rock star' for him, isn't it? I listen to 'The Holy Bible' every week. It's more relevant now, because popular culture is descending into a shallow McDonalds-style travesty."
Rob Stringer (Epic Records' Managing Director and MSP confidant): "People will remember 'A Design For Life' for years, and really that is the biggest compliment they could ever pay someone like Richey."
Nicky Wire: "At one point we did start to get a few nasty letters and a few people down the front shouting for Richey, but we're going to miss him more than those people ever will. They don't miss him coming round for tea with me and my missus. They miss him as an icon. They'll miss the picture on the wall."
James Dean Bradfield: "There still should be four of us. It was always meant to be four: the two gorgeous wingers, the stalwart in the middle and the drummer."
Danny McCormack: "Richey's a really clever man. Don't just give up on him because if anyone could engineer their own disappearance, it's him."
The world according to Richey Manic.
In his own words...
"We've all imagined we were in a band since the age of 15. We didn't even get our guitars until we were 18!"
"We set out to be as hypocritical as the press. We've read all the lies so we set out to lie as well. We're the most fake band ever."
"We always said that we wanted to make one album, sell 20 million copies, make Michael Jackson look like a peanut and then f**k off. That was an absolute and total lie! It was just a good statement to make at the time."
"When I said I never played much on the first record, everybody started looking for another guitarist behind my amp."
"I can't understand bands who like practising. I'm a pretty sad person, but anybody who practices guitar in their bedroom is a f**king sight sadder than me!"
"We first saw Guns N' Roses on the MTV clip from the Ritz in New York and they were one of the most exciting bands I'd ever seen in my life. They looked so beautiful, and Izzy Stradlin was lust stunning."
"I never find it exciting to go anywhere. You get much more true information from literature than travelling. Like, if I want to know about France, I'll buy the book. I don't know if that makes me a moron."
"I've never had a proper girlfriend. Girls never interested me until I was 21."
"Death metal it just elitist, because no f**ker can understand it! It's hard to react to something like Pantera's 'F**king Hostile'. What the f**k are they on about?"
"LSD is a product of the CIA; they paid the Swiss to develop the drug cos they thought it was a really good way of controlling people's minds."
"I dislike my guitar intensely. I can't even be bothered to smash the f**king thing. It doesn't deserve death."
"We're fed up of all these myths about the British Empire and two World Wars. Nostalgia is offensive."
"Whenever I do something, I like to do it a lot. When I was 13, I did a Shakespeare project that was 859 pages long. Everyone else did six!"
"Loads of bands say they only make records for themselves. Then why the f**k release it?"
"History will be kind to us."
The disappearance and sightings of Richey Manic...
FEBRUARY 1, 1995: On the day he is due to fly to America with James Dean Bradfield for a promotional trip, Richey Edwards walks out of London's Embassy Hotel at 7am. He leaves a packed suitcase in his room.
FEBRUARY 2: The Manics' manager Martin Hall reports Richey missing at Harrow Road police station in London.
FEBRUARY 5: Student David cross claims to have met Richey outside a newsagents at Newport bus station and had a brief conversation with him.
FEBRUARY 7: Taxi driver Anthony Hatherall picks up a young man broadly matching Richey's description outside the King's Hotel in Newport. According to Hatherall, the man lay down on the back seat, kept his head below window level and instructed him to stay off major roads. Hatherall claims he subsequently dropped his passenger off at a service station close to the Severn Bridge. James Dean Bradfield has since dismissed this account as 'mythical'.
FEBRUARY 15: The South Wales Police release a statement publicly announcing that Richey has gone missing and appealing for information as to his whereabouts.
FEBRUARY 17: Police discover Richey's car, a Vauxhall Cavalier, abandoned at Severn view service station near the Severn Bridge. They decide to search the Severn Estuary to ensure that no 'unidentified bodies' have been washed up.
FEBRUARY 22: Richey's father, Graham Edwards, broadcasts a message on Radio 1 imploring his son to phone home.
MAY, 1995: A German friend of Richey's claims to have received a postcard from him dated 'London Feb 3'. He refuses, however, to present the postcard as evidence.
DECEMBER 1995: The screening of LWT's 'Missing At Christmas' programme throws up eight new Richey sightings. Among these are reports of him drinking in a gay pub in Brighton, begging in Liverpool, busking in Cambridgeshire and reading in a Books Etc shop on London's Charing Cross Road.
NOVEMBER 6, 1996: Vyvyan Morris, a part-time lecturer at Neath College, claims to have seen Richey in the Indian resort of Goa. A bar owner and a doctor in Goa both later claim to have also met Richey. Nicky Wire has poured scorn on these 'sightings'. However, the man in charge of investigating the Richey case, PC Michael Cole at Paddington's missing persons desk, told author Simon Price in his Manics book 'Everything': "For what it's worth, I'd say Goa is where he is. Only because so many people, unconnected with each other, have come up with the same sighting. I'd say that would be the best place to look. But we wouldn't have any powers to pursue him here, let alone in India. It is very, very easy to disappear. Obviously, it requires that you have certain support systems. It's very hard to do it otherwise."
[Originally published: Kerrang!, 29 January 2000]