Join the Manic Street Preachers on their current emotional roller-coaster. With frontman Richey currently hospitalised for depression, the rest of the band are struggling to put together a UK tour and promote their new album. Sylvia Patterson talks to them. Pictures by Max Doyle.
It was last summer when the Manic Street Preachers first realised that Richey James, their beautiful Bambi-eyed guitarist and lyricist, could be in trouble. The vodka was on the up. The mood was on the down. They "forced him, really," says lead singer and songwriter James Dean Bradfield, into a health farm, once at the start of last summer, once just before last Christmas. He lapsed again almost immediately.
"We never really thought it would go this far, to be honest," says Bradfield, who today is sitting in a north London pub munching on crisps and smoking my fags, to the sound of The Carpenters on the jukebox. "There's a trigger in Richey that he can't control. He doesn't have a second skin; he absorbs everything too easily. He has a mental illness. It's not schizophrenia or anything like that, but he's mentally ill. Manic depression.
Initially Richey was put in an NHS hospital but "the place was on its knees. He just sat there drugged up to his eyeballs on Prozac." He was moved to a private clinic and the treatment continues, comprising "Trying out about four different therapies at the same time. Experiments. Seems a pretty vague way of doing things to me. But he was definitely bordering on anorexia when he went in there, and now he looks pretty normal. He's eating, he's talking. If you knew him you'd say he was functioning on a pretty normal level. If you didn't know him, maybe not so much. It's really funny - yesterday I went down there and he was saying 'You know, if you took just one of these tablets a day you could really open up your creative senses!' And I said, 'No Richey, I don't really think so'."
At the height of the Manic Street Preachers' first national exposure in 1992, Richey exhorted a Smash Hits journalist to tell the magazine's readers "to kill yourself before you're 13". The magazine declined to print his advice. The same year he famously carved "4 REAL" into his arm with a razor-blade in front of a sceptical journalist. it was his first public display of self-mutilation - the last was on a short tour of Thailand back in May, where he appeared on stage with a kaleidoscope of bloody slashes across his chest.
Back then, even without Richey's rapid mood-swings, the band stood out. For a start the looked fabulous - glamour punks in fake-fur leopard-print coats, eye-liner and white Clash jeans. Everyone else looked like an electrician. They had something to say: "Everything you know is wrong." Everyone else (Happy Mondays, Primal Scream etc) said what amounted to "drugs are great". Whatever the fashionable opinions of the day, the Manics laughed in the day's po-face: travellers were scum, Elvis Costello's lyrics were "complete crap". They were much, much smarter than the rest, and became the kind of band that made grown-up persons of 27 say things like: "If you don't like the Manics then I don't like you."
Richey has always described himself as "maudlin", the kind of lyricist who writes: "It's not that I can find worth in nothing; it's that I can't find worth in enough." This year he has sunk into the kind of depression that drives a soul to smoking 40 cigarettes and a bottle of vodka a day, further physical mutilation, borderline anorexia, paranoia, isolation, loathing for the world and for himself. He was, ostensibly, just the way he always was except a lot worse. In August he told management he needed professional psychiatric help; he's been in therapy in the private clinic ever since.
Inside the pub, Bradfield continues to gobble the crisps and attempt to promote their third album. Bradfield is the sound of the Manic Street Preachers, and on this new album, The Holy Bible, he has created punk-rock terror. Well, he's supposed to be promoting their next album, but in fact he's slagging off their last, the anthemic Gold Against the Soul. "We were sucked into the stupid fucking new eclectic age we're supposed to be in. I just feel really thick for allowing ourselves to be subconsciously compromised. So I've gone back to the original point..."
Lyrically, 70 per cent has been written by Richey - normally it's been 50/50 with bassist Nicky Wire - and is a collection of desolate poetry containing beauty, bile and plenty of Manic wisdom about the heart of the human condition. Prepare to be told that you are a walking abortion. That you are no better than Adolf Hitler. That much about love is lies and self-deceit. Strange voices waft in eerily between songs.
"We could could scare a lot of people," says Bradfield nonchalantly. "People don't want this many things pointed out to them. People are so fucking dumb."
Bradfield split up with his girlfriend of two-and-a-half-years just before Christmas, despite the fact that they were engaged. He moved to London from the dismal little South Wales town of Blackwood, where he'd grown up with his fellow Manics, to escape the demons and reinvent himself as what bassist and Richey's fellow-poseur Nicky Wire calls "70s Man": a steak-eating, fag-puffing, whisky-slewing, currently vogueish Superlad. Such a word, of course, gets hugely on his wick.
"I've always enjoyed a drink!" he froths. "I was never one of those sad cunts whose life is dictated by the fashions of the media. For me, having a drink is one of the most glamorous things in the world - fingers glistening round a big shiny glass, a big sparkle in your smile." Bradfield pauses.
"But in a way, I've had to become more stable this year. Detach myself from the recent past, Philip's death [their manager died of cancer earlier this year], this and that, and somehow detach myself from the music, otherwise I'd end up going the same way as Richey."
Bradfield in fact has visited Richey at the clinic every single day for the past week, and he can report that "Some kind of reality is coming back. The sense of panic he had seems to have left him now."
The Manic Street Preachers have been best friends since childhood (Bradfield and Sean are cousins), and for this reason Bradfield feels "totally insulted" when people ask him if he's been able to talk to Richey about what's happening in his head.
"The other day," he growls, "this person said to me 'Did you do all you can for him?' I said 'Of course!' and they said 'Are you sure?' I thought: 'I'm gonna punch your face right across the other side of the room in a minute.' You do all you can do but you can't put someone in a straitjacket. It's a cliché, but you can only be there for the fall."
Bradfield is convinced Richey will return. The band will make sure he doesn't come out too early, even though he's already talking about rehearsals for next month's tour. They've told him if the rock 'n' roll life is too much for him, he can quit, become a writer, a teacher, a lecturer, anything he wants.
"But he wants to come back," says Bradfield, "and I thin he could be OK. What he needs now is targets in his life. He's never had a relationship, and I should say that's something to do with it, a sum of the parts. He needs to be as repaired as he possibly can be and then carry on with some real goals."
Bradfield is so convinced everything will be OK he's even started cajoling poor Richey in his hospital bed.
"I can say to him, 'Oh you're not exactly compos tonight, are you?' he giggles, "and he'll go 'I know, what can I do?' And I'll go 'You can just fucking stop it, you cunt!' You've got to get a sense of perspective at the end of the day. So I just go down there every night and give him a good kicking."
He will not entertain the notion that Richey might never return to the band. At the mention of it, for the first time today, his face falls totally flat.
"We haven't talked about that yet," he stiffens. "One thing at a time. I'd rather you left out that question actually because he is coming back. He's coming back."
Bassist Nicky Wire has always had the biggest grin in the history of popular entertainment. "Smile through the misery, that's me!" he chirrups, sipping on his sensible Coke (he gave up drinking two years ago because it makes him seriously ill). Wire is married now, and lives with wife Rachel in a Welsh valley in a little terraced house with a garden.
"I've always believed in marriage," he muses. "It's about the only thing I do believe in, and it's very un-Manics, I agree. I don't know why that is. My mum and dad always seemed really happy and I had a good childhood, so perhaps I looked up to it subconsciously. It's strange, but it's something I actually wanted to do. From the first moment I met her. Fuck knows why. It's almost an arbitrary thing that makes you lose control of yourself and makes you give yourself away in a lot of ways. Very romantic."
For most of the new album Wire has done very little except stand around and look fantastic. Now that's what I call a pop star. Richey handed him lyrics and they went with most of them, untouched.There are songs called Intense Humming of Evil, Archives of Pain, Mausoleum. One of Richey's most personal song is called 4st 7lbs, and is the most chilling insight into the mind of the anorexic you will probably ever read.
"When Richey gave me that song obviously I thought to myself 'Should I ask him about this? Is there something building up in him?' I think it was, but you always think that with Richey. Basically he got to the stage where he'd completely explained himself on record, so I didn't change anything. I looked after the shrubs in my garden instead."
Of Richey's illness Wire says: "if you look at Richey, the person inside lacked the self-esteem, that ultimate trait of your artistic nutter. I've always said things to him like, 'Well, you're just a fucking nutter anyway!' in an off-hand way."
Wire is seen as Richey's emotional equivalent; the sensational diatribes "Let's hope Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury in 1993!" etc, the other half of The Glamour Twins, the back-up man in the Manics' intellectual concept.
"The difference between me and Richey," ponders Wire, "is he always wanted to be understood, and I prefer being misunderstood. I don't feel the need for people to love or respect me, whereas Richey did. He couldn't take strength from the fact people didn't like him, whereas I'd think: 'Fucking great, I've really annoyed someone, they were just a wanker anyway'."
Wire brightens when he considers the clinic: "He's having these intellectual battles in there right now. He knows what they're doing, all these questionnaires: 'You can't trick me!' He's on some sort of prescribed drugs and shit-loads of therapy and he's even doing fucking drama classes. There are obviously things that Richey will not do; I can't see him putting up with that 'I am a cushion' stuff somehow."
Wire has allowed himself to think about the future of the Manic Street Preachers if Richey doesn't return. Will the band carry on? "No," he states, flatly, "not in any shape or form. The thing about Richey is he's never seen his own worth in the band - you can tell him his worth a million times and he thinks it's all down to his guitar-playing or something."
Wire shrugs. "That's the way he is. And that's why things will always be different for Rich."
The Manic Street Preachers' third album, The Holy Bible, is out now.
[Originally published: Sky, October 1994]