The First Gig I Saw That Mattered: Manic Street Preachers, Wolverhampton, 1993

I was 14 and had to scab the bus money off the kids in the year below. Let's just say it was worth it...
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I was 14 and had to scab the bus money off the kids in the year below. Let's just say it was worth it...

404

It started like this…

“I write this alone in my bed…” I nodded and smiled to the girl I had copped off with in the bar beforehand. She’d even shown me her tits. Well, her bra, but it was all the same.

“I’ve poisoned every room in the house…” I could feel the excitement and cheap speed building in my chest. I kissed her.

“The place is quiet and so alone…” Here it comes, here it fucking comes. I punched my mate on the arm.

“Pretend there’s something worth waiting for…” Two clatters on the drums, a cymbal clash and the crowd goes fucking mental. I’m in, burrowing into the people in front of me, turning round to see what is behind me, pogoing, screaming, kissing, sweating, alive.

I’m 14 years old and my new favourite band have just launched into From Despair to Where. As the chorus kicks in with “there’s nothing nice in my head” I realise I have turned a corner. A corner that has taken me from the stadium gig I saw Guns N’ Roses play four weeks previous into intimacy. A world where sweat is shared and fags are passed back and forth. Where experienced gig goers will skin up riding on the backs of others, where kids like me will drop pints on their own heads but make up for this inexperience by having the energy to outdo the older crowd.

As the song lurched to a climatic end I was transfixed. Richey, a mess of eyeliner and spraypaint was the coolest man I had ever seen. James, all bristling aggression, white guitar and a voice that could topple buildings and Nicky, fucking Nicky Wire, eyes that appeared to be full of coal with a smile that your Mum would love. Launching himself into the ether and performing moves that were three parts Paul Simonon with a bit of Chuck Berry thrown in for good measure. And Sean, of course, the Charlie Watts of the operation. A drummer who just wanted to drum and was the backbone of the full throttle menace that repeatedly smacked me in the head.

Wolverhampton Civic Hall is – or was, I haven’t been for ages – a fucking storming venue. A venue where I came of age. A venue where I saw bands as disparate as Black Grape and Pantera, The Pogues and The Wildhearts, Soul Asylum and even the shitting Almighty. Yet despite dancing with Bez and boozing with Spider Stacey, no gig there touched me like the Manics.

They were the perfect band for me at that time in my life. My mates were Nirvana obsessed, and even though I admired Kurt and co, I was transfixed with The Clash and GNR and the Manics funneled both of those into their own style. I’d missed the seminal gig at the next door Wulfrun the year before and had to skive off school and scab 20p off all the girls in the year below to get the bus fare to get to this one.

As the chorus kicks in with “there’s nothing nice in my head” I realise I have turned a corner. A corner that has taken me from the stadium gig I saw Guns N’ Roses play four weeks previous into intimacy. A world where sweat is shared and fags are passed back and forth.

I’d be lying if I said I could remember every song they played but there were standout moments. Slash and Burn in all its aggro/glam fury, Stay Beautiful with that opening riff that still kicks the piss out of anything they’ve ever done, Little Baby Nothing where James did both his  and Traci Lords' parts and made the song better for it, Repeat and the ’refrain of ‘repeat after me fuck queen and country…”

Nothing came close to You Love Us though. Because it was true. The Manics are/were/whatever, a band you either loved or hated. And when they launched into You Love Us I was in love. Not with the girl next to me, who probably knows who she is and has stayed beautiful, but with four blokes on a sweaty stage. They transported me into a different world and, even if I've lost them over the years, I won’t hear a bad word said.

14 months later, older and wiser and after spending some time on a campsite in Holland that made Sodom and Gomorrah look like the fruit isle at Waitrose, I saw the Manics on the Holy Bible tour. My feelings about that album will, someday, come in a separate article. It was one of Richey’s last gigs. They opened with Faster or PCP, the stage was done up like a military bunker and, as good as it was, it wasn’t the same. But how could it be? I’d been to 15 gigs in between. Now it was just a band I loved playing great songs. There is nothing wrong with that, but it couldn’t replicate the first gig I ever saw that mattered. What can?

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