Running on hardship for fuel

Widespread strikes in the UK in the mid-80s had a deep impact on the country. The coal miners’ union, the country’s most powerful, turned against Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and her administration. Thatcher responded to the challenge from her greatest domestic foe with all her might, and won. The Iron Lady’s victory also meant victory for the toughest, most relentless version of free enterprise. Hailing from Blackwood in Wales, a gloomy and rough place, the politically charged rock group Manic Street Preachers emerged from the anger and disappointment felt at the outcome of this clash of the Titans. Drummer Sean Moore spoke to Kathimerini about the Welsh band’s unorthodox 20-year course ahead of its first ever Greek show in Athens later this month as part of a triple-bill also featuring the Smashing Pumpkins and Kasabian. Manic Street Preachers have a devoted following, but on the other hand there are some who are openly hostile, believing that the act’s commercial appeal provides hard evidence of its betrayal of leftist ideals and the alternative image it has portrayed. «When we first formed the group in 1986 there was no Internet and mobile phones. We were still at school and thought that music had the power to influence people and express outrage about things going on around us. At the time, you felt that books, films and songs had real meaning – they said something to people. We, too, felt the duty to articulate a political message,» recalled Moore. «This had nothing to do with the period that followed, which was dominated by British pop’s superficial euphoria and the new Labor Party. One thing that’s kept us together all these years is that, even though this country projects a shiny image when compared to the Thatcher years, there is still a class of people that lives in poverty. We continue to want to address these difficult issues.» In more recent times, the image of the politically concerned artist occupied with concerns such as the environment or humanitarian needs has experienced something of a revival, as underlined by the recent Live Earth concerts at several points around the planet. But it doesn’t look like Manic Street Preachers are a part of this trend. «Exciting ways of attracting the public’s attention are not always the most effective. It’s hyperbole that blurs real vision, as in the case of Al Gore, who suddenly remembered the environment,» Moore contended. «It’s a smart way for the record companies to conduct their PR work on international platforms and cleanse their conscience. We believe that work must be carried out gradually, without fuss, and with essence. The target group needs to be smaller if your message is going to really register. The environmental awareness of all these people who went along to Live Earth in July wasn’t raised. They just went along to listen to the music. Musicians who take part in events of such magnitude aren’t behaving responsibly.» It should be noted that the band’s album sales aren’t generated by underprivileged Brits, but an international fanbase. Judgment, then, of the bands that played at Live Earth is peculiar. «The only thing we wanted to do with our music was to ignite a spark, or feel that we’re active in a world with huge problems to solve – things we turn our backs on,» argued Moore. «Look at what’s happening in the UK. The Labor Party fell apart with the arrival of Tony Blair in 1997. Everything’s become Americanized and all that’s left in politics is the show side of things. There’s no such thing as a working-class culture anymore; it died at the end of the 80s. Many Brits have two or three cars and go off on exotic trips. In those days, being a member of the Labor Party meant that you didn’t have a means of transportation or money to travel. It was like a Ken Loach film. That’s what the atmosphere was like…» Moore acknowledged that the band’s priorities have changed along with the changing times. Manic Street Preachers suddenly went from being an alternative act to a hit on MTV, which prompted many critics to criticize the band for selling out, especially following its top-selling «Everything Must Go» album in 1996, a far gentler-sounding project. «The year 1995 was the most crucial for us, when we decided to carry on after our lyricist and guitarist Richey James disappeared. Suddenly, the mass media’s spotlights were turned on us following his disappearance, and the album we recorded the following year was very commercial. Its huge success was not one of our intentions. We tried to handle it as honorably as we could and express what we carried inside us,» said Moore. Following a period of deepening alcoholism, anorexia, and depression, James, who had provided the British music press with plenty of notorious banter that helped earn the band countless articles, went missing early in 1995. Manic Street Preachers will be in Athens with a new album titled «Send Away the Tigers.» «For this album we decided to go back in time and focus on the basics, like when we had just started. We locked ourselves away in a simple recording studio in Cardiff whose paint was peeling off. These were the type of places we played in at the beginning, so we feel more comfortable here rather than in the big, luxury studios equipped with state-of-the-art technology,» said Moore. «Our new songs carry a feeling of loneliness, like a handwritten message. They turn back to the past with regret for certain things. We’ve had a long run in music, we’ve taken on board various experiences, so the time’s ripe for judgment. Isn’t that what getting older means? Your perspective widens and you begin to see things you couldn’t when you were younger. As a group, we were never really your optimistic type of guys. We wonder about many bands. Where do they get so much euphoria from? How do they maintain it when taking so many drugs? Don’t they ever get bored with the same old cliches? In a certain sense, tragedy follows us around. It’s good for us to acknowledge that. This doesn’t mean that we lock ourselves up in a room and cry, but, rather, that we’ve realized that life is just a bunch of good moments.» Smashing Pumpkins, Manic Street Preachers, Kasabian: Aug 29, Terra-vibe, Malakassa (outskirts of Athens). Tickets, 50-80 euros, at Tickethouse (42 Panepistimiou, Athens & 20 Ethnikis Amynis, Thessaloniki).