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Brit Awards Friday, 12 February, 1999, 12:59 GMT
From despair to success
manics
The Manic Street Preachers at the 1998 Q Awards
The Manic Street Preachers once vowed their debut album would be their last. Now they are among the front-runners for a second round of success in the 1999 Brit Awards, two years after they won best British group and best British album after the 1997 ceremony.

The Brit Awards
The awards come three weeks after NME readers gave them best single, best band, best band and best music video in the magazine's annual poll, proving the group from Blackwood, South Wales' continuing appeal to both fans and critics alike; despite a turbulent history.

Bassist Nicky Jones - now better known as Nicky Wire - formed Betty Blue in 1988 with singer James Dean Bradfield, drummer Sean Moore and a rhythm guitarist called Flicker. However, after the release of their first - self-financed single, Suicide Alley in 1989, the band had become the Manic Street Preachers and Wire's friend from university, Richey Edwards, replaced Flicker after designing the single's sleeve.

Troubled prose became a trademark

richey edwards
The young Richey Edwards: Hugely influential in the group's early days
It was the band's newest member that came to dominate their early years. Edwards co-wrote the lyrics with Wire, and his troubled prose became the one of the band's trademarks. An early press-release for Suicide Alley proclaimed: "We are the suicide of a non-generation."

They were signed by London label Heavenly and were quickly noticed. With the British rock scene of the early 90s stuck in a rut, the Manics' fondness for slogans, make-up and cutting lyrics was seen by many as a breath of fresh air.

But at a gig in Norwich in 1991, Edwards' state of mind came into question while he was being interviewed by BBC Radio 1 DJ Steve Lamacq, then a journalist for NME. When he questioned the band's sincerity, he took out a knife and carved the legend "4 REAL" into his arm.

Six days later, the band had signed to Sony Records, which released their debut album, Generation Terrorists. If it didn't sell as many copies as Guns 'N' Roses' current album, they proclaimed, they would be worthless failures. The band said: "We wanted to sign to the biggest record company in the world, put out a debut album that would sell 20 million and then break up."

Devoted fan base

richey edwards
Fans identified with Edwards' desolate lyrics
They were a long way off from that - they had a mixed press reception but a small and devoted fan base. But they still demanded attention. At a London concert Nicky Wire told the audience he hoped "Michael Stipe goes the same way as Freddie Mercury pretty soon".

In 1992 they hit the Top 10 with a cover of the theme from M.A.S.H., Suicide Is Painless, and released their second album, Gold Against The Soul.

But their problems increased during 1993. Edwards, who was now anorexic and alcoholic, continued to cut himself. At the end of the year, their manager Phillip Hall - who had nurtured them since their early days in Blackwood - died from cancer.

But the increasing despondency of Edwards' lyrics drew the group's fans closer, in the tradition of The Smiths and Joy Division. But some took it to a frightening degree. On a tour of Japan fans were seen cutting themselves to imitate Edwards.

Edwards vanishing

manics
The group shortly before Edwards vanished
By 1994, their third album, The Holy Bible, was their most desolate yet. Edwards was admitted to hospital that summer with "nervous exhaustion", and the band toured without him.

With the album's first single a Top 20 hit, and a successful European tour behind them, a tour of the US was planned for February 1995. Edwards even seemed to have recovered from his depression, telling a Japanese magazine how much he was looking to the future.

But on the eve of their departure, he checked out of the band's London hotel and was never seen again. It is known he drove to his flat in Cardiff, where he left his passport and other documents, before leaving his car near the Severn Bridge.

Despite reported sightings in Britain, India and the Canary Islands, Richey Edwards remains missing. Wire, Bradfield and Moore disappeared from the limelight, unsure where to proceed next.

Their return came in December 1995, when they supported the Stone Roses at a London show. The concert was a low-key one - but their career after that was to be anything other than that.

Cult status smashed forever

manics
The group in 1999: A down-to-earth style has attracted a new generation of fans
Their 1996 comeback single, A Design For Life, went straight into the Top 10 and smashed their cult status forever. Gone was the make-up and army wear that had characterised the group beforehand, in came a clean-cut, down-to-earth look.

The album, Everything Must Go, was voted best British album at the 1997 Brits, and they also won best British band. The shadow of Richey Edwards still hung over them - many of the songs, including Kevin Carter, were written by him before he disappeared.

Now Nicky Wire, James Dean Bradfield and Sean Moore end the decade as the rock stars they wanted to be at the start of it.

Their fifth album, This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours was released to acclaim last year and has earned them Brit nominations for best British band, best group and best British single for If You Tolerate This, Your Children Will Be Next - taken from an old Spanish Civil War slogan.

But their eye for controversy is still there. On stage at Wembley Arena in December, Nicky Wire had this advice for bands that hadn't followed them into mainstream success.

"To all those bands who moan about not getting into the charts because the rules have changed - write a tune you morons."

See also:

26 Aug 98 | Entertainment
12 Nov 98 | Entertainment
30 Oct 98 | Entertainment
29 Dec 98 | Entertainment
26 Jan 99 | Entertainment
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