It was 15 years ago today, February 1st, that Richard James Edwards, guitarist with Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers, disappeared. At the time, he was considered the sort-of-but-not-quite UK alt scene’s Kurt Cobain. Almost every year the UK press write tributes or dig up old stories about him. Fans are, well, fanatical about him.
Before he disappeared, he withdrew a small amount of money from the bank and handed over a stack of a lyrics. Those lyrics now comprise the amazing, album Journal for Plague Lovers which the Manics – singer James Dean Bradfield, bassist Nicky Wire and drummer Sean Moore – released last year in tribute to their lost friend.
In the early 90s, however, the Manics courted a lot of attention from the UK and European press for different reasons. They were gobshites. They sprayed slogans on their shirts, quoted political manifestos. They played fast, trashy glam rock. Said they were going to release a double-album as their debut and then pack it in. Talked an awful lot of rubbish, though collectively, they were, and continue to be, smart, well-read men.
In 1991 Steven Wells from the NME wrote:
“They have more energy anger and intelligence than any band I have ever seen. By the end of the year, they will be the most important rock band in the world.”
At the time, much of that attention came because of Richey. Eyelinered, pale, pretty, witty, fascinated by the media and unable to play his guitar, Richey Edwards was the face and mouth of the Manics. His mouth got him on covers. He looked and acted the part. He was resplendent.
He was also deeply troubled. As his story unfolded in the years before his disappearance, it became clear just how troubled: Richey was a depressive, an anorexic, an alcoholic, a self-harmer. I knew nothing of this at the time.
One night, after a gig, following an interview in Norwich with NME’s Steve Lamacq in which Lamacq questioned the band’s integrity, Richey went into a room, took out a razorblade and carved “4 REAL” into his arm. Deeply. Richey always liked to make a statement.
On April 10, 1992…
…I was living in Copenhagen, Denmark. Less than a year after the cutting incident. It was the day after the UK general election, Nicky Wire reminded when we met last November. As I’d done in Toronto zillions of times, I liked trying to meet bands, particularly if they were from the UK. The Manics were going to be my test subjects. I didn’t even have a ticket to the show that night – they were playing a tiny club called Musik Cafe’en and I had only one EP by them. So I wasn’t a groupie, oh no. Not like the two gay guys and the German girl who’d been following them around Europe. But I went down to the venue around soundcheck to see what was up…and I kinda fancied Nicky. I was bored.
I wrote a diary about that night…
To me, at that time, Richey seemed to just be a sort of lonely, lost little boy. Kinda sad, incredibly beautiful, and very sharp-witted. Few people were witness to his wry sense of humour and Nicky says that’s how he mainly remembers his friend. Richey was an entirely different person when he smiled.
Here it is. Rock n’ roll warts and all. It’s a long one, so settle in.
“I went down to Huset around 3:30pm and sat outside the gate. A half-hour later, the patent raven-haired-sunglassed-leopard-fur-coated Richey walked through with James Dean Bradfield and two journalists. At first I thought Richey was Nicky. He was wearing sunglasses and missing the typical eyeliner and with his hair and the same coat I thought the guy I was lecturing about how they should have experienced more of Danish culture other than a McDonald’s, was someone else.
But Richey was really cute when he smiled and I asked the two if they were doing soundcheck. 6pm was the answer and ‘the other guys’ would be there. They told me to come back. So I did. While I was waiting upstairs outside the club, a man came who turned out to be Rory, their tour manager. I had read about him in Richey’s confessions article in a Select magazine. We chatted, he asked if I was American and we talked about Canadian tour dates. The band arrived then and I said hi and asked Rory if he minded if I came in for soundcheck. He said sure. I found Richey – by that time Nicky had arrived and the difference between him and Richey was apparent (by about a foot’s height) and we chatted about dick all. The usual, frothy gibberish. Nicky didn’t pay me any notice. When I finally gathered up the courage to talk to him I ended up talking to Brian, their other road manager and asked him about tickets. He said he’d put me on the list.
At 9pm I met three young folks from Leeds and Cologne, Germany. James & Andrew were about 20-something, a really cute gay couple. They share a house in Leeds with their three cats. Andrew worked at a HMV and wore a Kylie Minogue shirt, James worked at an indie record stop. Steph was German and met them “on tour” – she was also a big fan. Unfortunately I ended up ditching them when I took off with Richey….
Around 10.30 the band came on. I chose to stay at Nicky’s side of the stage with Steph while James & Andrew took Richey’s. The closest Nicky got to interacting with me was almost chinning me with the neck of his bass. But when the Manics came on, Richey had on his trademark eyeliner. The show was snot-nosedly short – 40 minutes – but Richey said that that was the longest they’d played…ever. They didn’t do “Spectators of Suicide”, not even “Democracy Coma” my fave. Instead was “Repeat”, “Motorcycle”, “Little Baby Nothing” “Slash N’ Burn”, “You Love Us” and “Love’s Sweet Exile”. A grab-bag of stuff off of their prematurely named Generation Terrorists album.
The Aftershow…talking dogs with Richey
And then they were gone. So we sat around waiting for the bar to clear, waiting for an invitation to ‘hang’ with the band. It came when Rory said we could go back “if we wanted to.” So the four of us did. When we opened the door we were greeted by the sight of two annoying teenagers, some Danish guys and that’s about it. Richey was slumped on a metal curved couch. Next to him sat Sean, ever so angellic even with the scruffy beard, and the two girls. James came in and out and sat beside James and Andrew. We all sat around, drank beers and vodka. The conversation and chatter wore on, punctuated only by Richey’s occasional reaching over to the table and hiding a box of orange juice, 3/4ths of a bottle of vodka, a little of water and some crisps under his coat. Richey and Sean and I talked, desperately trying to ignore the Yorkshire girls. I asked Richey if the “diary” in Select mag was actually written by him or if it had been made up.
He had written it and so I flexed my power of memory by throwing in some comments and questions like about Dali and the album cover or about only loving washing machines, to which Richey responded “…and my spaniel dog.” When he told me it was a Springer Spaniel, I told him I’d had a Springer too, but he wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth, but then believed me the more I talked about my dog.
That started it.
He started yammering about spaniel stories, about his dog going onto the roof of his garage and we traded cute Spaniel stories. He was smiling a lot by now and not so angst-ridden. Even under his mask of eyeliner, his smile made him look like an innocent little school boy, very much not a tough guy.
The chatter continued, the Danish guys left (after I demonstrated to the band about how you don’t need a bottle opener if there are Danes around because they can all open beer bottles with lighters) and Rory came back with a case of Tuborg. Richey I think only had one or two – he never really seemed drunk. Sean also began to relax but James DB didn’t. Poor guy. Only James & Andrew could get a chuckle out of him, but he spent a lot of time puttering around. Must have been around midnight.
Clubbin’ with the Manics
We decided to go down to the club Barbue in the same building (the band had eaten at Spisehuset in the building too but hated it and Richey said he got a “bloated” reaction to the fish there) and dance. Some f*cked-up industrial band band been playing there, and the disco afterwards was going to have that feel to it as well – a bit more palatable to the Manics than Shanice remixes. We left backstage and I conveniently put the Jack Daniel’s ice bucket that Nicky wanted into my coat, and later gave it to Brian.
‘You can come in…but they can’t’
Downstairs, Sean tried reasoning with the doorman at Barbue. Sean: ‘I’m with the band from upstairs, can we come in?’ Doorman: ‘You can, but they can’t.’ Sean: They can’t? These are my friends!’ Doorman: ‘How many friends do you have?’ Sean: ‘We’ve got six’.
And so we got in and stood around. Somebody brought unopened beers in from upstairs. I was yelling in Richey and Sean’s ear and James DB wandered aimlessly. James (the gay one) also was chatting to Richey and I asked if we should go somewhere else but Richey kept saying that Barbue was ’supposed to be the best place’ in Copenhagen. He came up to me at one point, and with enormous puppy-dog eyes, asked me if I could get someone to open his beer. So I grabbed the closest guy in the club and lo-and-behold, he opened the beer with his lighter. Richey beamed; he thought it was quite funny.
At this point he took off his leopard-print coat. When I offered that he dump it on top of mine, he said he wanted to hold it because ‘that’s just the kind of guy I am.’ I had to smooth his hair away from his ear to talk to him – and next thing you know Richey was running his hands up my side. He smelled amazing. Like hairspray and perfume. And clean.
Some plans were made at the club and then Richey turned to me, yelled in my ear that they were going back to the hotel and ‘would I like to come back for a few drinks?’. At that moment I kinda shook off the naivety and realized if I went I would not be going back ‘for a few drinks.’ But I made a decision.
Are you a groupie if…
…you never really followed/loved the band in the first place and were just being a typical rebellious teenager while you were living overseas? What’s the difference if you pick up a random guy in a club? These are the sort of questions I asked myself.
Walking out of the bar, Rory asked if I was coming too, and Richey answered for me. ‘Yeah’. We got into the van and James DB was the only other band member coming back with us. He sat in the front of the van but Richey took the last seat in the in the very back of the van in the very corner. I sat one row in front of him but he asked me to come sit next to him. I wasn’t drunk, just relaxed. Weirdly. As I soon as I sat down he leaned over and started kissing me. Very well, too, I might add.
When we got back to the hotel, James DB mumbled something to Richey about getting up early tomorrow and we rode up in the elevator and then James went to his room with a “have a good night” and that was that. Richey and I went to his room – number 262. It was tiny, with a little bathroom, a TV placed right near the head of his bed and his suitcase on a table, opened. On the table was vodka and orange juice (big surprise) which he offered me. He turned on MTV. He lay beside me. It was a single bed. The 4-Real on his arm was bright red – it seemed to stand out more when he drank.
Around 2am, a Nick Cave video came on MTV and he turned up the volume a bit. We lay there watching TV and making fun of the Ugly Kid Joe song and video “Everything About You” with the inflatable doll. I made a comment about how the Cave video, “Straight to You” reminded me for some reason of David Byrne in the Talking Heads, and Richey laughed.
Eventually, I got dressed and sat on the bed. I watched him as he watched his prized MTV. His skin was alabaster. White. China. I did what I knew I should do, what I wanted to do – I didn’t spend the night. I kissed him and left him watching MTV.
I think it was a Simply Red video on.”
POSTSCRIPT in 2010
I’m still a big fan of the Manics. Journal for Plague Lovers is among my favourite albums now, though the Manics have also released some utter tosh in the past. Interviewing Nicky last year was wonderful – we both laughed about Richey. He seemed grateful, in a way, that someone else had met his old friend.
Do I think Richey killed himself? Yes. He was so, so troubled. There was such a sadness to Richey when I met him. But he was funny too. Do the Manics think he’s gone? Nicky says there’s too many things that don’t add up. And when he talks about him there is so much love there.
In 1997, I interviewed James Dean Bradfield in Toronto. I introduced myself simply by saying we’d met, in Copenhagen, in 1992. He looked at me for a minute and said “You’ve changed your hair colour.” I had. When I recovered from shock, I asked him about the song “Everything Must Go”, from the first album the band had done without Richey. I think it kind of sums things up:
“We didn’t want to be a personal footnote”
“It started as a political lyric and then became infused with a kind of Manics’ historical catharsis,” he said. “The personal side of the song is about admitting our history, but realizing there are three of us left and we’re not going to pay any more prices for what we’re doing. We didn’t want to be a personal footnote. And I didn’t want to be in that darker mood for the rest of my life, hypothesizing and eulogizing the history of a friend…or competing with it. I just wanted to look after the people that are still around me.”
Do I think of that night fondly? Absolutely. Was it a common occurance? No.
And if there is a chance that Richey somehow managed to escape his demons and is alive somewhere, I hope he’s happy.
Because Richey was an entirely different person when he smiled. \m/
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