INTERVIEW WITH RICHEY MANIC, 1994
By Stuart Bailie
The cheeks are sunken, the gaze is maybe more abstracted than you
remember from the past, but Richey, freshly released from
hospital, looks alright.
He's not so keen to talk on his own though, and is especially
wary of posing for solo photographs. It will look contrived, he
feels, like he's using his illness to sell records an
accusation that cynics have already levelled at him.
At the same time, you want to clear the air; to try and demistify
th Richey situation. You know that something went off in late
June/early July, throwing a seemingly bulletproof band into
severe trauma. The aftermath was sad; you watched, dismayed, when
the Manics played as a three piece at Reading fans and
colleagues around you weeping at the tragic significance of it
all. And of course, you heard many terrible rumours.
Stories claimed that Richey had tried to kill himself; once
during a two day mutilation spree at his place in Cardiff, and a
second time after he'd been hospitalised. The latter, you hear is
probably inaccurate, but yes, there is some truth in the first
Other awful accounts say that the hospital Richey stayed at in
Cardiff was a dismal, Cuckoo's Nest institution, that he shared a
dorm with 12 very sick men, all of them doped up, with a doctor
only seeing him once in the eight days that he was there. But
then, it seems they took him off to a place called The Priory in
Roehampton to get proper care, and where he'd become an AA
member. You want to get to the truth of all this.
The Manics are rehearsing at Blue Stone, a converted farm in
Pembrokeshire. It was vacated two weeks ago by Take That, and it
looks lovely and wild. The group's back line is installed in the
main hall, and you're pleased to see that Richey's Telecaster
guitar is racked up on the left, just like it used to be. Below
it is a set list for the upcoming French tour they're playing
with Therapy? Two cover versions on this list; Nirvana's 'Penny
Royal Tea' and PIL's 'Public Image'.
First, Richey drives us all to a nearby beach where the band will
pose for pictures clowning in the waves, shivering a bit
as the wind lashes past, patting stray dogs and hugging and
touching each other like they used to do; a gibbering
self-support group in army surplus, henna hair colour and sports
Back at the farm, Richey is eventually persuaded to pose alone.
On the knee of his tigerstripe fatigues, you see that someone has
scrawled the message, "Even rats know where their tails
are". But when he takes off his parka, you'll see something
more lurid. His upper left arm is slashed and hacked and
cross-hatched with cuts, some of them scarlet and new. His
forearm is mottled with cigarette burns and other scars.
Nicky walks past and notices that his mate has agreed to NME's
request for solo pictures.
"TSB the band that likes to say yes," he quips,
echoing a recent song.
We decide to talk in Richey's room, with James sitting in as
well, for support as much as anything. On one bed, all of
Richey's books are ranged Wilfred Owen, Irving Welsh's
Trainspottin, vintage movie mags, some Buddhist text. We sit
around the other bed and start talking.
Sometimes, there'll be painful gaps in the conversation, as
Richey falters or remembers some grim detail from the past two
months. Mostly though, he's amazingly articulate. A transcript
doesn't really do justice to his passion, tone and his pace. Nor
does it convey the weird matter-of-factness he uses to outlay his
sometimes unorthodox ideas.
We start by remembering Richey's last gig with the band; Friday
night on the NME Stage at Glastonbury. Swooning, immaculate, a
near heroic scene...
"Yes. I really enjoyed Glastonbury," Richey says.
"I did actually enjoy the gig. More than everybody else in
the band, really. I don't really enjoy many concerts. And then it
was back to Wales..."
Can you explain what happened afterwards?
"I wasn't coping very well, and I thought my body was
probably stronger that it actually was. My mind was quite strong.
I pushed my body further than it was meant to go. And then I went
to hospital in Cardiff. That wasn't much good. The band came down
to see me and it was pretty obvious that there wasn't much point
in me staying there.
"I was there for about eight days and then Martin (Hall, the
band's manager) found a place for me in London, and I got taken
there. That seemed to work out - I came out last week and I feel
quite good. I want to do these French dates with Therapy? I think
it will be quite good for me, because there will be less pressure
and stuff. There won't be so much for me to worry about - we'll
just be doing about a half hour set. That'll be good."
So you're keen to play again?
"If I do the gigs over there and I'm not doing very well,
then it doesn't really matter. I don't really want to come back
and do the British tour right away. At first I wanted to do
Reading. I was never under any pressure from the band to do it;
they just said, whenever you feel better, you can do it. But I
wanted to do it because it was Philip's (Philip Hall, the band's
co-manager died of cancer earlier this year) birthday, and we did
it two years ago and I really remember enjoying Reading. But it
wasn't worth it, I couldn't have done it.
"But I've learnt all the new songs for these French dates.
I've been here for a week. I went back up to the hospital on
Wednesday and that was all good. I'm quite looking forward to it.
I think it will be good."
You've always seemed ambivalent about playing live in the past.
"When Nick and James were coming down to the hospital in
Cardiff, I was thinking about it a lot, and I suggested that I
wouldn't play on stage any more, but I would carry on writing
words and doing the artwork and stuff. I convinced myself that
that's what I wanted.
"I'd seen them down to the front door and when they'd gone,
I was really upset. I couldn't think what I was going to do.
'Cause it's not enough for me just to do the words. I kind of
think I'd be cheating on them, 'cause the touring part is the
worst bit - the bit that no band really enjoys. It's the thing
that makes it feel like a job, because you know what you'll be
doing in three months' time at two o clock in the afternoon. I
felt bad thinking, well, I'll just stay on my own in the flat and
just write words. That's not enough.
"So I phoned them up, and I was in a bad way. I said, I'm
really gonna try. I'm gonna practice more on guitar, and that's
what I've been doing. I'm worried about it; I'm worried about
next week. But it's not fair for me to just stay here."
But if you haven't been well, you have every excuse not to have
to do it.
"Yes. But I've had enough time off. I've missed lots of
important concerts with the band, and fed lots
of things up, and I want to come back and get ready for the
British tour really. It will be the first time I've played the
new songs, apart from 'Faster' and PCP'."
What do you think of the songs for 'The Holy Bible' when you hear
"We started writing it last summer; some of the early songs
were written quite a while ago. I think it was a difficult time
for everybody really. Especially the way we did it; going to
Cardiff every day, I picked everybody up in the morning and we
went down and then we went back home. We just kept concentrating
on the words, trying to get them like we wanted. Trying to make
them better. I don't think it's being a perfectionist, I just
think it's trying to hone it down, do it properly.
There was lots of things happening outside the band, personally.
But I think it's our most complete album, by a long way."
The words are mainly yours, aren't they?
"Nick had lots going on in his personal life at the time as
well. I'm on my own, I'm very selfish. "Self disgust is
self-obsession" - that's the truest line on there,
Some old Manics songs have the possibility of deliverance in
them, as in the line, "rock and roll is our epiphany".
But the most cheerful bit on the new LP is in the anorexic's
ghoulish euphoria on '4st 7lb'. Hardly cheery stuff.
"I don't think we've ever made happy records. Maybe we've
had uplifting moments, but I don't think lyrically we've ever
been particularly joyous. Right from the start. I know what
people think about me. But if you look at our lyrics, they've
developed and got better, but thematically they're pretty much
the same; what's going on in mine and Nick's head.
"I would like to be able to write, "I'm feeling
supersonic, give me gin and tonic", but I just can't do it.
I think that it's a brilliant lyric, but whatever ability that
is, I haven't got the ability to write that line. I don't feel
that way, you know. The last time I felt supersonic was when I
was about ten years old, I expect.
"At the same time, there's lots of bands with angst-ridden
lyrics, and I just really can't believe most of them, because
they seem so happy when they're singing them on stage. It's like,
this is what you're supposed to do.
Whatever you think about our lyrics, at least they're true."
You say you know what people think about you. What do
"I know what people think about me."
What do you mean?
"Nah, I know. I won't answer that question, but I
do know what they think about me."
We talk briefly about the nature of the letters NME has received
in the past two months. Lots of stuff about The Manics; nearly
all positive. They either empathise with Richey or just write in
to support him. Either way, they're mainly on his side. But James
believes the letters are also prompted by an unacknowledged need
to defend Richey too.
"The fact that 95 per cent of your readers say they feel an
affinity with Richey or feel the need to support him, that
pre-empts the fact that the last five per cent think he's a
c for it. Because they actually think he's playing up
to the people who feel an affinity for him, for what he went
through. They feel that it's just another little angle, that's
Richey: "And nobody even knows what happened."
So what did happen?
Richey: "It went wrong."
James: "It just went off big time, and we all knew about it.
We could sense it. Basically, when we're not working, we phone
each other up at least once a day. We're just big yappers,
basically. So we hadn't got in touch with him for a day, we just
knew something was wrong. So it just went off, very unexpectedly.
We felt like a bunch of drama queens..."
Richey: "Because I am a melodramatic drama queen, I
can't help that. Everything I've ever liked in literature,
especially, has been along those lines. I guess I identify with
victims, but that's just the way I am. Everything I've ever
studied in my life; at university I specialised in the Holocaust
and Nazi/Soviet foreign poicy. That's what I did.
"I find it... 'interesting' isn't the right word ... I find
it compulsive that in such a short space of time that the
Holocaust is rendered almost obsolete. I find it really
frightening. We've actualy been to places like Dachau. I spent
all my life in education studying it, and when you actually go
there it means nothing. It's only when you come back and you
realise that there are books by people like Arthur Buntz and the
book Hoax Of The 20th Century that suggest it's all a
lie; it's somehow a Jewish Christian conspiracy.
"This is being seriously debated by intelligent people. They
suggest that some of the death camps were built after the war by
the Americans to basically put the blame on Germany, to make them
feel bad, when nothing actually happened.
"That's being debated in universities now, and I feel that
really really frightening. Six million lives are worth nothing.
If they're that cheap, then what do you matter? That's a
more serious issue than Derek Beackon getting in. It worries me
more, because historically it is more dangerous."
Let's follow a crass line of questioning. With 'In Utero', people
look back and realise that the record was Kurt Cobain's epitaph,
he was saying goodbye. People can read, if they choose, the same
feeling into 'The Holy Bible'. On songs like 'Die In The
Summertime', you can suppose that's it's Richey signing off...
"'Die In The Summertime' was written before anything had
happened to me, that was basically an old man looking back over
his life, over his favourite period of youth. His childhood,
basically. Everybody's got a perfect mental time of their life,
and that's what that song is about. And it was written last
So there's not a molecule of truth in the idea that you were
thinking, if I go soon, people will hear these songs and shiver
and feel disturbed?
"No, not at all. In terms of the 'S' word; that does not
enter my mind. And it never has done. In terms of An Attempt.
Because I am stronger than that. I might be a weak person, but I
can take pain. When we were watching that football violence video
in the other room (the other band members are watching Trouble
On The Terraces while we speak), I just don't even
understand it, I couldn't even squash a fly. I've never even hit
anybody in my entire life.
"But to me, the way the world works, it seems that you get
respect for being like that. If you punch somebody, you're like a
good person. If you do something to yourself, you are seeking
attention. To me, that argument doesn't make any sense at all.
You smash a bottle in somebody's face, that makes you good. It's
"Even going back to the thing with Steve Lamacq (Richey
slashing '4 Real' into his arm to stress the seriousness of his
intentions) - I was really fed off. I didn't
know what I could possibly say to him to make him understand. How
easy and cheap is it for me to just hit him? I would never want
to do that, I would rather cut myself, because I feel I can
justify that, whereas I can't justify hitting him. Other bands
hit journalists and it's very macho. They think it's good. They
provoke a reaction and it's all just bollocks.
"Where is this rule that the body is that sacred- thou
cannot mark thine own skin? I'm not into piercing, but the whole
Spanner Trial interested me - when those men were taken to trial
for piercing parts of their body. Justice Templeman said he was
sending them to prison because "cruelty was
uncivilised". What right has he got to say that - in terms
of an individual's democratic right to choice? I've never hit
anybody in my life. I might have done things to my own body, but
that is my right."
The other band members tolerated you slicing '4 Real' in your
arm, but recently, they admitted that you really needed
treatment. The mind flips; what scarey act has Richey done to
change their opinion like that?
"Basically, I wasn't in a very good frame of mind. My mind
wasn't functioning very well, and my mind was stronger than my
body. My mind subjected my body to things that it couldn't cope
with. Which meant I was ill. For the first time, I was a bit
scared, because I always thought I could handle it. I've read
lots of books about tolerance of pain, and pain thresholds. The
euphoric agony, basically, is a sensation which your mind blocks
off. You control yourself. It's all about control. About proving
a point to youself, which I did very easily, but then I realised
that I couldn't do anything. So I went to hospital.
"The Cardiff hospital was no good for me. After eight days
in there , I didn't know what the fk was going on.
James will tell you, I couldn't even talk, I was just stuttering.
I was taking medication - librium and stuff. Though it calmed me
down, because I could get to sleep at night."
"Sleep is constantly throughout every lyric I've written
from the start. It's a big thing for me because I'm scared to go
to sleep. 'Cause the things I get in my head, I don't like.
That's the reason I ever started drinking - to knock me out. I've
tried sleeping tablets, but I don't really like them. I like the
effect of drinking. I can get a blank sleep - be out for five or
six hours and wake up and then do my job.
"In terms of the work we do, I've never been late for
anything, I've never missed a flight, I'm not indisciplined. I'm
not a member of Happy Mondays or Primal Scream or whatever. I'm
always on time. I haven't got many things to cling to, but I
cling to that. That's what pissed me off about missing Reading
and the German gigs, I had nobody else to blame. It was my fault,
and I accept it was my fault."
The hospital you went to in Roehampton, was it a 12 step recovery
"Yes. Step three is hard; when you have to reconcile
yourself to a god of your understanding. Step one is fairly easy;
to admit you are powerless over your addiction and your life has
become unmanageable. Well, it's easy to admit, it's hard
to accept in your own mind. Because I do feel my mind's quite
strong. Obviously not as strong as it could be...
"But step three was hard. I'ts gonna take a long time for me
to figure out."
Shaun Ryder used to image of his grandmother to represent God
when he was undergoing rehab.
"Lots of peope have said things like that, but I could never
pick things like that because they would die. How can you
reconcile yourself to a living god like that? Some people take
their cats or their dogs as their god, but I think that's
nonsensical, because your god is not gonna die on you. The
closest I can get to it is nature probably, but then nature is
It's a question of working it all out, which is why I did
history, to try and work out the central point."
People who don't agree with 12 point programmes say that it's a
Victorian scheme, morality-wise.
"Revivalist is a good word to use. It depends on
how you interpret it. A god of your own understanding... mine's
not gonna be my dead grandmother or my pet cat, and it's not
gonna be the Big Man upstairs. And I've got to understand what
nature means. It's just a question of working it all out, and
I've got a lot of time on my hands, so I can think about
What about rock'n'roll as your saving grace?
It used to be your epiphany.
"It was at one point, yeah. Since I've come out, I've seen
two reviews, and one of them suggested that everything I do is
for the sake of music, like I've got some sort of duty towards
it. Which is absolute bullshit. When I did the NME Student Guide
last year, I said that education is really important, and Ted
Kessler goes, yawn, that's not very rock'n' roll. But I'm not
embarrassed by things like that; I think it's important that
people read, take the time to learn. It might not be rock'n'roll,
but it's important."
What manner of mail do you receive personally?
"I get lots of personal letters. Not all of them are
ecstatic - a lot of them are very critical, because we set
ourselves ridiculous standards. We're on our third album now -
we're only supposed to have made one that sold 20 million
the biggest debut the world has ever seen. Stupid, naive,
impossible targets. But again, it's all into failure. Everything
I've liked has always failed in some way. That semi-logo we've
got, the Soviet veteran of war medal, CCCP. The reason I liked
that was just because it did fail, that it was a beautiful dream.
But it's completely disproved; not the ideology of it, but the
way people put it into practice.
"When people talk about us, they've still got this idea that
the music can actually like, Change The World, or Smash The
System. That's nonsense; I've never thought a band could ever do
anything that important. It can change individuals, it can create
a common ground for important issues, but in terms of actually
doing something, changing the economic infrastructure, it's not
gonna do that, it never has done. That's what needs to be changed
if anything's to happen."
In '4st 7lbs' you mention some names, including Kate. Is that
"It's Kate as in Kate Moss, Emma as in Emma Balfour, Kristin
as in Kristin McMenemy, and Karen as in the Sky agony aunt."
Is it true that you were vaguely anorexic yourself?
"Vaguely; you could say that I had an eating
problem. Because if I ate too much, and I was drinking, I got all
puffed up and blotchy. And I'm too vain to be like that. I am a
vain person. I couldn't handle looking like that, I couldn't look
in the mirror. All is vanity."
When you were at Glastonbury you were in good shape, like you'd
been working out.
"In the last year, I've been doing loads of exercise. I do
about 1500 sit-ups every day. I do some weights as well, I take
them on tour with me. It's about trying to control my body; to
eat less and get fit. I want a flat stomach, I wanna six-pack, I
wanna stomach like Brad Pitt. I'm incredibly vain. But when I get
puffed up, all the marks on my body get swollen up. They all grow
and turn a funny colour, and I don't like looking like that. When
I go to bed and I see those wounds, they look so nasty. It's
better when they're a bit faded."
And then you wound yourself some more.
"But then I found a way where the wounds wouldn't come up,
they would just be there and then that wouldn't bother me."
In the past, you wore a T-shirt that read 'Kill Yourself'. You
told Smash Hits readers to die before they reached the age of
"That was a very very long time ago - the first press we did
properly. A lot of literature I like involves death of some kind,
but I think that's pretty typical of my generation, it's just a
question of what you were thinking about at the time."
You've always said that childhood is an ideal, and that life gets
more crummy the farther you go down the line. Can't you accept
that life can get better as well as worse?
"A lot of people had terrible childhoods, but personally up
to the age of 13, I was estatically happy. People treated me very
well, my dog was beautiful, I lived with my nan and she was
beautiful. School's nothing, you go there, come back and just
play football in the fields. Then I moved from my nan's and
started a comprehensive school and everything started going
wrong. In my 20s, there's nothing that's been that spectacular
We mention the rest of the band and their role in continuing with
the job; speaking about Richey's absence to the press in
compassionate terms, never publically criticising their friend
during this stressful period. You wonder how they feel privately,
and you talk to James about the relationship about how other
bands have dealt with such pressure. With Shane MacGowan and The
Pogues, for instance, concern gave way to weariness and then
finally resentment. Has there been any such friction with The
"The only thing that perhaps pissed me off in terms of
what's happened to him," says James, "is in relation to
the terms that people are gonna view Richey. They'll think that
he's a walking capital letter 'I' all ego. And yet on the
new album for me, his two best songs are written from his point
of view, but through other people, not himself.
'IfWhiteAmerica...' and 'Intense Humming of Evil'.
"I think he's maybe deflected attention away from the way he
can write about other people and turned it all on himself. It's
the only thing I'm angry about, because that makes him look very
Richey: "Even a lyric like '4st 7lbs', I've never been 4st
7lbs, never been close to it. But I can identify with certain
feelings. The lowest I've got down to is just under six stones.
That was my third year at university, that was the skinniest I
ever got, during my finals. But again, that was all about
"I started drinking in my first term at university. It was
something that I'd never allowed myself to do, but it was just a
question of getting myself to sleep. It was so noisy, and I
needed to get to sleep at a certain time and wake at a certain
time, and drinking gave me that opportunity.
When it came for me to do my finals, I suddenly realised that I
can't go in to do my finals pissed. So the way for me to gain
control was cutting myself a little bit. Only with a compass, you
know - vague little cuts - and not eating very much.
"Then I found I was really good during the the day. I slept,
felt good about myself, I could do all my exams. I got a 2:1 so I
wasn't a 100 per cent success, but I got through it, I did it. I
remember James came down to see me in the Easter holidays before
I did my finals. I wasn't very healthy then. But I did alright in
James: "I think it would make me angry if Richey's
songwriting just became therapy. I always thought that we wrote
about other people apart from ourselves in a much better
Richey: "I wouldn't allow that to happen, I would leave if
that was the case."
Happy Monday's 'Stinkin' Thinkin' is a great therapy song,
"It's the best therapy song. It's a brilliant lyric, but in
terms of people like Peter Gabriel singing "kiss that
frog", I don't want to get into that. I always thought I
could do things on my own, work it out for myself, but it got to
the point where I couldn't. Everybody realised I couldn't, which
was a disappointment to me.
"I couldn't understand Prisoner In Cell Block H. It
was doing my head in. And then I realised that I'm not stupid. I
had to convince myself that I wan't stupid. It was just a silly
little thing. The little things, you see, are the worry; that put
me in a mood that I can't really control. Nothing else happens in
my mind; I just get swamped by one idea. I can just see one
little thing on TV and that'll be it.
"It can be anything, and then I'll just stop functioning. I
think, what does it mean? I'm intelligent, why can't I understand
that? Just a line in a film or a book, and I've lost it. The last
one that happened, when I was hospitalised, was just a tiny
little thing on The Big Breakfast from Lee Marvin singing that
stupid song, 'I Was Born Under A Wandering Star'. There's a line
in that, 'Hell is in hello", and for two days, I couldn't do
fing anything. What's it mean, hell is in hello? What
are they trying to say? What is the point in that? Just little
things. And then I realised that something was not quite right.
"It sounds really petty and trite when I talk to people
about it, because it seems so unimportant. I've got to understand
more clearly and precisely."
When it's just a silly line in a song.
"That's all there is. But when you've got to spend a whole
day convincing youself that's all there is, that there's no
deeper meaning, then I'm not working very well. It's not as if I
don't understand that; all the way through I'm saying, I know
this, I know this, but I can't seem to take my mind off it. And
everything else is so unimportant to me; all the bad news that's
going on, it doesn't matter; I need to understand that
The story is that you locked youself in a room for two days and
cut yourself badly.
"Well, I've always cut myself and that did happen, yeah. I
was cutting myself."
Is it true that you call yourself Richard now?
"I do call myself Richard. That's my name. It's always been
my name, ever since the day I was born."
But it's not symbolic of some determined personality change?
"No, nothing like that. The band have never called me Richey
anyway. They've always called me Android, or something like
Downstairs, they're all at the dinner table. Noreen, the posh
Irish landlady, is serving homemade food, and chiding those that
don't eat everything up. She calls them 'little piggies' when she
learns that some of them have been munching on chocolate bars
between meals. The generation terrorists accept their chiding
Richey clears his plate and then stuffs out on thickly buttered
bread with jam on top. He smiles when Noreen ribs him about
fox-hunting, a pursuit she's interested in, and which Richey
doesn't approve of. What they do agree on is a fondness for the
So Richey takes his leave of the table and lies down on the
floor, playing with Claws, the obliging moggie, both of them
relaxed. The last of the summer sun is coming through the window,
and they cut a homely sight. Richey looks like a little boy. He
looks kind of happy.