Warning: contains fanboyism
It's been a pretty extraordinary week. To start with, i was offered out of the blue the chance to attend a festival in Bergen, Norway, the straightforwardly-titled Bergenfest. The reason for this is that my pals in the group SCAMS were playing, but their manager, who had been meant to attend, was detained in Hong Kong and subsequently San Francisco by the volcanic ash cloud of terror that so enlivened April.
The whole thing was a fantastic and often very drunken experience: lovely people were met, absolutely rakes of fish were consumed, great music was seen (i sadly missed Lou Reed's Metal Machine Trio, again, but seeing a duo of air-travel-fixated, synth-toting Latvian pandas pretty much made up for it) and lots and lots of krone were spent on some really pretty dodgy beer and slightly better wine. Doubtless more of this later, especially as regards Instrumenti (the Latvian panda-band).
Anyway, on the last day, we were to be picked up and taken to the airport at 12 o'clock. i woke up at 11:20 with no packing done, in an incredibly untidy room, and with a hangover that could probably be deemed "award-winning". At five minutes to twelve i suddenly felt like i'd been stabbed repeatedly in the gut. Doubled over, i stumbled indelicately round the room wondering whether the jig was in fact up for me. Fortunately, a few minutes later, the outrageous stomach pain passed as quickly as it had dawned. By the time we reached the airport 45 minutes later, though, that was about the only improvement.
It was at this point, sitting grimly at gate 23a of Bergen airport, something akin to delirium tremens gripping my whole body, gamely suppressing occasional waves of nausea and trying to hide my horrible condition from a sweet girl we'd met on the plane trip over – essentially, in no fit state to say anything to anyone – that Andy points over to a nearby group and says "hey – isn't that the Manics?"
OK, here's the thing. Before the Manic Street Preachers, i wasn't really into music much. i much preferred roughly re-enacting the events on TV's Gladiators on a local industrial estate, reading, devising "inventions" of various degrees of daftness that i'd write down in what turned out to be the first of a lifetime of notebooks, and attempting to program text adventures for the Sinclair Spectrum +2A. My interest in music was mainly limited to a couple of TV themes, the odd track by ABBA or Meatloaf, and the soundtracks to Speccy games like Manic Miner and others i've long forgotten. i'd listen to local radio, but more for the clownish japes of the DJs then the handful of 70s/80s gassers on rotation in between them. Around about '95, i'd started to take a mild interest in the Britpop thing, but wasn't sufficiently committed to take sides in Blur vs. Oasis, for example.1 But in early '96, when i was twelve, i heard the Manics on the radio. It was like a bomb going off under everything.
i bought the single i'd heard ("A Design for Life") from Woolworths, followed by The Holy Bible album (the parent album not having been released yet), then Generation Terrorists, then the just-released Everything Must Go (which came out on my 13th birthday). Then Gold Against the Soul to complete the set, and then a compulsive quest to amass everything else they'd ever done, and follow up on all the cultural references contained therein (i don't think i've come anywhere near getting all of them to this day). i could probably draw a musical mind-map starting with MSP at the centre and tracing the influences outwards to a huge amount of the other stuff i listen to (and maybe i will, one day).
Generation Terrorists channelled Public Enemy and The Clash, so i checked out Public Enemy and The Clash, promptly getting into old-school punk and hip-hop. Old punk led to both new punk and to reggae. Reggae led to dub. New punk led to hardcore. Hip-hop led to more and more hip-hop. And so on. The myriad cultural references led me to countless books and films. The general newfound musical obsession led me to the music press. It continued to spread, completely out of control.
So i had to talk to them, nuclear hangover or no; i would have regretted it endlessly (and been chided to the end of time by my MSP-fan mates) had i not. i plucked up the courage to walk up to Nicky Wire, proffered a hand to shake, and promptly forgot just about every word in the English language. Approximate transcript from memory follows:
TR: Hi... er...
NW: Hi. [shaking hands]
TR: i won't bother you for too long, because i'm sure you just want to get back home, but... [completely lost for words by now] um. i just wanted to tell you that your band, literally... in a very literal way, you guys changed my life.
NW [grinning, possibly scoping out the Million Dead t-shirt i had on]: For the better?
TR: Ha ha... yes, definitely. i mean you pretty much got me into music. so, like, thanks for everything.
NW: [something like] Ah, it's a pleasure. Thanks!
TR: [shuffling off, schoolboy-like] Cheers.
Sean Moore, i encountered in the weird mobile corridor-on-wheels thing that connects the terminal building with the plane. He looked possibly slightly worried that i was walking back towards him. i doubt i was in any state to be mistaken for a security official, so i'm guessing i probably just looked like Some Nutter.
TR: Hi, erm, like i was just saying to Nick just now, don't want to bother you for very long, but i wanted to say thanks, you guys pretty much got me into music...
SM: [something like] Ah, great!
TR: Yeh, like you had the Public Enemy/Clash thing on the first album...
SM: That's right, yeh.
TR: ...and i'm in a rap group at the moment, from the PE thing.
SM: Ah, right! Well, keep going.
And that was about the size of it: two brief yet unforgettable conversations. i carried on towards our flight, slightly stunned, probably grinning like a village idiot, and oddly enough, welling up a little. i probably sounded quite gushing and far from eloquent, but i figured that if there's anyone that can understand painful sincerity, it's those guys. And for the amount of people that must have told them similar stories over the years, it was awfully sweet of Nick to smile slightly bashfully when he asked if my change had been for the better.
i forgot the cardinal rule of pics-or-it-didn't-happen, but it somehow didn't matter. We all boarded the flight, me tripping over myself with surprise and admiration and probably also residual booze. There was no first class on the flight, the band just sitting among us like anyone else. Another classy move for a group of men who've sold tens of thousands of records.
"They" say you should never meet your heroes. Evidently, "they" just picked the wrong heroes.
1 i was way more partisan when it came to Blur vs. Mogwai a few years later.
2 Hi Lindsey, Kat, Rachel, Dan, Charlotte, Marilyn, etc.!