Loading Events

Vinyl Sessions: Manic Street Preachers – The Holy Bible

May 26, 2024

Tickets £3
Doors open 12pm, session starts at 12.30pm
This show is for a seated audience
The bar will be open throughout

Totalitarianism. Murder. Genocide. Prostitution. Misogyny. Anorexia. Religious fundamentalism. White supremacy. Terrorism. Abortion.

These aren’t the sort of topics that usually preoccupy the writers of rock albums – and certainly not those in bands signed to multinational music corporations, whose music could be readily purchased at your local Woolworths, John Menzies, WH Smiths, Our Price, HMV, Virgin Megastore, Andy’s Records, independent record shop or other 1994-era retailer of your choice. But on The Holy Bible, the third album by the Manic Street Preachers, they very much are.

It’s a record in thrall to the arresting, yet worryingly morbid lyricism of the band’s least technically proficient musician, who spent long periods of the recording sessions drinking, sleeping or crying.

At the time of its release, The Manic Street Preachers were still largely known as purveyors of scrappy, yet hugely ambitious alternative rock songs like ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’, ‘You Love Us’ and ‘La Tristessa Durera (Scream to a Sigh)’.

Having formed a close bond during their schooldays, lead singer/guitarist James Dean Bradfield, drummer Sean Moore (cousins to each other), rhythm guitarist Richey Edwards and bassist Nicky Wire had gone on to forge a fairly successful career, but found themselves in something of a creative slump in the wake of their second album, Gold Against Soul, released in 1993. Their way out involved moving away from what had been their musical image and stylings up until then – which one could perhaps boil down to ‘Guns ‘n’ Roses, but if they read lots of books and were hyper self-aware’ – and towards reconnecting with some of their formative influences back when they were first getting the band together. The Clash. Wire. Siouxsie and the Banshees. Gang of Four.

At the time, however, Richey Edwards was far from well. He had already been affected for some time by severe depression, manifesting in frequent bouts of self-harm and anorexia. By the time initial recording sessions for The Holy Bible were fully underway, his drinking was fast becoming a cause for concern among his bandmates, culminating in two stints in rehab around the time of the album’s release.

The band’s least musically-accomplished member by some distance – his playing only appears on two Manics studio recordings – Edwards instead served as chief architect of The Manics’ overall aesthetic and sonic direction, sharing lyric-writing duties with Wire, while Bradfield and Moore took care of the musical compositions, arrangements and most of the actual playing. Edwards certainly wasn’t short of written material to present to his bandmates – according to the band’s own estimates, Richards contributed around 70% of the album’s lyrics – but this time round his words were especially notable for their unremitting bleakness. The guy who had previously come up with ‘Rock and roll is our epiphany/Culture, alienation, boredom and despair’ for the Manics’ debut album Generation Terrorists was now telling us ‘If hospitals cure/Then prisons must bring their pain/Don’t be ashamed to slaughter/The centre of humanity is cruelty.’

In an inversion of the usual ‘work up the music, add the lyrics afterwards’ approach employed by many of their rock peers, the music on The Holy Bible is written to fit the words – the sheer density and sprawling vocabulary of which, combined with the band’s post-punk touchstones, resulted in music that was contorted into all manner of uneasy, awkward shapes, almost as if it were uncomfortable in its own skin. Barring occasional lapses into their former style – see Bradfield’s guitar pyrotechnics in the outro to ‘Archives of Pain’, or the mid-tempo rock balladry that backs ‘She is Suffering’ – The Holy Bible tends towards the clipped, harsh and abrasive, albeit often in ways that mesh fascinatingly with the songs’ frequently upsetting subject matter.

‘Ifwhiteamericatoldthetruthforonedayitsworldwouldfallapart’s’ critique of how American foreign policy has sat uneasily alongside its dominance of international pop culture is set to suitably martial rhythms with a clarion call chorus.

The fascist hellscape depicted in ‘Of Walking Abortion’ blazes out of the speakers with a thuggish brutality.

The harrowing anorexic confessional of ‘4st 7lb’ commences with the lacerating, actively unpleasant noise of guitars made to sound like sheet metal and warning sirens, descending ever downward until finally reaching an awful kind of blank serenity when there’s nowhere further left to go.

Heaviest of all is ‘The Intense Humming of Evil’s’ quasi-musique concrète evocation of gas chambers, industrialised euthanasia and mass murder. Then, as now, engaging with the horrific magnitude of The Holocaust is something that rock and pop acts just don’t do. In some respects, the track is by some distance The Holy Bible at its most lurid and wilfully disturbing. From another angle, it could also be seen as demonstrative of the band’s compulsion to recognise and stare down humanity’s inherent monstrousness, while simultaneously expressing support, solidarity and compassion for those on the receiving end of said monstrousness.

Upon the album’s release in the late summer of 1994, the band played that year’s Reading Festival as a three-piece, before being rejoined by a post-rehab Edwards in autumn for a UK tour. Bradfield and Edwards were then due to fly out to the US on February 1st 1995 for promotional duties to support the album’s Stateside release.

Edwards never made the flight. On 17th February his car was reported as having been abandoned at the Severn View service station, not far from the Severn Bridge. A body was never found, and his family chose to have him be officially considered a missing person until 23rd November 2008, when he was declared presumed dead. He would have been 40 years of age.

The session will be curated by Jason Graham.

The album playback will be followed by a Q&A session.

After a short break, we’ll follow the album with our usual ‘Dead Wax’ session. Bring along a vinyl disc of your choice and hear a track from it played through the Arts Centre PA. This can be anything you like, for any reason – the more ‘out there’ the better.


Share This Event

  • This event has passed.


Sun, May 26
12:00 pm - 3:00 pm


Church St, CO1 1NF Colchester, United Kingdom


Colchester Arts Centre