All the gigs of my life: Gig 44 – Manic Street Preachers, Saturday, August 21, 1999, Hylands Park, Chelmsford (V99)


“Oh the Manics, my Manics, how easy it is for them to become Everything again.”

The Manics were back, and in universe-conquering form. As usual.

“Could that have been the best, most heart-stopping, most resolutely meaning-of-life creating gig I’ve ever seen them do!!?”

Summer 1999 was well and truly upon us, and it was time to repeat the season of festivals that I’d experienced two years previously: V and Reading. First up was this trek to the wilds of Chelmsford for V99, to see the Manics for the 9th time. It had been eight months since I’d seen them at Wembley in December 1998, and there had been rumblings in the music press that the band were planning to veer back towards their more punky, political roots. I couldn’t wait to find out if this was true.

So the day came. and I left home earlier than I’d intended out of sheer rampant impatience, which turned out to be a mistake. From my diary: “I found myself wandering a bewilderingly huge frighteningly overpopulated field at twenty past two with no vaguely interesting band on ’til four. I found a programme seller and an ice cream van and settled down with these two items under the tree I’d dozed under two years ago when Embrace were blasting in the background. The day was by turns blisteringly breezy and stunningly sunny and I found myself repeatedly flinging off my jumper in the heat only to put it back on a few shivering seconds later.”

So I was sitting there, minding my own business, reading the programme and working out a Plan of Action for the day, when something a bit odd happened. “Suddenly something fell on me. It was, in fact, a highly out-of-it bloke, who just looked at me with eyes on the moon and proceeded to roll away with another similarly afflicted bloke.”

I was mildly disturbed by this bizarre intrusion into my contemplation, so I wandered off to have a look at the stages. “Sneaker Pimps were on, a kind of embryonic techno Placebo. The singer was at least making an effort with his white face paint and interesting blue top. But it was monumentally unspectacular and by this time I was feeling disheartened, bored and generally pissed off with the whole experience. I began to seriously question whether I’d make it through the day. I felt insecure being in such a huge crowd on my own and so far the music on offer inspired, well, absolutely nothing to me.”

This was not a great start to the day, but I tried to keep up my festival spirits. Placebo were due on stage in three bands’ time on the main stage, so I resolved to give it at least until I’d seen them to decide whether I could make it through the day. First though, Mel C and Supergrass were scheduled to perform. “So I made my way to the main stage to the sound of Vaguely Interesting Spice blasting out her indie-wannabe numbers which turned out to be pretty damn bloody good, actually. There was this sinister shuddering one about going round the bend, and then a completely gorgeous one, and I was strangely converted. “Bet ya didn’t expect to see ME up here!” shrieked Mel like a megalomaniac Robbie in training. Well yes we did Mel, your name’s on the posters about twice as bis as anyone else’s. Then there were a few rockin’ ones, again very Robbie-esque, and then, slightly tragically, slightly thrillingly, “Anarchy In The UK”. Well it may be How To Become Cred In Three Easy Steps but I’m sure Mel’s not lying when she says “I don’t fuckin’ care!” and why should she? It’s pop, after all.”

Somewhat cheered by the antics of Quite Good Spice I moved up closer to the stage and sat down as they set up for Supergrass, where I got chatting to a bespectacled bloke next to me. “He enthused about Mel and then said “What’s going on between the Levellers and the Manics then?” The Levs had been on while I was watching the Sneakers but apparently, one had taken it upon himself to slag off MSP almightily, basically because “they’re fat and we’re thin” it seems, and something to do with having given the Manics their first break. Strange. Sure to provoke comment from Nicky that evening, I considered, happily.”

Our conversation moved on to previous V festivals. He’d been to the one in ’98, and I spoke of seeing Placebo at ’97. “He said “of course they’re not here this year.” Eh? Apparently, they’d pulled out at the last minute and been replaced by Kula Shaker.” And before I had a chance to rejoice in the surprise that I’d be unexpectedly seeing this new fave of mine very soon, they were on stage. “When the next band strolled onstage there were a few seconds where I thought, has Gaz ‘Grass dyed his hair blond? ’til I realised that it was in fact the lovely Crisp I was beholding!”

My somewhat desultory mood up til this point was immediately obliterated by the glorious positivity of the Shaker’s tunes. “They zoomed into “Hey Dude” and instantly it was the Greatest Fest Ever and I knew I’d see the day out with gusto. Kula Shaker were their usual wonderful live experience, and quite frankly a lot better suited to this environment than Placebo ever could be. Much as I love Brian and co, I was far too thrilled to find myself jumping about and waving mystically and generally acting silly to “Tattva” and “Into The Deep” to really care about Placebo’s non-appearance. And “Govinda” was the greatest swayalong, shoutalong anthem ever, that minute.”

Next up were Supergrass “and very good too, though they played lots of new songs, which is WRONG for fests.” I was somewhat worn out from bouncing about to the Shaker, so I took a breather a few songs into their set. “I went a bit further away to to sit down (and nearly fall asleep, quite frankly). Their new single “Moving” is particularly great, and “Going Out” was wonderful, as was “Late In The Day”, but by and large I was left with the general impression that I didn’t really have to bother going and seeing Supergrass on their up and coming tour.”

It was getting close to Manics time, so I needed to find some refreshments to see me through the raucous night ahead. I found a “fairly unappetising baked potato” for dinner and braved the “mile-long loo queues”. But there was one more band to see on the second stage before my boys came onto the main stage, and it was another band I loved. “Super Furry Animals! They were wonderful. “God! Show Me Magic” was storming, “Northern Lites” was excessively groovy but it was the slow songs that really got to me. “Turning Tide”: “and we’re living in a world of quicksand…” and “Fire In My Heart” was a major singalong, just built to be sung sitting round the fire whilst camping with 60,000 of your closest friends. And “Mountain People” was well, just too good. After a truly dazzling “Demons” they screamed into “Night Vision” and painful though it was, I had to tear myself away to the main stage for my boys were due on in fifteen minutes.”

So I marched purposefully back to the main stage and down to the far right, Nicky-side. I found a spot “about ten or so rows back, but my view was great, massive screen in front of me and no one ridiculously tall in my vicinity. The wait, though shorter than I’d usually endure in such circumstances, was torturous, not made any better by the incessant Lightning Seeds tunes blaring out at us.”

But the moment I’d been impatiently waiting for finally came in true iconic Manics style. “The screens are suddenly ablaze with a speeding montage of MSP images, and huge screams ensued at any glimpse of Richey or Nicky in GT guise. Perhaps most moving was the quick glimpse of the Useless Generation tattoo. When a crowd goes wild at an image of a band member’s tattoo, you know you are amongst obsessives.”

From the very first song – a scorching version of “Faster” – it was clear that this was a different Manic Street Preachers to the one I’d last seen in December 1998. “Oh this gig was something else. Not so much a band in transition, but in regression: it really is happening, they really have rediscovered their fire.

The setlist continued wuth more recent songs like “You Stole The Sun From My Heart” and “Tsunami”, and the crowd were in fervent form. “Never before have I experienced such a huge crowd so united in shouting along as one with the greatness before them.” After this came “the first life-defining moment of the gig”: the new single “Masses Against The Classes”.

“This is so much more than “Ready For Drowning” at Reading ’97. That was an indication of More Of The Same: this, my friends, was a flaming blast to anyone who’d ever accused MSP of abandoning their roots, their meaning for existence, of losing the plot and becoming Just A Band. THIS was proof beyond measure that the Manics will be the most important band of the zeroes, the tens, of EVER. It was just perfect. Their relevance is not only intact but blazing, omnipotent.”

I was so wrapped up in the incendiary brilliance of this gig, it took me this far in the entry to mention how my boys were looking that night. “I’ve completely neglected to mention that Nicky was clad in a delightful animal print two piece, and sort of tunic with a very sexy tight mini, and as far as I could tell, long socks to match. His hair is longer than ever before now.” As I’d previously hoped, Nicky had a fine rejoinder to the Levellers’ earlier insult. “He said: “So the Levellers think they gave us our first break. Well that’s right because when we looked at the Levellers we thought they were the WORST FUCKING BAND IN THE WORLD!” He ranted on, and I can guess what he was saying, but I could not hear it at the time, so drowned out was the universe in the screams of the righteous.”

After a few more songs like “La Tristesse Durera” and “Ready For Drowning”, a disembodied voice penetrated our heads: “I hate purity. I hate goodness. I don’t want virtue to exist anywhere. I want everything corrupt”. Then overwhelmingly, amazingly, the band launched into “Of Walking Abortion”. “Apart from being so bloody brilliant I could weep to hear that Bible track, of all tracks, it was an absolutely stunning live song, arresting, compelling, moving, that ending scream of “Who’s responsible? YOU FUCKING ARE!!!” so incredible, so powerful, something I never thought I’d experience live.” The Manics had shied away from playing some of the more confrontational Holy Bible tracks in previous gigs I’d been to, so to hear a track like this was a shock and a revelation. “If the Manics can embrace “The Holy Bible” and in fact start actively reminding us of that section of their past by playing us the songs, there’s no saying what their next album, next tours might hold.”

I was so stunned by hearing “Of Walking Abortion” that I was convinced that it was moment of greatness that could not be topped, but a few songs later I was completely floored by “Motorcycle Emptiness”. “I was just gone by now. They were playing so magnificently, so movingly, not in a corny tear-inducing sort of way but in the sort of way that rearranges your very being into more alive, more meaningful shapes. As James sang “all we want from you are the kicks you’ve given us”, and they all stopped playing except Sean and the keyboard emitting pained strangled chords, it was so powerful. Tens of thousands sang along, and we meant it: we want the kicks you gave us in ’92, and ’94, and you are giving them to us, again, NOW. It was a defining moment.”

So we yelled along to “Australia” and “Kevin Carter” and “Motown Junk”, the latter embellished with a segment from “Baby Love”, “though I don’t think “Baby Love”‘s lyrics went “I wanna fuck you ’til you’re dead” when the Supremes did it, somehow.” Then we were nearing the end and it was time for “You Love Us”. “THAT was perhaps the greatest moment, well perhaps not, but it would have been in any normal gig, the sheer might of the song, propelling us into frenzied abandon, and “Tolerate” followed it, gorgeous, moving. I have never been in such an up-for-it crowd, every song was sung by thousands, it really could have been a religious gathering, I guess it really was.”

And finally, inevitably, it had to end, and it ended as it always did, with “A Design For Life”. “You know, it was like it always is, that is to say, a reason to live, that’s all. Except I could have died right there as that resounding, glorious intro blasted upon us, as we tore our throats shrieking “we don’t talk about love!!” and so on. I don’t really need to write it, do I?”

I did, however, need to write about the very end, as after James and Sean and the keyboard bloke had strolled off, we had an epic moment of iconic Wire antics. “Nicky chose to remain and entertain us by pulling all the amps off their platforms and toppling them to the floor, slowly, one by one, with massive screams from the crowd for each one. He chucked the mike about, before pointing to some more amps and looking at us like he was asking us if he should trash those as well. They all went down, needless to say. He flashed his knickers and his scrawny chest at us, and stood at the front of the stage soaking in our adulation for several moments before disappearing. Yes, I think I can say it: that was the greatest Manics gig ever.”

All there was left to do after that was for the masses to stumble out to the buses, to make our way back to Chelmsford station. It was not one of life’s happier journeys. “Here we encountered a definition of hell. We were crowded next to a row of buses but due to queue jumpers and general dodgy organisation it was an hour before we boarded. My legs and back were screaming, I longed for my bed and basically I decided there was no way I was going to go through this again the following night.”

So it was that I missed out on seeing Suede at V99 the following night. It was a difficult decision to make, that Sunday morning as I scribbled all this, but it was made easier by the magnificence I’d witnessed the night before. “There are some things I will go through for the Manics, but no-one else, not even Suede. But on the plus side, apart from avoiding more pain and torment, I can spend today, well, revelling in the Manics, which is all I really want to do, really.”

And thus ended the Manics at V99, the greatest Manics gig I’d been to so far. But I had an even greater Manics night ahead of me in a few months’ time, at the only gig I’ll ever attend which straddled two years, two centuries and two millennia. But that’s for a blog post to come…

3 thoughts on “All the gigs of my life: Gig 44 – Manic Street Preachers, Saturday, August 21, 1999, Hylands Park, Chelmsford (V99)

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