Raf Simons, early years and memories of Richey

Raf and me - we are the Nicky brotherhood. Other people might look at our two members only-congregation as just another Nicky Wire (of Manic Street Preachers) fan club, but both of us know the word “Nicky” means so much more, so we don’t care.

…If the cover and the spine of this book could have taken more letters and words, this excerpt for Wire’s Manics lyric should have been the full title, because it truthfully sums up the full ten years of Raf Simons:

“It was no surface but all feeling
Maybe at the time it felt like dreaming”

Raf: Nicky and brotherhood.

Peter De Potter, REDUX (2005)

These are the words that opened Raf Simons’ first ever monograph. It was a documentation of the first ten years of his career and became a manifesto of his mental world. In words, visuals, facts and messages it traced through his collections, collaborations and references. Images of adolescent boys sat alongside articles on isolation and riot imagery next to words on the future of music and Crazy Frog. The book is very much like a good Manics album: bold, strangely poetic, and fills you with one image or phrase that will stay with you forever.

As the Manic Street Preachers set out to release their eleventh album later this year, we asked Nicky Wire to look back at the early years of the band and his memories of Richey Edwards.

In an early interview you said your music was “an accurate reflection of your teenage years”. How important was youth culture at the beginning of the Manics?
All of our early influences came out of our obsessive teenage culture. We wanted to be the full package. I think we grew up at a time where everything was just about the music. For us it was much more than that. When you read Jon Savage writing about youth culture you see how it all amalgamated - the Sex Pistols with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood, and in a sense the whole thing came together. That is what we wanted to be really. We wanted everything to be homemade and for all of our references to somehow come out in us. We were very young. Not that we were controversial but it was quite a timid age at the time. Whenever we did interviews people were quite shocked because we behaved like the people we were in our bedrooms.

We were so influenced by literature. I had just been to university and done a course on philosophy and literature, so I was obsessed with Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Richey was devouring everything and it was hard to keep up with him. You had the Beat generation - Kerouac and Ginsberg - who we were massively into because it seemed like they had such freedom in the way they wrote. Because we were quite an isolated group of kids who found each other, we just devoured everything whether it was music, books, magazines or film. To be honest it was a lovely thing because we had so much time on our hands. It was the one time in our lives that through education and being together that we could devour all of our learning at an early age.

Do you think it had a lot to do with growing up in a small town in Wales and being slightly disconnected?
I do, but I am really thankful in a lot of ways. We were just so uncool that we were able to like Joy Division and Hanoi Rocks at the same time. There were no rules for us. We didn’t have to be dictated by anything. My brother had come back from America and he had found the beat generation and was infiltrating us. It did feel isolated but it felt great. It was the four of us and it was a real stroke of luck that we all went to the same school and Richey and I went to the same university. You couldn’t write the story out to be romantic, but I have known James since I was four-years-old. There are not many examples of that in rock and roll.

During Richey’s time in the band you worked together on lyrics. What are your favourite memories from that process?
To be able to actually sit down and write lyrics at a desk with someone is just brilliant. We wanted to transfer all of our knowledge into lyrics. Quoting various political or philosophical books, but trying to make it accessible. We didn’t want to come across as being particularly highbrow. I remember times when we were in a student flat in Swansea and we would just riff lyrically off each other. Then we would sit in my room spray painting all of our shirts and nearly poisoning ourselves with car spray paint. It just generally seems like a time from a different universe really.

In 2001, Raf Simons dedicated his A/W ’01-’02 collection to Richey - both his disappearance and his time with the Manics. When did you first hear about the collection and what was your reaction?
I think I first heard about Raf before that. I remember reading an interview where he said something like, ‘If I could pick any model in the world it would be Richey and Nicky from the ‘Holy Bible’ era’. It was along those lines. I just remember feeling really flattered. Then I bought a piece from that collection, a black sweatshirt with our Astoria set-list on it, and I remember wearing it to an interview at Sony. I still have it now.

I think Raf dedicated this collection to Richey because he saw him as an isolated hero - even an outsider. Do you agree?
I can see it two ways. If I look back at rock and roll history I can definitely see it in that way. However, because I knew him so well I can also see him as the person I used to play football with and get absolutely hammered with in university. He was also a brother and a son. There are two sides really. I doesn’t bother me the idea of an isolated hero, not at all. I grew up with Jim Morrison and Ian Curtis and everyone else. He was an amazing rock star and I will always say that. He was phenomenal and I miss him so much. Not only as a friend but sometimes I think about the amazing star he would have been. He didn’t really see the digital age, when he was around everything was still analogue. It wasn’t a sensationalist age like it is now. He could have probably had the biggest Twitter following in the entire world.

What are the Manics working on this year?
It has been a magical two or three years for us. This year is really about ideas. The next record has to be a massive reinvention of how we sound and how we look. It is about everything. We have to make ourselves excited. It is hard to expect the public to still be excited on your eleventh record. It is all about stimulus this year.

Words by Isabella Burley

Read an interview with Raf Simons on his Richey Edwards inspired collection.

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