Teenage kicks – remembering Manic Street Preachers’ rock ‘n’ roll riot
I’m not saying that Newport is responsible for Morrissey’s controversial outbursts.
All I am saying is that it was 35 years ago this month that The Smiths’ frontman landed on his head after being yanked from the stage at the Newport Centre.
Whether the unceremonious bump during the gig on Sunday, October 19, 1986, caused a rush to the right side of his brain is debatable, however what we do know is that an over-enthusiastic indie kid manhandled Mozzer as he clasped the hands of fans causing him to crash to the floor of the venue.
Suffering from concussion he was advised by a doctor not to carry on with the show and was taken to the Royal Gwent Hospital for observation.
The Newport gig, part of the The Queen Is Dead tour, was subsequently abandoned, much to the annoyance of those more unruly fans who decided to pull the stage apart, attempt to smash the band’s kit and fight with The Smiths’ road crew.
Police were called and six arrests made for public order offences.
Two weeks earlier, 14 miles up the road in Blackwood a lesser known, but in the grand scheme of Welsh music things, a much more influential rock ‘n’ roll riot was kicking off in the more intimate environs of the Blackwood Little Theatre.
There, on Saturday October 4, 1986, Manic Street Preachers would play their third ever gig as support to local goth-punk headliners Funeral In Berlin.
Two years before they would release their debut single ‘Suicide Alley’ and not yet the furious four of James Dean Bradfield, Nicky Wire, Richey Edwards and Sean Moore, this was proto Manics taking on all-comers – quite literally.
Richey was then the band’s driver, while enigmatic bass player Flicker (Miles Woodward) was still a member of the group.
It was to be a gig full of incidents on stage and off – a show that descended into brawling chaos, a full scale riot and a marker for the controversy and confrontation to come from these budding enfant terribles. Thankfully it was also captured for posterity via rare cut-up camcorder footage shot at the gig.
To describe the sight that unfolded that evening, here are the words of ace rock scribe Sylvia Patterson, for a piece published in Q Magazine in June 2018, after revisiting the Blackwood Little Theatre with the band to promote their then latest album ‘Resistance Is Futile’ and the single ‘Distant Colours’, which was filmed at the venue.
She wrote: ‘James Dean Bradfield is onstage in Blackwood’s Little Theatre, his black jumper deliberately ripped to expose a tantalising nipple, soon hoisting it upwards to reveal a bare chest etched with the words “I AM SEX”.
‘The crowd are incensed, beer cans targeted at his and pogoing guitarist Nicky Wire’s jeering heads. A Mohicaned punter charges the stage with an open cardboard box, slamming it over bassist Flicker’s head, Bradfield punching it away, Wire bawling abuse, as seats are ripped up, a piano is smashed and an onstage brawl ensues…’
Police were called and arrests were made as the venue was laid to waste by football hooligans and rugby lads who had descended on the venue looking for trouble.
The Manics were 17, 18 years old happy to improvise the riotous theatrics of band’s they were in thrall of, most chiefly chaotic headline grabbers The Jesus And Mary Chain.
In the footage from the gig you can see the band being bottled and heckled as the Little Theatre descends into anarchy.
Unsurprisingly, the gig is indelibly etched on the mind of the man who organised this punk and disorderly show – Steve Gatehouse.
The drummer, who attended Cross Keys College with The Manics, told me how he had asked the future stars to support his goth-punk band – Funeral In Berlin.
“They were good mates and we offered to let them use all our kit,” he recalled. “It’s just a shame it all got trashed and covered in beer.
“Funeral In Berlin had a bit of a reputation, much like the Jesus and Mary Chain did at the time, of attracting trouble at their gigs,” continues Steve.
“As there weren’t that many gigs in the area, we’d attract all the punks and goths to our shows.
“There were about 200 in that night, including a minority of football fans and rugby lads who proceeded to take the place apart.
“The Manics did a half hour set and as you can see from the footage it was chaos.”
Manic Street Preachers at Blackwood Little Theatre (Credit: Steve Gatehouse)
During their ramshackle set which featured breakneck covers of The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’,The Sex Pistols’ ‘God Save The Queen’, plus originals ‘Intellectual Monks’ and their debut single ‘Suicide Alley’, frontman James Dean Bradfield remains particularly defiant in the face of some severe provocation.
“Well you can see him being hit on the head by a beer can for a start,” laughed Steve. “But James was always pretty fierce, the strong silent type. You wouldn’t mess with him.
“He fronted up to the football and rugby boys, winding them up by lifting his shirt and pointing to those words on his chest.
“A piano was smashed up, all our kit was wrecked and covered in beer and it was inevitable the police would be called.
“They made quite a few arrests and I remember over the course of the evening lots of people were hauled into the back of the police van.”
Steve, 53, said he found the video tape while sifting through some old boxes of videos featuring many of the Welsh bands he had played in over the years.
“Funeral In Berlin was my first band which I formed with bass player Nick Curtis and guitarist Craig Bruzas, I remember Nick had hired a video camera to film the show,” he said. “He left the video camera running up on a gantry at the back of the venue and recorded both bands’ sets capturing all the chaos as it unfolded. Basically the place was smashed up and the police had to be called.
“I remember that Nick had made me a video of our gig and had put together a jokey montage of the Manics’ footage, as he thought their gig was so funny.
“The video is a bit shaky and not the greatest quality, but as a record of a gig descending into chaos it’s amazing.”
It’s in part thanks to Steve and Funeral In Berlin that the Manics were inspired to form a band.
“We played in the Cross Keys Institute in 1985 and that was another gig that descended into chaos,” he remembered. “The Manics hadn’t formed a band at that point and were in the crowd.
“Nicky said he loved the gig and apparently thought yes, this is it, this is what I want to do. He said it give him the kick up the a*** needed to form a band.”
In addition to the notorious Little Theatre show, Funeral In Berlin also gave the Manics their first taste of live action.
“We did about six gigs with them in all and they played their very first gig supporting us at The Railway Hotel in Crumlin,” recalled Steve.
“But it’s no lie that the Little Theatre show is the gig that is still talked about now. It was that kind of night. Legendary.”
Manic Street Preachers play Venue Cymru, Llandudno on December 1. Buy tickets HERE
The band’s new album Ultra Vivid Lament is out now. Find out more via: www.manicstreetpreachers.com
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unwatchable – still are tbh