To mark the 20 years of their seminal single ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, Manic Street Preachers have opened up about the lyrics, origins and video to the track – and how it went from being ‘a classic B-side’ to the band’s first number one.
Watch our ‘Song Stories’ video interview with the band above.
The Manics released the first single from their massive selling fifth album ‘This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours’ two decades ago today (August 24). While the band were at Rough Trade to talk about their acclaimed 2018 album ‘Resistance Is Futile’, we sat down with frontman James Dean Bradfield and bassist and lyricist Nicky Wire to discuss how the last song they wrote for the record, nearly didn’t make the album at all.
“To be honest, we thought we had the album in the bag,” Wire told NME. “We had ‘Tsunami’, ‘You Stole The Sun’, ‘The Everlasting’, so it wasn’t that highly pressurised.”
Frontman James Dean Bradfield continued: “And I didn’t recognise the weight or the prescience of the lyrics. Perhaps that took the pressure off trying to write the tune. There was a dorm room in Chateau de la Rouge Motte where our manager Martin and the record company would come and stay over. I sat in there one morning, absent-mindedly playing my J-45 acoustic guitar and it seemed like a really simple song: five or six chords, tops.
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“I went and played it downstairs and Nick and Sean were like ‘oh yeah, that’s cool – that’s good’. We finished that session in France, then we booked a session with Dave Eringa over in Romfield and perhaps he seemed to realise that it could go on the record, and not be a ‘classic, legendary Manics B-side’. We always wanted one of those moments to happen because B-sides were important to us.”
As per usual with the Manics, the lyrics draw from art, culture and history – as they put it, ‘using the past to illustrate what’s missing from the present’. Inspired by George Orwell’s ‘Homage To Catalonia’ and a phrase written on a poster calling for recruits to fight in the Spanish Civil War, Wire was driven to write one of their most rousing rallying cries.
“The lyric was written in Barcelona, initially,” Wire continued. “A lot of my best words seem to come from other places at times. There’s a lot of words in it actually, It’s one of my favourite opening lines ever, to any number one: ‘The future teaches you to be alone, the present to be afraid and cold‘. How prophetic I was 20 years ago, to write that?”
As for the iconic music video, Wire revealed: “Back in the day when TV budgets were as much as you’d have to make a TV series today, I just talked to [director W.I.Z.] really about Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Space Odyssey’ and the glacial power that some of his movies had. That analogue science-fiction. He had this idea of ‘Hot Wheels’ with blood running down it, which I couldn’t quite see at the time but it absolutely worked perfectly.
“We should have all had prosthetic masks on, but in the end we nominated James to be the only that turned into some kind of mutant – but he did do a drama O-level.
“It is a brilliant video. I remember going to the edit and the vividness of it was just staggering. When a video is a beautiful fit and everything illustrates the words and the music, there’s not many better feelings.”
Bradfield added: “My other main ambition aside from being in the Manics was the be the Welsh Tim Roth, so maybe that paid off for one video.”
- Watch our full ‘Song Stories’ video at the top of the page
The No.1 album from 1998 contained the huge singles ‘If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next’, ‘You Stole The Sun From My Heart’, ‘Tsunami’ and ‘The Everlasting’. The record went gold in its first week, and saw the Manics become an arena band – headlining Glastonbury and V Festival in its wake, as well their legendary New Year’s Eve gig into the year 2000 at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium.
“It’s 20 years of ‘This Is My Truth’, so we might do something around that,” Wire told NME. “Only because we have so much stuff that’s never been heard. In my archive, that’s the one that takes up the most space. I don’t know about gigs, but there’s just so much stuff that no one has ever heard. It’s our biggest selling album.”
He continued: “There’s a brilliant unreleased version of ‘Tsunami’. The original demo of ‘Tolerate’ is actually so crap, that it’s brilliant. To think that Rob Stringer came down and saw that one as a first single, then we’d go on to sale three and a half million albums around the world with a lyric like that. I still wonder how we did it.”