This week, I went to see Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield play a solo acoustic gig at London’s Rough Trade East record store, which I wrote about for Rolling Stone.

Along with the gig was a screening, a documentary called ‘Culture, Alienation, Boredom and Despair’ which marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the band’s debut album, ‘Generation Terrorists‘. It’s an album which changed my life.

Twenty years ago I was a freelance journalist in Wellington, New Zealand, writing about anything in order to put food on the table. My musical tastes were unadventurous to say the least, though I always made the point of watching TVNZ’s long-lamented chart show ‘RTR’. (Just typing that makes me feel old.)

And one morning in 1992, there was a song called ‘Motorcycle Emptiness‘. The song sounded like a slice of US FM rock, but the video showed a band cut from a different cloth. The name of the song, the name of the band, the rain-spattered Tokyo background. Within the week, I’d bought the single and the album, and within a few months had decided that I had to move to London and try and get a job at the NME if this was the kind of music I was missing out on.

Since I moved here in 1994, I’ve caught the Manics at Reading Festival and at venues all across London, and even on their controversial visit to Cuba in 2001 – all of which would have been nigh on unthinkable back in 1992.

In 2007, I was lucky enough to shoot them for a personal project taking pics of bands at soundcheck at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire.

The Manics were one of the bands I was desperate to shoot ever since I’d started – and after an after-show chat to their manager, I was allowed to snap away at the next gig.

The shot of James above is one of my favourite pics yet from that project – lit by a single bright stage light, and snapped from the photographers’ pit, frozen in a rock ‘n’ roll pose in an almost deserted venue. (You can see the rest of the set here).

The Manics are a band who’ve inspired great photography – mostly thanks to their longtime collaborator Mitch Ikeda – and I hope this pic adds something to their visual history.

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Stephen Dowling
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11 years ago

Wonderful story, thanks for sharing! And your image is stunning!