There is a distinct feeling of excitement and anticipation at Bristol’s Harbourside amphitheatre, where a crowd eagerly awaits the start of The Manic Street Preachers in front of a picturesque stage framed by Bristol’s iconic steam cranes.

Coming as part of Bristol Sounds – a special series of concerts running June 21-24 including Bonobo last Wednesday night and Craig David on Friday – the gigs were organised by Crosstown Concerts, who previously brought the likes of George Ezra, the Pogues and Paolo Nutini to the city, as well as playing a part in the Massive Attack one-day festival on the Downs last year.

Manic Street Preachers - Bristol Sounds

Supping beer in the fading summer sun, tonight’s crowd were gently warmed by The Anchoress, a female singer songwriter and pianist alongside beloved indie six-piece British Sea Power. Yet it was clear who everyone was there for…

Originally formed just across the estuary in Wales, the Manic Street Preachers seemed decidedly at home on stage in Bristol – despite frontman James Dean Bradfield admitting at the start of their set that this was the first time the band had played together in nine months. Yet, with ten albums spanning over four decades and much of their friends and family in tow, the band seem so relaxed and confident we would never have guessed if he hadn’t told us.

Manic Street Preachers - Bristol Sounds

While Bradfield spoke of the band’s connection with Bristol, listing some of the city’s historic venues and giving a shout out to fans who have been there from the start, Nicky Wire looked effortlessly cool in dark shades on bass alongside Sean Moore on drums.

Affectionately known as The Manics by fans, the band have a loyal following and it’s easy to see why. They’ve proved themselves year after year and are no strangers to reinvention, while continually releasing songs that offer a poignant and sometimes painful commentary on modern life.

no strangers to reinvention, while continually releasing songs that offer a poignant and sometimes painful commentary on modern life

Opening their set with Motorcycle Emptiness from the beloved Generation Terrorists album, the crowd burst into song eagerly – this is what they had come for. A metaphor for the loneliness that results from living in a consumer society, Motorcycle Emptiness was a major hit for the band in 1992, but seems more poignant than ever in 2017.

Manic Street Preachers - Bristol Sounds

The band played songs spanning their long and fruitful career, taking us on a varied tour through their back catalogue and keeping fans sated with a set list studded with classics. Indian summer and You Stole the Sun from my Heart were received with rapture.

It’s hard to talk about the Manics’ music without politics coming into play. Kevin Carter, a song about the tragic and short life of south African photo journalist Kevin Carter who committed suicide at the young age of 33 after being haunted by images of famine, was followed by the anti-fascist anthem If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next – a song warning of the dangers of passivism and focusing on the Spanish Civil War. Many Welsh volunteers joined the International Brigade to fight against fascism, and it’s obviously a subject close to the band’s heart.

The band also seemed to quietly acknowledge missing original member Richey Edwards, who famously disappeared near the Severn Bridge in 1995. His absence was observed in their song choices including Walk Me to the Bridge from their last album Futorology released in 2014.

Show Me the Wonder from 2013’s Rewind the Film album, which came as something of a ‘third life’ for the band according to Bradfield, was well received, bringing the crowd together for a sing-along, with heads bobbing along joyfully whilst seagulls soared above.

Manic Street Preachers - Bristol Sounds

Swapping electric for acoustic, Bradfield and the band provided a trumpeted interlude featuring a sombre rendition of 30 Years War – the uncomfortable words ‘It’s the longest running joke in history to kill the working classes in the name of liberty’ ringing out over the darkening amphitheatre.

Ocean Spray, a song about Bradfield’s mother’s personal battle with cancer and how he used to bring her drink in hospital, brought a hush over the crowd with all eyes focused on Bradfield.

The raucous You Love Us soon brought the buzz back, harkening back to the Manics’ 80s post-punk roots as its frantic energy spread through the crowd. However, with the venues strict curfew nearly upon us, the band brought the show to a climactic finish with Design for Life – playfully introduced by Bradfield as the ‘best song in the world’.

Manic Street Preachers - Bristol Sounds

Described as the song that saved the Manics after Edwards’ disappearance, it made the perfect ending to a relatively intimate (on a Manics scale) yet impressive performance that clearly left the crowd on a high.

the perfect ending to a relatively intimate (on a Manics scale) yet impressive performance that clearly left the crowd on a high.

The Lloyd’s Amphitheatre is a superbly atmospheric venue, with the curvature of the building capturing the sound perfectly. It may seem a bit of an ironic venue for the band who wrote Nat West- Barclays- Midlands- Lloyds, but it gave The Manic Street Preachers the opportunity to prove to fans new and old of their continued relevance and leave us with the hope of new material being released in the future.

Words by Charise Clarke
Photos by Paul Box