The early 1990s. It’s hard to imagine now, how teenagers got along without mobile phones, the internet or MP3s or how I got along without going to gigs. When every Wednesday meant a visit to the newsagents to buy the weekly music papers NME and Melody Maker and Radio One had yet to launch its Evening Session.
Occasionally Mark Goodier would play something worth listening to during his homework-hour show, but mostly it was chart-based pap, with Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You holding a vice-like grip on the number one slot for what felt like most of 1992. The John Peel show existed but it seemed too esoteric and the music too exotic for untrained ears. The kind of tunes that ended up in the Festive Fifty took a long time to filter down into even the outskirts of the mainstream.
I had yet to go to a gig, but I’d heard The Jesus & Mary Chain’s In Concert, that I’d taped off the radio, loads of times and that had convinced me that a gig was what was missing from my life.
After my epiphany moment with Creep, I also knew that Radiohead were the band I wanted to see. Encouraged by my pen pal Rebecca, who was a bit older than me and who had been to a few gigs before, I decided that the next time they played locally I would try to see them.
It was the middle of January 1993 when I spotted an advert in the back pages for Radiohead’s next single, Anyone Can Play Guitar. There was a list of headline tour dates and a PO Box number to write to for “more information”.
A lot of bands had started to feature these in their promotional material if you sent in your address you would usually receive a card in the post tipping you off about their next release.
They announced that they were playing in Nottingham on February 15th. I just had to work out how I was going to get there. I wouldn’t be allowed to go on my own. It was virtually impossible to get home from the city at that time of night – there was no night bus and Mansfield was (in 1993) the largest town in Europe without a railway station. Plus it was on a school night.
I couldn’t ask my mother for a lift because last time she’d picked us up, we’d kept her waiting for over an hour on double yellow lines while my friends and I queued up to get Rob Newman’s autograph… She was sick of being out until all hours giving my friends lifts home.
I had to persuade someone to come with me. I’d already put Creep on a tape for my school friend K, now I just had to work on her to get her interested enough to accompany me to the gig.
Why didn’t bands ever play in this dead end town? Why does being a teenager make you so powerless to do what you want? Why do parents stop you doing everything?
I was getting aggravated about these issues as I scribbled a request for information to send off to the PO BOX address on the band’s advert. I didn’t imagine anyone reading it so I let rip and I asked why I should go to such a lot of effort to see them live. I also asked if they were any good. I put it in the post and forgot all about it.
The night before the show, I had a row with my mother about how I was going to get home. In the end K reluctantly borrowed her parents’ car and agreed to drive us. It felt like a disproportionately big deal, there was a lot of discussion about where we were going to park the car and we had to meticulously plan the route before we set off. I couldn’t drive and she hated to, having only recently passed her test. I think she only did it I because I begged her.
I’d met Rebecca a couple of weeks before. We’d both gone up to Glasgow for the University Open Day. We liked the look of the place because there were at least five record shops within walking distance of the campus. We’d agreed to meet again at the gig, as she lived on the other side of Nottingham and had her own car.
I’d never been in a Student Union before. Our newly elected “Sixth Form Student Representatives” (a token effort at pupil democracy at school) had lobbied the authorities and got us NUS cards, which meant we could get in without facing an inquisition over our ages but I was still woefully under prepared. It was a cold night and I was over dressed. I had been in pubs before, with my dad on his pub quiz team, but I didn’t really know what to expect in a Student Union. Would they even let us in?
In the end the Trent Poly Union was just a small bar with a space where a stage should be. We didn’t even have to buy tickets. I nervously approached the chap on the door holding out my NUS card to prove that I was indeed 18, but he didn’t even look at it. We threw some change in the donation bucket and went in.
After what felt like a lot of hanging about and tuning up, the first band, who I later found out were called Blab Happy, stopped giving out flyers for their Vegan brand of DM style boots and played what sounded like it might have been about three songs. I realized we were standing too close to the speakers and could hear nothing but noise but could feel the vibrations. I was completely unprepared for how loud it was. There weren’t many people there yet and there was plenty of room so we moved back to do a bit more waiting. I took off a couple of layers of clothing and tried to stand with my coat between my feet. It didn’t occur to us to go to the bar because we didn’t have much money on us. We did a bit more waiting.
Radiohead finally came on at about 9.45pm, the place had filled up by now and there were people standing in front of us blocking the view. I couldn’t see much but every so often I glimpsed of a mop of dyed blond hair belonging to the lead singer. To his left, the angular features and basin of dark hair that comprised the guitarist sometimes came into view. I could only see the tops of their heads and the backs of the heads of the people in front of me. I was rooted to the spot due to the pile of coats and jumpers at my feet.
They both keep ducking down to batter their guitars. The singer mentioned a couple of times that they were playing songs from their album. He introduced “a lovely song called Creep” and played something I recognized.
“That was our recent single that went into the charts at 32 and went straight out again because Radio One deemed it unsuitable to be played during the day,” he said after Anyone Can Play Guitar, which by now I’d heard on evening radio a few times. They also played Prove Yourself and songs called Vegetable and Pop Is Dead (in my diary later I scribbled down the titles and wrote “V.G.”) plus three or four more.
A loud one towards the end of the set, (How Do You) was mysteriously dedicated to Robert Maxwell. I caught sight of what must have been the third guitarist and bass player and noted their centre parted hair (the kind of haircut we called a ‘Spam’ at school, usually sported by kids in Baggy trousers and bright coloured raver hooded tops). They ended their set in a hail of noise and my ears were ringing by the time they’d finished.
I asked experienced gig-goer Rebecca what she thought and she heartily approved. I got the feeling K thought it was all a bit loud and she couldn’t really hear me asking. I was just overwhelmed that I’d finally made it to a real gig. I bought a T-shirt with a surprised baby on the front.
I can’t remember the journey home, but after all the fuss that had been made earlier, there didn’t, in the end, seem to be anything difficult about it.