The tickets for these acoustic gigs, previews of the new album (The Bends) that was finished and announced just before Christmas, are available free to W.A.S.T.E. subscribers. I phone the hotline the day before and leave a message as instructed. Julie from the management calls me back; I’m on the list.
We get the bus through to Edinburgh. La Belle Angel, a small club hidden away on the Cowgate, takes some finding. Rebecca and I kill time until the doors open at 7pm and right on time a load of people suddenly turn up. Inside, we go down a long passageway and find Tim who has the guestlist. Ed, Colin and Phil are mulling round. Once we’re inside and sitting down, Ed comes over to say hello and seems extra tall. He asks after Val, expecting to see her with me, and says she sent the latest PID to them. I tell him what a great idea this night is and then promptly run out of things to say. He goes off to mingle. Colin says hi too.
Rebecca spots Thom hovering about with his coat on. As more people show up we shuffle ever nearer to the front. I’m near a pillar – front and centre – perfect.
After a little wait Thom and Jonny come onstage from outside (this place is too small to have dressing rooms) with two acoustic guitars and Jonny’s battered Fender.
They play My Iron Lung, with Jonny twanging something resembling the song I’ve heard before. Street Spirit, which works so well like this and Banana Co that, Thom says, is “better used on the Criminal Justice record than on the album.”
“It’s very early,” says Thom “You must all be sober.”
“Nooooo” comes a cry from the back of the room.
“Well apart from one person.”
They perform Nice Dream. I hug myself and try to stay quiet. Rebecca is attempting to tape the show on her tiny tape machine.
They do High And Dry and Thom says it’s about Evel Knievel. Someone shouts “Who?” and Thom groans “Oh God, that makes me feel old.”
They play the very new Bulletproof and then swap guitars for Lozenge Of Love. Jonny manages to envelop the acoustic in the same way he does his own guitar. Bent over and wrapped around, hidden behind his hair.
Fake Plastic Trees is for “The people in the Fan Club who are all on the guest list.”
They end their short set with You. As the applause dies down Thom says “And now for those of you with tape recorders: The Album.” Planet Telex sweeps onto the PA but everyone is chatting. I spot a girl from my English class. Rebecca and I move back towards the bar to have a seat. About half way through the first side of the album I give up trying to hear it, there’s too much chatter.
I go to the bar and get a pint of Grolsch and almost spill it as an enthusiastic Colin bounces into view and asks “Was it good?”
“I’m speechless,” I say, “This was such a good idea!”
“What’s your favourite?” asks Colin.
“Nice Dream – from when you did it ages ago – I loved it. And then you didn’t play it again for a long time.”
“Portsmouth? London?” says Colin, keen to work out where I’d heard it.
“I dunno,” I say, “On that tour.”
The album play back is half way through and Just comes on.
“This is Just,” says Colin.
“Yeah,” I say, “I like this one.”
Colin mimes a bit of bass and goes off to mingle.
I sit back down and drink my beer too fast. Rebecca spots Thom on the way to the gents and suggests we go and stand in a more opportune position to catch him when he comes out. We go back towards the stage and mill about and when he appears he spots me and comes to say hello.
I gush about the show and find I’m offering him a hug and being taken up on it. His coat is furry. We have a few more brief words and then some autograph seekers descend on him. They don’t want to speak to him just push records and pens under his nose. I step back and listen to the still-playing strains of The Bends. We’ve reached Black Star; I’d forgotten this one! I twirl around on the spot laughing, having a happy moment. We’re standing here with Thom listening to the most important record he’s ever made, the most important record I’ve ever heard and he knows that I get it and I know that he gets it.
At this moment I don’t care if I make a fool of myself. The kids get Thom to do drawings with the autographs; I look over their shoulders to catch his eye and exchange grins. He signs someone’s Russian book, a T-shirt – one of the free ones given away tonight that we’d somehow missed out on. As quickly as they come, the kids disperse. He side steps into a little recess at the bottom of the stairs and stays to talk to me. We have to lean towards each other’s ears so that we can hear. “I hate it when they’re so drunk that they don’t know when to go away,” he says.
I tell him again how great the set was tonight. He shrugs and points out that Jonny was playing notes all over the place. He’d been really nervous, it’s been a while and this is the first of these acoustic sets in Britain. The album has finished playing by now. (I must have blinked and missed Sulk). Thom goes over to the DJ booth to start it again and comes back, keen to tell me about the dance mixes on the new single, which he seems happy about.
“How are you?” I ask, prepared not for a cursory ‘I’m fine’, but for a full status update.
“Ok…but…” he begins, “I managed to get the flu after not having anything for about six months about 3 days before the Oxford gig… I took three paracetamol before I went on and it was like ‘bleugh’!”
“What happed to the homeopathy?” I ask. (Mentioned in an earlier letter – might have been a joke about Kurt Cobain…)
“Fnnnarrrr!” he snorts, “Pure paracetamol now.”
“Oxford was with Supergrass wasn’t it?” I say changing the subject slightly.
“Yeah,” says Thom, “They (he nods behind him to Ed and Colin) like them but I’m not….” He trails off not wanting to diss them too much.
I ask him if he got my latest letters and he says “Yeah. ALL of them. It’s just after something that happened last year and I’m so damn busy…”
After receiving a disturbing letter Thom is now less keen to reply to everything he gets sent. He asks me not to tell anyone the details. I gasp and interrupt his flow and he never really gets to the end of the story.
Somewhere in all this Rebecca asks him about Marion, who will be the support on the tour. He picked them out of a batch of crap demo tapes, and he quite likes them.
Reluctantly he says” Well I suppose I’d better go and do my job…” He moves to go and I touch his arm and we shrug at each other.
Rebecca and I go and sit down near the door and watch a group of lads talk to Ed and Colin. Phil has gone. Jonny has been wandering around the venue all night, unbothered by anyone, just making everyone marvel at how skinny he is.
Thom is still mulling about, but he’s on his own now. People have got what they came for and they don’t seem to just want to talk to him. He sticks his hands in his pockets, blows his nose on a bit of tissue and looks very vulnerable. He shrugs as I catch his eye. One of us says “Well that’s that then.”
He passes us on his way out, “See you on the tour?”
“Glasgow definitely,” I reply “and as many of the others as I have money for.”
He pulls a face and is gone.
Shortly, Tim appears and sits with me. “So what about Val?” I explain she’s been busy with a new job and he says “Fuckin’ ‘ell – Work?!” We agree that this is indeed a strange development.
“So are you coming to the dates?” he asks.
I list a few of venues that I think I’ll be able to go to. Rebecca says something about it being two great bands on the bill and how as she’s providing the transport, she’ll be along too.
Tim says the Oxford show was really nice, people shouting for My Iron Lung. It didn’t get the radio play it needed though.
“But High And Dry” I say, “Surely? There’s a lag time before the tour, it should get played because it’s great!” He says just to tell Val that we can come along to any dates. Colin appears, needing Tim to take him somewhere and he pulls a face at me. They leave with Ed in tow.
There are definitely no T-shirts left. We say more goodbyes as we go out the door into the cold Edinburgh night. It’s windy and rainy but I can hardly feel the pavement beneath my feet. I hyperventilate with joy. We walk back to the station and catch the bus. We go into a burger place to use the loos and check that the tape Rebecca made of the gig has worked. Back in Glasgow, it’s Valentine’s night and we have to wait in the cold for a cab back to my flat. As soon as we get in, I copy the tape.