I take the train to Manchester with Rebecca. When we get to her place, Val has a special promo copy of The Bends on vinyl, dispatched from Caffy. My immediate reaction is that it’s a masterpiece. It’s so different from the first record but more recognisable as the band I’ve come to know.
Then we watch her advance copy of the Astoria video. I spot my arms aloft, my watchstrap clearly visible during the first few songs. I don’t have time to take it in yet. We also watch the video clip for High And Dry – no Hollywood clichés are left un-filmed as the band perform on a California hillside while being drenched in water, they all look very determined not to crack their faces. Jumpers are stretched with the weight of film rain. We talk until late, planning the next few days.
The Bends is released today. Rebecca is over excited about seeing Marion again and I only care about one band at the moment and I don’t feel like talking about the support. We go into Manchester to survey the record shops. The Bends is in window displays, piled high and playing out all over the place. For old time’s sake I buy the cassette in Piccadilly Records. They’re playing it in HMV too, so I buy my copy of the Astoria VHS there. We return to Val’s flat where she spends about three hours getting ready. We go back into town to Chorlton Street and catch the coach to Wolverhampton. I put my new tape in my Walkman. Val taps me on the shoulder from the seat behind to tell me off for sighing too audibly as it unfurls itself into my headphones.
On arrival in Wolves we go on a memory-sparking walk to the Civic Hall and have some beer in the pub. We make signs advertising the fanzine. Later we find Tim on the door of the venue, chasing off bootleggers. He presents Val with a laminate pass and says there are after show passes for us on the door. We hand our zines and our sign to the merchandise stall, leaving Rebecca to go to the front of the stage. Val and I get more beer and sit on the floor to talk. It feels like tonight is going to be significant. The album is real, there is a buzz in the room, and we can feel the excitement
I wander down to the front as Marion come on and the extra beer doesn’t make them any easier to appreciate. They’re all right, but they don’t exactly set my soul on fire. Rebecca disappears once they’re done and I am left alone to apply some determination to getting to the very front. I find myself talking to a skinny girl and a drunken boy who was here for the last show and who also remembers ‘Bra-Girl’. I’m standing in virtually the same place as last year with a touch of de ja vue kicking in as I hang onto the barrier.
Thom has an orange Harvard sweater and sunglasses on. Colin stands very still while Ed does a lot of moving. Jonny plays one-finger keyboard, his guitar slung around his back for Planet Telex. They’re playing the album tracks. Somewhere in-between songs Ed spots me and flashes me a grin. I return it and give him a thumbs up. I’m all mad hair and sore arms, thrashing about to make space for myself at the front. During Blow Out, which has migrated to mid-set, Thom is dead centre and stretching out his arms to the crowd. We make eye contact and exchange daffy grins, I stretch my arms out in return. Creep is the penultimate song. I thought they wouldn’t play it today, but it’s still their song.
“We’re not the next U2,” says Thom, “U2 are the next Radiohead, they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”
I stagger out at the end through lots of Nirvana T-shirt wearing teenagers. I find Val and Rebecca in the ladies. Val gives me a hug, she says I look as bad as when I was at Reading. I’m slightly hysterical. I’ve got it bad. I retrieve my bag, change my shirt and stick on my pass. Tim directs us to the bar, which is closed. He goes away and presently returns with a crate of Stella.
At the arrival of the booze the bar suddenly becomes busier. Present are Caitlin Moran from The Times and Peter Paphides from the Melody Maker; Caffy, Caffy’s mum and her chap; assorted sweaty indie kids; some members of Marion and their sundry hangers on; Colin, Jonny, a bottle of champagne that Caitlin Moran soon commandeers and Tim, who continues coming and going.
I stand on the fringes as Val chats to some journalists. Rebecca is rambling on to me but I’m not really listening. I keep nodding and smiling and drinking. I spot a small group of people and there’s Thom in his big coat. He ducks around some people and pulls the wickedest face at me and waves. I lean over and grin back. He’s got a can of Guinness from somewhere. He breaks from the group and comes to talk to me. We lean on a mirrored post. I tell him about the record shops this morning and how exciting it was to see the record at last. He tells me they were at the Chipping Norton studio, where they did the first record, recording a B-side on their day off, with no producer just making it up, how it was like old times and how ace it felt. He says it’s weird that they’re still playing some of the old stuff, he wrote Stop Whispering when he was 17 and it feels strange to be playing it alongside the new ones. We talk about a couple of the reviews and he says something about John Harris in the NME talking about “The wind of change”. Val and Rebecca join us and talk turns to the band’s appearance on Top Of The Pops. Thom says their transit van was a bit of a contrast to Stevie Wonder and all his minders. The studio was full of dancers hired to accompany the chart acts.
Thom says things have been a bit of a “headfuck” (his favourite phrase at the moment) the boss of EMI took them to a really expensive restaurant and got them drunk, they couldn’t quite believe he was being nice to them. “He can smell money” says Val cynically.
We talk about the new PJ Harvey album (To Bring You My Love). He liked the first one and the single’s clever but she’s sacked the band, sacked the management, it’s how it goes. It’s all a bit too Nick Cave now. Rebecca eagerly asks about Marion and he says “Well I like his voice…”The only support he’s really gone for has been Strangelove…
We talk about some of the magazine features that have gone with the album launch. He knew the MM one would turn out unbalanced, the way they jump on something he said about “my fear of women”, he pulls a face. The Vox one took four hours to do.
Val mentions the density of Nirvana T-shirts at this show. “Well,” says Thom half joking, “We’re filling that gap. Kurt was ill. Paul (producer of the first album) says so. He was just trying to express himself.” As for Eddie Vedder, who Val quite likes, he’s not really on the same wavelength, he liked a couple of the songs…
“The Maker wrote about you like you were dead, and I wish they wouldn’t.” I say with disgust.
“They want all their pop stars dead,” says Thom.
He’s not going that way for them, all that stuff in that piece by The Stud Brothers had upset his mum.
We talk for a long time and cover a lot of musical ground. Thom makes to leave and I tell him about standing next to the same bloke as at the last gig, and remembering Bra-Girl. “Oh yeah,” says Thom laughing, “you were just about standing in the same place.”
Val tells him we have to wait for the late bus back to Manchester and he seems bewildered that we don’t have a B&B. We say our goodbyes and head outside where Caitlin Moran is snogging Pete P . We have plenty of time to kill and we wander across town and marvel at our good fortune. We get to the bus shelters to freeze for a couple of hours sitting close together and nodding off. The bus finally comes at 3.30am and we float back to Manchester.