I wake up early, flushed with excitement and pack my rucksack. I’m learning to travel light. I’m reading 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez for my English Lit course. I get through a lot of it on the train to Preston. I’m early when I get there, so I go for a cup of tea in the shopping centre close to the station. I go back and meet Val from her train and we find the nearest pub. It’s a long walk to the Uni where the gig is. She’s the jittery one for a change. Rebecca is already there at the door and a queue is in full swing. We dump our gear in her Metro and return to form a guest list queue. Inside we say hello to Tim and take our zines to Pete on the T-shirt stall. Rebecca goes off to be with the Marion contingent at the front while Val and I go to the bar.
It’s a smallish venue but tiered so that the view is pretty good from all over. We go up a step and sit near the sound desk. We get through Marion with more beer and then stand up for Radiohead. Val can feel a charge in the atmosphere and her hunch is justified when they come on. Back here the new stuff sounds ace. The crowd are going crazy and it looks mental at the front, for a while I’m glad of the space and the view I’ve got from back here.
That is until they play Vegetable and Thom goes over the barrier into the crowd. I’m dumbstruck and I can just about hear Val saying “I’ll bet you’ll want to kill me now!” as it was her idea that I should stand with her tonight. I’m kind of glad I could see it all happening though, it would have been nice to be at the front but I can’t deal with getting crushed two nights in a row. Thom gets back up on stage and says something about “body contact” but doesn’t do it again. This is the best gig where I haven’t been at the front. The sound is better. It’s certainly a different experience from back here, less intense but less physically demanding.
We go back to Pete at the T-shirt stall and Val chats with him while I choose a shirt. We’d quite like his job but he’s pretty nonchalant about it, an old hand at this game. We see Phil. Val talks to him about drumming. She seems a bit drunk. We hang around in the foyer, the others are thinking about leaving as all around us people are packing up gear. I don’t want to go yet. Always wait until you’ve seen everybody. Thom arrives, drinking coke and complaining about having “Sticky trousers”. Val makes a smutty remark. “Is she pissed?” he asks me. She asks him about the crowd surfing.
“It’s what I live for! I’ve wanted to do it for ages. I want to do it during Creep, what do you think?!” We ponder this and doubt he’d get back to the stage in one piece. But we think he should get Fan Contact more often. He looks at the T-shirt Rebecca’s just bought and points out Mother’s Day on the list of dates. “Well it’s important isn’t it?!” Val admires his denim jacket; “I just got it in Oxfam today for £10, good eh?” The stitching is coming undone at the back but on Thom it looks cool.
The Japanese girl Thom was looking for in Glasgow shows up and he introduces her to us as Myoko. She stays with us but doesn’t say much. We’re all standing around wondering what to do next. Someone says isn’t there a thing on upstairs? I pull a crumpled flier from my pocket. “After Radiohead” it says. “Let’s have a look at that.” Says Thom, he takes it and reads aloud, “A mix of mainstream and diverse indie” and looks back at me. “A diverse selection of Blur and Oasis.. and Elastica if we’re lucky!” Did I say that or did he?
“No Radiohead though.” He says.
“Lots of people shuffling about.” I say, “Oh dear.”
“But its two quid.” He doesn’t like the idea of us all having to pay to get in. Val points out that this is a daft notion and waves her laminate in his direction, indicating the one on a lace around his neck.
Suddenly a man in a suit and a man in a security uniform rescue us from our dilemma. “If you’d just like to follow my man here upstairs he’ll show you the way to the bar.” Thom motions to us lot and the guy nods and we’re all shepherded upstairs to a dark Union bar busy with student drinkers and noisy guitar music. Before we know it Thom is buying drinks – Red Stripe all round except for Rebecca who is driving. We move away from the bar because people keep spotting Thom and wanting his attention.
The music can just be heard over the inadequate PA. When Thom realises what is playing he leans over excitedly. “It’s Fugazi!” I don’t know their stuff and he tells me a bit about them. “The first three albums are brilliant.”
Val asks about the rest of the tour. Truro was chaotic and the best show so far for Thom. “We’d pay for them to come and write about it but nobody will go outside of London.”
Colin’s been playing with his Apple Mac after shows. Thom and Tim went raving in Bristol. (He mimes some dance moves.) I can’t help laughing but he can do it with a straight face. I’m reminded of Val’s version – the big fish, little fish, cardboard box hand jive. They met the guy from LFO and his girlfriend kept asking them if they had any speed…
They have a hectic schedule, with half a day at home before they go on to the USA and Canada. He’s not seen his girlfriend for weeks, he’s paying rent on a flat when he’s never there, for all that he’s paying, he says, he might as well put his stuff in storage and move into a room at the Randolph (the biggest hotel in Oxford). The only thing stopping him is that he’s not been back there long enough to sort it out. Now he is in a position to buy a house and he doesn’t have time to find one.
PJ Harvey’s Sheila-na-gig plays and he says “They were good, her band.” The DJ follows it with Elastica and we all agree that they are rubbish. “They were nice, apart from her, I met Damon as well. He’s very tall.”
A random guy comes up and gives him a phone card. “Here you go Thom, phone home. You don’t belong here,” then goes away. Thom examines the card, it’s just an ordinary phone box card, and he puts it in his top pocket next to his shades.
When the others are in the ladies I’m left with Thom, talking about how hectic it was all getting. It goes quiet between songs and he sighs and says “Isn’t my life boring!” and pulls a ‘not’ face. I tell him he’s lucky.
Some of the other punters are getting a bit rowdy. “Stewdants!” says Thom and we move out of the way. We’re talking about the press coverage of the album when another random bloke offered to buy Thom a drink. Somehow this turns into a round for all of us. Thom’s not finished his first, Val puts her can unopened into her bag and Myoko and I crack ours open. When he finishes his I give him mine, suddenly reaching that stage of drunkenness when I know I’ve had enough.
He has to leave at 1am and keeps asking us the time. Those of us with watches offer them so he can check the time. Val asks if she can have an interview tomorrow, by this time we’d decided that we were definitely going to Middlesbrough for the next show. “Be sure to be there between 3 and 4.” He says. We take that as an affirmative. We assert our intentions to do the rest of the tour.
“But not London.” Says Thom. “Don’t do London.”
We all stagger into the courtyard outside and stare up at an illuminated church spire. Val says it looks like a rocket. And it sort of does, all buttresses shining in the lights. “Like all the spires in Oxford,” laughs Thom. We all stare at it drunkenly for a while. Then he has to go. We leave him and go to get the car and give Myoko a lift to her B&B (he was very concerned that we help her.) Then we three head into the small hours and back to Manchester.