We keep putting off our departure from Manchester and when we eventually get on the road we get diverted onto the Motorway (which we’d been avoiding as it didn’t make for easy going in the little Metro), but we still manage to arrive in Middlesbrough by 3.30pm.
Outside the Town Hall we find the tour bus and the crew loading gear from the trucks using a couple of ramps into the back door. Myoko appears from nowhere. We can’t see a way in. As if by magic Thom pops up from under one of the ramps. It’s an obstacle course to get in and out of the place. We climber inside and he goes off to finish listening to some CDs on the bus. We go into the main hall and sit down at the side. Izzy appears from somewhere and greets Val with enthusiasm, she sees me and remembers me from Sheffield last year. We introduce her to Myoko and they chatter on in Japanese from then on.
About half an hour later Thom comes back, “Right then,” he says, “you’re not all coming in are you?”
We’d already agreed that Val is doing this interview on her own. Me, Rebecca and the Japanese contingent sit and watch as the crew check the lights. Tour Manager Tim, sound man Jim Warren and Phil are playing Frisbee in the large space in the middle of the floor. Jonny is at the sound desk. I show some of the PID zines to Izzy and Myoko. Val comes back after over an hour clutching a half drunk can of Red Stripe.
The band start sound-checking Human Behaviour in fits and starts as they test the levels. Val doesn’t want to stay (“Sound checks are boring!”). We all troop outside, it’s cold and just about everything is shut. Middlesbrough on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t have a great deal to offer us so we have to go into McDonalds, the only place open, which seems to be where everybody else is hanging out. Rebecca finds Alison and Fiona (her fellow enthusiasts) and we leave them to their Marion-mania.
Val and I walk up to the railway station, and huddle on a bench on a deserted concourse with her Dictaphone between us. There are no trains so it’s the quietest place we can find to listen to the interview tape.
Thom has told her lots of stuff about being in the studio, different stories than the ones we’ve already read and he seems so much more sorted than he did before they’d had the album finished. He feels vindicated. Both he and Jonny had “gone off on one” somewhere along the way but it makes sense now it’s finished.
Time is getting on so we go back to the venue where Val floats in with a wave of her laminate unchallenged by the door staff. I have some trouble as Tim hasn’t left the list yet. I call to Val and she finds him and comes back with AAA stickers, which silence the stroppy woman on the door. Everyone is inside now. I agree to meet Izzy at the front later, then Val and I look for the bar. It’s a rather mangy arrangement in the basement, shared with the other venue on the site. After a beer, we decide that we can’t go on without hearing the rest of the interview tape. We soon discover that the only place where it is quiet enough to hear it is in the disabled toilet cubical so we lock ourselves in and pin our ears to the Dictaphone.
Thom would like it in writing that he thinks the Elastica record is “shite”. Val asked why he thinks so many foreign fans, especially Japanese, come and follow the band, he says that it might be about Britishness but it’s not the same as with Blur. One day Damon woke up with the idea that he should start wearing shell suits. Val says you had to be there to get the face pull that went with this derision of ‘Britpop’.
Britpop “feels like a party that we haven’t been invited to.” Says Thom.
“Well,” says Val, “in the old Hollywood films, all the best people always arrive late to the party.”
“That’s it! Say that I said that!” laughs Thom.
Thom remembered playing guitar when he was about fourteen, getting drunk with a friend while they attempted to play Wild Thing, he has a tape somewhere. They are talking about loads of stuff and I can barely take it all in. Val’s very proud of this interview, of being able to get one of her proper conversations with Thom onto a tape. I hope she is able to use some of it. We realised somewhere in all our excitement that the cubical didn’t have a ceiling, and we can be overheard. It was probably a bit weird for the other users of the loos.
The support have finished and I squeeze through to find Izzy at the front of the stage, on Ed’s side. I’m cutting it a bit fine and I’m stuck with my head in the speakers, feeling a draught from the bass heavy. The crowd is mad for this one. There are casualties and nutters and Thom doesn’t surf.
I throw my weight about a bit and make a space for myself, trying to feel everything to the tips of my outstretched fingers. Later, I don’t get hassled or forced to leave due to my magic green AAA sticker. There are lots of people waiting around, Tim is protecting people from the bouncers so they can stay inside a bit longer while Thom and Jonny sign things. Two young girls, one with a ‘100% Brownie’ T-shirt on are being very vocal at Thom. She’s so little she looks like she might actually be in the Brownies. “We saw Paul Daniels here, “ she says, “we got his autograph too. He’s short too.”
“Well, you know,” says Thom, “All the famous people are this height: Paul Daniels, Prince…” He steps back and admires her T-shirt. “I was going to get one that just said ‘Brownie’ on it, but I got this Action Man jumper instead.” (It’s blue and it’s got shoulder patches). “I wanted to be Action Man when I was a kid…”
He asks the how old they were, and I don’t catch their ages but they are still at school, they ask him and when he replies “Twenty six,” they look at each other and chorus, “Well, you might as well be dead!”
The St Johns Ambulance people are in the foyer with a girl they pulled out of the crowd. Someone says something to Thom and he suddenly grabs Jonny and pulls him toward the first aid station. The girl was in shock and they were trying to calm her down (like that was going to work).
“If you’re not prepared for it then it’s a shock.” I say, meaning the crush at the front.
“Well,” says Thom, “you’re hardened! The only time I ever stuck it out for a whole gig at the front was for The Blue Aeroplanes, but there was a guy who must have been on acid or something, he thought he was really strong and me and my mate got battered, so never again.”
Thom’s excited to hear that the promoter is taking them all clubbing in Manchester tomorrow. Phil hears about this with less enthusiasm, Mrs Phil is coming and it’s not her scene. “Oh he never gets drunk or anything,” says Thom, “He’s so boring!”
On the way back to Manchester, after we’ve dropped the Japanese girls at their B&B, I remember something Thom said in the interview, he was talking about how much they had to do, how daft it was all getting. “If it gets too much we’ve got a pact, get out the old Radiohead Visa Card and fuck off to somewhere hot and exotic.”