The band surface in April with a big interview in NME, spun out over three issues. Much of what has been going on while they’ve been “away” gets fleshed out. It sounds like a familiar story to me; Thom’s been “freaking out” – on the surface doing all the politicking and protesting – being what the NME calls “the world’s most fearless musician” – while at the same time wondering if the band are finished. His refusal to meet Tony Blair made headlines (well thanks for not going through with that one Chief, I told you it was a bad idea) which NME reiterates, theorising that the new record might at long last be politically focused. Thom denies this and expostulates his “new suburbian” idea – which to my mind is more OK Computer in character than Hail To The Thief.
Each visit to the studio puts the band in jeopardy – at least that’s how they describe it in interviews – we get used to this uncertainty, but each time they come back with reports of their near-splits; of various members getting “the fear”; of the precarious nature of the enterprise; it gets more real, more possible, more frightening for those of us that rely on them getting it together and coming back for more.
Each bout of doubt, each time they try something new (in this case bringing in producer Mark ‘Spike’ Stent for an abortive session.) This time though, it does seem like something has actually changed, they are without a label for the first time since 1991. Thom gets a lot of his angst about the music industry off his chest, but even freedom, it seems, is scary. The record is still a work in progress, but there are a lot of songs on the table. There’s a lot of talk about the internet (MySpace has just become a major force, NME focus on the discovery of The Arctic Monkeys), Thom reiterates his familiar cry “you need to sort the fucking radio out” and name drops a few artists he’s interested in but any talk about “grime” is a red herring.
The forthcoming tour has sold out… we’ve had all the now usual madness to get hold of tickets – coordinating purchases, hovering over “buy” buttons at seconds past the release time, caning overdrafts, hurting our credit cards.
The constant state of flux, one of Val’s favourite ideas from back at the start, is still the prevailing mood. Don’t they realise that was always where we were? Maybe this is all a feint to put us off. There is mention of a possible “download only EP” later in the year. A lot of half spoken ideas, hints that they’re planning something unconventional.
NME points out that agreeing to play V Festival seems out of character but perhaps the doubtless large fee will provide a financial cushion to tide them over without a big label?
The May dates are in relatively small venues, followed by some festivals and a couple of larger shows. They want to play the new songs. It’s unclear why these shows aren’t another Gentleman’s Leisurely Tour (like Spain in 2002), some of the regulars are a bit miffed by the idea of Wolverhampton and Blackpool, but at least the two shows in Copenhagen offer a chance for a weekend away.
Meanwhile the 1000 tickets that are actually on sale for the Friends of The Earth benefit show at Koko sell out in the blink of an eye, I manage to get two – one for me, one for Kim – at £55 each it feels like a big commitment – but it’s a benefit and you can’t blag those can you? I should have realised that any show where they hold back 500 tickets (with none for WASTE and no preference for the fan club) was going to be an odd one. Thom and Jonny are not the only act on the bill, but clearly their first gig in a long while is going to be the biggest draw. I get tickets for a selection of the other shows and there is a lot of plotting to make sure everyone gets to go where they want to go. I’ve done this enough times, it ought to get easier, but it never gets any less nerve-wracking.