It feels weird to be in Manchester without Val. I arrive with Keiko and we go to the Tourist Information Office to get a hotel, we find Izzy already there and we all get a bargain £17 deal for Sasha’s, the city centre hotel where I’d ended up in the bar last time I was here, nice coincidence. We go for a wander so the girls can get their photos developed, Keiko buys a woolly jumper from a stall. Tim had looked cold the other night, she explained, she wanted to buy him a thank you present.
We take a long walk down Oxford Road to the Academy, as the bus station is in the process of being demolished and without Val I don’t feel like dealing with public transport. I’m trying not to spend any more money and I don’t want to arrive at the venue too early. When we get there it turns out the band arrived at 10am. We sit around and get cold. Izzy and I go for chips and a cup of tea and as we walk past Abdul’s I tell her about last time I was here. I think we should hide out in a pub for a bit, but no one else wants to leave for fear of missing something. I compare notes with Izzy, she’s been to over 30 gigs on three continents so far. At about 5pm the band start to sound check; Some intrepid girls have wedged the back door of the venue open so we can hear them play India Rubber, Thom is warming up his voice, there are a few false starts at Subterranean.. and then they batter into Nobody Does It Better, which becomes a messy guitar jam, followed by an off key crack at Street Spirit and Banana Co.
I fetch more tea, go to the nearby theatre to use the bathroom and then come back to find a queue forming in front of the Academy. Tim and Lisa Abuse wander by – she’s finished her course and is doing something else now but is coming back for the gig. Tim says there is officially no after-show tonight, “It’s not because we don’t like you or anything.” The band are going home as they have day off tomorrow.
Keiko gives Tim his jumper, it fits and he seems genuinely touched that she’s included him in the present giving. She says she’ll start a fan club “Tim is Cool!” she’s the president.
Back at the queue and the girls who’d been hanging around the back door are now first. But we discover a separate door for the guest list. It feels like a snub to them, they’ve been annoying us a bit with all their “Oh he’s so short in real life” banter.
Inside it’s already quite busy, Sparklehorse are growing on me, I can see Thom stage left nodding his head appreciatively, lost in the last song. The pint of beer I had on the way in means that I’m now desperate for the bathroom. Bad planning. I’ve waited too long and now it will be a mad dash to get through the throng and back again in time for Radiohead coming on. I have to fight my way through the crammed hall and put myself in a bad mood. I make a lot of enemies on my way back, which wrecks the anticipatory feeling that needs to be cultivated before the band come on stage. I keep making gestures to point out that I have queued and have previously been at the front but everyone thinks I’m pushing in. “Gosh I thought I’d never get BACK!” I annunciate loudly as I get back to put one arm on the barrier. There’s no room now and the loud girl next to me expresses her displeasure at my appearance by hurting my arm.
There is a change of set tonight, with Street Spirit first. I’m trying to take a few photos but now I’m not on the barrier it’s difficult to stand still and as soon as they play Bones it all goes mental and I’m in pain from trying to stay on my feet. It doesn’t cross my mind to move.
Thom does Kung Fu moves during Creep and suddenly there are crowd surfers, I’m trapped half on the barrier and half off. I get the fear and turn my head away from the front. I’m over charged and angry, tired and losing my grip. They play Man-o-War again and I have a moment of clarity, the lyrics are clear and I’ll never hear it the same again. Blow Out gets a strobe, Lucky is the highlight again, with Jonny standing on a box, wiggling his hips, the guitar part hits the heights and drives the crowd mad. Planet Telex is funkier than anything else and Banana Co makes it into the set. Thom forgets the words to You, and says “bollocks” off mic then tries again and gets it back. They end on The Bends after a bit of a rant about it being “a good record”, earlier he’d said something about how as a front man he should say something original, and then pointedly confined himself to saying “Thanks for coming” between nearly every song.
Heeding Tim’s words about no after show, I get outside as fast as possible and go back to our earlier perch at the back of the venue. The evening doesn’t feel complete yet. Phil drives away in his Polo the van is there for the rest of the band. I sit on the little fence and feel crushed, literally and emotionally. I got hurt in there and I just feel like I have all this energy that I don’t know what to do with. Lots of kids have gathered, they want to see the band off, get autographs, touch the hem of the garment. I feel sick and people keep asking me if I’m OK, I must look a sight by now. Ed comes out and attracts a small mob, then Jonny, I sit and wait, watching it all unfold.
There is a larger crowd now and I notice that Thom is in the middle of it. I get up and walk around the outside of the group. Thom’s got his backpack on, covered in badges but not the one I gave him last night, maybe he lost it. The crowd parts and I’m now in front of him, my badge is on his yellow jacket, bang in the middle. I throw out an arm for an awkward half hug and wheel off feeling better. The crowd hinder the progress of the band getting into their little van and then make it difficult for them to get out of the car park, “This is fucking uncool!” Thom chuckles as they try not avoid running people over.
Izzy, Keiko, Sekiko and I get a taxi back to Sacha’s. I have a bath and then doze off listening to them talk in Japanese. They all go to the other room and let me sleep.