After a couple of nights in my old bed at my folks, I get the Sunday service bus into the city and walk through the Victoria shopping centre towards Rock City.
Myoko is also on her way to the venue. When I get there Keiko is outside with a big bunch of flowers as it is Jonny’s birthday. Izzy is still on her way from London with Caffy, I hang around for a bit and get irritated by the other people. The point of all this waiting about doesn’t seem clear anymore, but I don’t feel like I can do anything else, I’m too strung out. Eventually we get to hear the soundcheck as a reward for standing in the cold and Jonny comes out to collect Keiko’s flowers.
Inside, on the guest list again, I find my brother and his mates. Jonny is DJing from the back of the room, it sounds like the same record my brother and I bought yesterday on a visit to the local charity shops, a Hammond organ easy listening version of Light My Fire.
We get some drinks and find a good spot on the steps, on Jonny’s side of the stage, it feels like a long wait before a band comes on. Caffy and Izzy show up, they’ve had some “vodka training” this afternoon. The wide expanse of Rock City is packed by now. No one quite knows what to make of Sparklehorse, but I think I’m starting to “get” them. Jim and Andy go into the throng ready for Radiohead to come on. I don’t feel like it tonight, I want to try and tape the show, but my pocket recorder has its limitations.
There is a lot of dry ice and then they emerge. Thom has some glasses with yellow lenses on and braces holding his trousers up. “Welcome to Rawk City… heheh” and they hit Street Spirit straight off. Bones and Just see the middle of the room bouncing, they play nearly all The Bends tracks and Creep sounds particularly good. Thom turns the mic on the front row and they sing Happy Birthday to Jonny. “Over the hill at 24…” our boy is in a good mood tonight.
Blow Out is discharged mid-set, Fake Plastic Trees, Lucky, You, and Subterranean Homesick Alien with just Thom and Jonny playing. My brother comes back to where I’m standing and he’s completely soaked. I fear he will black out and I drag him to the bar. I have to beg for some tap water as the barman wants me to pay for a bottle. I point out there is a big dehydrated lad about to pass out across his bar and he gives us a tiny plastic cup.
They end on The Bends and I’d like to hurt the pillock behind me who can’t sing in tune. Keiko comes back from the front with a plastic cup –“Thom’s drink”. I have a taste, vodka and juice, and then one of my brother’s friends takes the empty cup as a trophy!
When they’ve gone we stick our green after show passes on. Deus Suds and Soda plays and I feel like dancing; I’m less battered than usual. I find Caffy and lose everyone else. She says this gig was better than London, which was too big. As I go to the cloakroom to fetch my bag I pass a wild-eyed girl who I’d seen before the show. She starts talking intensely about how much she enjoyed it and fails to notice Thom behind her, he mouths “Hiya!” at me; the girl doesn’t even notice and leaves without turning round.
Caffy goes off to round up some journos, so I go to find Izzy and agree to catch up with her later. We are hanging around waiting to find out where our passes will allow us to go. Thom is fielding a couple of autograph hunters and then a rather weird bloke who doesn’t seem to take the hint that he should leave.
Izzy has a plan. She takes my camera and asks Thom if she can take a picture. I whirl him away from the intense bloke and he sticks his tongue out for the camera. It gives him his cue to escape, Izzy and I go to find Caffy. She takes us down to the dressing room, several corridors away in the basement. We hover about, not sure if we are supposed to go in. It’s not a big room and there are plenty of people in there already, cleaning up the band’s rider. Thom appears again and wonders why we’re hiding in a corner. We’re given drinks and take in the scene, an NME photographer, another guy who must be the writer, a handful of people we don’t know and some crew members.
I have my bag with me and inside is an inflatable birthday cake, that I’d found in my bedroom at home. To cut a long story short, my brother and I had ordered some joke shop stuff from a mail order company about a year before; as my birthday was only a couple of weeks away, my mum had inflated the cake and left it in my room to find when I got home. That morning, realising it was Jonny’s birthday, I’d deflated it and stuffed it in my bag on the off chance of getting the opportunity to give it to him, it seemed to fit in with all the joke shop stuff the Japanese contingent had been passing around earlier in the week.
“Where’s Jonny?” I ask between puffs into the cake.
“Back at the hotel. What is that?” Thom has started paying attention.
“It’s just silly… it’s a cake.”
“You bought that?!”
“No! I found it at home…” this sounds less plausible now I say it out loud.
“Well blow it up and we’ll leave it outside his room…”
It’s difficult to inflate a cake when you’re laughing as much as I was at this point.
Colin comes in, sees the cake and likes the idea, “We can put it in a box and get room service to deliver it.”
Thom passes around some cans of Red Stripe but Izzy has spotted a bottle of Stolly in the ice box and large drinks are made with cranberry juice, “Caffy is my vodka teacher!” she laughs.
“Get drunk!” says Thom, who has been on the red wine.
“You too!” says Izzy. I have one later but I pour it myself as Ed’s measures are half and half. Talk of vodka leads Thom’s train of thought to his brother getting a job in Moscow and the conversation wanders.
“Have Sparklehorse grown on you yet?” he asks me.
“Slowly,” I reply.
“The album’s great. It’s just the one guy doing everything.” He is somewhat in awe.
“It was pretty mad down the front tonight, I’m glad I wasn’t there.”
“I can’t understand how you stand it at the front,” he says.
I ponder for a moment. It’s not easy to explain to him. “Well I need to be able to see… and that makes it worth it.”
He pulls a face but I think he’s starting to get it now.
Later on I’m putting something in my bag and Thom spots the badges on it. I have sets of little people on pins.
“Wow they’re good!” he points.
“They’re ‘Worry People’,” I explain that they were a present, “They make them in South America somewhere, I think it’s about wrapping the thread around the wire to occupy the hands, like some people have beads.”
“You can have one.” I take one of the pins off my bag. Thom protests but it seems like the perfect thing to give him and I have two sets. He pins it onto his jumper. A member of the crew comes by and points, “Ah worry people!”
“How did you know that?!” Thom is surprised he’s the only person who’s not heard of them.
“You have to whisper your problems to them and they take them away.” says the roadie. This is even better than my idea! “You should worry when your worry people have a nervous breakdown.”
“I guess I should put them on my jacket then,” says Thom, “so they’re on a level to tell them my worries”. He puts his jacket on and pins them next to the Get Lucky badge. I sneak a photo as he comes back around the corner.
Thom’s braces are hanging off his shoulders and consequently his trouser hems are dragging on the floor. It draws my attention to his feet and reminds me that Maree had been talking about his shoes. They are big rubber soled orange snow board sneakers. I tell him I like them. “You can get them here now.” He says, though he obviously got them abroad.
“What size are they?” I stick my foot out and we compare feet. They’re a 7 like my DMs. We talk about the Pretenders recent cover version of Creep, he doesn’t mind because they have to pay for the privilege but he’s not heard it yet. I describe it and there is a little flash of pride across his face when I tell him that Chrissie Hynde can’t quite hit the high note.
Izzy and I stand there talking and giggling, Thom wanders off and comes back with a bowl of what looks like cornflakes, “Frosties and vodka!” I don’t believe him!
He tells us he got the yellow jacket in a charity shop in Oxford, he lets us feel how nasty and plastic it is. Which reminds me, “You know that record Jonny was playing earlier on with the version of Light My Fire?” I ask,
“Yes. S’awful!” says Thom.
“Well me and my brother found the same one in Oxfam yesterday… he keeps buying them.”
“You can get too much of a good thing!”
“He’s got this other one and it’s called Everything You Ever Wanted To Hear On The Moog…”
“Everything You Ever Wanted To Hear On The Moon?”
“No Moog, like the keyboard you know?”
“No MOON was better. Hang on.” Thom dives off to get his bag. He comes back with a little hardback note book. He writes in it with a Japanese biro.
“You’ve got to get the brackets (on the moon).”
“Is that the ideas book then?” I ask. I only get a glimpse of the familiar scrawl inside it.
“Well you have to keep it all together don’t you,” he says and puts the book away.
Caffy shows up and it’s time for bed. Izzy and I have to leave with her. She is easy going and lets us sleep in her hotel room, with me taking the generously carpeted floor. We eat the complimentary biscuits and contemplate stealing a set of plastic ducks from the bathroom (but forget to take them with us in the morning.) The vodka helps us sleep. Thom gave the rest of the bottle to Izzy to take with her. Later I find the soggy label in my pocket.
The Cake was later to be immortalised in the NME…