The year seems to go by quickly. I’m still doing my part time degree course and still living in a student hovel. Radiohead bubble under in my consciousness. Highlights are the wonderful Street Spirit promo video; writing to Frances, a girl who I met at a gig who is putting together a funny little fanzine called Lewis and swapping compilations of video clips with a chap called Pete. By the midpoint of the year he has amassed about 25 hours of footage from TV around the world plus a few bootlegs. I copy my collection of clips and a tape of Japanese TV that Keiko has sent to me (which involves pulling in all sorts of favours with the University AV department) and swap with him. I trade tapes with Roger, a guy in Canada who has constructed the most comprehensive Radiohead website so far, and catch up on the support slots the band have been playing in the USA. In the summer I get a part time job in an art gallery and move out of the hovel. By July I’m desperate for a gig…
A month of anticipation culminates in a night of broken sleep with my stomach in knots. I take a coach to Manchester and meet Maree at Chorlton Street station. She’s been living in London, hanging out in exalted circles and is even more glam than usual. We take a cab to the venue which is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by semi-derelict carpet warehouses. We find the only vaguely inhabited pub so we can use the toilet, but we don’t feel welcome enough to stay for a drink.
There’s no where else to go so we head back to the Apollo and hang about at the front. There are some kids outside and we can already hear Radiohead soundchecking. They seem to be playing new stuff, all of The Bends and You but we can’t hear that well from here, are they playing the whole set?
Lisa turns up, she’s now working as a PR. She thought she might be working on behalf of the Fan Club tonight, but it turns out we just have to pick up tickets left at the door in Julie from The Management’s name. Lisa heads inside to find Tim. Frances, who I have been writing to and swapping tapes with, turns up and joins in the general nervous atmosphere.
Phil is outside waiting for some friends, he’s totally shaved his head now and no one except for me recognises him. I ask him how it’s going and he tells me Belgium was good, America was good and asks me how big the festival is going to be this weekend.
We get inside, the Apollo is a big theatre space. We all get to the front but the stage is still very far away. Scott Walker is on the intro tape. The Divine Comedy are the support but only do eight songs. Neil Hannon is showing off an impressive vocal range, a nice suit and a cigarette roadie. Any other time I would have really enjoyed their set, I’ve seen them before but no one else here seems to have heard much of their stuff.
I spot Tim and call to him, he says “Hi” and asks if I want to stay and how many friends have I got with me and gives me sticky passes for later.
The feeling as we wait for Radiohead is familiar but different somehow. Marvin Gaye on the speakers sounds almost too laid back. They come on just after 9pm, almost on time. Thom’s got Action Man camouflage trousers on and a T-shirt bearing the legend “Final Home”.
They open with My Iron Lung and do a lot of jumping around. Thom looks like he’s trying very hard to “rock” during the first new one, Electioneering.
It sounds like they’ve changed the end (compared to the Canadian bootleg I’ve heard). They play Bulletproof and though I’m not even trying to record or take photographs tonight, I feel like I’m actively having to try to pay attention. Something doesn’t feel quite right.
They’ve played all of The Bends apart from Sulk; they play Lucky and most of the new stuff – I Promise, Lift, No Surprises (he’s rearranged the words) and an acoustic encore of a song called Let Down, which sounds like it could end up being fantastic.
Somewhere in all this Thom introduced what he called their “Pink Floyd number.” And then they played a track I’d not heard before, a long rather rambling messy nightmare of a thing. It’s all over the place, I don’t like the gestures he’s making or the lyrics about “Let it rain”. Very worrying.
After the first encore he asks “Any requests?” and after much on-stage debate we get You, the first Pablo Honey track of the night. They ask again and I’m shouting for Subterranean until I’m horse, but I’m drowned out by all the rabid cries for Creep. Thom says “No I’m bored of that song!” but there is a lot of booing. Earlier Maree had said “If they don’t play Creep I’ll love them forever.” But they give in and play it, which makes me quite angry. Thom stands stock still with his arms by his sides, but he still gives it some effort where it matters, he could quite easily have let the audience take over the singing. After that there is nothing else they can do and the show is over.
As everyone moves away from the barrier I feel a bit dizzy, chewing gum being the only sustenance I’ve had all day. I’ve not felt the elusive feeling. Something didn’t kick in tonight.
We wait around in the corner with our passes on. We then get herded down some damp stairs into a brightly lit room, which has been serving as the catering area. It’s nearly 11.30pm now and Maree can’t stay long, she’s booked on the bus back to London. I talk to Caffy, there were some gigs in Oxford before this, which somehow I’d not found out about in time. She’s not working tonight, she just really wanted to see the band. She’s coming up to Scotland for T in the Park, Mansun are playing and they’re her favourites. I have a swallow of a can of Red Stripe that Tim has put in my hand, but there’s not much around to drink and so I give it to Caffy to finish. Tim takes me aside and asks me what I think it would be like, from my perspective on the other side of the barrier, if the next time they tour it was big venues like GMEX, Wembley and the SECC. I tell him I’m biased, but I like to be close enough to be able to see. It’s a scary thought. I introduce Frances to Caffy and they chat about fanzines.
I still feel a bit shaky and I’m finding it hard to hold a proper conversation. Frances has to go, her dad is waiting for her to give her a lift home. He’d had her spare ticket for the show. “Why didn’t he come back to the after show?” asks Caffy. We both laugh at the idea.
Everyone is asking after Val, but I’ve not heard from her in months. Frances leaves and I stay. I’ve booked the coach back to Glasgow in the early hours so I’m in no rush. I drink a can of fizzy orange and feel a bit better.
Thom appears some time after midnight, in a checked shirt that doesn’t go with his camo fatigues. He’s got a Guinness in one hand and a bottle of Bordeaux in the other. He also has plastic cups and pours wine for Caffy and I before we’ve even said hello.
“How are you? How was it?” I ask.
Before I can say it myself he says, “Terrible.”
It didn’t happen, it didn’t click. He knows it too. He doesn’t know what this elusive thing is called either but we both know something was wrong. “I knew since I got up this morning that it wasn’t right.”
We’ve found some seats now and are about to get into the subject, when a guy with a big cigar comes over and completely ignores me as he tells Thom that it’s the first time he’s seen them when he’s not been working. Is he someone important? Where does he get off tipping his ash on me? He’s telling Thom that he likes the Floyd number and he should bring back the beginning part at the end. Thom cuts him off and tells him it sounds like four songs at the moment and he’s not sure why they played it tonight.
I pull a face at the mention of The Floyd. “I don’t want to end up being The Floyd” says Thom.
I’ve downed the wine and stopped shaking. The cigar guy’s gone but Thom seems in a bit of a state. “How big is T In The Park?” he asks me. I tell him that my guess is that it’s probably not as big as Reading Festival, but I’ve never been before.
“We’d better play The Bends stuff then.” He talks about the new songs, about how he doesn’t want to make The Bends again. They could so easily do that now. He knows that some of the songs are great and that they work. They have to touch him too. Lift works, maybe. He ponders, sometimes the songs work for a couple of months and then he goes off them. I tell him it can’t be as bad as that time they were at Rak and he was pacing the floor telling us about it. He doesn’t believe me; this is worse.
I tell him about the tape of the Toronto show I got from Canada, he’s glad I got to hear that gig. He’s worrying about not being big enough to headline T in the Park. Tonight it felt like a big stage and he couldn’t see the audience, it was like singing karaoke. Sometimes festivals are better because you can see the crowd. He’s worried about becoming a product. He’s worried about the new studio and not being able to explain things to people. He’s nervous, it’s all a “bit of a headfuck.” A very Thom phrase. He’s using the word “one” a lot in reference to himself. I’m worried because he’s worried.
I hitch a ride in a cab with some folks who are going back to the Holiday Inn, but I don’t feel like hanging about much more. Caffy gives me her room number in case I miss my bus, but I get to the station in good time. On the coach, I fall asleep awkwardly and wake up in Stockport less than a hour later.
Tonight was weird, I don’t like how it made me feel, like someone was trying to kick my stabilisers away.
Arrive back in Glasgow about 5.30am, having woken up at Hamilton, in time to see the T In the Park site being set up on the outskirts of the city.
I have to hide out in the 24 hour café because I can’t get back into the flat where I’m staying until somebody wakes up. I need some time on my own to wallow.