34. Stoke-on-Trent, Trentham Gardens, 8 September 1997

My full English breakfast is floating in a pool of grease and tinned tomato juice but I’m so hungry I eat all of it. I walk through Blackpool. There are drifts of flowers at every available public monument following the death of Princess Di. The pavement near a war memorial is almost impassable. Before I get to the railway station, I call into a charity shop and by some freak chance they have a copy of A Portrait Of A Lady, one of the books we were talking about last night.

I’ve been to Stoke twice before, once when I was a kid to visit the Garden Festival (highlight: a huge water feature constructed entirely of porcelain toilet bowls) and once to check out a course when I was doing the rounds of my PCAS/ UCA shortlist, (highlight: buying a hat and a PJ Harvey album in one of the shopping centres that the place had got instead of a town centre, so unimpressed was I that I left without going to the interview.) Stoke is not a city but a conurbation of six Potteries towns, more like a project from my Geography A Level than a real place.,

After the train journey, I discover that the venue, Trentham Gardens is not a garden and is nowhere near this part of town. I call into the Tourist Information office, book the nearest available B&B and after what feels like about an hour on buses to find it, realise that I’ll have to go back to get money out as there are no cash points anywhere near the place.

It’s 4pm before I get near the venue, which at this point appears to be mostly comprised of a large car park. I can hear the tail end of the soundcheck. Some space noises and a song that sounds like it might be I Promise, drifts across the concrete. A croaky version of Paranoid Android follows, then A Reminder and Permanent Daylight. Emily the red haired girl and a friend of hers are here and they tell me I’ve missed True Love Waits. They’ve been here all day. When the soundcheck is over they go around the front of the venue to start a queue.

I stay where I am, there are steps to sit on here by the bus and the trucks. I wave at various people as they get on and off the bus. Later on Thom is approached by a couple of people and I hear a loud “No”. Some other kids are hanging about, working up the courage to talk to him next time he gets off the bus, but when he appears they freeze and instead have to listen to our quick conversation about the other bands that have played this venue, how Cast are awful and Ocean Colour Scene are beyond crap. The kids didn’t speak to him, they can’t believe that Thom is real. I chuckle to myself.

After this I can’t seem to shake off my new posse of awestruck teenagers, so I take them around the front of the venue to see if the doors have opened. Inside, I head for the bar and run into Lisa. She tells me she’s finished with zines these days, but R are the only band that really still do it, still give you the shivers down the back of the neck. We feel like the last of the old guard. I tell her about last night and she says I should ask them if I can help with W.A.S.T.E.

She’s with a friend, so I leave them and go off to see if I can get near the front. I end up in the middle and spend the whole gig hyper conscious of making eye contact with the stage. Because I’m in the middle I get absolutely killed. This crowd are mad for it.

“I know we’re in Stoke, but where IS this place?” laughs Thom. In amongst it they do Creep and Banana Co. And finally they play Let Down and despite the fact that they can’t do both halves of it together,  I can hardly believe it and I want to cry, but I’m not physically capable.

At the Rhodes for Subterranean, Thom hears a noise, “What was that? Probably nothing…” a heckler shouts something unintelligible and he drops into a riff from the Smiths song, “William, William…”

I can’t move enough in this crush to express what I’m feeling. I’m overloaded. I feel a distinct lack of dignity and something approaching self disgust. I scream and roar and cheer and stamp my feet. At the end I crawl out. Lisa grabs me and tells me it’s the best one she’s been at in a long while. She hugs me and says she’s thinking of going to the Paris show, and that I must come to the Nynex arena in Manchester on the next leg of the tour and stay with her. We end up in the foyer and I start to wilt through dehydration. I am in no rush to leave, but she’s driving back to Manchester and goes to look for her car. Tim pops up later, there’s no aftershow tonight, all the people hanging about are the crew’s mates. He nods over at a group huddled by the door – tonight’s token celebrity, Mark Owen from Take That, surrounded by hangers on and minders. Tim suggests I ask a local about taxis so I can get out of here. Eventually I find a pay phone and call one. Dead on my feet I find my way out past a throng of kids blocking in the band’s bus. I decide to stop now and go back north, as getting to Gloucester will break the bank and Brixton, like all London gigs, seems like a bad idea.

Another lonely, greasy breakfast. Aching all over, I load up all my gear and head for the train. I buy Q magazine, which has a big feature with Rankin’s photos of Thom in his big shoes and an interview, which is nice but gives nothing away compared to some of the conversation we had the other night…