The OK Computer arena gigs in November 1997 are the ones I have found myself talking about as the shows I enjoyed the least. But I was surprised, reading back through my diary, to find that I actually enjoyed the gigs and the band’s performance as much as I ever did. Retrospectively I’ve attached knowledge about what was going on in the life of the band at the time to my recall of events. I didn’t find out about that until a while after the release of Grant Gee’s tour documentary Meeting People Is Easy, which I will write about separately.
I think after the earlier 1997 dates, which were pretty special, where I felt particularly included and where I found myself lucky enough to get to talk with Thom on my own more than I’d done before, everything else was always going to stick in my memory as a bit of an anticlimax. In spite of being able to talk to him occasionally, I still relied on interviews and press coverage for much of my perspective on this person I wanted to feel like I was getting to know. I sometimes think I took things on face value too often, and with dreaded hindsight, I can see that neither version of Thom was the real one.
I’m trying to tell this story as it happened as much as I can, so I’ll try and separate the feelings I had at the time from the ones I had later…
Waiting at Manchester Piccadilly for my brother to arrive from Hull, where he’s gone to art school, his train is an hour and a half late. I drink weak tea and wait. We take the tram to NYNEX and marvel at the sheer size of the place, it swallows up the railway station and a multiplex, all the usual fast food outlets and as many adverts as can be squeezed in. We are told to return for the guestlist at 6.30pm. We go back towards the centre of town, where things are still in a mess near the Arndale Centre, there was an IRA bomb last year and Manchester hasn’t yet recovered. We find a pub full of indie kids and have a drink.
We walk back to NYNEX and confront the guest list ticket booth, I pick up an envelope from Caffy, but there’s only one ticket and one pass inside, I point out that there’s two of us and the guy picks up the phone. My brother panics a bit, the gig is sold out, but I try to stay calm. If the name’s not down… have I got anyone’s mobile number? No. I ask for Tim and the guy winks and tells us to come back in 20 minutes. As a plan B we try to find out how much the touts want for a spare ticket, and get a bit more panicky. Then Lisa appears from out of thin air and immediately goes off to fetch Tim’s mobile number, she is wearing a ‘working’ pass.
In the meantime we go back to the desk and the guy there swaps my seated ticket for two standing ones and another pass much to our relief. We go inside hyped up, I dock my bag in the cloakroom and we go down the many stairs to the floor of the arena. The Beastie Boys are blasting out, this place is huge and loads of people are sitting on the floor. We get nearer the stage and realise that the DJ is James Lavelle (Mo’ Wax records honcho) playing his own Verve remix. I can’t keep still, I circle around until the kids stand up. Then Teenage Fanclub come on stage. Indie jangle abounds, they’re in their nice blokes incarnation, but the kids don’t move, except to eat crisps and the place is still half empty.
When they’ve gone, we can hear a DJ Shadow tune and it sounds great this loud. It turns out the bloke in the woolly hat on a platform where the sound desk should be is Josh Davis himself on the decks. Beams of light bounce off the walls, but no one seems to have noticed him. We dance about more than anyone else we can see. My bro goes to get a bit nearer and observe Shadow’s technique (no movement above the wrist). This set fills in the roadie time, and had this been a small club show, it would have been the best warm up they’ve had.
Radiohead come on to Climbing Up The Walls, and every little thing gets a cheers (Thom coughs, “Yay!”, he takes off one of the two layered T shirts he’s got on, “Woo!”) They play a lot of OK Computer stuff. I get the feeling the front row are being very vocal but I’m not close enough. “We’ll be back here if any of you need any sexual favours…” says Thom in response to a heckle. The fast songs finally get this audience moving, Creep goes down well, My Iron Lung even better, it’s different here though, the venue is so large. They do Lurgee and Electioneering… People are talking through the quiet ones, Fake Plastic Trees and Bulletproof. For Exit Music I get stuck behind a guy who just won’t stop talking. I close my eyes and try to block him out, then give up and move. I keep trying to have a freak out and feel something that isn’t going through the motions. The gig takes a while to get going. It’s difficult to have an emotional experience in an ice hockey stadium with no ice and a popcorn concession.
At the end, Thom reads out a letter, the most words he’s spoken all night. It’s from the parents of a brother and sister who were at the last show at the Apollo, the boy had a heart attack shortly after and died. The mother has brought the girl to the gig tonight. They dedicate Street Spirit to them. It is simple yet effecting and makes me think of absent friends.
When it’s all over, we get our passes on and we’re herded into the seats. We find Lisa then get escorted to a roped off area and a kind of indoor marquee with tables, subtle lights and a bar. It feels like a wedding reception. It’s unlikely that we’re going to see much of the band in here. Lisa gets the beers in. We sit down and take it all in. Ed and Phil seem to be hosting their old pals, there’s no sign of the others. My brother is a bit overcome. We’re near Teenage Fanclub, and the Mo’Wax lot are over there. And that looks like Mark Owen again in the other corner, fergawdsake.
I realise I have to get my bag back, the security people are unusually friendly and Lisa comes with me upstairs to the cloakroom, but I’m too late it’s been moved. We come back down in the lift, with DJ Marc ‘Lard’ Riley and his friends in front of us. After a little confusion, a security guy fetches my bag. We have another beer with Lisa and even though she’s forgotten about offering me a bed for the night, she offers to put us up. We go back to Heaton Chapel and get a few broken hours sleep. She has to get up early but will take us back into town in the morning so we can get a train back to our folks’.