39. London, Royal Festival Hall, Meltdown, 1 July 2000

In London, I go for a look at the art at Somerset House. Then in the afternoon I sit on the South Bank, eat my sandwiches and watch the people go by. In between rain showers and cups of tea, I read the paper and use phone boxes to try to call Caffy’s mobile and set up a meeting.

About 3pm I get through and find that she’s feet away from me on the other side of the doors. She has a ticket for me. I’m looking for Keiko, but no one has seen her. I resume my vigil but I think I’m probably just trying to sublimate the tension, directing my nerves onto something else. I wander around and spot Emily with the Red Hair and various people who look kind of familiar. But I feel detached and sit on the fringes. These must be the people from the new Message Board. I’m looking for Max K but I don’t even know what he looks like.

The tickets were hard to get hold of, 500 were reserved by WASTE and some people queued up in the early hours of the morning when they were released to buy them at the venue. Other people paid five-times the face value for them on eBay. I know how lucky I am to be here at all.

At 7.30pm I realise I can go inside, there are already people in the bar. I see Tim the Tour Manager and Brian the Manager on the door. We chat and I ask how it’s going.

“It was OK until today…”

“…And then the fear set in?” I suggest.

“Something like that,” Tim says.

I douse my headache and low blood sugar with Coca Cola at the bar. I have a glance at the new T-shirts, but the picture I like is on a long sleeved brown one…

I find I’m on the fifth level of seats, this venue is more formal than I’m used to.  I’m going to have to stay in my seat. I park myself and realise that Steve Punt (the comedian and member of The Mary Whitehouse Experience) is at the other end of the row, and this instance of the interconnectedness of all things makes me laugh heartily.

Clinic are on first. They wear masks, they go dungadungadunga, but that’s not what we’re here for.

The place is still filling up with people while they’re playing, which is very distracting in a venue like this where you’re meant to be in your seat to concentrate. I’m still looking for Keiko. When Clinic have finished I go back downstairs to buy a shirt, having decided on a Khaki one with Customer Focused Music Solutions and a drawing of a hug on the front. I have another Coke and settle back into my seat as more people arrive in the row. Radiohead are on at 8.45pm, this venue is strict about timings.

Thom, in baggy shirt and black trousers appears on stage and says “Hey!” and they kick off with a new one: Optimistic. It wails and thrashes and it is ON. Awesome. Jawdropping. Apeshit. Incredible. I’m writhing in my seat.

The new stuff is intense and dark but the beats! The bass! Colin is playing a stand up bass. Phil is playing a techno programmed machine. It’s wonderful and I’m so glad I waited to hear the songs here. Beautiful. I’m shivering. It’s been a hell of a long time, but they’re back and it feels very good.

There’s one for “Tony Blair- what a shame I never got to shake hands with him”, the song sees Thom sit astride the piano stool centre stage and he gives toothy grins at appropriate moments… Dollars and Cents (“the pounds and pencesssssss” he hisses). That makes it 10 new songs, enough for a new album. Ed tells a story about watching a nature programme this morning about the mating habits of Chinchillas. The female “pisses in the face of the male” if she’s not satisfied. Apparently they’ve had this image in their heads all day.

When they’re done, I walk past Polly Harvey on my way to the Ladies. I am so shocked I think I actually said “She’s tiny!”, out loud and scared her away. I finally find Keiko, she is by the sound desk, but we are both speechless. She’s bought one of each of the new T shirts.

Out of 22 songs in the set they played 10 new ones. I remember a weird feeling about the Royal Festival Hall on the night, more usually used as a classical venue, known for its great acoustics, it was mentioned in several of the reviews – which were decidedly mixed. (The worst one is probably this one from the Guardian.) I was so overawed that I didn’t manage to write one of my own.

I remember clinging on to my seat, unable to keep still, annoyed at being unable to make a decent recording of my own, being disengaged from reality. I was there but not there. I remember sitting down in my seat and I remember the band coming onto the stage, but the gig itself, like some traumatic experience, is not clear in my head at all. I couldn’t take it in, all the new stuff, I wanted to memorise it on the spot, I wanted to be able to take it away with me, to hold on to it.