There is no where left to stay in Oxford. I travel to London, where I have a friend with a sofa. The London-Oxford buses run all night.
Back into Oxford. My bus arrives in the early afternoon, I miss the stop for Headington just as Keiko phones me (by this time I have a pay-as-you-go Nokia that looks like a big grey lego brick). She is waiting for me outside the site. I get off and rush back, but I need cash and I have to go all the way up the Cowley Road before I can find an ATM. I run around and find the entrance to the park, but she’s waiting at the box office, all the way over on the other side. I arrive, hot and bothered to find her, my ticket in hand. We say “hi” to Caffy, who is in the press portacabin and we enter the site.
It’s big, like having a festival all to themselves. We find Yasuko and her friend, also over from Japan and I pay her for the ticket she bought me. Keiko and I go to the Merchandise tent and wait for ages because it’s so busy. There are cool shirts made especially for today. “South Park” hence a black shirt with Kenny, Kyle, Stan and Cartman as modified bears. There’s a white shirt with the band drawn by the South Park animators. The first band (either Hester Thrale or The Rock Of Travola) are already on. We go back to Yasuko but she soon goes off to find a copy of the special edition of Nightshift magazine that someone is giving away. Keiko and I find the shorter beer token queue and then the beer tent, more for the special minotaur cups than for the Fosters inside.
Yasuko doesn’t come back, she’d found a way to get nearer the front. Veteran jazzer Humphrey Lyttleton and his band are on next. They played on Amnesiac and on Later… with the band. They’re sparky and sound great. Humph cracks jokes and the mosh pit respond with “Wham Bam” when required. They play a lot of Duke Ellington. There’s a lovely feeling in the air.
We have more beer and I go for a wander. There is a notice board where people have been leaving messages for each other, mostly using their messageboard aliases. I didn’t realise they knew each other in real life. I eat some rather disappointing falafel and go back to Keiko to watch Sigur Ros, who only play about three songs.
Supergrass are on next, I spend the start of their set in the beer queue but the latter part gets the field rocking. Beck’s acoustic set afterwards isn’t very exciting by comparison. He plays some Hank Williams and his more maudlin stuff from Mutations. We move forward a bit during his set. Keiko leaves me to go and find the toilets. She’s gone for a while and when she returns, she explains that she just bumped into Julie from the management, and she’s given her a wristband for the hospitality area. And when Keiko told her I was here too, she gave her one for me. She’s also put us on the list for the party that’s happening at the Zodiac later on… “Lucky or what?”.
I rush off to use the hospitality toilets and also run into Julie and her partner John. We have a quick chat and then I go back, as the loos are the best bit of any outdoor hospitality area. It keeps trying to rain and Keiko has got a special rain cape as well as one of the Yellow cagoules that the band have made specially for the day. My own coat is turning out not to be very waterproof.
After Beck’s done, I’m starting to feel a bit claustrophobic and I leave Keiko to wade a little further into the crowd while I settle for being able to see both the stage and the big screens which are at the half way point. Back here I’m surrounded by older fans and aging hippies. The Inkspots play on the PA, which means the band are due. Marc “Lard” Riley introduces them, but I can’t really hear what he says. Radiohead appear, go straight into The National Anthem and I’m ready.
The bass! I’m dancing my arse off and then keep going for Airbag. Packt Like Sardines comes next, it moves like a train, I’m hearing it live for the first time and it all starts to make sense. My Iron Lung is in there somewhere and I still love it. There’s lots of tambourine on Dollars & Cents and I Might Be Wrong. Lucky is spine-tingly; Pyramid Song, which I love. Thom is face on to the camera at the piano. Everything In Its Right Place starts off as Beck’s Nobody’s Fault and then samples the crowd.
“Bugger!” in a silly voice is Thom’s expletive of choice when he makes a mistake. He’s having trouble with lyrics, gets How To Disappear back to front, “Are we the only ones that are nervous?” Paranoid Android is dedicated to Geri from the Spice Girls who had been sitting next to them on the train back from Paris. No Surprises is for Tony Blair, then he forgets the words to The Bends but the crowd take it.
They encore with Fake Plastic Trees and Karma Police. I’m soaked with rain but euphoric.
They come back again and Thom announces, “This one is to send you off with bluebirds in your hair.” And he tries a couple of bars of Motion Picture Soundtrack on the synth. The rain as got into it. “It’s Kaput, Jah?”
He abandons the synth. “OK change of plan.” He whispers something to Plank. “This is an old one, you might remember. We might…” and they play it!
Creep. He hams up the “perfect body” line and dramatizes the verse, but they’re actually playing it, and no one thought they would. The ‘kerchunk’ from Jonny’s guitar is awesome, more so for having been missing of so long. I screamed after I’d stopped laughing. It was a wonderful way to end. By now it’s raining properly. Keiko finds me, she’s in tears, but grinning.
By the time we make it into the hospitality area I am soaked to the skin. Fortunately I have put spare clothes in my backpack and even more fortunately they’re inside a plastic bag, as the zip has bust on the pocket of the bag and water has seeped inside. Once in the ladies portacabin I peel off my wet top and replace it with a dry one as fast as I can. I wring about a pint of water out of the shirt I’ve just taken off.
We find a spot in the hospitality tent and sit on the floor, it’s dark and no one that Keiko is waving at can see us. We move to chairs and watch the comings and goings. Jonny and Colin with various members of their families, Ed and Phil with their friends. Thom is around, talking to people, a girl who grabs his arse is seen off, but unusually he’s giving autographs. He doesn’t stay for long. It feels like the end, I’m wet and I’m tired. Fairly soon we end up outside again. Caffy and her chums are heading for the Zodiac and then I remember what Keiko said earlier about a party. There is a crowd and I don’t recognise the route in the dark. We’re making our way. Just when I think we’re lost, Phil taps Keiko on the shoulder and we follow him. She’s on the list and we’re in.
It’s cold inside until people start dancing. I join Caffy and her mates on the floor for Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), some hip hop and Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and feel a bit more warmed up. I need to sit down after that and drink some water.
Thom is at the bar. I restrain myself from running over, as he’s talking to someone. When I spot an opening, I wave and when he spots me he comes over. I start a wave salute gesture, that turns into a complex hand shake but he goes in for a hug. It’s a big squeeze.
“How are you?” I ask.
“A bit emotional!”
I affirm that I’m feeling the same, but I can’t really speak after that hug. I take him over to where Keiko is and they hug too. He’s drinking water and when Keiko examines it, a gesture that expresses her surprise that he’s not drinking booze, he makes a baby rocking motion and pulls a daffy face. She congratulates him and he appears to be playing with his watch. It turns out it’s got a screen that holds a photo of the baby on it. He takes it off so Keiko can have a better look.
When he leaves for the bathroom, I manage to ask him to come back, as Keiko wants a photo. When he returns I still can’t speak much, but I tell him I screamed and fell over at the end of the show. It’s getting too loud in the club for talking. Keiko steps in and gives me her camera, I take one of the two of them and the flash is a bit harsh. I stand behind him, propping him up and she snaps us. He goes to find other people, saying “See you later.” But we have to leave. I make a sign for a keyboard and ask him if he still gets his email. “Of course!”
We do our funny handshake and I head for the door. Tim is outside. I give him a hug too. He says Belfast (the only other UK gig this year) isn’t confirmed yet. I tell him I’ve been invited to Japan for the dates there and he seems to approve. After assuring him that we have a plan for getting to our beds we head for the bus stop. Caffy and pals are already there. It’s about 3am…
Victoria is deserted when I get back into London. My friend lives in Pimlico and I walk down the traffic-less street, past Westminster Cathedral and past Scotland Yard and Channel Four’s HQ. I can’t feel my feet on the ground. Back in my friend’s flat I wake her up and start telling her about the day at one hundred miles an hour… I don’t remember sleeping.
Sunday morning, I wander the record shops of Soho in a daze. It’s one of those days when everything feels like it was meant to happen. I find all the records I’ve been searching for, I have a conversation sparked by my South Park T shirt. The guy behind the counter in the shop says something about bluebirds in your hair and it turns out he was there too…I am still grinning and I go on doing so for the rest of the week.