This tour was the start of a new era. Radiohead’s “official” message board (RHMB) had taken off in a big way with the faithful and lots of people were making friends in real life.
It was to be a Gentlemen’s Leisurely Tour of the Iberian Peninsula: five dates in Portugal and seven in Spain were announced in the spring. I knew I wanted to go but I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it. About a month before the tour was due to start I found myself with a new job. It meant that I couldn’t do the whole trip, but I could take a week to do the Portuguese dates, so I pulled some strings and made some compromises: I’d do the first 5 shows and then go home and back to work.
Then I found out that loads of other people had had a similar idea…
Due to a combination of delays and strikes I flew first from Glasgow to Birmingham, where I spent several hours waiting in the departure lounge listening to The Fall on my minidisc player (It’s been serving me well, in the little case I bought for it in Japan. I’ve not yet gone over to mp3s).
The next leg of my trip takes me to Paris, where I use my hesitant schoolgirl French at Charles De Gaulle to claim a compensatory free drink and wait some more. When I finally get to Lisbon, my rucksack is still in Paris. I have to check into a cheap hostel for the night with no kit.
Lisbon is sticky, hot and uncomfortable. I’m unwashed and unhappy to be parted from my carefully packed bag, but I only have one night booked. In the morning I head out of town to the chain hotel where some of the boardies are booked in. I’ve never been so glad of a complementary towel and toothbrush in my life. I take a long shower and feel human again.
My first full day in Lisbon is spent scouring clothes shops for cheap knickers and a clean T shirt, I’m not very good at roughing it.
My bag turns up a couple of hours before my travel insurance would have kicked in, but by then I’ve booked in for another night at the hotel. My hard learned travel principle “how much am I prepared to pay to avoid doing that” continues to serve me well.
We have the weekend in Lisbon to be tourists. I find myself in an interesting city that I otherwise might not have visited with a small group of new friends. We go to Sintra, climb a hill and manage to get hot, bothered and a bit lost, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just nice to be here.
When Yasuko arrives, I transfer to her hotel nearer to the venue in the centre of the city. We explore Belem to see the tower in the Tagus estuary and the monastery, beautiful white buildings that look splendid in the heat.
Back in the city centre we take a tram to the castle. As more boardies arrive for the gigs Samuel, one of the French fans, films them and asks them to introduce themselves. His idea, along with Nazaré, another of the French boardies, is to make a film about the tour and present it to the band so they can see how they’ve brought all these different people together. There are a series of surreal moments as Sam asks the same questions of everyone he meets while pointing his video camera in their face: “What is your name? What is your board name? Where have you come from? Why are you here?”
On the first gig day, a relaxed queue forms around the outside of the Coliseu dos Recreios. Large as the RHMB group is, there are plenty of other people here too. Locals, many of them teenagers; Americans who are fitting this in while they “do” Europe for the summer; members of the rival message board run by the At Ease website. But there is no tension in the air, the weather is warm, there is a pizza takeaway near the venue and no one seems to mind if we take it in turns to fetch food or go off for a drink at one of the al fresco bars up the road.
These temporary pavement dwellers have made themselves at home, some scavenge cardboard boxes, either to sit on or to make signs to hold up at the concert. Marker pen fumes fill the air as creative types draw Scary Bears and “RHMB is here” on a card large enough to be seen from the stage.
My lack of funds mean I was only able buy a ticket for the first show. Even though I can now ask the band for guestlist, I like to have a ticket as a back up in case I can’t get it organised. A safety net in case they change their mind. Back in March all the shows had sold out quickly, even when extra dates were added.
But my fears were unfounded. Thom had replied to my email before I left the UK:
(you) will be on da guest list plus umm 2.. ill tell tim on the way
hope your well lucy..
sorry to be brief am fukking busy
I like that he randomly gives me a plus 2. This means I’ve got to choose my friends carefully. Tim emailed me to confirm this arrangement, now I just have to find him.
I can’t seem to separate the three Lisbon gigs from each other in my memory. There were so many new songs and a communal feeling of anticipation in the room on each night. I remember fidgeting through Four Tet’s support sets (some of the front row habitués had set themselves the challenge of making Kieron Hebden smile). Great warm up music though Four Tet is, it’s difficult to focus on a bloke standing behind a lap top in the middle of an empty stage. I decided that what he was actually doing was emailing home. I imagined his messages: “Dear Nan, Portugal is lovely. I’m playing to the same crowd every night, these Radiohead fans are mental but they seem to be enjoying the music. Wish you were here…”
I think the eventual winner of the “make Four Tet crack a smile” bet was M, one of the American contingent. Her shouts of “Kieron’s a fox!” followed by the occasional wolf whistle finally got him to laugh, but he never missed a beat.
I remember being startled by the single drums set up on either side of the stage before the band came on. No one knew what to expect. Had they turned into Adam and The Ants? Was this their Burundi-influenced new direction? When the band appeared, Ed and Jonny have drum sticks. Ed was revelling in this new role and Jonny played with concentrated gusto, his guitar slung across his back. There There was a revelation and soon we were all clapping along. It really shouldn’t have worked but it did. Thom was still in the middle, hair at messy angles, back to battering a guitar.
The thrill of brand new songs continues through the show. They keep coming, some so new that Thom needs a lyric sheet on a music stand in front of him (these become prized possessions when he later chucks them into the crowd). They play the long lost Lift, this is the kind of crowd that appreciated that it’s not been forgotten. Most of these songs are still at the experimental stage. On one Phil provides backing vocals (he seems to have invested in a gaudy new shirt for the occasion), on another (Myxomatosis?) Thom appears to be playing a Keytar!
There’s something jubilant about these shows. I come away a little stunned – there is a lot to take in – but it’s OK -I get to do it all again tomorrow and the next day!
When Follow Me Around (Sam and Naz’s film) finally made it to the internet, several years after it was made, it eventually had the band-approved sound desk recordings to accompany the live footage. It was delayed because they wanted to be legit and had to wait for EMI to sign it off. Clara and I saw a cut on a visit to Paris to visit Naz later but it was a couple of years before the rest of the people who were in it saw it.
I have some rough bootlegs of the Portugal show, recorded for the most part on a microphone secreted under Astral Chris’s hat. The volume fluctuates, the sound glitches and there’s a lot of audience noise, (I think I recognise some of the screams). The machine whirs between tracks, limited battery life meant only the brand new songs got recorded, and it would be a few years before the band released them. At the time they were all we had to go on.
“Nice and fast. Here we go,” says Thom, introducing a now almost unrecognisable Up On The Ladder (that song won’t emerge as a finished article until the In Rainbows sessions). “Little raindrops, little raindrops” I misheard as the chorus of Stand Up Sit Down. I loved it. It is completely frantic and it will never sound quite so intense again. I continued getting the words wrong, letting it carry me away, dancing like a maniac, ready to burst every time they played it.
The song that we now know as Where Bluebirds Fly can just be made out playing as intro music. By the second night everyone is clapping along to set opener There There like it’s an old fave. We know that “We are accidents waiting, waiting to haaaaappen” is going to be the line that sticks in our memories. Scatterbrain is the least Radiohead-sounding new one; the hyper Wolf At The Door might yet be called “Stepford Wives” and the lyrics tumble out of Thom’s mouth so fast he’s almost falling over the words; Go To Sleep has the closest thing to a guitar solo they’ve had in a song for a long time.
I have sticky passes for all the Lisbon shows, but these aftershows have all merged into one memory. On the second night when I got to talk to people, I remember meeting Tim and he asked me if he should let some of the people hanging about outside into the party. I felt honoured by the responsibility, it was for me to decide if they were “alright” or not. My plus-two meant I took both Clarabelle and Yasuko with me, and Chris had also found his way into the little bar at the back of the venue.
Tim explained to me that this would be his last official stint as Tour Manager. He was ‘retiring’ from the road, but he was still going to be working in the studio, “mowing the lawn,” as he put it. We had a nice chat and he asked me if I had any idea how many gigs he’d been at… we started trying to do sums and I said I’d let him know about the online gigographies so he could try and work it out. It was cool to be able to swap war stories with him.
The others found the bar and discovered the local speciality cocktail, the Caipirinha. Somewhere in between drinks I drag Clara over to where Ed is sitting and introduce her, she’s his particular fan. I wasn’t going to mention it, but Chris passes by and drops out that she is one of the people behind the “Harem”, a lighthearted and at times very silly Ed fan site.
Later on when Thom appeared clutching his now customary red wine, I was sitting in a corner with a can of coke, trying to wake myself up. I still have my ‘entourage’ around, but he’s come to talk to me.
“It’ll give you cancer.” he says pointing at my drink, but I sense this is part of some in-joke I’m not party to. He asks if I enjoyed the show and I start trying to explain which songs, whose names I don’t yet know, are my new favourites.
“I like the rock one. You know the Neil Young-y one,” I say (I mean Go To Sleep).
“Oh no. Not rock,” he says slightly horrified, “Neil Young, we wish!”
We talk about Lisbon, I ask him if he’s seen much of the place yet, tell him I like the way it’s a bit dilapidated and shabby round the edges.
“It reminds me of Cuba,” he says, not quite prepared to tell me more of that story. He’s talking about their hotel, how it’s not really up to much, how they’d probably be better off staying on the bus.
“It’s not bloody five star!” He’s joking. I think.
“It’s not like in Japan,” he says, remembering the last time I saw him.
I remind him about the golden bathroom ceilings and rivers running through the lobby in Tokyo. We have a wistful moment, no other hotels will ever measure up… and I didn’t even see inside the rooms.
“There was a TV in the bathroom, and a stereo…” he tells me, becoming animated.
I’m visibly impressed.
“I put Aphex Twin on,” he mimes, “and danced in the shower… ‘come on you c***s lets have some of that Aphex Acid!'” he giggles. I don’t think he realises the mental image he’s just conjured up for me. I think I just stood there with my mouth open.