57. Belfast, Waterfront, 19 May 2003

We left Dublin, but I recall few details. Clara, who was touring with me, remembers leaving the envelopes with ALL the tickets for ALL the rest of the gigs in the hostel and having to go back for them. The rest of us had taken the train to Belfast and she had to follow on the bus.

We arrived at our hostel en mass, the lady at reception asking, “Are you here for Westlife?” (The Irish boy band, the complete antithesis of our boys, are playing at the Odyssey Arena, next door to tonight’s venue.)

We make it to the Waterfront in time to discover that the queue has once again started early. An ever expanding group of rabid enthusiasts hell-bent on imposing a bureaucracy on fans of a band that have songs entitled 2+2=5, who sing about the debilitating effects of the daily grind, fail to see the irony in what they’re doing.

Tonight they have selected a red pen so that last night’s numbers in black will be rendered invalid. Melody Nelson, another boardie who is with us, pulls out her lip liner pencil and applies low numbers to the backs of our hands. I am pulled inside the venue with Dublin boardie Stooge and Astral Chris, who flank me in the crowd as the girls head for the barrier, I’m just behind them, we’re all in the crowd together for once.

This venue is weird, though smaller than the neighbouring Odyssey, it’s still an arena, a concert hall for orchestras. After the Olympia, which had a dilapidated grandeur, it is rather soulless. There are a couple of technical issues on stage and Thom can’t quite find his groove, a member of the crew gets a tongue lashing mid-set. Other than that the gig is a flurry of new songs.

Keiko is here and she has passes for this evening. The others all leave to go for drinks and she finds me, attaches a pass and we get herded away once the arena is cleared. The new tour manager is a friendly Frenchwoman called Hilda, she leads us through the bowels of the building into what looks like a hotel lobby.

Soon we are sitting on the floor sharing wine and Guinness with Thom. Keiko asks after his family and he tells her that they’d been in Dublin at the shows.  He’s obviously smitten with his toddler son, talking a lot about being woken up early and the cute things that he says…

I ask how the shows have been so far; we talk about the setlists and how the second night’s array wouldn’t have worked here. They lost their nerve but The Gloaming was good. I tell him I liked Kid A with the one finger keyboard playing. Keiko keeps pouring more drinks. Yasuko arrives. They ask if they’re going to play in Japan anytime soon, “Summersonic” says Thom. The contingent try to explain that it’s the wrong festival! Thom writes something on a piece of paper for Ya to add to her website.

We talk about music – The White Stripes – how come if everything is recorded on pre-1968 gear its still available on CD? If this is the new future of rock ‘n’ roll then why don’t they just let it die and let someone who uses samples get through? But Q love them… Q is a bad subject; it seems Thom is not the biggest fan of the current editor, even though he’s on the cover again.

He says the John Peel show is still essential listening. We decide Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills are just retreading PJ Harvey – “Better get Polly on the phone.”

We talk about shoes (he’s got white Clarks shoes on, that look like leather Cornish Pasties to me, as he was looking for something British made. “You have to take what you can get”). He mentions what he’s listening to and I ask him to write down the names – The Black Keys (“Not the ‘Blackies’, there two of them like the White Stripes… but…”) and B-Pitch Control (the Berlin label that he likes more than anything else at the moment).

We talk to “Big Colin” the head of security, he seems to know who we are and he knows the score with some of the more fervent admirers who are still waiting outside. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I don’t care if I make enemies if I have friends like these. We get asked what shows we are going to. “All of them,” Keiko replies. She promptly gets put on the guest list plus two for the rest of the tour.

Hilda says it’s time to go. “Let’s not,” says Thom. We agree with him, but we’ve all run out of drinks and they really have to leave. He cracks his neck, “I really should have got it seen to before the tour.”

Keiko, Ya and I stagger outside into the night, we’re nowhere near where we went in and it takes a while to get our bearings. I somehow make it back to the hostel, where there are several rooms taken up by rival factions. Other people have better recall of who was where and who said what to who, who got off with who, who fell out with who. I begin to remember why being social on these trips is hard. I don’t want to deal with ordinary things. I don’t really care about the petty politics and I don’t understand why anyone else does.