60. London, Shepherds Bush Empire, 24 May 2003

Another day off and we travel down to London. I stay in Bow with Clarabelle and have a rest. I go for a walk in the West End and into Hamley’s toy shop. I have a memory of going there with my parents on a sightseeing trip long ago, not being allowed to buy anything. I wander around the soft toy department imagining what the younger me, enamoured of anything cuddly and panda-shaped, would have bought if I’d had enough pocket money. The toys are all very expensive. I stumble upon a rack of Mr Men books, still pocket money priced. I buy a copy of ‘Mr Worry’, he reminds me of someone.

*

Between Shepherd’s Bush tube station and the venue there are signs tied to railings and lamp posts, Hungry? Sick? – lyrics from We Suck Young Blood. We’ve already started making up parodies. It’s a bit disappointing when all you get when you call the number is previews of the HTTT tracks. We pull some down to keep.

Across Shepherd’s Bush Green outside the venue there is already a queue. I meet a few more people from the message board and do a recce of the place but I don’t queue up myself, I’ve had enough for this run. I don’t want to see certain people today.

I run into Tim, who I’ve not really been in contact with since Portugal. He is still working for the band, looking after their studio, he’s looking after the guest list tonight and offers to put me on it. This means I now have an extra ticket, so I call Kim, who just has enough time to make it over from the other side of the city before the show starts. By the time we get inside we can fit in one drink before kick off, then find a place to stand near the back, just under the balcony (which rather dampens the sound.) The show has a coherence tonight, in spite of London nerves, and it genuinely feels like a small venue.

Kim reminds me of Val in a lot of ways: she’s a bit older than me and knows her music; I love listening to her punk war stories and she has a filthy sense of humour. She knows how to enjoy herself and she understands. She “gets” the band in a way that makes sense to me. I have a more relaxed time of it and the band are more on it, like the other shows have been a warm up for this. There There and 2+2=5 are once again the openers, but then The National Anthem and Morning Bell make an appearance. A few of us are still persisting with the flamenco clapping for the latter. Scatterbrain remains my least favourite of the new songs, but then Thom has his tiny keyboard brought on and someone screams. There is a joy in the way he sings “C’mon kids” at the end of Kid A, it’s been my favourite thing about the whole tour. The rest of the show sounds like Jonny’s: Go To Sleep’s defragged guitar breakdown; the radio detuning into Climbing Up The Walls; the tension sustained into a dark Backdrifts.

Thom’s voice has benefited from a day off. “Smile Thom!” someone shouts,  “How big do you want the smile? Happy, happy,” he chants. Sail to the Moon floats by. Sit Down Stand Up is for “all the people with free tickets,” (there are industry people here, as ever at a London show, it always creates an odd vibe). No Surprises follows, finding its place as a come down. Talk Show Host. Where I End And You Begin. Paranoid Android. Idioteque. There is certainly more pace tonight. Everything In Its Right Place has a great bass break in it and we almost get the clapping right.

They go off for what seems like a long while. I Might Be Wrong’s riff grinds and they’re back, all tambourines again. The Gloaming. Myxomatosis. The bass is dirty, the audience is better. Lucky. The cheering lasts a long time.

Fake Plastic Trees “Still seems sort of relevant somehow.” It starts, guitar drowned out by singing along to make it almost a capella. Thom has his voice back, melts the “crumbles and burns” line again. The rumble is loud for How To Disappear, it makes the room shake. Six shows out of seven, by now the set list feels well honed.

Kim comes with me to the afters, as she’s never done one before. It’s a split level bar, we hang about and drink beers. It’s busy but I have some things in my bag for Thom and with a little Dutch Courage I approach him between conversations, I just want a little more time before the tour is over. I present him with a Hamley’s bag, my gift for Noah – “Mr Worry, because he doesn’t have to.” I have also brought a CD of Rob Newman’s political comedy (he’s made something of a come back and I’m a loyal fan…) Thom pockets it and tells me that Mr Newman is supposed to be introducing them at Glastonbury (sadly in the end this doesn’t happen).

We talk briefly, I mention I’m thinking of going to the Italian shows in July and Thom says he’s looking forward to them, is bringing the family. A lot of people want his attention so I go back to Kim and my beer. I want her to be able to say hello, there are plenty of people here getting autographs, which is unusual, it would be nice to take advantage of the mood. Thom passes us and she says “Hello gorgeous!” in her own inimitable fashion. He giggles.

Later on I find a piece of artwork in my bag, given to me by my assistant at work (who also happens to be a Boardie…) I present it to Thom, but he assumes I want him to sign it, so does so and gives it back. I am about to explain that he can keep it, when a boy with a vinyl copy of OK Computer in his hand hoves into view. “Sign this for my mate who you told to ‘Fuck off’ in 1997!” We exchange face pulls and I get out of the way.