The day after the Manchester gig, Val invites me to go with her to the band’s Christmas party. I am speechless and she explains that she’d thought long and hard about who to ask and realised that she trusts me to behave myself. “You’re not a screamer.”
I go back to Glasgow and spend the rest of the week skipping classes; daydreaming and buying music magazines to catch up on the coverage the band have finally been getting in the UK. PID even gets a mention in one article in a style magazine called Sky (about the last place I’d have expected to see a piece on Radiohead!)
Val calls me the following week to tell me that she went to the Brixton Academy gig. The show was fantastic and afterwards she caught up with Thom and talked to him at the bar for what seemed like a couple of hours. She is full of news, bits of gossip and is overwhelmed by how nice he was. They’d wondered where we’d all got to after the Manchester show, they’d gone back to their hotel and sat in the bar wondering why they were missing the party. She said that he seemed to lack confidence, found it hard to take compliments, wasn’t behaving in a starry way at all. He appreciated what she was trying to do with the Fanzine. He got it.
She knew that I’d been trying to talk to him about my letters when I was in Manchester, but that I wasn’t sure if I’d made it clear who I was. He thought it was me, but had been too embarrassed to say so in case it wasn’t. But he had got my last reply and promised to write again. Val realised how important all this was to me.
We are both quiet unfeasibly excited about the party. We have no idea what to expect. I make arrangements to go home before Christmas and get the coach over to Manchester so we can travel to Oxford together.
On December 18th, in cold winter weather, we get the coach from Manchester to Oxford. We get changed in the toilets at Gloucester Green station and then take a bus to Abingdon. We wander around in the dark and it starts to snow. We find a pub where we call a mini cab for the last leg of the journey.
By the time we get to Courtyard Studios we’re both a bit exasperated for the journey. We’ve hardly eaten all day and we’re a little freaked out. We brace ourselves and go in, and promptly bump into Thom at the top of the stairs; he’s going down them to show some people around the studio.
We suddenly feel very self-conscious. We’re directed to a big bowl of punch and then find a seat. Who are all these people? Are we really supposed to be here? Val has an invitation but we still feel like impostors. We recognise one or two people but the rest must be from the record company or “real” friends of the band. We don’t make much of an attempt to mingle, just sit and talk to each other, worrying that we’ll never get past our party fear.
We have a few glasses of the punch. On my empty stomach, I start to feel a bit light headed. Val informs me that I’m pissed but I don’t believe her, she fetches a bottle of Cola and we both top up from that so I don’t get much the worse for wear. We see Caffy, the only other person we really know to speak to, and she is mingling more successfully. Every so often we see Thom wandering around, but we feel like we can’t just put ourselves in his way, when everyone else here seems to have a more legitimate reason for being here.
We pluck up the courage to wander around the room. Jonny is in a corner playing jazz records, there is a room full of videos and CDs and at the other end when the door opens we see inside the office, with posters and discs on the walls. Some people ask us who we are, people are now at the ‘being able to talk to strangers’ stage of the party, we explain that we do a fanzine and have to explain what it is. We feel a bit intimidated by the self-assurance of some of these people; the band’s friends seem a bit posh.
Later, I go to the bathroom, only to have Val bang on the door to hurry me out. She’s outside the door talking to Thom; we finally have a chance to get him to ourselves. He tells us that he has 30 or so new songs on tape to give to the band to work on. No big guitar numbers. “So,” I say sarcastically, “all slow sad stuff then?” and he leans forward and pulls a face, “I know who you are!”
A guy, who is a DJ who’s come over from Israel, comes past and they talk, but we stay put and Thom comes back to us. Someone else passes and asks him what the chords to In-between Days are; he mimes the guitar part but refuses to sing it.
Val asks him if he’s recovered from the tour yet and he tells us that he’s trying to settle in at home by doing some DIY. He’s made a wobbly coffee table. He can’t sleep. He has to do his Christmas shopping. Thom tells us that Tears For Fears, for whom the band played a few support slots, have started covering Creep in their set. It’s my turn to pull a face, “Don’t you get a say in that sort of thing?”
Thom shrugs, “Thanks Roland, that’s paid for my car.” Jonny is even writing the sheet music.
People are starting to leave; someone asks us if we have anywhere to stay tonight. I look at Val, our plans and our budget had not stretched as far as getting back to Oxford tonight. We start to explain that we were going to improvise when Chris the Manager suggests we stay here, there are some beds in the attic and no one else has claimed them yet. We’re grateful and can relax a bit. We’d been too overawed to think about what we were going to do afterwards. Val always seems to have a plan and I just trust her to know what she’s doing.
A bit later, there are just a few people still here. The band members are starting to leave, Val says she’s tired and goes to investigate the attic. I kind of want to stick around, but I’m too nervous to stay here by myself. Jonny is saying goodbye to Thom. I hover, not wanting to leave without saying good-bye, but I feel awkward and have one foot on the stairs. Jonny shakes Thom’s hand and leaves. Thom sees me and asks if the attic will be all right. I burble a yes and offer a hand for him to shake. We wish each other Merry Christmas and there is a slight pause and then the handshake is pulled into a hug.
I’d wanted to convey what I was feeling, just a huge thank you for everything, and this does it without me having to come up with a speech. I pat him on the back in matey fashion and then I float upstairs. Val is asleep already. I lay awake in the dark; I can hear quiet voices and jazz playing downstairs.
I wake up at about 9am and sneak downstairs, there are a few people asleep or just waking up around the place, a few crew members and other people I don’t know. I find a kettle and some instant coffee. I start to make mugs for as many people as I can see. Val appears and goes to find a phone so we can call a taxi. We want to explore but we decide that would be taking advantage of the management’s hospitality. I suddenly realise that I’m starving but there’s no food left, apart from a giant bar of fruit and nut chocolate hidden in the bread bin. I share it out between ourselves and Duncan the guitar tech, who has surfaced and taken one of the coffees. On the way out we briefly see inside the studio, a large empty room with a solitary stool in the middle. We take an expensive taxi all the way back to Oxford and then catch the coach. We stop in Birmingham and have egg and chips in the greasy spoon café by Digbeth Station. I’ve been grinning to myself all the way there and eventually I have to tell Val about the hug.
By the time we get back to her place, we’re too tired to do anything but drink tea and flop in front of some Christmas TV. There was a comedy on called Bernard & The Genie, a sort of update of the Aladdin story. Val asks me what I would wish for, and when I blush in reply she knows what I’m thinking and totally understands. She gets it.
*Ok so this isn’t a gig, but it was a meeting with the band and it’s always got counted as one as it meant just as much to me.