It’s all waiting with Val. I’m itching to get into the centre of Manchester to check out the venue, but she’s still getting ready. She sends me out to the big Sainsbury’s near her flat for NME, Melody Maker and a packet of fags (the first time goody goody little me has ever bought cigarettes). Walking back, flicking through the pages I’m disappointed because there’s hardly anything about the gigs. And then I realise that both back covers are full-page adverts for the dates, with a new band photo and a colourful R logo.
It’s a bleached out band headshot, all white hair and cheekbones.
Back at Val’s, I beg to listen to her tape of the Craig Cash Signal Radio Session again. The station sent her a tape and there is a track on the end that wasn’t broadcast. I write out the words for Nice Dream on the receipt for Berkeley menthols and music papers and stow it in my diary.
After a couple of bus rides we eventually arrive in Oxford Road at around 5pm. We go into the Union and head upstairs; we can hear the reverb of a loud sound check. It turns out that it can be heard especially well from the ladies toilets. There aren’t many people around, so we loiter in there and can almost make out the band thudding through what sounds like Bjork’s Human Behaviour.
Back in the bar, Val spots Tim the Tour Manager. We go up to say hello and she passes on a copy of her new ‘zine, Insane. Colin appears and she gives him a copy of the PID tour special that we spent most of the last day constructing. It’s a deluxe item with coloured paper and a free badge. Jonny, his large grin and small girlfriend are also around. A few more people turn up and we try to act cool and sit down a little way away, but with a good vantage point to see people coming into the bar.
I can’t help glancing over and very soon spot some unmistakable blond hair. We go back over and get a small wave of recognition. “How’s it going’s” are exchanged. The thing about Thom is, if you ask him how he is, he doesn’t say, “I’m fine”, like most people. He actually tells you how he is.
He feels like he’s got a cold, He’s got a cold sore. Typical as MTV are filming the London show. It always happens. He gets ill on the British dates. The shows in Europe were “OK”, they played a festival with some big bands, but they had to come on at 11am, which he wasn’t happy about. He takes a distracted look at PID; Val prompts him to admire the Japanese pictures.
The others have gone. We’re left with Thom, he’s hungry and Val, being the local, starts suggesting places to get food. He goes off to get his jacket and we hang about at the top of the stairs. We take Thom and Jim the Soundman to find Abdul’s, as they decided they fancied a curry. Ed had come back singing its praises, Manchester was where he went to Uni and at this time of year it always reminds him of exams.
We emerge from the Union into the street as Caffy pulls up in a taxi with Holly from the Melody Maker and a couple of photographers who are following this mini-tour. Thom hugs Caf, she introduces Holly and the press pack goes inside.
We set off, “Is that Holly Whatsit who wrote that review of Oasis and just ended up talking about the state of the pop?” asks Thom. We decide that here – the middle of Oxford Road, Manchester Student Central – might not be the best place to start slagging off Oasis.
People are already arriving for the gig. Ed had anxiously mentioned that he’d seen a few people in band shirts earlier and several girls in Radiohead T-shirts are wandering towards the venue.
In the kebab shop Jim and Thom dither over the veggie food and Val goes outside for a cig. It’s very hot inside. I stand back against the wall and wait. Order placed, Thom leaves the counter and stands with me. He got my letter. “The one I sent in March?” I babble.
“The one with the Chomsky thing?” (A flier for the film about Manufacturing Consent that I’d found on campus).
“I’ve replied yesterday and left it for my girlfriend to post.” he says.
It’s too warm. I watch the kebab rotate and try to think of some intelligent conversation. He asks me if I’m doing all three dates. I say I might as well, there’s no point in coming all this way just for one show.
I remember some of my last letter and we start talking about the stresses of University. I tell him how my mind is still in school and I can’t get used to the way they do things. He says not to worry, even doing finals he felt like he was still writing the same stuff he did for A-level. “They’re paying you to read books. Once you realise that, it gets a lot easier.”
He still has his copy of the fanzine in his hands, he flicks through it nervously. I can’t quite bring myself to speak. He’s laughing at what he said to Val in the cupboard. Val comes back in, having finished smoking. She finds it easier to talk to him and asks about the festival they just played in Germany. Rage Against The Machine were on, says Thom, pulling a face and shrugging his shoulders. He doesn’t get why they’re so popular.
“It’s just a bloke shouting!” is the best I can come up with.
The veggie curries are ready. We exit and walk back towards the Union. Two girls, who have been cautiously following us, eventually dare to ask Thom for an autograph. He starts scribbling on their tickets, but Val says that they will be taken away from them as they go into the gig, so he writes on the Academy gig list over where it says ‘Coming soon: M-People’. They then give their camera to Val and ask her to take a picture. She asks Thom if it’s OK with him. He stands between the girls and obediently pulls a face while Val snaps a photo.
Back at the Uni, the doors have opened and the place is slowly filling up. Thom, Jim and Val have laminates, I only have my ticket. I get asked for student ID and fumble frantically through my cards and pull out my ticket.
If they go inside, I won’t be able to follow them. But ahead of me Thom has stopped in his tracks. They’re waiting for me. I follow them upstairs, in slight disbelief; I’m about to go backstage.
We climb over cables, pass some roadies and end up in a small dressing room full of nasty graffiti and a large table heaving with water, beer, fruit and cans of fizzy drinks. Thom and Jim settle into their curries in the corner. Val asks if she can have a drink and opens a can of Red Stripe. Thom motions for me to take one and at first I refuse but then I crack one open. I’m perching on a chair with someone’s trousers on the back of it. Val carries on asking about places they’ve been to; they were in Florence but it was a shame they didn’t get to see much of it.
When they’ve finished their curry, talk moves onto recording and how they were meant to have a single finished by now. It’s been messing with his head. He feels like they are still under the “black cloud that is Creep”.
MTV are going to be in London, but the band have no control over it. If they were U2 or something, they’d have control, their own cameras, more say over what happens. But they’re not there yet.
Someone comes in with a bin full of ice; they address each other by rank, some sort of in-joke about touring feeling like being in the army.
Thom is getting worked up, but he’s still talking to us. He almost quit the band and he doesn’t really know why. He’s feeling the pressure. He talks about the RAK recording session; they’re going to have to scrap some of it. They’re not going to turn into Guns and Roses. He’s starting to pace the floor and we opt to leave. We’re starting to feel like we’re in the way.
We go out through the auditorium, which is filling with people waiting to see the support, The Julie Dolphin. The guy on the door is puzzled by the fact that I’m already inside and yet I’m leaving with my ticket intact. We go to the toilets to compose ourselves. I’m still clutching my Red Stripe. He told us stuff, important stuff.
We’re still a bit flustered as we go back into the hall. Val’s friend Claire and her chums spot us and we instinctively avoid telling them about the past hour. We stand at the back and barely notice the support band coming on. We feel drunk on one drink. We’re in love. There is a god. We can’t keep it in. We go back to the bar until the first band have finished.
Once we’ve recovered a little composure we go back in. I leave Val at the side and go into the crowd, about 4 rows back in the centre of the room. But as You kicks in the movement gets too much and I escape the crush to get to the front on Jonny’s side. My view is slightly blocked by the PA stack at the side, but I have a good view of the middle. They play quantities of new stuff, it sounds LOUD AND HUGE . Old faves Creep, Ripcord, Vegetable, Pop Is Dead, Anyone Can Play Guitar, Stop Whispering – “The single that never was a single or something,” announces Thom, echoing something Val had said earlier.
Blow Out is massive and Ed wigs out. Thom is almost pulled into the throng by his guitar strap but drags himself back to the stage. Jonny’s guitar ends up in the mob near me and the strings are broken off. They admitted to nerves early on but by the end Thom’s grinning all over his face. I feel a weird mix of pride and exuberance. They play an encore. Another new song is about “being three people at once,” something about a three headed Street Spirit. His voice is straining but he throws himself into a loud new one. I catch some lyrics about “doing it to yourself.”
I find Val at the back, collecting zine money – a heap of 50 pences from the merch stall. We wander about for a while waiting for the hall to clear. We find Tim the Tour Manager and he actually tells us where the afters will be this time. We head back to the centre of Manchester to find the bar – there’s no one else there yet. The Melody Maker journos turn up and we’re about to leave when Caffy pulls up in a taxi. She takes us to find Sascha’s Hotel where the band are staying. But there’s no sign of Thom. He’s injured his ankle and it’s blown up like a balloon. He didn’t notice until he came off stage. He’s gone to bed. There are a few people in the hotel bar having an after-hours drink: the support band, Ed, Chris the Manager, but it’s not really the aftershow we’d hoped for.
I have a southern comfort with lemonade and sit with Val and Caffy talking ‘zines and press until about 3am. He was determined that something would go wrong. We realise we are the last people in the bar. Caffy goes to her hotel room and we go back to Val’s in a mini cab. We arrive as dawn breaks and don’t feel like sleep. We eat plates of spaghetti, having not eaten all day, and try to calm down. Tomorrow we have to go to Wolverhampton.