Every time we come back after a long stretch with no gigs I realise again now big this band have got and how crazy it is that I’m still here.
I only know I’ve been asleep because I have an anxiety dream where I’m pulling my toenails out. Sleeping on the sofa at Kim’s after a few glasses of wine, rest is not aided by a ghost call from a friend in the middle of the night, I imagine all kinds of horrors but it turns out she dropped her phone and whoever picked it up randomly called me. Consequently my usual pre-gig nerves are exacerbated by a hangover, tiredness and an unnamed feeling of dread.
7am. Get a text from Yasuko – she’s at the venue already – and she’s not even the first there.
Kim and I take our time, not leaving until 12noon. We have “B2 Breakfasts” and swap the beans for tomatoes in the Oasis Café which is near Romford station. We take the train to Camden Road and walk down to rescue Ya from the queue. We take her for coffee across the road. As we’re ordering, Duncan, Plank and another guy who could only be a roadie come in for beverages. We do nods and hellos and “fancy seeing you here’s” After frothy lattes and a catch up we take Ya back to her spot at Koko and we head up towards Camden lock and the market. I get myself a hat to get my hair out of my eyes and Kim is drawn to all things goth. We have a cuppa in Henry’s pub, and call up some of the others to meet us in the World’s End for pre-gig drinks. We arrive early and toast “the beard” then the boardies begin to arrive – Will, Ken, Tim, Ange, Lewis, Nick, Ricci, Chris, we make sure everyone has their tickets, bought in various combinations for this and the other gigs.
Our journey back to Koko is obstructed by a car on tow flipping over at the junction with the high street. I eat a sandwich and dodge the Friends of the Earth film crew. The queue is around the block. I start to get the twitch. We end up in The Hope & Anchor, because the queue is not moving and it stretches as far as Chalk Farm. We give in and join but it doesn’t move until 7.30pm. Finally inside, Koko is small but vertical, very red. The stage is low and the floor very flat so when we end up way back all I can see are tops of heads. Kate Rusby sings a few shanties but people keep on talking, her set doesn’t make a lot of sense in this context. Simon Amstel is the “host” and he’s self-depreciating if a bit lame with some patter about fair trade bananas and ethical shoes. We’re here to save the world and see Radiohead, the later gets the bigger cheer. Gruff Rhys comes on in a pointy cowl with a casitone keyboard, demo mode Just The Way You Are a highlight of a weird, Welsh set. He makes it pretty clear that he knows no one is here just to see him.
People behind me keep talking in strident deep voices. I’m restless and irksome and worse than that, I can’t see the stage. I spot Nigel Godrich seated in one of the boxes, and later crick my neck to see Ed in one of the others. Amstel gives up on the banter then has to start again because Thom and Jonny aren’t ready yet. He plays the piano and improvises a song about a dying goldfish… It is becoming clear that this show is not about us, but about Friends Of The Earth. Of course, I should have realised that the gig itself was about the publicity it would gain for the campaign and not about the music, so why are they playing acoustic new songs, usually such a rare and treasurable experience?
The noise when Thom and Jonny appear is very loud. I yelp. We’re a little further forward but with an even worse view due to too many tall blokes in front. It becomes increasingly frustrating. Thom’s hair is short again. Jonny gets younger and thinner. Karma Police first, there is hearty singing along, this song is everyone’s now. There There is a wee bit off key but no one seems to mind. “Stand up!” someone shouts. Thom tries to reads out the FoE message, “Am I doing a good job Tony?” (he’s addressing their honcho Tony Juniper, somewhere in the audience). Fake Plastic Trees and Jonny’s making weird noises “Can you do that again!?” asks Thom. It too is an anthem now and coming back to it, they are oddly detached from it again, most people get the point that drowning out the singer in this one is self defeating. Arpeggi glistens to life, different, gentler than the Ether incarnation. We are resigned to the fact that Thom is going to stay sitting down. Jonny makes it twinkle with the Ondes (or at least I think that’s what it is, I can’t see it.) It’s quiet enough to shut everyone up.
A new one called Bodysnatchers has Thom strumming with momentum and Jonny adding electric guitar that bursts out in all directions. Thom is sitting down picking an acoustic. Too low down to see. Short of doing violent bunny hops I can’t see. No Surprises sounds like it has toy piano on it. The singing along has virtually ceased. How To Disappear with the Ondes give me the chills. For a few precious minutes I manage to be “in it.”
There’s another new one (Cymbal Rush) with a swamped Thom groan vocal for a beat against metronomic piano, and not many lyrics. It doesn’t sound much like a Radiohead song. Bet it sounds good in his head. Street Spirit gets a great reception (and a rapt silence). They leave the stage briefly and the crowd get increasingly vocal. We move back for I Might Be Wrong and I have a dance. Thom rambles a bit about their still being time to do something about it, “how to win friends and lose people”. Thom must have been practicing picking-style guitar playing, so much so that they even do Gagging Order, an untypical song but one I like. They end on Paranoid Android and after a false start, Thom coming unstuck at the “unborn chicken voices”, Jonny proves that this song is all about his contribution and it’s really great, the ending provides what I need to take away from any Radiohead gig.
I’m still razzed that I couldn’t get a good view. But I’d been dissing the queue all day. I get so full of spite and I hate it. I join the bunch from the front who had a good view. I shall have to make the effort in future, maybe I should have gone on the balcony. I hug Yasuko. I feel empty and slightly nauseous. We hang around and try to come to earth. I spot Tim up in the balcony and shout his name, he waves. “Get that man a riser!” I call.
“See you in Blackpool.” He says, I take that to mean “not tonight”. When I get upstairs I can see the band posse are still in the boxes in the roped off area and this is FoE’s bunfight. Lots of Arcade Fire (they played here recently) on the outro tape. I hang around in vain hope for a while until I get shoo’d out. In the street I get a sinking feeling but it’s just because it’s been so bloody long.
We go into the minicab office across the road and the nice lady asks if we mind sharing with two chaps who are going the same way. We pile into a people carrier. They ask if we’ve been at the gig and we launch into a ramble about not being able to see, Kim having a go at Thom for “pretending to be 5 foot 6.” Kim and I are back to being our usual sarky, saucy selves – she brings out my inner Sid James – we discuss our theory for a Radiohead loyalty card that would earn you the best seats, I’m still hung up on the fact that I couldn’t see. “They should give him a box to stand on”. I’m not happy about all the VIP action that was happening at the show, but am starting to realise that this was a stunt for FoE and not the proper fix I needed.
One of the chaps in the cab is talking about having seen the band lots of times but I don’t recognise one of the regulars, and then the penny drops when he mentions management. “You must be Brian!” I tell him I know Julie, but apart from mentioning that we’re going to the Blackpool show I don’t go into it. I hope we didn’t say anything really nutty. He’s actually TM-ing at Wolves on this tour. It was his idea for them to play V Festival. Kim reckons they’re after “the chav pound”. Tonight they’re off to a club to see “hot new band” The Klaxons. He invites us but we have to go back to Essex. He generously tips the driver. We then continue on an increasingly hair-raising ride back to Romford, with a driver who doesn’t speak a great deal of English and doesn’t know where he’s going, eventually he puts the sat nav on and we get back to Kim’s to crash out.
Next day I recompose myself by wandering around the Natural History Museum (it’s free to get in and I can check-in my bag) until it is time for my train back north. I end up seated opposite a couple from Newcastle who were at the show. They have left their kids behind and are going to Blackpool and Wolves. We talk about the ticket madness, they paid £250 for their pair of Koko tickets on eBay.
Alexis Petridis captures the mood of the show in a review for The Guardian; Tom Robinson blogged his reaction to the presence of David Cameron as soon as he got home and the media section of the same paper confirms a lot of what I was thinking on the night.