The next morning, Val has a couple of errands to run, so we take a series of bus journeys around the outer reaches of Cheetham Hill before we head to the centre of town. We decide that taking the train will be the best bet as Wolverhampton beckons.
It’s a relatively short journey, when we arrive we stop at that old reliable food source – The Wimpy. We sit at the laminated table for so long, taking stock, that Diana Ross’s Greatest Hits (Supremes and solo) plays all the way through three times. I force feed myself some melting ice cream. I don’t like burgers but there’s nowhere else and we’ve spent enough on the train fare for one day. Finally primed and ready, we go for a recce at the venue, Wulfrun Hall. A lone boy fan waits near the stage door straining to hear the sound check within.
There’s a pub across the road so we settle in near a window and nurse a couple of Southern Comfort and Lemonades. Outside, a small clutch of people follow a blond figure who is limping across the road away from the venue to a small square. I down my drink and go outside to investigate. Val, a little more nonchalant, brings her drink outside.
It’s a photo shoot for photographer Stephen Sweet and Tim the photography student he’s got in tow (we’re rather in awe of someone who is doing their work experience with the Melody Maker.) The band are assembled on some steps with a moody looking church as a backdrop. They’re pulling pop star faces, Colin plays to the small crowd starting to gather, as the kids who were heading for the venue spot the set up. He says he feels like “Man at C&A”.
Caffy joins us. She explains she’s just back from taking Thom to hospital. He’s on painkillers for the foot he hurt last night and he doesn’t look very happy. We try to maintain the illusion that we were just passing by and discretely sit to watch the photo shoot. Ed blows our cool by calling out “Hiya Val!” and waving.
Val decides it’s time to go back to the venue; there are more people around now, quite a few people in band T-shirts. We go back to the side entrance. Some kids are already queuing up in a haphazard fashion.
“What would it be like if we shouted “We know where they are!?” whispers Val.
Inside, I spend what feels like a very long time in the toilets waiting for Val to put her face on. Then I have to queue for the cloakroom with our overnight bags. I’m getting too keyed up, I hadn’t really wanted that drink earlier and I’m in a weird mood. I go off on one at Val; I’m not even sure why I’m waiting for her, as she doesn’t want to come to the front. I’ve got too much nervous energy. I go into the hall and position myself near the front in the midst of the T-shirt wearing hordes of Black Country teenagers who make up the majority of the crowd. I have to stand for a miserable half hour, feeling angry with myself while I wait for the support to come on. When they appear, The Julie Dolphin sound suitably melodramatic.
A bit more waiting, some very moody string music (it was Messiaen’s Quartet for The End of Time) and then the band come out. Thom virtually hops onto the stage, looking a bit sorry for himself, but the force of this crowd hits him like a wave of heat and has a wonderful effect. The band all exchange disbelieving glances as the noise of the cheering hits them.
“My throat’s fucked, my foot’s fucked. We’re exhausted from too much touring but an audience like you makes it all worth it,” proclaimed Thom, to even louder cheers.
I am soon swept towards the very front where I manage to hang onto the barrier with a combination of adrenaline, blind determination and previously undiscovered upper body strength. There are three gormless lads behind me and I need to beat them. I think it was their attitude and the fact that I heard someone say, “Those girls will move,” as they indiscriminately pushed forward, that did it. I kick out at someone who keeps shoving from behind me and somehow stay on my feet in the crush. I love my Doc Martens. A couple of songs in and I am lodged securely on the front barrier, slightly to Ed’s side with a decent view of the wide stage. I cling on for dear life.
Next to me is a girl who constantly calls out “I love you Thom, Thom, Thom I love you,” in the quieter moments. When she gets his attention she hollers a request for Lurgee and then starts her mantra again, “I love yoooooooouu Thooooooom!”
I smile at her, or rather I direct my stiffening grin at her; a grin which only leaves my face as I gather my strength to push back on the weight of the throng, or hang on even tighter as the buoyant mosh takes over, it’s a force almost as strong as gravity itself. This gig is storming. I’m smiling so hard, I can’t breathe.
They play new songs and old songs like last night. I can already pick out bits and pieces, not quite working out what the actual words are yet, but getting tunes, recognising the new stuff. My view is so good, I’m dizzy with it. This is the best show so far. The new stuff sounds amazing, My Iron Lung, (or as I first heard it, My Island Life!) seems to be a number about playing in America.
During the one which goes ‘you do it to yourself you do, that’s why it really hurts’, which hasn’t as yet been attached to a title, I have a bit of a moment. I’m crushed up to the front, arms outstretched, eyes fixed, lips mouthing words that I’m hearing properly for the first time and understanding in that moment. My eyes meet Thom’s and he points and I smile, he gets it too. It’s about adrenaline and panic and exhilaration and music and noise and a pain in my chest.
Stop Whispering follows and I assume it is dedicated to the girl standing next to me, who by now is at her most audible, “This is for the girl at the front who keeps saying nice things about me. She’s very expensive!” says Thom.
She is a very happy camper at this point and resolves that this man is going to get her bra! With great difficulty in the crush the aforesaid item emerges from her sleeve, she lobs it towards the stage, but it lands just the wrong side of the monitor and the wall-eyed security man won’t return it no matter how much she pleads with him. She goes round the side of the pit to see if they will fetch it for her, but to no avail. The band go off for the encore and another bouncer notices the bra and flicks it towards the central microphone. When they come back on, it takes Thom a whole song to notice it and he stares at it in disbelief. He asks who threw it. She hollers even louder than before to let him know. He leans towards her, the barrier is not all that far from the stage and she’s managed to get back into her spot at the front. “Why on earth did you do that?” He asks, pulling a bewildered facial expression with the ever so slight hint of a wicked smile.
Blow Out, ever a noisy highlight, is awesome, with Ed ending up in the photo pit in front of bra-girl and me. Thom’s performance has involved a bit less movement than last night, due to the injured foot, but his hair is all over the place and his playing is no less energetic. All my previous frustration evaporates into happiness. I drag my drenched and battered body back to the cloakroom to claim my over-stuffed bag. Bra-girl is engaging anyone who will listen; proudly claiming the item was hers. She spots me and cries “You know!” and hugs me.
I find Val and she’s got local fanzine contributor Andy and his brother in tow. We adjourn to the bar, which is closed but full of journalists and photographers and more importantly, The Rider. The table with the drinks on is being presided over by Colin Greenwood. I’m parched but only get a swig of Val’s Red Stripe. I haven’t the foresight to snaffle supplies of free drinks as soon as I see them and it doesn’t take long for everything to be gone.
There are no chairs left, and as I slowly recover from being in the mosh, I realise that I’m exhausted. I sit cross-legged on the floor. Val has somehow found the only chair in the place. We are talking to Cristina, a fan from Italy. Caffy later fills in the gaps – Cristina was in a near fatal accident two years ago, she miraculously recovered and is now “enjoying herself” with the insurance money. She seems to be in Caffy’s charge. She seems very intense and I can’t decide if this is the language barrier or fandom or something else.
Thom appears last of all, looking full of it. Waving his arms about he asks Val for more ‘zines so he can take one home to show his girlfriend. Val tells him how well we all thought it went. For once he agrees with us. Cristina had been saying something about how touring was something to do with not wanting to grow up and he agrees with her.
Someone mentions the bra. I find my tongue and speak for the first time since I sat down, “She was next to me,” I say, “She was going absolutely crazy!”
Val infers that it might have been my piece of underwear and I swiftly laugh this off. They keep teasing me and it feels like Thom is the only one who believes me.
The rest of the band are going back to Oxford and home for the night. Once they’ve gone, Tim the Tour Manager takes charge of the remaining stragglers: Holly from Melody Maker, Stephen Sweet, Tim-the-trainee photographer, Cristina, Val, Caffy, Thom and me. Outside the back door we find the original Radiohead tour van, a commercial sized VW with a sliding back door. Tim sighs nostalgically, “We used to get all the gear in here.”
It’s big and white, has a few seats in the back and no side windows. The interior is plastered with stickers, passes and parking tickets, souvenirs of early days on the road. Tim drives, Thom and Caffy sit in the front and everyone else gets in the back. As soon as we’re moving Thom sticks a tape in. Smashing Pumpkins. The hacks don’t even recognise it. Val and I do. Then more music, it’s a compilation, some of which I recognise.
Boy Child is the last tune as we arrive at the band’s hotel, not far away. I recognise Scott Walker’s voice, but the song is simpler and more beautiful than anything of his that I’ve ever heard and I understand why Thom likes it so much. “Cheer up Scott, for fuck’s sake,” he laughs as the tape snaps off with the engine.
We arrive at the Paraquito (Wolverhampton’s “finest hotel” with a rather disturbing parrot theme). Inside people disappear for journalistic business (i.e. finding a bar that’s open at 2am). Val and I plonk ourselves down in the lobby chairs; I’m too tired to move. Thom goes away and comes back looking exhausted and coughing. He still has to talk to Holly from The Maker. They sit on the other side of the lobby and she gets about 10 minutes of interview. I glance over a few times and from what I can gather, Thom’s not saying much. They’re talking mostly about recording, playing in Europe, I catch the odd word. ‘Kurt Cobain?’ says Holly, like it’s a question on its own.
I feel terribly self-conscious. I just want to crash but we have nowhere to stay organised and we have to wait for Caffy to be finished. Keeping the music journalists happy is her job. Caffy’s mum lives here in Wolves and we can go and stay there once she’s finished here. Someone puts a warm pint of watery lager in front of me. I taste it and decide I don’t want to drink it.
When Holly’s had all she’s going to get out of Thom, he disappears alone to the lift, dry coughing, everyone politely ignoring him. Some water turns up to replace the pissy beer and I gulp it down still parched from the gig. Everyone else has hit their drinking stride and now they want food. Someone is sent out to find a place that is open at this time of the morning; we decamp to a Balti house around the corner. I realise quite how drunk everyone else is and that I am just plain knackered. Caffy just about dozes off in her chair, I stare at the bowl of runny looking curry in front of me and can’t bring myself to eat anything, despite the fact that I’ve paid for the food and by now I should be hungry, I can’t face it. We eventually lose the hacks and get a minicab back to Caffy’s mum’s place. We creep in and all three of us sleep head to toe in one double bed.