82. Wolverhampton, Civic Hall, 15 May 2006

We have a day off to travel to Wolverhampton. In spite of all my planning for this tour, this is the one place where finding accommodation has been problematic. There just aren’t that many places to stay in the city centre. My budget is already busted by all the gig tickets and travel costs. I have been planning Gabi’s trip as well as my own and have been trying to keep the prices down. I can’t spend over £50 per person, per night at the Premier Inn (which seems to be where everyone else is staying). Memories of the Britannia Hotel (scene of all the action back in 1994) flood back, but we can’t afford it. After a lot of assiduous googling I book what looks like it might be a homely Inn, The Wheatsheaf, with rooms above, right in the middle of the centre a short walk from the venue. I am very pleased with myself for having come up with this solution.

We arrive from the railway station to find a rather dilapidated “old man’s pub” which seems to be held together by stale cigarette smoke and grubby polyester. The barmaid seems a little surprised that we have turned up. We are shown through the back of the bar and upstairs to the room. It appears that no one has stayed here for some considerable time. Indeed, it appears that no one has even been in the room for some considerable time. It’s not very clean, even the beds are dusty. The sheets are threadbare. There are dubious looking hairs in the sink. It looks like the set from a particularly austere production of ‘Look Back In Anger’. The stale smoke smell from downstairs hangs in the air. I can tell Gabi is horrified. I try to make the best of it, but I am mortified. We have three nights here, the longest stay of the whole tour. I phone the Premier Inn, but it’s too late, they are full. We have no option but to stay. Gabi spreads a towel on the bed so as not to touch the sheets and sleeps in her clothes.

After a broken night (there is a pub downstairs, thankfully not a particularly busy one, but still fairly noisy) we make our escape in the morning and don’t even ask if there is breakfast. Across the road is the back entrance of Marks and Spencer which mercifully has a clean, light and airy café where we are able to caffeinate and take stock. Why, in the name of all that is holy, are The Best Band In The World™ playing two gigs here? The Civic Hall is a venue they’ve played before, I have lovely memories of the shows and Wolves is handy for getting back to Oxford, maybe they have some attachment to the place?

In an attempt to convince Gabi that the provincial towns of Britain are not all complete dumps, I take her to the municipal art gallery, a stately Victorian pile easily the grandest building in this tired city. We spend an hour or so regaining composure amid the oil paintings and make the best of it. At lunchtime we meet Yasuko and the others and find a pub that has a sign outside proclaiming hot food with a picture of some sausages with the legend “bangers and mash”. Our choice is made.

We spend most of the afternoon in the place, eating, drinking, chatting, wondering what the hell else there is to do in Wolverhampton to a soundtrack of George Michael’s Greatest Hits. To my continued annoyance I can never ignore background music in pubs. I’m a bit restive and go out for a wander around the shops, it takes about 10 minutes, there really is nothing else to do around here.

After running into Tim, I get sorted for these two gigs. I have a pass. I also get a call back from the management (after emailing them to ask very nicely) to say I have a ticket for Thursday too.

Gabi has found a spot at the front, she wants to shoot some video. We are to the far left, almost in the wings, but close to Ed, who has some new sound effects. It’s an intense show. G has a very steady hand.

Being at the front is gruelling but they’re on such fine form that it’s worth the pain, the full bladder, the dehydration, the sore knees, being in Wolverhampton for more than 24 hours… They play their surf/ Pixies number Spooks again, it’s so unlike them, a little wig-out in the middle of the set. Another new song pops up (on the setlist it’s called Open Pick – later it will surface as Jigsaw Falling Into Place) it’s more HTTT than the rest of the stuff, guitar heavy. Thom and Jonny doing their familiar rooted to the spot wobble, which is also the only way to move when you’re wedged in the front row. They end on the revitalised Planet Telex and a final encore of There There.

We make it out alive. Just.

I use my pass, and Tim also lets Keiko and Yasuko and some others in to the pay bar aftershow. I have a conversation with Jonny, pretty much the longest I ever had. “I haven’t been ignoring you, I’m just an arrogant rock star!” he says, layering on the irony. We talked a bit about the gigs, he likes the new songs and would play them all night if he could. He also picked Copenhagen because he likes the place, so that explains the shows there.

I run into Julie from the management, briefly. Thom is with some rowdy guys, they are unlikely friends of his from Cornwall. I drag him away so that K and Y have chance to speak to him, they’re worried they won’t get another chance (we’re always worried we won’t get another chance). I asked about the bass-heavy track that has been playing at the end of each show, apparently it’s on XL, but it’s not him… “the day I start mentioning Rastafari then I’ve really lost it”. They don’t stay long, Thom wants to get home and I can’t buy Tim a thank you drink because he’s driving them all back to Oxford. It’s weird. They don’t need me any more, there are lots of other people here. It feels like everyone has finally grown up.