After a pint with their Literature Correspondent, when I was still in somewhat of a state of post-tour euphoria, it was decided to feature my Radiohead blog in Nottingham’s premier cultural free paper, Left Lion.
After a pint with their Literature Correspondent, when I was still in somewhat of a state of post-tour euphoria, it was decided to feature my Radiohead blog in Nottingham’s premier cultural free paper, Left Lion.
I’ve been going to see Radiohead live since 1993 and I’ve been writing about them ever since. Prior to the tour dates in May 2016, I’d been compiling my experiences into a blog, from which I will be publishing extracts. First, my report on the three gigs they played at London’s Roundhouse Thursday 26th, Friday 27th & Saturday 28th May 2016.
Radiohead have been opening their recent live sets with an excerpt from an interview with the great Nina Simone.
Interviewer: “What’s ‘free’ to you?”
Nina Simone: “What’s ‘free’ to me? Same thing it is to you, you tell me.”
Interviewer: “No, you tell me!”
Nina Simone: “It’s just a feeling, it’s just a feeling… I’ll tell you what freedom is to me – No fear! I mean really, no fear!
I’d been to see the opening shows of this short Radiohead tour in Amsterdam, then been home for a couple of days.
I find myself calling 999 for a man making a delivery at work, we think he’s having a heart attack. I stay on the phone, relaying instructions, watching colleagues give him CPR. I can’t panic, everything moves too fast and is too important. Ambulances and a helicopter arrive and he is whisked to hospital, it’s quite possible that he just died in front of us, may not come round, even though they have forced him to breath again.
It’s shocking and sobering, too much fucking perspective, but oddly after something so awful gets lifted off you, there is a feeling that anything can happen. That anything is possible and that you should do it now, for you could go at any time.
I head to London and to the Roundhouse for the first of three more shows.
At Chalk Farm (Camden) the queue is still fairly small by 4pm. I see old friends who have been travelling the world for this band, for years, but not as many of the usual crew because the tickets have been so hard to come by. Security are checking ID and wrist-banding people in the queue, ready to enter and have tickets scanned inside.
Through the magic of Radiohead we end up at the front of the crowd. I’m in the middle of the barrier, which no matter how much I try to convince myself is not the be all and end all, is the best thing that could have happened. The Roundhouse is a lot smaller inside than I expected, the stage taking up almost one third of the space. After the ambulance adventure yesterday, I’m almost preternaturally calm, which is a strange feeling. I try to stay loose through Holly Herndon’s set, but being at the front, right in the middle, makes you self conscious.
Radiohead play the first five tracks from A Moon Shaped Pool as they have each night of the tour so far, then Lotus Flower, and Talk Show Host – a much loved, and exceptionally funky B side. They drop My Iron Lung, like they know what I like. Gloaming. Exit Music (not a personal fave but always a bit of a moment in the set, Phil audible on backing vocals). Separator (which for some reason has been really hitting me on this tour) Identikit, The Numbers, a down and dirty Myxomatosis, a minimal Reckoner, ravey Idioteque and a broken up Everything In Its Right Place.
They go off and come back on. “Shall we just stay and play everything? You don’t have anywhere to be right?” This band are more relaxed than I’ve ever seen them. Magpie, 2 +2 = 5, Nude…
A harmonica noise comes from Jonny’s side of the stage and Thom chides him; “What’s up boss?” They start again, not missing a note. Planet Telex pleases this old fan and still sounds great. There There… and there is more.
Back for The Present Tense – “We’re gonna play a new song coz it’s like hitsville” says Thom, then they drag the piano out for You And Whose Army and finally Paranoid Android “before your vegan kebab”.
The crowd is as into this as the band are, making final bows to us in the centre, Thom mimes going to sleep. Like a douche I’m trying to wink and shut my eyes. I’ve missed something. The Italian girls next to me squeal and my friend, Keiko, nudges me, Thom just pointed at me. Yeah well, I have been here a few times before!
I can’t explain how this feels and heaven knows I have tried. It’s the same feeling back again, THIS, the most important thing. And they know.
Late afternoon I head back to Camden. My ticket for tonight has been bought by another old friend who won’t arrive until 5pm. I decompress in a pub near Camden Lock and “The Wibble Factor” kicks in; I talk fast, my hands shake, my eyes are wide. Things are out of my hands tonight and I’m nervous in a weird charged way that only happens at Radiohead gigs.
We hole up in the Roundhouse bar, check which entrance we have to use, and order more beer. I try to relax a little and talk to some long time fans. It’s easy to start trading stories once you discover what this band means to people.
We arrive in the auditorium half way through the support set, but saunter over to the far end of the stage, Jonny-side. The view is not as good as last night, but we’re still enough in the thick of it to see and to feel part of the show. It hurts less, not having to stand completely still, being able to get in and out and to move.
The new songs are getting into my system. Then they blow it up with Airbag and Kid A. Separator doesn’t kill me this time, but No Surprises tries.
Then Glass Eyes, just Thom on electric piano. Pyramid Song (one of my favourites) with Jonny bowing his guitar. National Anthem, The Numbers, Identikit, Myxomatosis again, Thom enjoying the rant of it, smiling like I’ve never quite seen before, he’s free up there. Bloom, Present Tense, Everything, Tinker Tailor, Arpeggi… they go off and back on for Bodysnatchers, Jonny punishing his guitar, trying to beat the ghosts out of it.
They end on Karma Police, the others leave the stage but Thom stands on the lip, still clutching his acoustic, willing the audience to keep singing (has he ever done it quite like that before?). He wants us to keep going. For a minute there I lost myself.
We tumble to the foyer, oh look up there is Nick Cave looking for a place to smoke his fag. I run into Jonny who says I looked like I fainted last night. I refute the accusation – I was just bending my knees. “You look like you’re enjoying yourselves up there”.
“Yeah,” he says, “We realised it’s fun at last.” We spot the actor Toby Jones, in a pork pie hat (apparently there were more famous folk somewhere else – reports of Kate Bush, PJ Harvey and Benedict Cumberbatch do the rounds later).
Stumbling out into the night, rather soaked in gin, I pass a man in biking gear talking on his phone. Double take and realise it’s Chris Morris, and he’s just exited the back of the Roundhouse. Wonder if he’s been in the back talking Blue Jam with Thom?
I don’t have a ticket for tonight, but I call in a favour and show up in time for doors opening to wait and see if one can be made to appear. We feel it will happen. The same girl from security is on the gate, she is used to me by now. I hang around, standing back to let the increasingly star studded guest list inside. Samantha Morton, Polly Harvey again, at least two Peaky Blinders and a ridiculously cool looking fella, who on second glance is Mad Men’s John Hamm (in mirrored shades, jeans on just right, he couldn’t look more like a movie star if he tried).
They’re closing the gates and I’m starting to lose hope, when my contact comes to ask if I have cash on me. I’m whisked to the box office and sold one of the very last tickets in the place. The door staff are starting their final countdown to stage time and I just have time to rush to the toilet (my need to pee was becoming stronger than my need to see the band at this point) and they spark up Burn The Witch just as I make it inside.
A Saturday night crowd in full effect: I’m stuck at the periphery of the space where people are drinking and talking, not necessarily as enraptured as those nearest the stage. It’s frustrating but at least I’m in. I try to see, I try to hear, I try to get out of the way of the bloody pillars that hold the roof up. I get beer and dodge other people, trying to have MY gig, but surrendering to it being THEIR gig. I nearly have a stand up row with two blokes in front, who are incessantly talking. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if they were saying something meaningful but it’s a pub chat, a slight disenchantment with the new songs. I pull faces until one of them turns on me.
“I just want to know why you would pay £65 to talk to your mate?” I ask. He does that thing which middle aged blokes do, and tries to sound like he knows better than little old me. They saw Richard Ashcroft here last week from the front row, and this is crap compared to that. I want to ask him why the hell he’s bothered coming. Getting tickets for this show was an effort for everyone. But I hold myself back. I could tell him how many times I’ve seen this band, but I don’t want a conversation, I want some fucking respect.
I move to the bar and find myself among more cheerful types, who hug me when they find out I’ve been at all three shows. They sing along, are happy to hear the old ones, I let it wash over me, I dance, I stop straining to see. They can’t top last night and I don’t want them to. But there’s Like Spinning Plates and there’s my boys again.
I meet some more of the old crew, their kids now grown up and at the gigs with them. More drinks and I get a bit emotional, it always hits me at the end. I should keep my eyes open. It’s just a feeling, it’s just a feeling. Radiohead gigs are where I am most alive and where I am completely free – so don’t tell me where to stand, don’t drown out the best voice of his generation, don’t push me around, because you can’t hurt me, you can’t spoil it.
“Half my life, no fear,” says Nina in the interview.
“Half my life,” says Thom, backwards at the end of Daydreaming.
Half my life (well a bit more) I’ve been coming out for this band, and they still hit me harder than anything else.
What is free to me? THIS THIS THIS.
So, the main event. The gig. My 100th Radiohead gig since 1993, so it was always going to be a bit of an emotional experience. From the off it was also one of the best gigs I’ve seen the band play in a very long time.
The crowd were really up for it, so much so that they couldn’t wait to get on their feet to welcome Moderat (the Mode Selektor/ Apparat collaboration playing the support slot) and it all nearly came unstuck when I got a bit exasperated at being pushed around, but if memory serves, there is always some kind of emotional crux at this point; Let’s call it Stage 1 gig angst.
Stage 2 involves trying to recover from this burst of angry energy to maintain calm until the band come on stage.
Stage 3 is that delicious anticipation as you watch the now familiar ritual of the roadies setting up the stage.
Stage 4, the golden moment when the stage is ready, the towels are down, the bottled water and set lists are on the floor and there’s one or two more tunes left on the mix tape before the opening theme starts. After this, once the chaps are have come on and kicked in we reach Stage 5.
Symptoms include facial spasm from continual grinning, involuntary jumping up and down, a weird head and shoulder movement we shall christen the “Yorke twitch” and myriad other bizarre physical ticks unexplainable to anyone who’s not there, or who has never been there before. I had to apologise in advance to the lady behind me, who was enjoying her first ever gig, knowing that I would be all flailing elbows and whiplash hair.
This gig was unusual in that there was a stage 6 reaction. I had emailed in advance and was hoping the band were aware of my “gigaversary”. Towards the end of the show, Thom gave me a mention before playing Airbag. “This is for Lucy who is 100 today.”
Stage 6, I’ve discovered, involves screaming at the top of my voice, experiencing all the other symptoms simultaneously and then bursting into tears of pure joy. It also involved Thom having to shush us before starting the song… bet no one’s put THAT on youtube. To be honest I’d been pretty close to this state before that moment (the best ever performance of Nude, the unaccompanied Thom vocal at the end of There There, Jonny really going for it during Bangers & Mash… all highlights) but a dedication, from the band that very rarely does dedications, made the night extra special.
Afterwards, drained, stunned, exhausted and thirsty I rejoined the group at the back of zone 1, and was crushed into some sort of mass pile-on bear hug. Apparently they’d been able to access the beer tent from this vantage point… We were fabulous and it was a bloody good laugh!
Later, I stumbled out of the backstage area to find I was clutching a wine glass. Thom Yorke’s wine glass.
Getting from Scotland to deepest East Anglia on public transport offered a few challenges but I managed to make all my connections with time to spare on Saturday, even the bus from Lowestoft turned out to be a fairly smooth ride and I arrived in Southwold at 4pm. I had time to explore and discovered a 1920s style tea room.
The whole place was like some Cath Kidston dream of what an English seaside village should be like, as if it had been laid on to be the opposite of Blackpool. I’m sure after a few days the whole place would be insufferably twee, but it felt right this weekend.
Despite going to bed early, I managed to spend the whole night in a funk, dreaming that I was still awake. We’d ordered an early taxi to the site and arrived in time to find the box office and then exchange tickets for wristbands. These two facilities where about half a mile apart on the site – allowing us to get a flavour of the type of thing to expect at this festival – lots of BMWs in the car park, large families moving their camping kit around in wheelbarrows and more kids than I’d ever seen at a festival before.
We joined the queue to be among the first onto the site (some people had been there since 5am, but I’m not convinced that this helped, they still had to run into the site to get the much desired front and centre spot at the foot of the stage.)
It was an uphill jog to get to the barrier of the Obelix stage, but once we were there we could relax, have a coffee (Latte – tude?) and investigate the MASH style latrines.
After watching Thom do a bit of lurking at the side of the stage and trying to guess the jobs of everyone on the stage who we didn’t recognise (an entourage of four including Nigel Godrich who appeared to be taking pictures on his iPhone) By noon we were very ready. Thom was only a couple of minutes late.
It was too early to be nervous and the kit was triple checked so there were no hitches. I don’t think the performance could have been better. It soon didn’t matter that he was alone on stage, although it seemed very strange at first. Having nowhere else to look, no Jonny flailing around on our side of the stage. He played the piano and a sampler for the Eraser tracks and an acoustic guitar for a couple of oldies “from the shelf”. Follow Me Around and True Love Waits, a brand new tune called The Present Tense.
Worth the effort, no question!
The rain graciously kept off until we’d had time to get a beer, eat some Argentinean barbeque lunch and settle under a tree. I spent the rest of the day wandering round in a daze, not quite sure how to deal with a festival with quite so many children and older people around… then realising that I was bang in the middle of the demographic.
Of all the bands playing later, the only full set I saw was Phoenix. I caught the last couple of songs of Magazine’s set. I’d wanted to see Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds too but I was so tired during their set, and unable to make my brain accept something from so far over to the other side of my musical taste on the same day as Thom’s set. We decided to leave after a few songs (all that drama and preacherman stuff just wasn’t quite right for the moment).
On the long walk to the exit I found the Disco Shed, now lit up and pumping out some old school classics, so we had a bit of a boogie to Paid In Full by Eric B & Rakim before we left the site.
I felt kind of subdued. It was a strange experience to see Thom play not only on his own, but also at midday, when one is used to having to wait around all day to get a good pitch at an outdoor show like this. It was not so much an anticlimax as being left wanting more.
The next day I had until mid afternoon to explore Southwold, and spent a while on the beach and looking at the Donwood-esq contraptions on the Pier. I enjoyed myself and one day when the lotto numbers are kind I’ll maybe get myself one of those beach huts….
It felt weird to be back in Glasgow after the longest time I had been away for ages. And then to be acting as tour guide to a bunch of people who’d never been to the city before. We went to Mono (a bar and record shop favoured by the indie set) to meet up with a crowd who were going to the gig and eventually got served lunch (it’s all very well having bar staffed by people who are in bands but as waiters they make great musicians).
A few of us then went to check out the venue. There was a very small queue on each side at about 2.30pm. As a couple of us had to wait for the box office to open, we went and had desserts in West (the microbrewery beside the Templeton’s Carpet Factory).
When we went back around to the front entrance about 4pm it had started to rain. I sorted out my tickets (thanks nice box office lady for letting me leave the spares ones for my friends to collect) and then tried to raise someone on the phone for the last spare I had available. But no one was picking up. I decided that if I was going to stand around getting wet I might as well do it inside the venue and get a decent spot. My compardres had stationed themselves fairly near the stage and bought plastic ponchos (not very eco-friendly but unfortunately necessary as the W.A.S.T.E. cagoules are no match for the Glasgow drizzle. I put one on over my existing rain coat and glooped about like a giant see-though jellyfish.
We settled in with a few drinks and the time passed until Bat For Lashes came on stage.
It continued raining on and off all night and despite looking ridiculous, I was glad to be encased in plastic. Radiohead were greeted from the off by a rabid Friday night audience. I think the band been looking forward to this one after the vagaries of the London crowd (that morning Thom had posted pictures on Dead Air Space, but there were no more rainbows, it was far too grey.)
Some of my Scottish friends managed to find us in the crowd just before the bands started, the whole approach to where to stand is different in Glasgow. Your typical audience member has no truck with queuing in the rain, they’d rather be in the pub. So for most of the show there was a surge of people all trying to get to the front or start a mosh pit and quite a bit of argy bargy.
We were in a fairly safe position two rows back, quite far to Jonny’s side (similar to where I’d been on the second night in London) but if not actually on the barrier it takes all your strength to stay upright and keep a view of the stage. I was pretty tired, several boardies had kipped at my flat and it is difficult to have an early night with a house full of eager people who are excitedly catching up with each other. I was hanging on, convincing myself that if this was going to be the last show for me on this tour then I’d better get the most out of it.
The band were amazed by the crowd. From about three songs in you could see it in their faces. Weird things were happening. (A man flashing his nipple at Thom! A fight broke out. Italian boys near us who didn’t know the words hummed along to all the guitar parts loudly. The rain kept on coming.)
The pit got more and more energetic but each time we thought they might be about to play a slower track they hit us with another fast one. My friends got further and further away from me, some pulled into by the mosh to the front, some having to retreat further back and some staying to battle it out for their places.
I had a few Incredible Hulk moments where I found the strength to keep my feet firmly planted, even to dance when there were elbows coming from all sides (I suppose I should be more forgiving to the chap in front, he was really into it moving all over the shop. I suppose that’s what it’s like to get stuck behind me, “dances with motion blur” at a show).
As well as a really frantic set (Thom really throwing himself into his Myxomatosis dance!) we got another audience participation version of Karma Police and an encore treat of Like Spinning Plates. All in all, despite or possibly because of the rain, a really good show to end on for me.
I waded out, back to see everyone who by now knew to meet me at the sound desk after the end of the show. Then there was a weird few minutes when the security herded the chosen few with wristbands from one side of the field to the other, like some sort of One Man And His Dog tournament without the animals. Eventually a security guy swore that he wasn’t kidding and Gabi and I went to the right gate for the catering tent. They herded us about a bit more and finally we reached the obligatory last few beers and a seat giving us a chance to regroup and recover a bit.
My tour ended here, a lot of the others went on to Manchester and to Amsterdam but I had no fuel left in the tank. It remained to catch up on the videos, to sleep and to wait for the inevitable come down.