100. Prague, Vystaviste, 23rd August 2009

I’m standing outside the Prague Vystaviste with a hot dog in my hand. As I cross the car park in front of the deserted art nouveau industrial palace, I receive a text message: ppl stood up – open soon – hurry!

I speed walk through the first set of gates, past a line of empty flag poles and a block of pavilions, there are several restaurants but all the doors are locked. There’s a weird sign that says something about a “Sausagefest”, the hotdog is gone but I hardly tasted it.

Behind the glass palace are fountains, which my guide book claims are spectacular, but today they are switched off. This place is part deserted fairground and part soulless convention centre. Like Blackpool, like Birmingham, but today the sun is shining.

I recce’d the site a couple of days ago when I first arrived in Prague. My hotel, carefully chosen to be nearest the venue, is a short walk away. While I’ve been here, the stage rig has been rising from a pile of scaffolding on a dried out lawn. A Heras fence around the perimeter now prevents access without a concert ticket.

My phone beeps another text: Everyone’s standing up.

Trying not to run, I follow the path down the park side of the complex. Just before I reach the turnstiles, I stop at a small portacabin where a young crop-haired woman with a laminated pass around her neck presides over the guest list. I have a ticket bought months ago, but as this is a special occasion I’ve asked my contacts for an after show pass. I say my name to the woman and she asks who’s list it is on. The band’s, I say, smiling. For once feeling confident that it will be there. For once not having to spell out my name before it’s found on the print out. She hands me a small white envelope with the words “Aftershow x 2” written underneath my name. I lift the gummed flap, peeking inside as I walk away from the booth. A rush of satisfaction as I bury two triangular fabric stickers marked with today’s date deep in my bag.

The crowd looks denser than it did when I was here an hour ago. Then they’d been sitting on the ground on bits of card or picnic mats, or just on their coats and jumpers; now they’re all standing up facing the turnstiles, like runners poised at the starting gates of some weird horse race. This ritual started hours ago, some of these people have been here since the early hours. They have done this many times before and they know what to expect but it doesn’t lessen the tension. Part of me hates queuing, but today I know that it’s the only way to assure even the possibility of the experience I crave. Today my “support staff ” are here, friends who know what to do to get my through. They know the drill, they are prepared for the fact that I’m not going to be calm.

I’ve done this before, I know that you don’t really need to pitch up in the early hours of the morning. Some fans arrive very early, almost as a point of pride, but you can still get a pretty good spot if you start at a sensible hour. Over the years I have developed my own system, I make a deal with some of my co-queuers: I won’t start ridiculously early but I will bring supplies and guard their spots on the ground while they go for drinks or bathroom breaks. I don’t have the patience to sit for hours getting cold and anxious, so I step in as a relief queuer, rewarded with my own place. I understand some fans’ compulsion to start queuing before it gets light; maybe they feel they are earning the show by making this sacrifice. It’s a way of showing their loyalty, their love.

I reach the back of the huddle and try to find my friends who are somewhere near the front. I shout a couple of names, but they can’t hear me. I stand on tip toes. I try ringing someone’s phone but before they pick up they see me and a hand extends towards me through the throng. I take a deep breath, head down, dive in. Apologising as politely and as Englishly as I can, talking to my friends the whole time, so that everyone else can see that I’m not pushing in, rather returning to the spot I had previously occupied for several hours.

As I forge my way through the crush, I feel a swell in the already palpable excitement. Security operatives take their places at each of the half dozen turnstiles and test the barcode readers that will scan our tickets. There was a rumour that the doors would open at four o’clock. It’s almost 4 now. The atmosphere changes, people stop talking and start concentrating on the gates. Once they are open there will be no time to think. This is the moment to focus. Until now people have waited patiently, but the stress is starting to show. The lucky ones have traveled from across the world to be here. They are experienced and driven individuals, their whole day is geared to reaching their goal. The earliest of them arrived outside the venue at 4am, they waited as the weather got warmer, they held fast as fences and signs were erected around them, they dodged trucks and cherry pickers. They arrived before the venue staff, before the turnstiles were put in place and long before the tour buses even parked. We all have our own well-honed tactics for survival. We distain meals and refuse excessive liquids as these would necessitate strategic planning in order to visit the Portaloos.

I unzip my shoulder bag and tie my jumper around my waist to facilitate a quick search at the gate. People are dumping bags of picnic food, obeying some of the instructions on the detailed signs illustrating what will and will not be allowed inside. Powerful cameras are secreted in clothing, bottles and cans are being emptied or placed on the ground. It feels like someone should blow a whistle to signal the off. The security staff move as a single high-viz unit and release the turnstiles. The crowd ripples and pulls into separate lines behind each gate. Tickets are gripped in sweaty hands as we filter through one at a time, still in orderly fashion but primed to sprint as soon as we need to. I hold my bag open to be examined. The scanner beeps the barcode on my ticket and I’m through.

My friends are in front of me, already round the corner at the next gate where tickets must be shown again and wristbands applied to allow access to the magical ‘Zone 1’. I catch up with my companions and someone grabs my arm. A security guy studies my ticket as his colleague wraps a paper band around my wrist. I’m standing still for this operation, but an over eager young fellow who doesn’t want to wait his turn pushes me. Clarabelle stares him down and pulls me by the hand through to the other side of the traps.

Inside zone 1 everyone is running the 100 metres to the barrier rail. There is already a line of people there, but it’s only one or two deep. I catch up with my friends again, they’re right in the middle, just behind a trio of fans who make it their mission to stand at the very front for every show having earned that right through traveling long distances and turning up several hours earlier than anyone else.

Breathless, excited and relieved, I find I’m in the second row in front of the stage. This will be the 100th time I’ve seen my favourite band, I’ve been doing this for nearly half my lifetime but it hasn’t got any less exhilarating.

People continue to arrive all around me, they run in from the entrance turnstiles, we watch them have their tickets scanned, their bags searched, watch them become irritable with the perceived slowness of the stewards. They push and shove a little but are on the whole polite and respectful of the queuing hierarchy. With a few places at the front still left open, there are displays of sprinting that would not be undertaken under any other circumstances. They swoop in like birds joining a roosting colony and hug each other when they land.

Carefully selected tunes test the sound system. Curtis Mayfield’s Move On Up, some James Brown, some dub. I’m bursting to work out my pent up frustration, dying to dance but I know I should conserve my energy, so I sit down on the ground and stake out my territory.

I am greeted by old friends and acquaintances, some of whom I only ever see at these gigs, some of them are people whose sofas I have slept on, some of them are people who until now have only existed as a name on the internet. This part of the day has become almost as important to us as the performance. I’m jumpy and anxious, but I’m part of this strange community now and they understand what I’m feeling.

We have reached The Barrier. We will have an unfettered view, we will take the best photos and we will hang on for dear life. We will be the most completely immersed in this performance. We are all grinning.

Only another 4 hours to wait until Radiohead walk onto the stage.

 

It all starts with a song called ‘Creep’.

It is October 22, 1992. I am 17 years old and, to be honest, I’m not enjoying it very much.

I’m in the 6th form at a draconian Catholic school in a town called Mansfield. It’s a place whose cultural life consists of a bowling alley, a dilapidated cinema and the world’s ugliest bus station. There is little else worthy of comment. I keep my head down and wait for the day when I can pass my exams and get a ticket out of there. I get through the angst ridden days by taping The Mary Whitehouse Experience off the radio, borrowing Smiths albums from the local library and trying to get my oversized black jumper to look like the one worn by The Cure’s Robert Smith.

I also have pen pals. They provide my lifeline to the outside world. One of these pen pals, Rebecca, has been sending me tapes and getting me into music beyond the compilations of the Indie Top 20 that I can get from the library. She sends me tips on the records she is buying. This week she mentioned one by a band whose name I’ve not heard before, they’re on tour with current indie faves The Frank & Walters, but by the time I read her letter we’ve missed the gig.

The band in question are being treated with suspicion by the weekly music press, that I have to order in specially at the newsagent, because they are signed to a major label. But Rebecca agrees with the positive opinion of our favourite critic Jon Homer, who is outside the cliques of King’s Reach Tower at Teletext’s music pages, and suggests that I listen for myself.

After school I go to the local Andy’s Records, whose only attraction is their large bargain bin full of vinyl singles. CDs are a bit out of my pocket money price range and besides I have nothing to play them on. I rely on the mark-downs they keep at the back of the shop when I want to hear anything I can’t hear on Fabulous One FM.

I find the mysterious and hitherto unheard Creep on sale for 99p and another 12 inch EP by the same band, reduced to 49p. I pick up a few other discs and head home.

Back in my bedroom in our small semi-detached, semi-rural house, I set up the cheap beige plastic record player that my mother has recently bought from the local supermarket. It has a very low output, but it’s lightweight, meaning my brother and I can move it from room to room easily and listen in private.

I sit on the floor, plug in my headphones, remove the EP from its sleeve, put the vinyl on the turntable and drop the flimsy tone arm on the groove. As the needle crackles, I turn the sleeve in my hands and wonder who these blokes in bad shirts and sunglasses are. The song starts with conventional bass and drum lines. The vocals come in, so far so good, and then the lyrics start to get interesting. Just as I begin asking myself if he really just said that… the guitar crashes out of nowhere and this thing that sounded like the oddest ballad I’d ever heard becomes something else entirely. Shivers up my spine. The swoop of the crescendo and that noise. And where does that voice come from?

I pick the needle up and put it back to the start, I have to listen to this again, in case I was imagining it. I play it again, I play the other tracks. I play the other EP, Drill, and then come back to Creep again. Nothing in the other songs really prepares me for it. I go to the bottom of my wardrobe where I keep a stack of music papers, and hunt through the last few to see what I had missed about this band. I hadn’t heard this on the radio. I open a spread in the NME. It begins “Thom is 5’4’’ and swears a lot” and proceeds to describe a band at odds with prevailing trends, at odds with what was expected of them, but in tune with my world view.

I wrote in my diary that night, “bought Creep. Loud and cruel and good”.

 

1. Nottingham, Trent Uni Union, 15 February 1993

The early 1990s. It’s hard to imagine now, how teenagers got along without mobile phones, the internet or MP3s or how I got along without going to gigs. When every Wednesday meant a visit to the newsagents to buy the weekly music papers NME and Melody Maker and Radio One had yet to launch its Evening Session.

Occasionally Mark Goodier would play something worth listening to during his homework-hour show, but mostly it was chart-based pap, with Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You holding a vice-like grip on the number one slot for what felt like most of 1992. The John Peel show existed but it seemed too esoteric and the music too exotic for untrained ears. The kind of tunes that ended up in the Festive Fifty took a long time to filter down into even the outskirts of the mainstream.

I had yet to go to a gig, but I’d heard The Jesus & Mary Chain’s In Concert, that I’d taped off the radio, loads of times and that had convinced me that a gig was what was missing from my life.

After my epiphany moment with Creep, I also knew that Radiohead were the band I wanted to see. Encouraged by my pen pal Rebecca, who was a bit older than me and who had been to a few gigs before, I decided that the next time they played locally I would try to see them.

It was the middle of January 1993 when I spotted an advert in the back pages for Radiohead’s next single, Anyone Can Play Guitar. There was a list of headline tour dates and a PO Box number to write to for “more information”.

 

A lot of bands had started to feature these in their promotional material if you sent in your address you would usually receive a card in the post tipping you off about their next release.

They announced that they were playing in Nottingham on February 15th. I just had to work out how I was going to get there. I wouldn’t be allowed to go on my own. It was virtually impossible to get home from the city at that time of night – there was no night bus and Mansfield was (in 1993) the largest town in Europe without a railway station. Plus it was on a school night.

I couldn’t ask my mother for a lift because last time she’d picked us up, we’d kept her waiting for over an hour on double yellow lines while my friends and I queued up to get Rob Newman’s autograph… She was sick of being out until all hours giving my friends lifts home.

I had to persuade someone to come with me. I’d already put Creep on a tape for my school friend K, now I just had to work on her to get her interested enough to accompany me to the gig.

Why didn’t bands ever play in this dead end town? Why does being a teenager make you so powerless to do what you want? Why do parents stop you doing everything?

I was getting aggravated about these issues as I scribbled a request for information to send off to the PO BOX address on the band’s advert. I didn’t imagine anyone reading it so I let rip and I asked why I should go to such a lot of effort to see them live. I also asked if they were any good. I put it in the post and forgot all about it.

The night before the show, I had a row with my mother about how I was going to get home. In the end K reluctantly borrowed her parents’ car and agreed to drive us. It felt like a disproportionately big deal, there was a lot of discussion about where we were going to park the car and we had to meticulously plan the route before we set off. I couldn’t drive and she hated to, having only recently passed her test. I think she only did it I because I begged her.

I’d met Rebecca a couple of weeks before. We’d both gone up to Glasgow for the University Open Day. We liked the look of the place because there were at least five record shops within walking distance of the campus. We’d agreed to meet again at the gig, as she lived on the other side of Nottingham and had her own car.

I’d never been in a Student Union before. Our newly elected “Sixth Form Student Representatives” (a token effort at pupil democracy at school) had lobbied the authorities and got us NUS cards, which meant we could get in without facing an inquisition over our ages but I was still woefully under prepared. It was a cold night and I was over dressed. I had been in pubs before, with my dad on his pub quiz team, but I didn’t really know what to expect in a Student Union. Would they even let us in?

 

In the end the Trent Poly Union was just a small bar with a space where a stage should be. We didn’t even have to buy tickets. I nervously approached the chap on the door holding out my NUS card to prove that I was indeed 18, but he didn’t even look at it. We threw some change in the donation bucket and went in.

After what felt like a lot of hanging about and tuning up, the first band, who I later found out were called Blab Happy, stopped giving out flyers for their Vegan brand of DM style boots and played what sounded like it might have been about three songs. I realized we were standing too close to the speakers and could hear nothing but noise but could feel the vibrations. I was completely unprepared for how loud it was. There weren’t many people there yet and there was plenty of room so we moved back to do a bit more waiting. I took off a couple of layers of clothing and tried to stand with my coat between my feet. It didn’t occur to us to go to the bar because we didn’t have much money on us. We did a bit more waiting.

Radiohead finally came on at about 9.45pm, the place had filled up by now and there were people standing in front of us blocking the view. I couldn’t see much but every so often I glimpsed of a mop of dyed blond hair belonging to the lead singer. To his left, the angular features and basin of dark hair that comprised the guitarist sometimes came into view. I could only see the tops of their heads and the backs of the heads of the people in front of me. I was rooted to the spot due to the pile of coats and jumpers at my feet.

They both keep ducking down to batter their guitars. The singer mentioned a couple of times that they were playing songs from their album. He introduced “a lovely song called Creep” and played something I recognized.

“That was our recent single that went into the charts at 32 and went straight out again because Radio One deemed it unsuitable to be played during the day,” he said after Anyone Can Play Guitar, which by now I’d heard on evening radio a few times. They also played Prove Yourself and songs called Vegetable and Pop Is Dead (in my diary later I scribbled down the titles and wrote “V.G.”) plus three or four more.

A loud one towards the end of the set, (How Do You) was mysteriously dedicated to Robert Maxwell. I caught sight of what must have been the third guitarist and bass player and noted their centre parted hair (the kind of haircut we called a ‘Spam’ at school, usually sported by kids in Baggy trousers and bright coloured raver hooded tops). They ended their set in a hail of noise and my ears were ringing by the time they’d finished.

I asked experienced gig-goer Rebecca what she thought and she heartily approved. I got the feeling K thought it was all a bit loud and she couldn’t really hear me asking. I was just overwhelmed that I’d finally made it to a real gig. I bought a T-shirt with a surprised baby on the front.

I can’t remember the journey home, but after all the fuss that had been made earlier, there didn’t, in the end, seem to be anything difficult about it.

Pablo Honey / Pop Is Dead. March – May 1993.

Pablo, Come to Florida…

Looking back on it, Radiohead’s debut album Pablo Honey didn’t have the same initial impact on me that Creep did. But albums take more time to get rooted into your system than single songs. Particularly a song with the immediacy of Creep.

I went into town after school to buy a tape of the album the day it came out. It was to remain a regular fixture in my aging Walkman for the next couple of years. It came without a lyric sheet, so throughout the early spring of 1993, I could be found huddled in the corner of the 6th form Common Room with a rosehip tea, (no milk, no fridge and no proper tea), trying to conceal my contraband headphones. I’d shuttle the tape back and forth, stopping and starting my way through a song, trying to fathom the harder to hear lyrics. I would then scrawl them on the outside of my ring binder or on spare note book pages. I’d listen to the songs all over again with new ears, finding things to identify with between A-Level classes, filling in time and filling in the UCA and PCAS university application forms.

Even after just one live show, it was obvious that Pablo Honey was only an attempt to capture what Radiohead really sounded like. On stage they had a power that they were yet to capture on record. The volume and energy in a song like Blow Out was only approximated on the album. On early listens my favourites were Vegetable and Ripcord. I came to love Thinking About You and Anyone Can Play Guitar, but Stop Whispering and You never really came close to their angry, yearning live incarnations.

Without sufficient musical knowledge of the band’s influences or even much experience of their immediate contemporaries. I couldn’t really judge the record on anything but a visceral level.

To me, it was the best thing going and I was blind to its weaknesses.

 

POP RIP.

I have to pause at this juncture and address a taboo. Bear with me, I’m going to defend Pop Is Dead…

 

It’s a good thing that YouTube doesn’t let me embed the Pop Is Dead Video. If you’ve seen it before, you won’t want to watch it again.

The thing that people didn’t seem to understand about Pop Is Dead, Radiohead’s much derided 4th single release of 1993, is that it’s actually a complicated and detailed parody. It has to be, right?

Listening to it again now, long neglected, missed off compilations and all but erased from the band’s history, it sounds… well, yes, it does sound quite bad. But I still have a soft spot for it. I can’t help but find it endearing. It was a statement that meant a lot at the time.

In 1993, British music was in the doldrums, the charts were a mess, the influential weekly music press thought Suede were the best thing since sliced bread and national radio was becoming a joke. The listening public had escaped from the clutches of production line pop stars from Stock, Aitken and Waterman’s stable, only to have Take That reach the peak of their first incarnation as favourites of the Saturday Morning TV demographic. In February, Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You had been number one since the previous November – a tortuous reign that continued well into Radiohead’s first UK headline tour, when they started performing Pop Is Dead and dedicating it to her. Worse was to come as the likes of 2 Unlimited and Meat Loaf dominated the charts, and thereby also clogged up mainstream radio playlists.

BBC Radio One had not yet gone through the revolution that was to follow the appointment of controller Matthew Bannister and it what still enduring what has come to be known as its “Smashie and Nicey” years. Harry Enfield’s parody of the over the hill DJs was too close for comfort and had become shorthand for an out dated and out of touch institution.

Record companies had for the most part cashed in on the CD boom of the late 1980s and thrived on sales of reissued albums from their back catalogues. As a new signing to EMI, certain members of Radiohead had been known to comment in interviews about how this endless repackaging of artists like Pink Floyd and The Beatles was often at the expense of newer, less established acts. Instead of nurturing new talent, major labels were already starting to sign “Development Deals” which relied on a new band recording a hit album and touring until it made a significant profit, re-paid their advance and made an impact on the balance sheets. It also often involved the band signing over the rights to their work. If the band failed to turn a profit early on, they would risk being dropped before they had chance to record a second, let alone a third album.

Radiohead, who had signed a 6 album deal with EMI, were now in a position to see the machinations of the music industry from within, and it scared them.

Pop Is Dead, much like its predecessor Anyone Can Play Guitar, can be seen as partly about its creator’s ambivalence to the position in which he now finds himself.

As a manifesto, a statement of intent, Pop Is Dead was a bold move. As a potential hit single it was wrong footed in the extreme. The label didn’t get behind it, much to Thom’s dissatisfaction (reports from the May tour around the time of its release describe his dejection about its poor chart performance) and the critics pretty much failed to get the point.

In interviews with the band (which at this point, means interviews with Thom) from the first half of 1993, you get a sense of a man with a vision of how things have to change, but who is not quite yet entirely sure how to change them.

Pop Is Dead was a product of its moment. It was a nasty and loud jolt in the band’s live set. It is a rock-out cacophony and has a piano part in the middle which for better or worse betrays the influence of middle period Queen on the band’s sound. It was supposed to be a rallying cry and it worked on me.

It also confirmed that Radiohead have a wicked and often misunderstood sense of humour.

 

Very Spinal Tap

March 24, 1993. I got home from school to find a white hand addressed envelope with an Oxford postmark on the mantelpiece. I don’t know anyone in Oxford. This isn’t from one of my regular pen pals and I’m not expecting any correspondence…

I open the envelope and take out three sheets of plain white note paper covered in blue inked scrawl. “Dear Lucy, Please come and see us on our next tour in May. Cos we’re really good live. Yes we are. Maybe.”

The return address, squashed into the top right hand corner: The Official Radiohead –and the PO Box address from the EMI adverts.

This is a letter in reply to the missive I fired off demanding “more information” and that is precisely what it contains. It tells me about writing Pop Is Dead, about how “extremely un rock and roll” the band are, and even details the university degrees of the band members. They are working on material for their next album which is almost finished “apart from the orchestral arrangements and the brass bands. Only joking. Or am I?”

It goes on to tell me that they’re planning to go to Israel where “Creep is bigger than Whitney Houston”.

The letter concludes that this is “all very Spinal Tap” and again implores me to come and see them live “because we are very nice”.

It is signed “love Thom”.

The actual Thom, not some fan club or record company flunky. A personal invitation. I have to see this band again. I sit down and re-read it a couple of times, taking it all in.

I’ve also got a fanzine in the post today, something I sent off for from in the classified adverts at the back of NME. It’s called Catharsis and has interviews with Kingmaker, The Wedding Present, Strangelove and, the reason I ordered it, Radiohead.

It has been neatly typed and photocopied, assembled by hand with photos cut from the pages of the regular press. In it Thom proclaims that he’d “like to change the face of British radio.” That the “British record industry sucks” and that they’re “shooting themselves in the foot because they don’t support new talent”.

He reiterates the points he’s made in the letter about why he’s written Pop Is Dead. “Commercial success never comes from sounding like somebody else. And the music industry’s just forgotten that as far as I can see.” Thom complains.

“Radiohead,” concludes the writer, “are Spinal Tap.”

 

 

The article in Select (Headline: Super Creep, by Andrew Collins) was the first bit of press that I saw outside of the weekly NME and MM about the band. It was also one of the first times I saw something similar to what my opinion of them at the time was in print. A lot of their early reviews fixated on their being signed to a major label (when in the eyes of the inkie hacks it was all about indie credibility) or on the photographers uncanny ability to capture Thom pulling a face during a live show.

Radiohead were too middle class, too polite or too mouthy, not sexy enough, not stylish enough, too original or not original enough, often all of these things at the same time. They had too many contradictions – a band from the Thames Valley who didn’t make shoegaze records, a band signed to a big label who released a single proclaiming Pop Is Dead. They seemed very British and yet their album was produced by luminaries of the Boston scene and mixed in the USA to sound more grungy. The press weren’t really sure where to pigeonhole them.

2. Nottingham, TNTUUS, 1 May 1993

For my second gig ever, I feel slightly more prepared. I have a ticket and I’ve come dressed for the occasion in my band T-shirt and a floppy black cap that keeps my hair out of my face. The venue is in the same building as the last show, but this time it’s in the larger downstairs auditorium rather than just the union bar. K and I arrive at the time stated on the ticket. Through the walls of the Union we can hear someone sound checking a guitar riff. I later realised it was David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel.

Inside we go straight to a spot in the middle at the front of the stage. There are three bands on the bill; the first is Superstar, who might have been great, but I’m unfamiliar with their tunes and I’m impatient for the main act. Second on are Strangelove, a band have briefly shown up on my radar from reading fanzines but I’m not yet acquainted with their melodramatic indie and they seem too thin and arty, all in all a bit too affected.

In the corner of my eye I keep seeing a very pale looking, smallish man at the side of the room near the bar. His hair is so blond I can’t help but notice that it is Thom. I want to go across and speak to him, he seems to be talking to people at the bar but if I move now I’ll lose my place at the front. The room is full by the time Radiohead take the stage at around 10pm. From the opening ‘Benz’, their superiority over the other bands is obvious.

“Wish it was the ’60s,” sings Thom. This song is not on the album and they’re starting the show with it. But they follow it with You, and most of the rest of Pablo Honey. Vegetable, Ripcord, Lurgee, Inside My Head, Prove Yourself – Is that the sound of people singing along?

Stop Whispering is a meaner song live than it is on record and when Thom screams “Fuck You” at the top of his voice at as it builds up to a finish, it should be a cringeworthy moment but somehow, in the intensity of the performance, it isn’t.

They perform Banana Co from the new EP. It’s got a quiet/loud dynamic that I really like. Thom swigs from a beer throughout the show and hands out several cans to the audience.

Thom swaps guitars between almost every song ,and when he performs Creep without one he jettisons the mic stand, rolls on the floor and howls. He ends up standing on the monitors to stare into the crowd as he delivers the final long note.

Whatever it is he’s got, call it stage presence or charisma, whatever it is, he’s got a lot of it. I want to look at the rest of the band to see what they’re playing but I find that I can’t take my eyes off the front man. He’s wearing a sort of yellowish shirt with a big collar, whenever he jumps up we get a glimpse of belly button. A lone stage diver gets hurled back into the throng rather harshly by an over zealous Crusty bouncer who is at the other side of the barrier in front of us and we have to duck to avoid getting hit.

They end on Pop Is Dead – but come back on to do an encore of Blow Out. For some reason the Nottingham audience uses the football terrace chant of “You Reds” to fill the room with noise, which bewilders Thom. By the end, all three guitarists are banging their guitars with their hands, and Jonny looks like he’s hurt himself.

My ears are ringing as the hall clears.

 

“You want fame? Right here’s where you start paying for it in corporate cheques” * – June 1993

On June 2, 1993, I get another letter from Thom.

I’d replied after the first one, and then again in a volley of excitement after the second gig. This one is addressed from the “Radiohead Helpline”.

He apologises for taking so long to reply, but they are starting to get a lot of letters now. He asks if I liked the Pop Is Dead EP – they were happy with it because they did it themselves with their live sound engineer –“being as we are complete control freaks!”

He mentions that they had spoken to Chris Thomas about producing the second album, something that had come up in his first letter. In my reply I’d pointed out that as well as working with the Sex Pistols, Chris Thomas had also worked with some pretty mainstream acts like INXS. Thom follows up with the fact that the producer had also worked with Elton John… “You don’t get much more corporate-pig-dog than that.”

He explains that they were impressed but uncertain. A big name producer would be expensive and wouldn’t necessarily understand them in the studio. It was hard to know what to do. Did I have any ideas?!

He tells me they’re off on a European tour in the next week and then onto the USA where Creep is “doing very well.” It looks like they’re going to be over there a lot for the rest of the year.

He wishes me luck with my A Levels and signs off to do some packing.

Later in the week, I celebrate school finally being out by buying a blue Pop Is Dead T-shirt in HMV. On the back are the May tour dates and the legend, “I saw pop die here.”

At the end of the week, having corralled my thoughts, I write a reply. I ask about the lyric of Pop Is Dead that I can’t seem to figure out, wish him luck with the tours and suggest that they need to find a producer who can help them get their own sound right.

Through the summer, I send for more fanzines and keep an eye out for the band in the music press. The next W.A.S.T.E. newsletter arrives, with more details of the band’s American tour and an address to write to for a new fanzine.

In August, volume one of the Pop Is Dead fanzine, the first publication devoted to Radiohead, arrives. It is made up of press clippings, a gigography, their first ever interview (as given to Oxford’s Curfew magazine), a detailed biography of the band, exclusive song lyrics and a questionnaire featuring all five members talking about their musical taste, their relationships to each other and bits of as yet unrevealed information about themselves.

Some friends of mine return from a trip to the USA with a load of music magazines for me. There are plenty of mentions of Radiohead and Creep, a couple of interviews and even some over the top adverts issued by Capitol Records. I photocopy the best bits and send them to Val in Manchester who puts together the Pop Is Dead Fanzine. I write her a letter telling her how much I love her zine.

By the end of the month Creep is at last getting some UK radio play. The rerelease is imminent. It starts to feel like something is going to happen and then another gig is announced. This time in Glasgow.

*a quote from W.A.S.T.E. newsletter #4.

3. Glasgow, Barrowlands, 3 September 1993

29th August 1993. Radiohead cancel their appearance at the Reading Festival at the last minute, in the week before Creep is re-released as a single; it’s still a relatively rare thing for a record company to do so soon after the original release, which was only just under a year ago. The ever-suspicious British music press are dubious, but have to give in and praise the quality of the song.

Creep is starting to get a bit more airplay on BBC Radio 1. On 3rd September, the band play a gig in Glasgow, organized by Radio 1’s Evening Session as part of their Music Quest talent search.

Blur, who have just released For Tomorrow (the first single from what will be their breakthrough album, Modern Life Is Rubbish, which followed in November 1993), will be the headline act at the Barrowlands. Radiohead and a band called The Candy Ranch are the supports. The show is only announced a few days before it takes place and barring a few mentions by Steve Lamacq and Jo Whiley on their show, one small advert in the back of the NME is the only fanfare.

I have by this time, tentatively accepted a place at Glasgow University. Having persuaded my parents that I have to get used to doing things on my own, I get on a train to Scotland, with the thinly veiled excuse of going on a recce for student accommodation and visiting my cousin who already studies in the city.

I set out early to find the Barrowlands. For the first time I walk through Glasgow city centre and into the East End. There are a couple of girls already waiting by the doors and a contingent of blokes having an out of tune sing-along. There is a large Radio 1 recording van (the gig is going to be taped for The Evening Session) and a frosty windowed tour bus. I stay put in the queue for a while but it doesn’t get very busy. I look up and realise that Ed and Phil have just walked straight past me.

Inside, the Barras is a large wooden floored ballroom, it must hold at least 1000 but tonight there is plenty of room, the opening band, who are not local, perform a lacklustre set. A few more people turn up afterwards and move a bit closer to the stage, where I have already stationed myself on the barrier, slightly to the right of the centre of the stage. There is a guy next to me in a Pablo Honey T-shirt. Before the band appear, he turns to his mate and says, “Watch the guitarist, he’s fucking amazing.”

Thom and Jonny look striking in stripy blue and white tops, and I have a decent view of both of them. They open with “Benz” and Prove Yourself then to the crowd’s delight play “the one with the expletive”. They also perform two new songs, Nice Dream and Yes I Am. During Anyone Can Play Guitar, Thom lets himself be dragged into the crowd. He keeps on singing and somehow makes it back on stage with his shirt hanging off his shoulder staring into the crowd while Jonny batters his guitar.

 

After Radiohead have finished their set, Blur play songs from their forthcoming album, they’re good but they have a completely different sort of energy to Radiohead. They seem like a more straightforward band. I move back in the crowd as people start to mosh and jump about.

The next day, I am stiff all over from fighting to stay upright in the crush and once again my ears are ringing from the volume. I spend the next couple of days in Glasgow exploring the record shops.

On the Monday (September 6th) Creep is re-released. I get the gatefold 12” and the cassette single in the city centre HMV. The tape goes into my Walkman for the train journey home. I like the new B-side Yes I Am and I can hear Thom snatching his breath in the live version of Inside My Head.

I tune in my FM radio and try to listen to the Evening Session broadcasting the gig, but there are too many tunnels on the East Coast line and I can’t get a decent reception. I’ll get to hear it later on.

The only remaining working record player (the cheap beige one didn’t last long) is now at my Granny’s house. I wait until she is out and take the 12 inch and my headphones to listen to the new songs. Just when I thought that if I heard the daytime DJ Jackie Brambles play it one more time in its edited version the magic would leave me, I hear this acoustic version of Creep and it sounds like Thom’s soul and an acoustic guitar. It becomes a beautiful, wrenching thing all over again. The other live tracks are just what I want them to be and Killer Cars makes me cry.

On the Wednesday I get some post, the second issue of Pop Is Dead fanzine (hereafter referred to as PID) and I recognise the handwriting on the other envelope.

Thom has pre-empted me and written again. I open it up and find a single sheet of spiral bound notepaper. At the top, a doodle with the lyric of Pop Is Dead that I’d not been able to make out. “One final line of coke… sustains many flagging rockers at one time or another. Not me though – nasty stuff, much too eighties!”

Thom explains that they’ve been “doing alright in the US of A as you may have heard,” he even has a gold disc for half a million sales waiting for him to pick up next time he is there. “Pretty strange stuff. And not to be taken seriously”.

He wonders if MTV will be as keen to play the video for a re-recorded version of Stop Whispering they’ve made especially for the American market. He explained what happened at Reading Festival. He lost his voice. It was like a bad dream.

They’re going back to the USA to tour with Belly and then back for more shows in Europe, though he’s not sure of the dates yet. “Then at last we get to disappear and start work on the new stuff. I’ve got a working title for the second album: Ex Pat Glitterati. What do you think? hmmm”.

He signs off with another doodle and a “write soonish”.

Joy.

Over the weekend Creep makes it into the charts. I’d been expecting them to make it into the Top 20 if they were lucky , so I’m shocked to hear it at number 7, stuck between Dutch techno novelty act 2Unlimited and Billy Joel’s River of Dreams.

 

From The Bedroom To The Universe. October 1993

In October 1993, I finally make it to University. I move into shared accommodation in Glasgow. I’m right next to the library and within 20 minutes walk of about five record shops and within staggering distance of the student union.

I start my courses. I soon realise that I feel completely out of my depth. I’ve spent the last four years or so dreaming about all the like-minded people I will meet here, all the chances I’ll get to show off my knowledge and intellectual prowess and I realise how naïve I’ve been. I’m lonely, a bit homesick and overwhelmed by all the books I’m supposed to read.

At least my pen pal Rebecca, now only lives a couple of doors away and we get to hang out between classes and go to venues like King Tuts Wah Wah Hut for gigs.

I start to buy CDs despite the fact that I don’t yet own a CD player. My roommate has a portable one so I make tapes that I can play on my Walkman. I am able to catch up on back catalogue stuff like Nick Drake that hasn’t been available on tape. I spend a lot of time listening to Joy Division, which is indicative of my doomy mood.

On 20th October, on my way to a morning History lecture, I spot a copy of the Melody Maker under someones arm. Thom stares wistfully from the cover and RADIOHEAD is in big letters across the front.

I can’t concentrate in the lecture and go straight to the newsagent afterwards to buy two copies. There’s three full pages and the centre spread, their first lead story in a weekly paper. There are loads of pictures and an in depth report from their American tour. The Yanks have gone mad for them.

They’re getting savvy at this interview lark by now and the rest of the band all have a turn. The Greenwoods seem to enjoy teasing the reporter with a few hints of sexual ambiguity, perhaps inspired by the press obsession with Suede and their blatant Bowie-isms.

This piece raises more questions than it answers. I write to Val, editor of PID, and compare notes.

A couple of weeks later, my daily vigil for post is rewarded with a blue airmail envelope, postmarked St Louis, addressed in now familiar handwriting. It feels like a flash of light in the dark tunnel of disappointment that I’ve found myself in. The return address at the top of the letter proclaims: “Radiohead lost at sea.” All, it seems, is not entirely well.

Thom’s glad I liked Killer Cars, glad he hasn’t “lost it yet”.

I’d told him about being at the Glasgow gig in September, and he responds that it was “such a joke that so few people turned up, typical Radio 1.”

I’d asked about the song The Benz and he says “there’s a god-awful early version on a French release of Creep somewhere,” but he says the best thing is to wait for it to be released, he might even send me a demo one day, “if I can find it.”

“Reading was awful,” he writes,  telling me more about the day, and pulling out of the Festival. He lost his voice; he couldn’t even answer the phone.

I’d asked about America, but he tells me that it’s weird; he’s not really seen that much of it, “its all hotels and faces in crowds…”

He’s started reading a lot of Chomsky on the tour bus.

All the people at Capitol who’d got behind them have been fired and all anyone is interested in is Creep. The release of the special version of Stop Whispering has “gone down the tubes.” They have no illusions and are glad to have finally had a hit at home.

He says he’s been listening to the new Breeders record (Last Splash) and likes it despite it being “total Pixies abandonment”.

They are coming back to play more dates in Europe with James but he’s not keen. They’ve only taken on the tour to play bigger venues in Europe. He and Jonny will get a demo studio to keep them happy. It will mean they’ve done over 200 shows this year and “that does something to your head believe me.”

He signs off by thanking me for another nice letter.

It was great to get this letter, that it is me he’s telling this stuff to, but now I’m worried…

4. Glasgow, Barrowlands, 1 December 1993

The James tour, which Thom has so been dreading, reaches the UK on December 1st. The first gig is at Glasgow Barrowlands. I make my way there at 3pm taking the underground into town and then walking the rest of the way, my stomach in knots. I’m not sure why I’m going so early, but I just feel like I have to be where the action is.

There are tour buses outside the venue, the way the Barras is laid out means that they have to park at the front of the venue, all the entrances and exits face onto the street. Anyone going in or out has to pass the main door.

I have a look around and plant myself in the spot by the door. A curtain is drawn on the bus; I spot Thom and make to wave. He gives me a “Who? Me?” look and then waves back and goes back to reading a book. I wander off and come back to crouch on the pavement by the door. I stay there, getting cold, letting my nerves build up, until about 5.30pm.

 

When Thom emerges from the bus, I step forward and force myself to speak, “Did you get my letter?” The brief conversation goes something like this:

Thom: “Would it have been recent?”

Me: “Didn’t you get home?”

Thom: “Yeah but not long enough to get mail forwarded”

Me: “I got the airmail one from Illinois. It was the fourth. Thank you.” I want to say more but I’ve just realised who I’m talking to and can’t. I drop my glove and fumble with a Creep badge that I can’t decide whether or not to wear.

Thom: a smile of recognition as he heads for the door. “Well, enjoy it.”

A little later Phil gets out of the bus and Ed arrives by taxi. I attempt to shout hello, but they aren’t looking. My friend Rebecca ( former penpal, now a student here too) arrives and joins me at the head of the queue.

When the doors open we rush up the stairs and straight for the front, we get to the barrier, slightly to the left of the centre. There were about a dozen other people similarly keen to get a good spot. Roadies test lots of guitars. LOTS of James fans, recognisable in their T-Shirts with the band’s name in large letters front and back, start to fill the room. There are lots of lads coming and going from the bar but we stay put, resolutely holding our positions.

Radiohead come on and open with “Benz”. Somehow all is not right with Thom, his playing seems slack, the sound balance isn’t very good and the crowd aren’t getting into it like they have at their previous gigs. It doesn’t feel right and Thom can tell. So can I.

They play Prove Yourself, I can feel the weight of the crowd pushing behind me but they are not getting behind the band on the stage. Surely the wonderful first notes of You, that I’ve been waiting to hear again for months, has to move them, but a chant of “James, James” goes up and it seems like they’re not prepared to give the support band a fair crack of the whip. Thom looks at his band mates and mouths, “I knew this would be a nightmare.” He tells one particularly noisy heckler to “fuck off” and gives another an exasperated one finger salute, “Well, you won’t be buying our album.”

They start Creep and some of the crowd appear to be joining in. During the long note at the end, a lighted cigarette sails over our heads and hits Thom’s leg. He moves away, leaving it to smoulder in the middle of the stage. He keeps singing, “At least I’m fucking trying…” He takes a bit more yelling but leaves the stage before the end of the song, letting the band finish without him. He returns to the stage with a guitar for Ripcord.

He starts Banana Co acoustically and is interrupted by another heckler; he stops and tries to locate the person doing the shouting. He’s still angry about being interrupted. Pop Is Dead sees some of Thom’s usual energy returning. I’m moving about on the front row as much as I can, whoever is behind me seems to think that elbowing and kneeing me in the back is fun. I’m pinned to the rail, it feels like the world is closing in and can’t do anything about it.

A new song called Nice Dream, which I heard last time they played here, sounds beautiful and now I can make out the words. “Nice dream if you think you are strong enough”, I feel a bit choked up.

Someone calls out for Anyone Can Play Guitar and it is indeed the next song on the list. Thom’s guitar strings are breaking all over the place. By the end he has it down on the floor and is kicking sound out of it. He’s still not happy. They end on an altered version of Stop Whispering. It peters out and Thom spits out a big “Fuck you” and gestures to the back of the hall. They batter hell out of the end of the song, feeding back for all they’re worth.

I reach up and someone puts a torn setlist into my hand. The crush has eased as the James fans start going to the bar. Rebecca and I fight our way out, through the packed room to the stall at the back selling drinks. I’m shaking like I’ve been in a fight. We go downstairs to the lower level where the merchandise stall is selling Radiohead T-Shirts detailing a list of dates from their seemingly endless tour.

We come back from the toilets and survey the foyer. Colin is at one side talking to a student journalist. I’m thirsty so I go back upstairs and get a warm can of lager from the stall at the back of the room. The place has filled up now the headliners are due on. I’m angry and frustrated and quickly down the beer. Back downstairs I realise that the skinny chap over there in a small group is Jonny. Someone says, “Let’s go and see James” and they go up. About five minutes later Jonny comes back alone.

Rebecca and I sit down on the bench that runs along the wall between the door to the gents and the door to the support’s dressing room. Colin is still milling around looking lost, he finishes his can of Coke and goes into the loo. Rebecca decides we should talk to him, so when he comes back out she jumps into his path and launches in with “Great gig!” I stand next to her and try to make my brain work. She talks when she’s nervous so I just listen. Colin says, “Thom’s a bit tense.”

Colin is polite and we chat to him about all the places they have been in Europe. I manage to ask a question about what it’s been like to tour with James, he says they are all nice but they weren’t keen to play with them in the UK. He leans forward so James’ people on the T Shirt stand don’t hear, “We only wanted to do Europe with them for the big venues, but it was all the tour or nothing!”

We tell Colin about the other gigs we’ve been to and he asks us what we are studying, when Rebecca mentions that she’s doing Spanish he asks her if she’s been to Spain, as they’ve just been to Barcelona and it was lovely! I say, “See you in Manchester”, and tell him I’m going down there to meet Val. He remembers her and the fanzine from last time he met her. Then he’s off to be interviewed. Gosh! A proper conversation – wasn’t that difficult.

We go back to sitting down. I see Thom leave. Ed comes back in with what looks like chips wrapped in brown paper. Thom will have to come back this way, so I brace myself for ten minutes. When he appears again, I look over, smile and when I have his attention, I lean forward and call out “How did it go?” Suddenly he’s standing next to me explaining.

He wasn’t with it; they’ve been doing too much touring. Playing with “that lot”. I interrupt and say that it didn’t feel the same as when I’d seen them before, it was a weird crowd. But Thom says that it was more him than them and leaves it at that. I tell him I’m going to the Manchester show to meet Val. He nods and I wish him good luck and as I make sympathetic noises, he says, “I just want to be a normal human being again.” With that he departs into the dressing room.

He looked tired and sorry and real and about as good at eye contact as I am, i.e. not very. I’m a bit stunned. We go back upstairs to see if we can stand to watch James for a couple of songs. Phil is wandering around at the back, unrecognised in his red jacket. There are some obvious James fans dancing around in front of us. The whole building sweats, condensation runs down the walls. I feel like the only person in the room who isn’t enjoying the band on the stage. We go back downstairs again avoiding the rush when everyone leaves.

I’m on a high. We have chips on the way home and I’m back in my flat by 11.30pm but I can’t sleep.

 

5. Manchester, GMEX, 4 December 1993

I don’t get much sleep over the next few days. I’ve phoned Val for the first time to arrange meeting her in Manchester. Radiohead’s PR has tipped her off that the band will be doing a signing in a record shop on the afternoon before the gig and that James, whose hometown is Manchester, will be having a party afterwards. I hear on the radio that the next show of the tour in York is cancelled because the lead singer from James has lost his voice. I phone Val again; concerned that this will effect the GMEX show. She misunderstands me and thinks it’s Thom who’s lost his voice and perhaps he’s having a strop. We straighten out our mistake and she says that James have too much riding on their hometown gig to cancel it.

On the 4th, I get the train to Manchester in the morning and meet Val. She’s older than me, has dyed dark pink hair, glasses and a coat with a fake leopard fur collar. We walk from Piccadilly station to the main square to meet Sid and Lisa from Abuse fanzine in the nearest café, which happens to be a Spud-u-Like. We have cups of tea and then head across to find Piccadilly Records where the signing will take place at 4pm.

When we get there Thom and Ed are outside smoking. Val greets them and asks how they’re doing. “We’re cacking ourselves.” It will be the largest audience they’ve played to in the UK so far. “We’re shit scared,” says Thom.

In the window of the shop is a poster featuring EMI’s none too subtle “Do You Own Pablo Honey?” slogan.

 

The band disappear inside and we hang about so Val can smoke one of her menthol cigarettes. A small queue of people is forming inside the shop and the staff have set up a table for the band to sit around. The fanzine kids, who have all met the band before, hang back and remain cool. For the first time I feel like I have the right friends who have the knack of turning up just at the right time.

Someone has put Pablo Honey on the shop’s decks. “Turn this rubbish off” shouts Thom and there is general cheering and clapping when the music is replaced.

Thom signs his name, going over the O so it spirals off the page. They are surprised by how much vinyl people have brought along. They sign on the inside of a jacket, on a t-shirt, Thom draws a version of the Pop Is Dead cover with a spacemen and ‘Pop is Kaput’; on a girl’s note book he engraves ‘Literature rots the brain’.

I’m milling around, more interested in watching the band than in joining the queue myself until someone puts a poster in my hand and I find that I’m at the end of the line of people. I let a few in front of me, not wanting to have to leave. I put my poster on the table in front of the band, all five are sitting around the table and they sign it all at once, when I lift the poster most of the signatures are upside down.

Thom examines my CD copy of Stop Whispering, which I’ve bought mail order from the back pages of NME. “It’s an import!” he cries like he hasn’t seen one before, then eagerly grabs a felt tip pen and writes “thom e. yorke xxxxxx” on the plastic inlay, the others fit their names in around the sides and when Phil picks it up he uses the whole blank back cover for his name. I don’t manage to say anything and just about manage a thank you. I’m terrified of saying something stupid; I don’t want to show myself up or let the cool kids down.

When there are no more people left and its time for the shop to close we all head outside. The band are not far behind. Val comments that it wasn’t a bad turn out, considering she’d only seen two posters advertising it. “So,” says Thom, “Word of mouth then?”

“Yeah” says Val.

And he’s visibly happy at this, “Word of mouth’s always best!”

We’re all standing outside the shop waiting for someone, looking at the display of Radiohead stuff in the window. There is a T-Shirt with gold print and Val says that on hers the print has come off in the wash. Thom is disappointed; he says they’re going to take control of things like that. They want to sit down with the next album and decide all that sort of thing so no one gets away with shoddy quality. Like the promo sleeve for Stop Whispering, the artwork isn’t satisfactory. Colin chimes in that bands never get a say about promos. Val asks about America and Thom mentions the new T-shirt with all the dates on the back. I say that I’ve seen it and literally every month has some dates in it.

Has he been home at all? He says he called in to see his parents briefly and they told him he looked ill. “I’ve got touring wasting disease.”

He has a bag with the Capitol Records logo, only it’s been redesigned so it says, “Creep”, and he also carries an old leather satchel. It’s full of letters from fans.

They decide to walk to the venue; Lisa is friendly with Tim the Tour Manager and Val offers to show everyone the way across town. Manchester graduate Ed and Jonny plough on ahead, Phil is carrying his drumming stool. I think Colin is talking to Sid from Abuse fanzine. Val and I hang back and walk with Thom.

“Is it all limos and swimming pools now then?” she asks. They went all over America but they didn’t really see any of it.

The long and winding walk has a dream like quality for me. I feel clumsy as I tread on the back of Thom’s rubber soled shoe as I walked behind him and Val. I feel unworthy to be here. I am almost afraid to speak in case I say something stupid. We pass the big library and Val tells me it used to be really nice but it doesn’t open as much as it used to. Thom says something about “cut backs – nice building but no books”. We pass the poshest hotel in Manchester and Thom says they actually ended up staying there once and eating incredibly expensive food.

All too soon we arrive outside GMEX. Jonny is ahead of us at the top of some steps. Phil drops half of his drumming stool and it just misses my foot; I rescue it before it rolls away. He tries to put it back together so he can sit down. The others are discussing what they should do next. Tim the Tour Manager appears and says they’d better go inside. Thom turns back to ask us where we’re going next, Val motions vaguely to the nearest pub. We wish them good luck and Thom emphatically says “See you later.”

We all go to the pub across the square and try to digest the last couple of hours. We’re joined by some more people and wait for it to be time for the gig to start. I find someone with a standing ticket and swap it for my seated one.

 

Inside the cavernous GMEX I head straight for the front. Val has a seated ticket, I think it’s from the guest list. In front of me the stage is high up. I go to the right hand side so I’ll be between Thom and Jonny. There are two fans in band T-shirts with long hair next to me. They head bang and keep shouting for Jonny. This is such a different atmosphere to the Glasgow gig of the other night.

There is a confidence in the band that wasn’t there in Glasgow. Thom breathes heavily between songs, teasing the crowd. They play Benz, Prove Yourself, You, Yes I Am, Vegetable, Creep, Ripcord, Banana Co, Pop Is Dead, Inside My Head and for Anyone Can Play Guitar a battle breaks out as Ed rocks out and Thom drops his instrument to the floor and kicks it.

Inside My Head is a last minute addition after a word with Phil. Thom writhes around like a snake being charmed by Jonny’s guitar. Ed ends up doing his Pete Townsend jumping. From this angle I can even see Colin smiling and moving about.

Jonny has taken to making a big show of the opening chords of Benz; he’s all flailing arms and hair. For the ‘Kerchunk’ on Creep, he has a white light shinning on him and it looks great. Thom pushes the long notes as far as they’ll go and even if they’re tired of playing it for the umpteenth time, it still sounds impressive.

They end on Stop Whispering, it goes down to silence creating an impressive tension in such a big venue and then “Fuck you” but this time it is a call of defiance.

I hang onto the barrier to keep my feet on the floor.

When they’re done and the crowd breaks up a little, a woman taps me on the shoulder and asks if I know Val. I’m a little taken aback. She introduces herself as Caffy, the elusive PR who works for the band. “How did you know it was me?” I ask.

“Easy,” she says, “You were the only one who knew all the words.”

Eventually I find everyone back at the T-shirt stall. I buy the one with all the dates on the back, we get drinks of water and I realise how thirsty I am. Everyone else in the venue is hurrying to take their place to watch the local heroes James play their set but we are all waiting around in the foyer. We spot Colin and then Chris the Manager and his kids. Val speaks to someone she knows and I wonder what we’re supposed to do next. Val comes back with aftershow passes.

When we eventually find the party, it’s a big schmooze for James and all the various members of their families who are at the show. There’s no sign of Radiohead or any of their crew. We wait and see if anyone turns up but after a good while it’s clear that they’ve already left. We seem to have lost the Abuse fanzine kids. We go out into the corridor and see Ed leaving with several girls in his wake. We cut our losses and leave. We spend another hour at a club, but it doesn’t feel right. We get a mini cab back to Val’s flat. We watch videos and eat pizza until the early hours with too much adrenaline to even think of sleep.

 

6*. Oxford, Courtyard Studios, 18 December 1993 (not a gig but I count it!)

The day after the Manchester gig, Val invites me to go with her to the band’s Christmas party. I am speechless and she explains that she’d thought long and hard about who to ask and realised that she trusts me to behave myself. “You’re not a screamer.”

I go back to Glasgow and spend the rest of the week skipping classes; daydreaming and buying music magazines to catch up on the coverage the band have finally been getting in the UK. PID even gets a mention in one article in a style magazine called Sky (about the last place I’d have expected to see a piece on Radiohead!)

Val calls me the following week to tell me that she went to the Brixton Academy gig. The show was fantastic and afterwards she caught up with Thom and talked to him at the bar for what seemed like a couple of hours. She is full of news, bits of gossip and is overwhelmed by how nice he was. They’d wondered where we’d all got to after the Manchester show, they’d gone back to their hotel and sat in the bar wondering why they were missing the party. She said that he seemed to lack confidence, found it hard to take compliments, wasn’t behaving in a starry way at all. He appreciated what she was trying to do with the Fanzine. He got it.

She knew that I’d been trying to talk to him about my letters when I was in Manchester, but that I wasn’t sure if I’d made it clear who I was. He thought it was me, but had been too embarrassed to say so in case it wasn’t. But he had got my last reply and promised to write again. Val realised how important all this was to me.

We are both quiet unfeasibly excited about the party. We have no idea what to expect. I make arrangements to go home before Christmas and get the coach over to Manchester so we can travel to Oxford together.

On December 18th, in cold winter weather, we get the coach from Manchester to Oxford. We get changed in the toilets at Gloucester Green station and then take a bus to Abingdon. We wander around in the dark and it starts to snow. We find a pub where we call a mini cab for the last leg of the journey.

By the time we get to Courtyard Studios we’re both a bit exasperated for the journey. We’ve hardly eaten all day and we’re a little freaked out. We brace ourselves and go in, and promptly bump into Thom at the top of the stairs; he’s going down them to show some people around the studio.

We suddenly feel very self-conscious. We’re directed to a big bowl of punch and then find a seat. Who are all these people? Are we really supposed to be here? Val has an invitation but we still feel like impostors. We recognise one or two people but the rest must be from the record company or “real” friends of the band. We don’t make much of an attempt to mingle, just sit and talk to each other, worrying that we’ll never get past our party fear.

We have a few glasses of the punch. On my empty stomach, I start to feel a bit light headed. Val informs me that I’m pissed but I don’t believe her, she fetches a bottle of Cola and we both top up from that so I don’t get much the worse for wear. We see Caffy, the only other person we really know to speak to, and she is mingling more successfully. Every so often we see Thom wandering around, but we feel like we can’t just put ourselves in his way, when everyone else here seems to have a more legitimate reason for being here.

We pluck up the courage to wander around the room. Jonny is in a corner playing jazz records, there is a room full of videos and CDs and at the other end when the door opens we see inside the office, with posters and discs on the walls. Some people ask us who we are, people are now at the ‘being able to talk to strangers’ stage of the party, we explain that we do a fanzine and have to explain what it is. We feel a bit intimidated by the self-assurance of some of these people; the band’s friends seem a bit posh.

Later, I go to the bathroom, only to have Val bang on the door to hurry me out. She’s outside the door talking to Thom; we finally have a chance to get him to ourselves. He tells us that he has 30 or so new songs on tape to give to the band to work on. No big guitar numbers. “So,” I say sarcastically, “all slow sad stuff then?” and he leans forward and pulls a face, “I know who you are!”

A guy, who is a DJ who’s come over from Israel, comes past and they talk, but we stay put and Thom comes back to us. Someone else passes and asks him what the chords to In-between Days are; he mimes the guitar part but refuses to sing it.

Val asks him if he’s recovered from the tour yet and he tells us that he’s trying to settle in at home by doing some DIY. He’s made a wobbly coffee table. He can’t sleep. He has to do his Christmas shopping. Thom tells us that Tears For Fears, for whom the band played a few support slots, have started covering Creep in their set. It’s my turn to pull a face, “Don’t you get a say in that sort of thing?”

Thom shrugs, “Thanks Roland, that’s paid for my car.” Jonny is even writing the sheet music.

People are starting to leave; someone asks us if we have anywhere to stay tonight. I look at Val, our plans and our budget had not stretched as far as getting back to Oxford tonight. We start to explain that we were going to improvise when Chris the Manager suggests we stay here, there are some beds in the attic and no one else has claimed them yet. We’re grateful and can relax a bit. We’d been too overawed to think about what we were going to do afterwards. Val always seems to have a plan and I just trust her to know what she’s doing.

A bit later, there are just a few people still here. The band members are starting to leave, Val says she’s tired and goes to investigate the attic. I kind of want to stick around, but I’m too nervous to stay here by myself. Jonny is saying goodbye to Thom. I hover, not wanting to leave without saying good-bye, but I feel awkward and have one foot on the stairs. Jonny shakes Thom’s hand and leaves. Thom sees me and asks if the attic will be all right. I burble a yes and offer a hand for him to shake. We wish each other Merry Christmas and there is a slight pause and then the handshake is pulled into a hug.

I’d wanted to convey what I was feeling, just a huge thank you for everything, and this does it without me having to come up with a speech. I pat him on the back in matey fashion and then I float upstairs. Val is asleep already. I lay awake in the dark; I can hear quiet voices and jazz playing downstairs.

I wake up at about 9am and sneak downstairs, there are a few people asleep or just waking up around the place, a few crew members and other people I don’t know. I find a kettle and some instant coffee. I start to make mugs for as many people as I can see. Val appears and goes to find a phone so we can call a taxi. We want to explore but we decide that would be taking advantage of the management’s hospitality. I suddenly realise that I’m starving but there’s no food left, apart from a giant bar of fruit and nut chocolate hidden in the bread bin. I share it out between ourselves and Duncan the guitar tech, who has surfaced and taken one of the coffees. On the way out we briefly see inside the studio, a large empty room with a solitary stool in the middle. We take an expensive taxi all the way back to Oxford and then catch the coach. We stop in Birmingham and have egg and chips in the greasy spoon café by Digbeth Station. I’ve been grinning to myself all the way there and eventually I have to tell Val about the hug.

By the time we get back to her place, we’re too tired to do anything but drink tea and flop in front of some Christmas TV. There was a comedy on called Bernard & The Genie, a sort of update of the Aladdin story. Val asks me what I would wish for, and when I blush in reply she knows what I’m thinking and totally understands. She gets it.

*Ok so this isn’t a gig, but it was a meeting with the band and it’s always got counted as one as it meant just as much to me.

Love Out Of Concrete. January-May 1994

1994. January.

After our adventures in deepest Oxfordshire, I keep in touch with Val by phone, with increasingly lengthy calls. I have to go out to a phone box at the end of the street or use the payphone in the University Library foyer. My hall of residence has one card-operated phone between about 20 people so being on it for hours at a time isn’t popular. Besides, it eats phone cards faster than the regular call boxes. Val’s heard from Thom again; the band go into the studio soon, they’ve got producer John Leckie, fresh from walking out on the Stone Roses as yet unfinished second LP and they’re at (1960s Record Producer) Mickie Most’s RAK studios in London. The album will be “Glam rock over my dead body,” Thom writes. He’s still taking everything so seriously. We love it.

Meanwhile we’re collecting material for the next fanzine, people are sending in their bootleg tapes of gigs and I get to hear some of them. At the end of January the band announce that they’ll play three dates in the UK in May and some UK festivals. They’re also off to Japan and Australia for the first time.

February.

The NME runs a “Brat Awards” special issue, with Thom on the cover standing awkwardly between the twin side partings of Justine from Elastica and Brett from Suede. His hair is out of control, in the pictures inside he’s waving a video camera around.

Val hears about the now confirmed May dates first, an exclusive for PID. She also finds out about a gig in Reading that the band are playing to celebrate Tour Manager Tim’s 30th Birthday. She’s going to go and as the band can’t find the questionnaires they’ve completed for her, she’s hopefully going to get an interview while she’s there.

The gig takes place at a small social club. The band play under the moniker of Faithless & The Wonder Boys. They play some of their new material for the first time.

Val gets her interview with Thom, in a laundry cupboard at the Social Club. Her Dictaphone dies and Thom ends up taking notes. He also gives her his old typewriter (having got an Apple Mac at Christmas) so she can keep on producing the fanzine. He’s had his hair cut. The new album has a working title: Belisha Beacon and when asked what it’s about he replies elusively, “Love Out Of Concrete”.

March.

Val’s cupboard interview launches her new fanzine venture, Insane, which is an attempt to go beyond the bands that the weekly press deign to cover. I write a few reviews of gigs I’ve been to in Glasgow and there are loads of other contributors. We hatch a lot of plans and have some optimistic ideas about where we’re going to go with it.

Meanwhile the weeklies become obsessed with a new scene they have christened The New Wave Of New Wave.

I sit down and compose a long letter to Thom that finally puts into words what I’ve been trying to say.

The tickets for the May dates arrive.

April.

I’m at my parents’ when I find out that Kurt Cobain has off’ed himself. I read about it on Teletext.

May.

Blur’s Parklife is released. I’m coming to the end of my first year of University. Radiohead have set up an Ansaphone service – you call up and listen to a recorded message (usually from Ed and Colin). They’ve been busy at RAK and have been living in London for the duration of the recording session, much anticipation about the forthcoming live shows.

Val has received a selection of clippings from some of the Japanese Radiohead fans. Finally, we have some decent photos of Thom to use in the fanzine.

On the 23rd I arrive in Manchester to help Val make up the PID tour special – which involves several bus journies to the place with the cheapest photocopier in North Manchester. The ‘zine comes complete with the cupboard interview, the best photos yet and a free Creep badge. We will try to sell them at the gigs over the next three days and hopefully make Val’s money back.

 

7. Manchester, University, 25 May 1994

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.

8. Wolverhampton, Wulfrun Hall, 26 May 1994

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.

9. London, Astoria, 27 May 1994

Caffy has to be up and out quite early to get a train to take the Maker people back to London, so we share a cab back to the town centre. Val and I go for a wander and a breakfast in a greasy spoon in the shopping precinct. We wander round in a daze of sleep deprivation and head back to the coach station to see if we can get onto the London bound coach. The coach is fully booked. Taking the next one would mean cutting it very fine for getting to London on time. Val, however, has a plan…

We cross over the weird main road intersection that makes up this part of Wolverhampton. We trudge into the hotel reception, last seen at 2am. Last night Tour Manager Tim had told us that the band’s van would be leaving at 12noon and it’s about that now. Val phones Tim from reception. I can’t hear what she’s saying. She tells me to wait.

We sit in the overstuffed armchairs again. Val’s eyes start to close, she’s nearly asleep, this place is full of mirrors and soon I notice a blur of blondness behind me. Tim nods to us. Val has asked for a lift to London. Thom’s foot is feeling better but he won’t speak above a whisper, he wants to preserve his voice. Sunglasses on, he hobbles across the road.

The van is parked on the far side of the hotel’s parking area; I walk over slowly, my arms feeling like they’re dropping off. I have enormous, scary-looking bruises under each armpit from hanging on to the barrier last night, and they’ve turned purple over night. My small rucksack feels like it weighs a tonne. I curse myself for bringing an extra cardigan.

We load into the van. Thom takes one corner, I take the other and Val sits in the sideways seats in front of us. Tim is up front driving. Val tries to break the ice with a few questions, some chat about nothing much. I keep quiet. Thom barely says a word. The tape from last night goes on. Stereolab can be heard to smiles of recognition from me and puzzlement from Val. And we’re off.

Thom takes a Ben Okri novel (Songs Of Enchantment, sequel to The Famished Road) out of his bag and apart from occasionally underlining something with a pencil, we hear no more from him. Val falls asleep. I become hyper-aware of every little fidget I make. Tim puts Radio 4 on for a bit. I fall asleep once we get onto the motorway. The next thing I know we’re at a service station somewhere on the M1.

We have a toilet stop and the others get some food. All I can manage is a bottle of water. When we get back in the van, the tape comes on again. “This is Tanya Donnelly’s boyfriend’s band,” says Thom. “Anastasia Screamed. They’ve split up.”

The Dead Kennedys come on and Val asks Thom to identify the track. The tape rolls on: Blur’s Advert from Modern Life Is Rubbish; a Syd Barrett track that I thought sounded like David Bowie; something by Tim Buckley; Love Hurts by Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons and a track with flute on it that Thom tells us is Nick Drake.

I recognise and am surprised by the presence on the tape of Huggy Bear. Val thinks she hears Pink Floyd but it’s Verve’s Gravity Grave. Elvis Costello’s Crimes Of Paris comes on and I find myself singing along to the chorus, having discovered the album Blood & Chocolate recently, (Thom mentioned it as one of his favourite records in one of our questionnaires).

Thom does the occasional a bit of air drumming, plucks one or two imaginary guitar chords and once in a while sings a line out loud. These are a selection of favourite songs. No one says much aside from song titles.

Soon enough the tape is round to Scott Walker again and the radio comes on. Mark Goodier on Radio 1. We’re approaching London. Goodier is announcing “The amazing Seal” and sounding unconvincingly excited. Everyone in the back of the van pulls a face. I try to say something about brainless DJs but no one’s really listening as we hit an outer London traffic jam. Val navigates from an AA map and the air of tension returns. We all suddenly remembered why we were here.

As we drive around the corner to the back entrance of the Astoria, it seems to hit us in a wave. Tim goes quiet. In the back, Thom brings out his mirror shades and assumes his armour. When we get out, there are huge MTV lorries all over the place. Thom disappears inside quickly. Tim asks me if I want an aftershow pass. (of course I do). We understand without being told that we have to leave now.

Val and I go around the corner into Oxford Street and the nearest and only available pub, The Tottenham. I have a hot chocolate and it makes me feel sick. I need a walk. Val wants food and the nearest place is a McDonalds. I leave her there and stomp off to find a post box for a card I’ve written to K and to buy today’s paper. There’s also a preview of the gig in Time Out. When I get back to Val, she insists I eat something and I have some sort of cardboard chicken sandwich. Then we return to the pub to fret.

When we get back to the Astoria, people are already queuing. The doors open and Val goes off to join the guestlist queue. I chat to Sid Abuse, who is selling copies of his ‘zine to a captive audience. Once I get inside with my ticket, I check my bag at the cloakroom, find Val and Cristina and we order cans of Red Stripe in the bar.
Inside the Astoria’s downstairs, I go to the front and talk to some girls who I’d seen queuing up. They’ve previously seen Radiohead in a smaller venue. They’re only 16 but don’t tell anybody. I tell them about my bruises from last night, but I keep today’s journey a secret.

David Gray plays first; he got a sort of Van Morrison thing to his voice and plays a selection of stomping acoustic stuff. I try to move as there is a tall hairy guy in front of me. As Julie Dolphin come on there is a bit more movement in the crowd and I keep trying to gauge if I’m going to be able to stay put where I am, about three rows from the barrier. The throng tightens making a surge for the front impossible. There is a high density of boys in front. Something about their attitude makes me really angry. This is my first London gig. I’m used to a Glasgow crowd and this is completely different. Instead of moving forward I get forced further back and get increasingly frustrated. If I get stuck in the mosh I will have to fight to stay upright and right now I don’t have the strength. Even before the band come on to the stage I can feel that I’m going to get crushed, the pain from my existing bruises is just going to get worse and I’m not going to be able to concentrate on the show.

All of a sudden Radiohead are on the stage. I get tossed around the mosh pit and somehow get my arms stuck up in the air. I’m right in the middle but it’s impossible to stand still. I don’t have the necessary energy to go with the flow. I’m pinned in position and I can’t even get out. No one is giving an inch to anyone in this pit, let alone to a wild-eyed partially asphyxiated girl. I accept someone’s kind offer to make room and virtually crawl out to Ed’s side of the stage. The Astoria isn’t all that big but it is very wide. I get my breath back and try not to think about the pain in my sternum. I wished I’d gone with Val to sit on the balcony. For all its small size, this gig doesn’t feel as friendly as Wolves.

Thom looks like he can’t believe the place is full. The whole room is moshing to the new songs. I can feel myself choking. I get clear and get a view of the stage again. Thom kicks hell out of his guitar at the end of Blow Out. Ed is playing to the cameras, letting his white shirt stream out behind him. And Jonny is moving about from his usual spot on the right. I shout for Nice Dream and there was someone else shouting for it too, but they don’t play it. There are some real fans here after all.
At the end when I get out I am fired up and ready to take on the world. I get water and reclaim my bag on autopilot.

I can see Caffy on the stairs, but the crush of people going in the opposite direction is such that she can’t reach me with the pass. Even as I’ve nearly got the sticker in my hand, burly bouncers are still trying to throw me out. I get thrust into the entrance hall and nearly give up. You cannot reason with these people when you look like you’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards and your clothes are damp rags. I compose myself and march back inside like I’ve got a right to be there and Caffy is on the other side of the door with my pass.
Upstairs, the Keith Moon Bar is already packed. I should have gone straight there; I probably wouldn’t have even needed the sticker.

London aftershows are big, noisy affairs, not like the intimate slumming we’d had elsewhere. The band members are mingling and milling about with some of their Oxford pals and their girlfriends are in evidence. I stay on the periphery where I feel I belong, standing on the edges of a few of Val’s chats with people. Thom comes in at last when the crowd has reduced a bit. He gets around to us in the fullness of time. Champagne and Red Stripe are handed around. He’s getting through the drinks as fast as everyone else. Cristina, Val and I sit on the stairs and while they talk ten to the dozen, I quietly contemplate being here, watching, trying to dare myself to talk to someone.

Caffy offers us a bed at her place so we get our things together. I pat a by now quite drunk Thom on the arm and burble, “Wonderfulgigthankyouseeyou.”

We mini cab it to Deptford. We’re tired to the point of collapse but Caffy has a video of the JBTV show sent from Chicago with an amazing performance of Inside My Head (with Thom writhing on the floor) that we have to see. In the accompanying interview he talks about the baby on the cover of Pablo Honey, “It’s me but it’s not me”.

In the morning I wake up on a sofa bed with cramp in my legs and bruises all over, to the sounds of a tape of assorted new stuff from the artists that Caffy works with. I hear a voice I recognise, it’s a song called Sulk, and it sounds a like a big Scott Walker number.

Caffy’s off to the Manics’ Anti Nazi League gig, so we get leave for the train to London Bridge. The Bank Holiday means peak fares on the trains so we give up our plan of going to Euston and head for Victoria Coach Station where there are long queues for tickets. Eventually we get a bus late in the afternoon. We get back to Manchester and my mum has forwarded Thom’s latest letter. I lock myself in Val’s bathroom to read it. If only I could have read it before I’d seen him. All that stuff we’d touched on in the dressing room about losing it is in there; it’s the most personal yet. It feels like he knows that I get it.

Belisha Beacon is “too Blur” so maybe now the second album will be called “Oz” because of a John Updike quote, about “realities we wish existed” that he’s found. (It’s taken me about 16 years but I tracked it down, it’s from Memories Of The Ford Administration). There’s a lot of angst and fear but still the conviction that the album they are working on “is one of the best things I will ever do in my whole life…”

 

10. Gloucester, Guildhall Arts Centre, 25 August 1994

As a warm up for their performance at Reading Festival, the band have announced a low-key gig in Gloucester. As we’ve already decided to go to Reading, it makes sense to go to this gig on the way. Val comes to my parents’ house and Rebecca picks us up in her beige Mini Metro.

When we find the Guildhall, the show is a sell out. Val is on a promise of another interview with a band member for the zine and so we head for a pub to compose questions. But when we arrive back at the venue and we find Tim the Tour Manager, he has forgotten about the proposed interview, the band are supposed to be talking to the NME now and so we hang around to see if they can fit us in later.

We’re shown into a large room where band and crew are eating dinner. Val chats to Ed about her current enthusiasm for Shed 7 and the band’s visit to New Zealand. Thom leaves and we all exchange greetings. We decide to get out of the way and go to a different pub; Val and Rebecca get caught up on zine gossip. I get even more jittery than I have been already.

On the way back we pass Colin, who has got very thin and now sports a smart ‘Al Pacino in The Godfather’ haircut. He compliments us on the latest zine. Thom is just going inside when we reach the venue, the guy from NME has a migraine so there will be no interviews after all. He goes in, pulling his “see you later” expression. I’m Val’s plus-one on the guest list for this show, which leaves me with a spare ticket. I attempt to sell it but want to go inside so end up giving it to Paul from Green River Records, Reading, who is a mate of the band, he’s going to try and find a taker for it. It’s a very small-scale affair tonight. I leave my belongings with Julie from the Management, who is manning the T-shirt stall. We leave her a few copies of PID to sell.

Tiny Monroe are the support. Apparently this gig was their booking originally and they’ve let Radiohead take over. We get pretty close to the front, on Jonny’s side. There are more pedals laid out in front of him than ever before. They come on stage to what I now know is Messiaen’s Quatuor pour la fin du temps, the magnificently doomy string music that they’d been coming out to on the last few dates. In contrast to this Thom looks almost happy as he bounds on stage wearing a red polo shirt. They do Bones, You, Ripcord then Creep (“This is one of our many songs…”) and Thom’s all over the place waving his arms and emoting. People in the front row reach out and ruffle his hair. On the first soaring “Sheeeee’s” he’s in front of me, he reaches over and winks at me and I wink back. And then he launches into the long bit and I have this incredible feeling of KNOWING, I don’t know how else to explain it, something has clicked.

Thom starts to introduce the next song, “After a long period of indecision and not knowing how the fuck to follow it…” and someone interrupts “When’s the album?” “It’s coming!” he exasperatedly replies.

Everyone on stage has smiles all over their faces. Then they launch into My Iron Lung and it’s huge and loud and full of power. There follow more new songs including Black Star, until they play Inside My Head, which is still beautiful to my ears. The song that might have been called Ex-Pat Glitterati is now called Interstate 5. (It ends up being recorded as Maquilladora.) Just is next and it is fast becoming the highlight of the set. Pop Is Dead and Anyone Can Play Guitar push everyone to the edge. …But wait for it, there’s an encore.

Thom and Jonny come back on with their guitars and Thom says “This one’s called Fade Out” and proceeds to pick out the tune on his acoustic, behind him Jonny oscillates his hair and strums his electric. The song is simply heart wrenching. I just about recognise the “La la la’s” from the Astoria when they played it as a full band. It’s cold and dark and beautiful. “We’re sloppy gits really” says Thom when they’re done.

They play Lurgee and Prove Yourself, which much to Jonny’s amusement is still a popular sing along. Rebecca shouts for “Another sloppy one,” from behind me.
“It’s all right this one’s half sloppy” says Thom. Some girl at the back shouts, “Say fuck or something”.

“Say fuck or something?!” Thom repeats, “That’s the sort of thing Rage Against The Machine would do. That means they’re hard.” Cheers and whistles, “And American!” Blow Out starts out gently and ends as a noisy beast of a thing.

 

All the way through this gig Thom has teetered between amusement, anger and aggression. Val says it’s one of the best performances she’s seen. Afterwards we wait for Tim, Caffy or Colin, anyone who could do the interview that we need if there’s going to be able to produce another issue of PID.

Jonny passes us and Val says something like “How was it for you?” and he giggles and grins at us before scurrying off blushing. We congratulate Phil and his new wife Cait and they show us their matching wedding rings. Tim is busy counting T-shirt money, we can’t find Caffy. Paul from Green River gives me a tenner for my ticket and I never did get to give him back the £2 I owed him in change.

We end up outside watching the exits. Just about to give up, we spot Caffy at the front along with most of Gloucester’s indie population. Ed, Colin and a very spiky haired Thom emerge from the doorway. He’s baring armfuls of posters advertising tonight’s gig. “There’s shit loads of these in the dressing room, I’ve just found them.”

He sees me and says “I know you’ll have one” and grins. I try to peel one off the pile, but people are moving in and I end up with about four posters stuck to together. He is swamped by the indie kids, somehow managing to sign some of the posters for them. A girl breaks away from the throng beaming, “He signed my arm!”
Rebecca tells Colin how much she liked Fade Out. I can only stand there glowing, unable to speak. I got a wink and a smile and it’s like he knows how it feels. It was what I most wanted.

We follow Caffy to her hotel where she has a tiny single room. We all sleep on the floor. I prop my head on a towel and am thankful for deep pile carpet. I get a cold and fitful few hours of rest. I only know I was asleep because of the dream I had. When I wake up all I can remember is that I was walking down endless corridors and when I got to the end I was sitting crossed legged on the floor. I got to explain myself. I had the feeling I was forgiven for something.

11. Reading Festival, 26-28 August 1994

The next day we make an early start, dine in the railway station and then motor on to Reading with American Music Club on the car stereo. The rivers of indie kids streaming through town to the festival are a jaw dropping sight. We drop Val at Sid’s place in Caversham (they both have passes and she doesn’t do camping) and then Rebecca and I go back to the site to pitch our tents.

We rendezvous with Val and the Abuse fanzine posse at the signing tent. I try to plan what bands I want to see but I’ve never been to a big festival before and the programme is a bit baffling.

We split up. Rebecca goes off to see some bands; Val and the Abuse gang slope off backstage to get beer and schmooze. I try to get my bearings. I eventually catch a bit of The Verve’s set on the main stage. It’s sunny, it suits them. I’m surprised by the amount of Radiohead T-shirts people are wearing.

We reconvene and everyone else wants to see Hole, I’m the only one who doesn’t get it, I wander off again and see a bit of Sleeper in the Melody Maker tent, and then the Auteurs, one of the bands that I actually wanted to see and then find Val for the end of the Lemonheads’ set.

Rebecca and I manage to find our way back to the tents to sleep in spite of the Wedding Present echoing across the field. Thank god for earplugs.

I waste the next morning waiting for people, being made late by bumping into other people and generally feeling like a bit of a spare part. Eventually I find some friends back on the site. But Val doesn’t turn up for our appointed meeting, at the ice cream van near the back stage entrance. Rebecca and I find each other again and sit in the sun for a while watching whatever happens to be on the main stage (Reverend Horton Heat). She spots Thom, Jonny and their mate Nigel (later of The Unbelievable Truth) heading for the Melody Maker tent. Rebecca wants to run and follow them; I want to play it cool. Thom’s got his impenetrable pop star sunglasses on and they are like a sign that says ‘Do not approach’. I assume that I will see them later.

Girl band Jale are on. We see Jonny hiding behind his hair as a girl asks for his autograph; Thom has disappeared into the crowd. We wander about some more. Colin spots me and says hi. I’m so confused I ask him if he’s seen Val. I feel like a little kid who has lost her mum at the fair. I wish him luck and he says he’s going for a lie down before they play, as he’s a bit tired.

We’ve given up waiting for Val, between her latest faves Shed 7 and Radiohead we know she’ll be at the signing tent soon enough, so Rebecca goes off to see some more bands while I sell some copies of PID to the kids in the queue. They go very quickly and I soon have a pocketful of money. Lisa and Val miraculously appear as the queue for the signing tent gets busy and advise me to join it. Caffy has given the chaps T-shirts to hand out but they are soon all gone. I talk to kids in the queue and give them flyers for the fanzine. We don’t seem to be getting any closer to the tent, I watch people leaving with their signed stuff, a lad has a shirt and Thom has written ‘bootleg!’ on it. Tim spots us and comes over; he says we might as well give up, as the band have to go.

 

I catch the end of Gene’s set and then go to see Pulp, who are my second favourite band at the moment. There are girls in tight tops getting excited about Jarvis, but my reason to be here is to get a bit further forward because Radiohead are on next. Steve Lamacq, who is comparing, plays Ping Pong by Stereolab on the PA and then it all goes quiet.

Time for Radiohead. Thom walks on last in a homemade green T shirt, inscribed “20th Century Skin”, you can tell he’s drawn it himself because of the antennae and the way the i’s are lower case. On the back it says W.A.S.T.E. and I don’t know yet what it stands for but something tells me it is very significant.

He starts the set with bug-eyed shades on. There is silence then he takes the mic and sings alone. “In my mind I where I long for you…” (I find out later that this song is Tim Buckley’s Sing A Song For You off Thom’s much-mentioned favourite Happy Sad. But right now I don’t know what it is). The sun is shining, I have a good view, and I have space to dance. This fragment of a song is out of place and beautiful. It mentions malls so I think it must be something he’s written. It is payback for missing last year’s festival, it says ‘I’m here now and I can sing’, without a pause it become Bones and they’re off.

You, Ripcord, Creep… the crowd clap along trying to make it a stadium anthem. Today it’s a song about “Staring at the sun”; It doesn’t feel quite right here. Duncan the guitar tech brings Thom’s shades back, he threw them away after the intro. They play new stuff and I am willing them on with my whole being, wanting to feel every note, wanting to move about, wanting to scream. They end on Anyone Can Play Guitar with Jonny breaking strings, then grabbing hold of them and spinning the guitar around his head. It all looks great on the big screens and I can see them and the stage from where I’m standing. It’s all over before I’ve had time to catch my breath. I crawl out to the side of the field and frantically dig in my bag for money at a lemonade stand. “Either you’re on drugs or you’ve lost something,” says the man, I must look deranged at this point. I find Val and collapse into a hug. She drags me to another stage to see Shed 7.

Wide-eyed and buzzing, I try to dance off some of my adrenaline to the Sheds but it’s not the same feeling. Val is full of it, as she’s been talking to Rick Shed backstage. Lisa appears and says she saw Ed wandering around backstage looking fed up, and no one has seen Thom since they came off stage. Something wasn’t right. It feels weird to have to watch more bands now. Rebecca and I catch a couple of Elastica’s songs but they’re turgid and dull and it’s too packed to see so we give up. I eat greasy food and avoid watching Ice Cube.

I find Val again and we try to watch Madder Rose. But the lure of backstage beer is too much for her and she disappears again. Lowly wristband holder that I am, I have to stay here on my own, overwhelmed by a mix of joy and frustration. The tent is cold. The realisation that there is nothing else in the world that makes me feel like this is suddenly incredibly painful.

After another night of trying to sleep on the cold ground in my poorly equipped tent, being woken every few minutes by the cries of “Bollocks!” that reverberate around the campsite, I get up for another day of festivities. I wander around the Rivermead Centre record fair in a sleep-deprived daze. I buy Jeff Buckley’s Grace and Portishead’s Dummy. (and set in train my musical taste for the next few years).

I find Val back on site and she takes me to Sid’s place for a much needed cup of tea. When we come back to the festival I lose her again. I stumble into the end of Jeff Buckley’s set and know I’ve missed something important. Later I enjoy Morphine’s set and then have the funniest moment of the weekend seeing Henry Rollins onstage. He looks angry, constipated and heavily tattooed. I can’t take him seriously.

We see Rebecca’s faves American Music Club and then fail to appreciate Red Hot Chili Peppers. I end up in the Melody Maker tent, on my own again, watching Tindersticks. I’m so exhausted I sit down on the ground and cry my eyes out.

Val ran into Colin as he was leaving and asked him how it went. He thought they’d gone down well, having seen the audience reaction but the others felt a bit let down, as Gloucester had been such a good show. The festival had felt like an anticlimax.

On Monday morning, we ride back northwards through the Oxfordshire countryside in the Metro. Val feels nostalgic for last December. Rebecca drops us off, Val and I decamp to my Gran’s empty house. The record player works and we can be as noisy as we like without disturbing anyone. We play all my vinyl and proceed to work our way through a bottle of Southern Comfort with no mixers, as it’s all I can find to drink. We sit up until 2am talking and listening to records. I am learning how to have drunken late night revelations, the kind you never really remember in the morning.

I should probably feel worse than I do, Val can’t believe she has to go and catch a bus at noon with this hangover. A couple of cigarettes on the patio impresses my parents with her punkiness and then I take her to the bus station, so she can go back to Manchester.

I spend the last of my money on a copy of Blur’s Modern Life Is Rubbish and the Sonic Youth cover of the Carpenters that Thom had reviewed in that week’s Melody Maker. I get back home and my brother has bought me the other tune he liked, Flaming Lips’ She Don’t Use Jelly. I book tickets for a couple of the gigs that the band are playing in September so my next fix is already in place.

 

Diary. September 1994

5th: Videohead, a big feature in Select with pictures from the band’s extensive collection of camcorder footage.

 

12th: Val sends tape of the MIL tracks – There is something that reminds me of the Cure about some of the songs, they sound dark and beautiful.

13th: Hear My Iron Lung on Radio 1 and it sounds great.

14th: The Evening Session beams in a live session performance of Bones and a very nervous Thom speaks – Reading wasn’t as good as Glasto, there were “too many egos”, fuelling my suspicion that something strange had happened. He’s miffed, as no one seems to know about the forthcoming tour. I write him a letter full of questions that I doubt he’ll get.

17th: I phone Val, they’re playing on Friday in Abingdon for a Rwanda charity. She says that the reaction to Reading was predictable, the press aren’t going to do a U turn after 2 years of slagging them off. She has a fax from Thom with handwritten MIL lyrics. But not the muffled distorted line that’s been driving me mad.

23rd: I am angry at myself. If I could drive I probably would have gone to Oxford today.

26th: My Iron Lung released. Go to Nottingham and straight to HMV to buy both CDs, Selectadisc (much lamented Nottingham record emporium) aren’t fast enough to put their stock out so I get the 12” in Virgin, it’s not a gatefold but it’s numbered. Inside, the CD is covered in what look like Elastoplasts… something Thom said comes back to me, how he covered everything in plasters when he read some bad reviews.

27th: Today is the Glasgow gig but I’m not there. I phone Val and she’s not even sure if she’ll come to the other shows. She’s not keen on the extra tracks on the CDs. She’s fed up, she didn’t like what I wrote for her other ‘zine, I feel a bit dumped on.

28th: The interview with Thom in NME is almost a tearjerker. They imply that things got so bad that he nearly finished it all. Melody Maker’s piece isn’t quite so bad, and there are cool photos of Jonny giving Thom a haircut.

I phone Caffy. She’s very busy but she takes my address and says she’ll send me an extra Sheffield ticket.

 

12. Leeds, Metro University Union, 29 September 1994

Val phones. She is coming today after all. Rebecca arrives in the Metro and we hit the M1 listening to the new REM album.

In Leeds we see the tour buses outside the University venue. I go and wait for Val near the Union. Her hair is dyed a darker shade of magenta. We bump into a gang of Irish and Scottish Manic Street Preachers fans that she knows and we go into The Dry Dock pub. We drink some Red Stripe and they talk about the band touring in America. I’m in a state of pre-gig turmoil and not really saying much.

Once we’re inside the venue we have a look at the new T-Shirts. Val has a laminate tour pass from Tim. He recognises me now and says hello. We wish him luck he goes off to be busy elsewhere. We stand at the front of stage barrier as the venue is still quiet, but Val moves to the back before Julie Dolphin come on. Once the band starts I’m standing next to a girl who knows the words; she was at the Manchester show in May. Between bands Tim says hello to me again from the stage. The intro tape plays jazz and then Blur, Portishead and Iggy Pop. The band come out not to the doom-laden strings this time, but to a track full of bubbling noises that I don’t recognise. (It’s Alice Coltrane’s Journey In Satchidananda)

Thom’s had a haircut! Blimey he went and did it. It’s not quite a skinhead, more like the short do he had on the Anyone Can Play Guitar cover; it’s a dramatic change. He has orange jeans and a grey T-shirt on.

They open with Bones and You. Thom announces that his “Daddy” is in the crowd tonight to see them for the first time ever. They play Just, Stop Whispering; He asks to be reminded of the words. Creep is “our karaoke song” and sure enough the crowd take it over. I can’t help laughing and a verse in I can see Thom is laughing at the ludicrousness of it too. Fade Out has become Street Spirit. They play Permanent Daylight and Punchdrunk Lovesick Singalong off the new EPs. The wow-w ending note is restored to Inside My Head. Blow Out is the second encore and Thom’s down in the pit, pulled until he falls in and has to be shoved back up on stage again.

The crowd know the words except the ones that no one can make out in My Iron Lung. “It’s number 16 in the midweek’s,” he says proudly. They finish on Pop Is Dead with “one final line of coke for Whitney Houston.”

Val has got one extra after show pass, but she and Rebecca take them so they can go to the ladies. This leaves me in the venue as it clears, trying to not get thrown out. I go to the sound desk and sit on the floor. At least three security guards ask me if I’ve fallen. I must look like I’m off my face; I’m battered and sweaty. Someone gives me a pint of water and I am able to stand up, but I’m not leaving. I spot Paul from Green River Records and ask if I owe him any money from Gloucester. I try to make like I know what I’m doing, stay put and don’t panic. If I behave like I belong here then I won’t get thrown out.

Thom passes through the room from the backstage door; he’s looking for his dad. We exchange startled facial expressions. I see them on their way back a bit later; they are the same build and from the back at least seem remarkably alike. Val reappears; she’s been talking to Colin about setting up a proper fan club.

Tim appears, surrounded by eager girls, tells us that they’re off to a club called The Music Factory and gives me a pass. We go out and find Val’s friend Claire and her boyfriend Ste. Rebecca wants to get changed if we’re going to a club, and this involves an elaborate technique of hiding behind some bushes to put new clothes on. We drive around Leeds to find the club and eventually park on double yellow lines.

We get some drinks, I spot Diane from The Julie Dolphin, Claire and Ste get in without passes (having gone to get money and paid to get in, so much for exclusivity) and then we spot the band members minus Colin, whom Tim said earlier was off for a “romantic evening with his new girlfriend”. Someone is singing along to Cigarettes And Alcohol and I overhear someone else quip that Oasis thought Radiohead were “shite”. We drink and watch Phil dancing and stand around wondering if anything is going to happen, it’s an average indie night with too much Oasis playing. Then The Beastie Boys’ Sure Shot comes on and Thom hits the dance floor, throwing some disco moves that seem to suit the 1970s cop show vibes of the song.

Parklife comes on and we spot Thom picking out the chords in mid air. The DJs try to have a bit of a techno interlude but it impresses no one. They go back to playing standard indie disco fare like the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Jane’s Addiction after that. I sit down and drink my pint, swing my feet and shake my head to the music. I Wanna Be Adored by The Stone Roses comes on and Thom is opposite us, leaning on the wall with his drink, staring at the room in that way that he does when he’s a bit drunk. For a while I wished I were more drunk, drunk enough to see if anyone wanted to dance. But that blank stare doesn’t invite company.

They play Love Will Tear Us Apart; I refuse to dance to Joy Division in public. Then they play Cannonball by The Breeders. Rebecca and I can no longer resist. Ed is already on the dance floor. There is one song left to clear the floor at the end of the night. The opening chords cause an audible groan to ricochet around the place. With an incredible lack of tact, they are closing their night with Creep. Everyone looks uncomfortable and tries not to catch Thom’s attention or run over to kill one of the DJs.

We leave and hit the M62; vaguely lost we pull up at Julie’s Pantry burger van at 3am and then wind our way back to Manchester.

 

 

13. Sheffield, University Refectory, 30 September 1994

We leave Manchester without Val and it takes an hour to get out of the city. Then we have a slightly hairy drive across the moors in the Metro.  Another one-way system slows our entrance into Sheffield, but eventually we see the tour buses parked up by the Octagon (aka the University Refectory).  We end up parking by the railway station and eat some nutrition-free food while I wait for my brother, his friend Andy and my friend K to turn up. We all get back in the car to find the venue. I still have a spare ticket and it doesn’t cross my mind to sell it.

My brother and his mate go off to find the toilets and pass Thom, who stares at them and gives them a double take.  The doors are quite late opening due to an electrical fault. I have time to buy a red My Iron Lung T-Shirt. Rebecca and I get close to the front, but not quite to the barrier, on Jonny’s side near the bass bins. K’s got her earplugs in. The intro tape is a mix of jazz, Strangelove and The Fall.

The Julie Dolphin play, Rebecca is a bit agitated, but I feel different from last night as my old friends are here and I get to show them the band that I’ve been raving about.

The crush sets in as Radiohead come on and play Bones, You, Prove Yourself, Just. “Reading Schmeading” says Thom. He has his orange trousers on again, with a printed black polo shirt this time. There’s too much smoke from the dry ice machines for Permanent Daylight, Ripcord, Vegetable, and a karaoke Creep dedicated in slightly saucy fashion to the Freshers, “wait ’til the bank loan comes through and you won’t be voting Tory again next year.”

Stop Whispering sinks into Anyone Can Play Guitar and they go off stage. The crowd bring them back on for Street Spirit, Lurgee and Benz. Thom performs alone for Thinking About You. “We’ll do one more on the condition that everyone in the room buys the single at the end of the week so we can get on Top Of The Pops.”

It’s very hot again and there is a lot of movement in the crowd that means I have to concentrate on staying upright and I’m not able to get a good view. Rebecca is stressing about finding Tim to get passes. Once you’ve had them once you want them every night. Val isn’t here and she wouldn’t let us have her laminate pass. It was too precious to be parted from.

I ask Tim what’s happening and although he’s very busy, he shows me the tour dates on the back of his laminate, they have a day off tomorrow, they’re going home to Oxford. He asks me if I’m going to any more shows and I tell him I have to go back to Glasgow, but maybe I could make it to London. “Just ask Caffy,” he says.

I would rather leave now with my friends than stay and lig, especially if the band are leaving.  We all go outside to wait for our various lifts home. I realise that it’s actually earlier than I thought, only about 11pm. I try to get back into the venue to get a drink but can’t. A Japanese girl is waiting near the tour buses. I ask her if she is one of the Japanese fanzine writers Miki or Tomoko? It turns out she is Izzy and she’s here following the whole tour. She seems nice and we laugh our way past the language barrier.

Rebecca comes back having checked out the after show disco, a lot of fuss over nothing. I go and fetch the others but they’ve spotted the tour van. We see Jonny surrounded by eager kids. We pull ourselves together and Andy rushes over to Jonny, “You’re beautiful man, can I shake your hand?”

Phil and Ed come by and compliment my brother on the brand new red My Iron Lung shirt that he’s put on because his original shirt is soaked with sweat. People are getting their vinyl signed (I wonder where they keep it during the show?). Thom comes around the corner. “Good Morning!” he says to me.

“How did it go?” I ask, and open the floodgates.

“Y’know, it was very hot, after about three songs it was like, fucking hell I can’t take any more of this… We seem to keep injuring Jonny’s hand, he’s got blood everywhere… I did my back in last night and now his hand…”

“You’re having a competition to see who can get most injuries.” I say,  “What did your dad think to it last night?”

“Well, he’d been for a curry and got a pissed first and he missed the start of the set. When he got there, because I’d said he was there, someone asked him ‘Are you Thom’s dad?’” Thom pulls his ‘what the fuck?’ face, “I don’t think he knew what to make of it!”

A mob of kids move in with a camera and I say, “Have a nice day off.” Thom turns to go but comes back to put his bottle of beer down. He’s holding too many things in not enough hands, a little black bag, a record sleeve that someone has thrust into his hand to sign. Like it’s the most natural thing in the world, I stick my hand out and take the beer. I just stand there with it while he gets a photo taken and then signs big ‘O’s on Jim and Andy’s tickets. I give the beer back but more boys have turned up wanting him to write jocular messages on things. Another girl takes the beer and doesn’t give it back. Tim rescues Thom and ushers him up the street. I mumble, “Run for it”.

Thom wonders aloud where his beer has gone. I don’t have it; He passes Izzy and gives her a pat on the arm goodbye. We all move back to Rebecca’s car. We’re pouring over the map as the tour bus, a coach this time, slowly backs out of the car park into the road. The back window of the large white vehicle is empty except for a blond figure in the middle with his elbows propped on top of the back seats. I wave and he waves back. The bus gathers speed and is gone.

My mother turns up to drive us home and after giving Rebecca some hints on her route, we load up. I am contented to sit in the boot of the estate car so the others can have the seats. K is very quiet. I found out later that someone had felt her up during the gig. The perils of being a female in a crowded and sweaty venue full of rude boys with no respect for personal space. I had avoided unwanted attention at shows so far by dressing like a boy –battered leather jacket, black jeans, Doc Martens – but it makes me angry that you get made into a target just for being a girl wearing a skirt.

Back at home I try to go to sleep but give up and get up for tea and toast. I turn in at 2am and dream vivid dreams.

14. Edinburgh, La Belle Angel, 14 February 1995. Thom & Jonny (Kind of) Plugged In

The tickets for these acoustic gigs, previews of the new album (The Bends) that was finished and announced just before Christmas, are available free to W.A.S.T.E. subscribers. I phone the hotline the day before and leave a message as instructed. Julie from the management calls me back; I’m on the list.

We get the bus through to Edinburgh. La Belle Angel, a small club hidden away on the Cowgate, takes some finding. Rebecca and I kill time until the doors open at 7pm and right on time a load of people suddenly turn up. Inside, we go down a long passageway and find Tim who has the guestlist. Ed, Colin and Phil are mulling round. Once we’re inside and sitting down, Ed comes over to say hello and seems extra tall. He asks after Val, expecting to see her with me, and says she sent the latest PID to them. I tell him what a great idea this night is and then promptly run out of things to say. He goes off to mingle. Colin says hi too.

Rebecca spots Thom hovering about with his coat on. As more people show up we shuffle ever nearer to the front. I’m near a pillar – front and centre – perfect.

After a little wait Thom and Jonny come onstage from outside (this place is too small to have dressing rooms) with two acoustic guitars and Jonny’s battered Fender.

They play My Iron Lung, with Jonny twanging something resembling the song I’ve heard before. Street Spirit, which works so well like this and Banana Co that, Thom says, is “better used on the Criminal Justice record than on the album.”
“It’s very early,” says Thom “You must all be sober.”
“Nooooo” comes a cry from the back of the room.
“Well apart from one person.”
They perform Nice Dream. I hug myself and try to stay quiet. Rebecca is attempting to tape the show on her tiny tape machine.

They do High And Dry and Thom says it’s about Evel Knievel. Someone shouts “Who?” and Thom groans “Oh God, that makes me feel old.”
They play the very new Bulletproof and then swap guitars for Lozenge Of Love. Jonny manages to envelop the acoustic in the same way he does his own guitar. Bent over and wrapped around, hidden behind his hair.

Fake Plastic Trees is for “The people in the Fan Club who are all on the guest list.”
They end their short set with You. As the applause dies down Thom says “And now for those of you with tape recorders: The Album.” Planet Telex sweeps onto the PA but everyone is chatting. I spot a girl from my English class. Rebecca and I move back towards the bar to have a seat. About half way through the first side of the album I give up trying to hear it, there’s too much chatter.

I go to the bar and get a pint of Grolsch and almost spill it as an enthusiastic Colin bounces into view and asks “Was it good?”
“I’m speechless,” I say, “This was such a good idea!”
“What’s your favourite?” asks Colin.
Nice Dream – from when you did it ages ago – I loved it. And then you didn’t play it again for a long time.”
“Portsmouth? London?” says Colin, keen to work out where I’d heard it.
“I dunno,” I say, “On that tour.”
The album play back is half way through and Just comes on.
“This is Just,” says Colin.
“Yeah,” I say, “I like this one.”
Colin mimes a bit of bass and goes off to mingle.

I sit back down and drink my beer too fast. Rebecca spots Thom on the way to the gents and suggests we go and stand in a more opportune position to catch him when he comes out. We go back towards the stage and mill about and when he appears he spots me and comes to say hello.

I gush about the show and find I’m offering him a hug and being taken up on it. His coat is furry. We have a few more brief words and then some autograph seekers descend on him. They don’t want to speak to him just push records and pens under his nose. I step back and listen to the still-playing strains of The Bends. We’ve reached Black Star; I’d forgotten this one! I twirl around on the spot laughing, having a happy moment. We’re standing here with Thom listening to the most important record he’s ever made, the most important record I’ve ever heard and he knows that I get it and I know that he gets it.

At this moment I don’t care if I make a fool of myself. The kids get Thom to do drawings with the autographs; I look over their shoulders to catch his eye and exchange grins. He signs someone’s Russian book, a T-shirt – one of the free ones given away tonight that we’d somehow missed out on. As quickly as they come, the kids disperse. He side steps into a little recess at the bottom of the stairs and stays to talk to me. We have to lean towards each other’s ears so that we can hear. “I hate it when they’re so drunk that they don’t know when to go away,” he says.

I tell him again how great the set was tonight. He shrugs and points out that Jonny was playing notes all over the place. He’d been really nervous, it’s been a while and this is the first of these acoustic sets in Britain. The album has finished playing by now. (I must have blinked and missed Sulk). Thom goes over to the DJ booth to start it again and comes back, keen to tell me about the dance mixes on the new single, which he seems happy about.

“How are you?” I ask, prepared not for a cursory ‘I’m fine’, but for a full status update.
“Ok…but…” he begins, “I managed to get the flu after not having anything for about six months about 3 days before the Oxford gig… I took three paracetamol before I went on and it was like ‘bleugh’!”
“What happed to the homeopathy?” I ask. (Mentioned in an earlier letter – might have been a joke about Kurt Cobain…)
“Fnnnarrrr!” he snorts, “Pure paracetamol now.”
“Oxford was with Supergrass wasn’t it?” I say changing the subject slightly.
“Yeah,” says Thom, “They (he nods behind him to Ed and Colin) like them but I’m not….” He trails off not wanting to diss them too much.

I ask him if he got my latest letters and he says “Yeah. ALL of them. It’s just after something that happened last year and I’m so damn busy…”
After receiving a disturbing letter Thom is now less keen to reply to everything he gets sent. He asks me not to tell anyone the details. I gasp and interrupt his flow and he never really gets to the end of the story.

Somewhere in all this Rebecca asks him about Marion, who will be the support on the tour. He picked them out of a batch of crap demo tapes, and he quite likes them.
Reluctantly he says” Well I suppose I’d better go and do my job…” He moves to go and I touch his arm and we shrug at each other.

Rebecca and I go and sit down near the door and watch a group of lads talk to Ed and Colin. Phil has gone. Jonny has been wandering around the venue all night, unbothered by anyone, just making everyone marvel at how skinny he is.

Thom is still mulling about, but he’s on his own now. People have got what they came for and they don’t seem to just want to talk to him. He sticks his hands in his pockets, blows his nose on a bit of tissue and looks very vulnerable. He shrugs as I catch his eye. One of us says “Well that’s that then.”
He passes us on his way out, “See you on the tour?”
“Glasgow definitely,” I reply “and as many of the others as I have money for.”
He pulls a face and is gone.

Shortly, Tim appears and sits with me. “So what about Val?” I explain she’s been busy with a new job and he says “Fuckin’ ‘ell – Work?!” We agree that this is indeed a strange development.
“So are you coming to the dates?” he asks.
I list a few of venues that I think I’ll be able to go to. Rebecca says something about it being two great bands on the bill and how as she’s providing the transport, she’ll be along too.
Tim says the Oxford show was really nice, people shouting for My Iron Lung. It didn’t get the radio play it needed though.

“But High And Dry” I say, “Surely? There’s a lag time before the tour, it should get played because it’s great!” He says just to tell Val that we can come along to any dates. Colin appears, needing Tim to take him somewhere and he pulls a face at me. They leave with Ed in tow.

There are definitely no T-shirts left. We say more goodbyes as we go out the door into the cold Edinburgh night. It’s windy and rainy but I can hardly feel the pavement beneath my feet. I hyperventilate with joy. We walk back to the station and catch the bus. We go into a burger place to use the loos and check that the tape Rebecca made of the gig has worked. Back in Glasgow, it’s Valentine’s night and we have to wait in the cold for a cab back to my flat. As soon as we get in, I copy the tape.

 

15. Wolverhampton, Civic Hall, 13 March 1995.

12 March

I take the train to Manchester with Rebecca. When we get to her place, Val has a special promo copy of The Bends on vinyl, dispatched from Caffy. My immediate reaction is that it’s a masterpiece. It’s so different from the first record but more recognisable as the band I’ve come to know.

Then we watch her advance copy of the Astoria video. I spot my arms aloft, my watchstrap clearly visible during the first few songs. I don’t have time to take it in yet. We also watch the video clip for High And Dry – no Hollywood clichés are left un-filmed as the band perform on a California hillside while being drenched in water, they all look very determined not to crack their faces. Jumpers are stretched with the weight of film rain. We talk until late, planning the next few days.

13 March

The Bends is released today. Rebecca is over excited about seeing Marion again and I only care about one band at the moment and I don’t feel like talking about the support. We go into Manchester to survey the record shops. The Bends is in window displays, piled high and playing out all over the place. For old time’s sake I buy the cassette in Piccadilly Records. They’re playing it in HMV too, so I buy my copy of the Astoria VHS there. We return to Val’s flat where she spends about three hours getting ready. We go back into town to Chorlton Street and catch the coach to Wolverhampton. I put my new tape in my Walkman. Val taps me on the shoulder from the seat behind to tell me off for sighing too audibly as it unfurls itself into my headphones.

On arrival in Wolves we go on a memory-sparking walk to the Civic Hall and have some beer in the pub. We make signs advertising the fanzine. Later we find Tim on the door of the venue, chasing off bootleggers. He presents Val with a laminate pass and says there are after show passes for us on the door. We hand our zines and our sign to the merchandise stall, leaving Rebecca to go to the front of the stage. Val and I get more beer and sit on the floor to talk. It feels like tonight is going to be significant. The album is real, there is a buzz in the room, and we can feel the excitement

I wander down to the front as Marion come on and the extra beer doesn’t make them any easier to appreciate. They’re all right, but they don’t exactly set my soul on fire. Rebecca disappears once they’re done and I am left alone to apply some determination to getting to the very front. I find myself talking to a skinny girl and a drunken boy who was here for the last show and who also remembers ‘Bra-Girl’. I’m standing in virtually the same place as last year with a touch of de ja vue kicking in as I hang onto the barrier.
Thom has an orange Harvard sweater and sunglasses on. Colin stands very still while Ed does a lot of moving. Jonny plays one-finger keyboard, his guitar slung around his back for Planet Telex. They’re playing the album tracks. Somewhere in-between songs Ed spots me and flashes me a grin. I return it and give him a thumbs up. I’m all mad hair and sore arms, thrashing about to make space for myself at the front. During Blow Out, which has migrated to mid-set, Thom is dead centre and stretching out his arms to the crowd. We make eye contact and exchange daffy grins, I stretch my arms out in return. Creep is the penultimate song. I thought they wouldn’t play it today, but it’s still their song.
“We’re not the next U2,” says Thom, “U2 are the next Radiohead, they’ve got a lot of catching up to do.”

I stagger out at the end through lots of Nirvana T-shirt wearing teenagers. I find Val and Rebecca in the ladies. Val gives me a hug, she says I look as bad as when I was at Reading. I’m slightly hysterical. I’ve got it bad. I retrieve my bag, change my shirt and stick on my pass. Tim directs us to the bar, which is closed. He goes away and presently returns with a crate of Stella.

 

At the arrival of the booze the bar suddenly becomes busier. Present are Caitlin Moran from The Times and Peter Paphides from the Melody Maker; Caffy, Caffy’s mum and her chap; assorted sweaty indie kids; some members of Marion and their sundry hangers on; Colin, Jonny, a bottle of champagne that Caitlin Moran soon commandeers and Tim, who continues coming and going.

I stand on the fringes as Val chats to some journalists. Rebecca is rambling on to me but I’m not really listening. I keep nodding and smiling and drinking. I spot a small group of people and there’s Thom in his big coat. He ducks around some people and pulls the wickedest face at me and waves. I lean over and grin back. He’s got a can of Guinness from somewhere. He breaks from the group and comes to talk to me. We lean on a mirrored post. I tell him about the record shops this morning and how exciting it was to see the record at last. He tells me they were at the Chipping Norton studio, where they did the first record, recording a B-side on their day off, with no producer just making it up, how it was like old times and how ace it felt. He says it’s weird that they’re still playing some of the old stuff, he wrote Stop Whispering when he was 17 and it feels strange to be playing it alongside the new ones. We talk about a couple of the reviews and he says something about John Harris in the NME talking about “The wind of change”. Val and Rebecca join us and talk turns to the band’s appearance on Top Of The Pops. Thom says their transit van was a bit of a contrast to Stevie Wonder and all his minders. The studio was full of dancers hired to accompany the chart acts.

Thom says things have been a bit of a “headfuck” (his favourite phrase at the moment) the boss of EMI took them to a really expensive restaurant and got them drunk, they couldn’t quite believe he was being nice to them. “He can smell money” says Val cynically.

We talk about the new PJ Harvey album (To Bring You My Love). He liked the first one and the single’s clever but she’s sacked the band, sacked the management, it’s how it goes. It’s all a bit too Nick Cave now. Rebecca eagerly asks about Marion and he says “Well I like his voice…”The only support he’s really gone for has been Strangelove…

We talk about some of the magazine features that have gone with the album launch. He knew the MM one would turn out unbalanced, the way they jump on something he said about “my fear of women”, he pulls a face. The Vox one took four hours to do.

Val mentions the density of Nirvana T-shirts at this show. “Well,” says Thom half joking, “We’re filling that gap. Kurt was ill. Paul (producer of the first album) says so. He was just trying to express himself.” As for Eddie Vedder, who Val quite likes, he’s not really on the same wavelength, he liked a couple of the songs…
“The Maker wrote about you like you were dead, and I wish they wouldn’t.” I say with disgust.

“They want all their pop stars dead,” says Thom.

He’s not going that way for them, all that stuff in that piece by The Stud Brothers had upset his mum.

We talk for a long time and cover a lot of musical ground. Thom makes to leave and I tell him about standing next to the same bloke as at the last gig, and remembering Bra-Girl. “Oh yeah,” says Thom laughing, “you were just about standing in the same place.”

Val tells him we have to wait for the late bus back to Manchester and he seems bewildered that we don’t have a B&B. We say our goodbyes and head outside where Caitlin Moran is snogging Pete P . We have plenty of time to kill and we wander across town and marvel at our good fortune. We get to the bus shelters to freeze for a couple of hours sitting close together and nodding off. The bus finally comes at 3.30am and we float back to Manchester.

 

16. Sheffield, Hallam University, 14 March 1995

The discovery that we have to catch the last train back to Manchester from Sheffield tonight puts me in a bad mood. The last train is at 10.45pm, I’m convinced there will be a race to catch it even though the venue is pretty close to the station. Rebecca leaves early to interview Marion. Val and I follow later and I meet my brother and his mate (who came to the previous Sheffield show).

Tim has put me on the list. This is a different venue to the last time they played here (this is the other University) and it’s a wide stage with everything in the one room. We stand at the sound desk and Val encourages me to go to the bar. I have several pints and avoid watching the support.

I end up being pretty wasted and this is the worst remembered gig I’ve been to so far. I danced a lot at the edge of the mosh. Inventing a hand-jive for Planet Telex. I’m happy and sad at once and I don’t understand why.

The gig ends in time to get the train after all and I have to leave without looking back.

Me and my hangover get the train back to Glasgow in the morning with the day’s music papers for company. Reviews of the album abound and there are a strange set of photos of Thom with a dog in the NME.
When I get back, I convince my flatmate JC to come with me to the show in Glasgow tomorrow.

17. Glasgow, The Garage, 16 March 1995

I spend the morning running about at Uni trying to print an essay that I have written in the one day I had between shows. It is too short but it will have to do. For the duration of this tour I’m doing as little work as I can get away with and I don’t even seem to be missing many lectures.

In the afternoon, I walk up Sauchiehall Street for a reccy, the venue isn’t far from my flat. It’s raining and I think I see a tour bus going past. Rebecca turns up outside the Garage to instigate a queue where she is joined by the travelling Marion contingent, and my new friends Anne and Maree (the Manics fan who was at the Edinburgh show who I have since been hanging out with). We file inside as the doors open and I find Tim at the top of the stairs. I have a brainwave.

“Am I on the list tonight?”
“You can be,” says Tim “but you’ve got this far…” he points to the ticket in my hand.
“I’ve kind of promised it to somebody.” I say, giving him a pleading look.
“OK.” He says, “Wait there.”

He goes to sort it and when he comes back I use the payphone in the foyer to call JC back at my flat. She’s been indecisive about coming and I make her mind up for her. “Get down here. Now!”
I run back downstairs and approach the guy who is giving out postcards on the door. It’s still early and it’s not busy yet. I give him my ticket and explain that it’s for my friend. I tell him her name and describe her. He seems a little bemused but agrees.  I go back upstairs, call JC again and tell her the plan, then race to the bar to get a pint.  Marion are already starting. I find the others standing on the left hand side of the stage. I stand behind them for now. I drink half my beer and trade scathing comments about the band with Maree.  I have completely gone off them and they don’t stand up to repeated viewing like Radiohead do.

On the way back from the ladies I find JC and bring her to the front. I try to explain how she’ll have to protect herself if she wants to stand here in the crush but she puts me in my place, she’s seen Stiff Little Fingers here and she knows the score. Maree, Anne, JC and I take over the front row from the Marion gang and put jumpers over the barrier to protect ourselves.

Thom’s got a little blue top on tonight and is all belly button and Paddington Bear hard stares. This is the aggressive and confrontational Radiohead that I’ve seen in Glasgow before.  I feel better for being less pissed than in Sheffield and more conscious of the details. Ed is having major guitar trouble. They play Blow Out mid set and Thom says something about it being the last time they let the crew choose the set list.

“Blah Blah Blah” shouts a Glasgow heckler.
“Blah Blah Blah? Is that the best you can do?” Thom gives his best middle finger and launches into something loud.
We’re getting totally crushed at the front. Thom looks at us, concerned. I get a set list at the end.

Afterwards we reconvene near the production office in the foyer. JC is enthusing about Ed. Jonny, Phil and Colin all go past and then Ed, who speaks to me. “That wasn’t bad,” I say being understated. He disagrees “It was about the worst gig I’ve ever had with all that guitar trouble.” He doesn’t seem too troubled though. I say “See you in Preston.” And he’s off again.
JC is open mouthed. “That was Ed!”
“Yeah.” I say.
“Ed’s nice!” says JC.

I know now that Thom will come out last.  He appears just before 11pm in his big blue fake fur coat. “Have you seen that Japanese girl who’s following us round like you are?” he asks. I haven’t seen her. He’s concerned about her. I ask how the gig went last night. “Fine,” says Thom “but we got to the end and I was going to say ‘thanks for having us in…’ but then I couldn’t remember where we were, I nearly said Dundee, but then Aberdeen, Dundee? Was it Dundee? Shit. In the end I just said Scotland.”
I introduce JC and say I’m proud of her for sticking it out and staying at the front.
“You looked like you were getting killed down there!” says Thom.
“Yeah it was murder.” I reply.
I feel self-conscious now I know he can see me. He wanders off in search of the Japanese girl but soon comes back. “What am I going to do now?” he asks.
“Well,” I mug, “There’s the super indie disco boogie upstairs.” (The Garage is, at this point in the mind-1990s pretty notorious for its indie discos, where misbehaving Glasgow students end up after running out of pubs).
Thom pulls a face and goes to find Jonny. They come back. He shrugs and goes upstairs.

I round up the remainder of my people and we go upstairs to The Attic, the Garage’s midweek disco. When we get to the door, the bouncer is trying to stop Thom from taking his rider-beer inside. We go in and loiter on the dance floor. Thom and Jonny find some people they seem to know and stand at the bar.

I get a beer and sit out the hated Oasis. I dance to Sabotage. Back at the bar Thom can’t get a minute to get served because of people asking for him to sign things. They play Help by The Beatles and Thom pulls a face. “Better than Oasis” he says. “Or Blur.” I’m about to argue the point on that one, when Tim appears to take them away. They’re driving to Preston tonight.

“Should have given you a laminate!” Tim says to me as they leave.

 

18. Preston, University of Central Lancashire, 18 March 1995

I wake up early, flushed with excitement and pack my rucksack. I’m learning to travel light. I’m reading 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez for my English Lit course. I get through a lot of it on the train to Preston. I’m early when I get there, so I go for a cup of tea in the shopping centre close to the station. I go back and meet Val from her train and we find the nearest pub. It’s a long walk to the Uni where the gig is. She’s the jittery one for a change. Rebecca is already there at the door and a queue is in full swing. We dump our gear in her Metro and return to form a guest list queue. Inside we say hello to Tim and take our zines to Pete on the T-shirt stall. Rebecca goes off to be with the Marion contingent at the front while Val and I go to the bar.

It’s a smallish venue but tiered so that the view is pretty good from all over. We go up a step and sit near the sound desk. We get through Marion with more beer and then stand up for Radiohead. Val can feel a charge in the atmosphere and her hunch is justified when they come on. Back here the new stuff sounds ace. The crowd are going crazy and it looks mental at the front, for a while I’m glad of the space and the view I’ve got from back here.

That is until they play Vegetable and Thom goes over the barrier into the crowd. I’m dumbstruck and I can just about hear Val saying “I’ll bet you’ll want to kill me now!” as it was her idea that I should stand with her tonight. I’m kind of glad I could see it all happening though, it would have been nice to be at the front but I can’t deal with getting crushed two nights in a row. Thom gets back up on stage and says something about “body contact” but doesn’t do it again. This is the best gig where I haven’t been at the front. The sound is better. It’s certainly a different experience from back here, less intense but less physically demanding.

We go back to Pete at the T-shirt stall and Val chats with him while I choose a shirt. We’d quite like his job but he’s pretty nonchalant about it, an old hand at this game. We see Phil. Val talks to him about drumming. She seems a bit drunk. We hang around in the foyer, the others are thinking about leaving as all around us people are packing up gear. I don’t want to go yet. Always wait until you’ve seen everybody. Thom arrives, drinking coke and complaining about having “Sticky trousers”. Val makes a smutty remark. “Is she pissed?” he asks me. She asks him about the crowd surfing.

“It’s what I live for! I’ve wanted to do it for ages. I want to do it during Creep, what do you think?!” We ponder this and doubt he’d get back to the stage in one piece. But we think he should get Fan Contact more often. He looks at the T-shirt Rebecca’s just bought and points out Mother’s Day on the list of dates. “Well it’s important isn’t it?!” Val admires his denim jacket; “I just got it in Oxfam today for £10, good eh?” The stitching is coming undone at the back but on Thom it looks cool.

The Japanese girl Thom was looking for in Glasgow shows up and he introduces her to us as Myoko. She stays with us but doesn’t say much. We’re all standing around wondering what to do next. Someone says isn’t there a thing on upstairs? I pull a crumpled flier from my pocket. “After Radiohead” it says. “Let’s have a look at that.” Says Thom, he takes it and reads aloud, “A mix of mainstream and diverse indie” and looks back at me. “A diverse selection of Blur and Oasis.. and Elastica if we’re lucky!” Did I say that or did he?
“No Radiohead though.” He says.
“Lots of people shuffling about.” I say, “Oh dear.”
“But its two quid.” He doesn’t like the idea of us all having to pay to get in. Val points out that this is a daft notion and waves her laminate in his direction, indicating the one on a lace around his neck.

Suddenly a man in a suit and a man in a security uniform rescue us from our dilemma. “If you’d just like to follow my man here upstairs he’ll show you the way to the bar.” Thom motions to us lot and the guy nods and we’re all shepherded upstairs to a dark Union bar busy with student drinkers and noisy guitar music. Before we know it Thom is buying drinks – Red Stripe all round except for Rebecca who is driving. We move away from the bar because people keep spotting Thom and wanting his attention.
The music can just be heard over the inadequate PA. When Thom realises what is playing he leans over excitedly. “It’s Fugazi!” I don’t know their stuff and he tells me a bit about them. “The first three albums are brilliant.”

Val asks about the rest of the tour. Truro was chaotic and the best show so far for Thom. “We’d pay for them to come and write about it but nobody will go outside of London.”

Colin’s been playing with his Apple Mac after shows. Thom and Tim went raving in Bristol. (He mimes some dance moves.) I can’t help laughing but he can do it with a straight face. I’m reminded of Val’s version – the big fish, little fish, cardboard box hand jive. They met the guy from LFO and his girlfriend kept asking them if they had any speed…

They have a hectic schedule, with half a day at home before they go on to the USA and Canada. He’s not seen his girlfriend for weeks, he’s paying rent on a flat when he’s never there, for all that he’s paying, he says, he might as well put his stuff in storage and move into a room at the Randolph (the biggest hotel in Oxford). The only thing stopping him is that he’s not been back there long enough to sort it out. Now he is in a position to buy a house and he doesn’t have time to find one.
PJ Harvey’s Sheila-na-gig plays and he says “They were good, her band.” The DJ follows it with Elastica and we all agree that they are rubbish. “They were nice, apart from her, I met Damon as well. He’s very tall.”

A random guy comes up and gives him a phone card. “Here you go Thom, phone home. You don’t belong here,” then goes away. Thom examines the card, it’s just an ordinary phone box card, and he puts it in his top pocket next to his shades.
When the others are in the ladies I’m left with Thom, talking about how hectic it was all getting. It goes quiet between songs and he sighs and says “Isn’t my life boring!” and pulls a ‘not’ face. I tell him he’s lucky.

Some of the other punters are getting a bit rowdy. “Stewdants!” says Thom and we move out of the way. We’re talking about the press coverage of the album when another random bloke offered to buy Thom a drink. Somehow this turns into a round for all of us. Thom’s not finished his first, Val puts her can unopened into her bag and Myoko and I crack ours open. When he finishes his I give him mine, suddenly reaching that stage of drunkenness when I know I’ve had enough.

He has to leave at 1am and keeps asking us the time. Those of us with watches offer them so he can check the time. Val asks if she can have an interview tomorrow, by this time we’d decided that we were definitely going to Middlesbrough for the next show. “Be sure to be there between 3 and 4.” He says. We take that as an affirmative. We assert our intentions to do the rest of the tour.
“But not London.” Says Thom. “Don’t do London.”

We all stagger into the courtyard outside and stare up at an illuminated church spire. Val says it looks like a rocket. And it sort of does, all buttresses shining in the lights. “Like all the spires in Oxford,” laughs Thom. We all stare at it drunkenly for a while. Then he has to go. We leave him and go to get the car and give Myoko a lift to her B&B (he was very concerned that we help her.) Then we three head into the small hours and back to Manchester.

19. Middlesbrough, Town Hall, 19 March 1995

We keep putting off our departure from Manchester and when we eventually get on the road we get diverted onto the Motorway (which we’d been avoiding as it didn’t make for easy going in the little Metro), but we still manage to arrive in Middlesbrough by 3.30pm.

Outside the Town Hall we find the tour bus and the crew loading gear from the trucks using a couple of ramps into the back door. Myoko appears from nowhere. We can’t see a way in. As if by magic Thom pops up from under one of the ramps. It’s an obstacle course to get in and out of the place. We climber inside and he goes off to finish listening to some CDs on the bus. We go into the main hall and sit down at the side. Izzy appears from somewhere and greets Val with enthusiasm, she sees me and remembers me from Sheffield last year. We introduce her to Myoko and they chatter on in Japanese from then on.

About half an hour later Thom comes back, “Right then,” he says, “you’re not all coming in are you?”

We’d already agreed that Val is doing this interview on her own. Me, Rebecca and the Japanese contingent sit and watch as the crew check the lights. Tour Manager Tim, sound man Jim Warren and Phil are playing Frisbee in the large space in the middle of the floor. Jonny is at the sound desk. I show some of the PID zines to Izzy and Myoko. Val comes back after over an hour clutching a half drunk can of Red Stripe.

The band start sound-checking Human Behaviour in fits and starts as they test the levels. Val doesn’t want to stay (“Sound checks are boring!”). We all troop outside, it’s cold and just about everything is shut. Middlesbrough on a Sunday afternoon doesn’t have a great deal to offer us so we have to go into McDonalds, the only place open, which seems to be where everybody else is hanging out. Rebecca finds Alison and Fiona (her fellow enthusiasts) and we leave them to their Marion-mania.

Val and I walk up to the railway station, and huddle on a bench on a deserted concourse with her Dictaphone between us. There are no trains so it’s the quietest place we can find to listen to the interview tape.

Thom has told her lots of stuff about being in the studio, different stories than the ones we’ve already read and he seems so much more sorted than he did before they’d had the album finished. He feels vindicated. Both he and Jonny had “gone off on one” somewhere along the way but it makes sense now it’s finished.

Time is getting on so we go back to the venue where Val floats in with a wave of her laminate unchallenged by the door staff. I have some trouble as Tim hasn’t left the list yet. I call to Val and she finds him and comes back with AAA stickers, which silence the stroppy woman on the door. Everyone is inside now. I agree to meet Izzy at the front later, then Val and I look for the bar. It’s a rather mangy arrangement in the basement, shared with the other venue on the site. After a beer, we decide that we can’t go on without hearing the rest of the interview tape. We soon discover that the only place where it is quiet enough to hear it is in the disabled toilet cubical so we lock ourselves in and pin our ears to the Dictaphone.

Thom would like it in writing that he thinks the Elastica record is “shite”. Val asked why he thinks so many foreign fans, especially Japanese, come and follow the band, he says that it might be about Britishness but it’s not the same as with Blur. One day Damon woke up with the idea that he should start wearing shell suits. Val says you had to be there to get the face pull that went with this derision of ‘Britpop’.
Britpop “feels like a party that we haven’t been invited to.” Says Thom.
“Well,” says Val, “in the old Hollywood films, all the best people always arrive late to the party.”
“That’s it! Say that I said that!” laughs Thom.

Thom remembered playing guitar when he was about fourteen, getting drunk with a friend while they attempted to play Wild Thing, he has a tape somewhere. They are talking about loads of stuff and I can barely take it all in. Val’s very proud of this interview, of being able to get one of her proper conversations with Thom onto a tape. I hope she is able to use some of it. We realised somewhere in all our excitement that the cubical didn’t have a ceiling, and we can be overheard. It was probably a bit weird for the other users of the loos.

The support have finished and I squeeze through to find Izzy at the front of the stage, on Ed’s side. I’m cutting it a bit fine and I’m stuck with my head in the speakers, feeling a draught from the bass heavy. The crowd is mad for this one. There are casualties and nutters and Thom doesn’t surf.

I throw my weight about a bit and make a space for myself, trying to feel everything to the tips of my outstretched fingers. Later, I don’t get hassled or forced to leave due to my magic green AAA sticker. There are lots of people waiting around, Tim is protecting people from the bouncers so they can stay inside a bit longer while Thom and Jonny sign things. Two young girls, one with a ‘100% Brownie’ T-shirt on are being very vocal at Thom. She’s so little she looks like she might actually be in the Brownies. “We saw Paul Daniels here, “ she says, “we got his autograph too. He’s short too.”

“Well, you know,” says Thom, “All the famous people are this height: Paul Daniels, Prince…” He steps back and admires her T-shirt. “I was going to get one that just said ‘Brownie’ on it, but I got this Action Man jumper instead.” (It’s blue and it’s got shoulder patches). “I wanted to be Action Man when I was a kid…”
He asks the how old they were, and I don’t catch their ages but they are still at school, they ask him and when he replies “Twenty six,” they look at each other and chorus, “Well, you might as well be dead!”

The St Johns Ambulance people are in the foyer with a girl they pulled out of the crowd. Someone says something to Thom and he suddenly grabs Jonny and pulls him toward the first aid station. The girl was in shock and they were trying to calm her down (like that was going to work).
“If you’re not prepared for it then it’s a shock.” I say, meaning the crush at the front.
“Well,” says Thom, “you’re hardened! The only time I ever stuck it out for a whole gig at the front was for The Blue Aeroplanes, but there was a guy who must have been on acid or something, he thought he was really strong and me and my mate got battered, so never again.”

Thom’s excited to hear that the promoter is taking them all clubbing in Manchester tomorrow. Phil hears about this with less enthusiasm, Mrs Phil is coming and it’s not her scene. “Oh he never gets drunk or anything,” says Thom, “He’s so boring!”
On the way back to Manchester, after we’ve dropped the Japanese girls at their B&B, I remember something Thom said in the interview, he was talking about how much they had to do, how daft it was all getting. “If it gets too much we’ve got a pact, get out the old Radiohead Visa Card and fuck off to somewhere hot and exotic.”

20. Manchester, University, 20 March 1995

Wake up with a strange introspective feeling about last night. I shouldn’t be so paranoid. We go and pick up more fanzines from the printers and then get the bus to Piccadilly, where we bump into Lisa Abuse. She’s up to her neck in exams and isn’t coming to the show. Val, Rebecca and I adjourn to the pub. Later Rebecca tells me that Val thinks I might be losing it. Maybe I’m just not very good at trusting people. I’ve been tired and irritable. I’m not used to being in people’s pockets like this.

We head into the Union at about 5pm, its becoming quite familiar to us in here, we take up our post at the top of the stairs, from where we can hear the sound check, Thom is having another go at Human Behaviour. The band runs through Lurgee twice then Just and Fake Plastic Trees.

Maree and her friend Sadie arrive. They’d had trouble getting tickets and had to concoct an elaborate story to blag their way onto the guest list. I start trying to fill them in on the gigs they’ve missed but I keep getting distracted. Thom dashes past on his way up the stairs, he tries to say hello, I lean past Maree and say “boo” – it somehow fits the face he’s pulling at us. Tim has given me an All Areas pass again and I feel very lucky.
When we get inside the venue-proper I join Maree at the far left of the stage. The very active crowd gets progressively livelier. I give up trying to get any further forward and am out of the crush by the time Radiohead come on. I make a space at the far side and try not to get deafened by the bass or knocked over by the wind and vibrations from the PA stack.

Thom holds up his can of Red Stripe and says, “Does this look like fucking tea to you?” and is fuelled from the outset. The power is theirs. Bones is wired at the start. The crowd know all the words to High And Dry now and then they go mental for My Iron Lung. Creep is all edge of the stage stuff. “It’s still ours and it’s still good.”

“The traditional Prog Rock wig out,” Blow Out is saved for last. There’s water dripping on Thom’s head, like the venue itself is sweating. Maree gets crushed at the front but she’s happy.

I find Izzy, Myoko and the rest of their group. Val appears with instructions for me to protect the Japanese contingent from the bouncers, as they are invited to the after show. I find myself standing firm, trying to look like I know what I’m doing and saying things like “It is impossible for her to leave,” to very large men whose job it is to put us on the street. Eventually Tim appears and we manage to persuade the security people that all these fans are meant to be staying.

Val is hunting for more booze, she’s on a bit of a mission tonight. Her friends Claire and Ste are here. Claire looks very glam in a leopard coat.
We find the after show room; Ed is smoking with some people who are all sitting around a table. There’s a load of us in the room by then, I feel a bit awkward, bedraggled and drenched from the show, but we find somewhere to sit and some warm beer arrives. Rebecca is talking to Fiona and Alison, who’ve somehow managed to stick around, Val and Izzy are deep in chat and I speak to Claire and Ste. More people arrive, Phil and his wife, Colin and Jonny. Thom appears to be smoking. (In Preston Val offered him one of her Berkleys and after deriding her for smoking Menthols, he declined, and said, “Only draw!” with a saucy grin.) They must have finally found some then!

Manager Chris is around with quite a few unidentified people. They’re not going clubbing after all. I talk about festivals and the album to Claire and Ste for a while; they flit about getting the inlay card to their copy of the album signed whenever they spot a band member. Claire gets up, I steal her chair, she ends up going to the Gents because it’s nearer, and Val hugs her when she comes back. Ste says, “You can’t have her she’s mine!” which Thom catches on his way past. He laughs and gets out of the way.

Later he’s sitting cross legged on the floor, signing Myoko’s shirt, we’re sitting around, and he’s talking to Val about the gig. “It was really hot up there. Everyone was getting so crushed. Were you at the front?” he asks me.
Ste, quite well oiled by now asks Thom if his fur coat is blue. I’m rather taken by this coat, and turn round to offer my black leather jacket sleeve for comparison. It seems strangely important to establish what is black and what is blue. (I didn’t understand quite why until later).

Myoko has draped herself over Thom’s knee. She’s leaving tomorrow, to go back to Japan and graduate from her photography course. She’s finally relaxing and enjoying herself after being quite reserved up until now. Language will not be a barrier to her. Somewhere in all this Thom told Val he thought she was cool, it’s her last show tonight too. Tim suggests that I borrow Val’s laminate for the rest of the tour, but she won’t part with it.

Everyone’s leaving; I go for a hug and a feel of that blue fur coat and get squeezed back. Everyone’s hugging each other. Rebecca and I are coming to the next shows, “But not London” we chorus. We troop outside, the last to leave again. Everyone is friends and drunk together. Even Izzy’s wobbling a bit.

With an inner glow we wander off in search of a taxi. The last thing we see at the venue is Thom letting himself into the bus with the little key on a string round his neck.

Back at Val’s, we ramble drunkenly and make suggestive remarks. “Should I get a tattoo or just get a shirt printed? ‘On this day Thom Yorke said I was cool!’”

 

Val Savage

We drop Val down Oxford Road the next morning. As we drive away, waving, her distinctive pink hair and leopard collar recede into the distance.

I don’t know it now, but I’m not going to see her again. I realise later, when this tour is over and I try to get back in touch with her, that beyond the music she likes and the fact that she knows I like this band at least as much as she does, I don’t know Val very well at all.

I know that she gets tired easily and she has made vague allusions to suffering from M.E .or possibly some kind of arthritis. She doesn’t talk about it and won’t answer questions about it, so I stopped asking. She’s older than me, older than the band by a few years too and it just seems impolite to ask. The same goes for anything about her life outside of music. Any enquiries into her past, beyond tales of gigs attended and records bought are carefully deflected.

She has a lot of big ideas and ambitions but for all we talk about them, they never seem to get closer to happening. I am caught up in the whirl of excitement, of the imagination of her plans, we will take on the world and people will read zines written by fans not just the London-centric, stuck up opinions of the music press. One day, maybe, the band will let us run the fanclub… or Chris Hufford will give her a job.

This is 1995. The internet is still a twinkle in a nerd’s eye and Val was still using Thom’s old manual typewriter to write reviews of records played on a stereo bought from a catalogue on hire purchase. Bussing round to the community centre to get the best price for photo copying and exchanging people’s coins sellotaped to cardboard and self addressed envelopes for a samizdat screed of opinions and obsessions.

I was juggling. University, overwhelming, lonely and less apt to provide the answers to all the big questions than I needed it to be. There was now this other side of my life that I hadn’t even imagined a couple of years ago. Free to jump on a train and leave town. To keep gigging until the money runs out. Our heroes (and very occasionally heroines) know our names and buy us drinks.

After a while, the letters stop arriving and Val stops answering her phone. I even call the operator to check if she’s been cut off, but realise that the surname ‘Savage’ is her fanzine nom de plume, too perfect to be real.

She didn’t like the new songs much, Planet Telex and the new direction were already too electronic for her. In a way, her work was done. The band had the confidence to do it now, all those long conversations had made their point. Thom thought she was cool and maybe there was nowhere to go from there.

 

 

21. Norwich, Waterfront, 22 March 1995

It is a very straight drive across very flat land from Grantham, where we stayed the night at Rebecca’s parents’ house, to Norwich. It’s a sunny day; we have mellow tapes on in the car. The Verve, Arthur Lee’s Love.

We follow a ring road around the outside of town until we find a car park near tonight’s venue, then stop at the shops to get a few supplies.

At the Waterfront, Fiona and Alison are already waiting, they’re introducing Izzy to the delights of Diamond White cider. Izzy spots the band on the cover of my copy of the Eastern Daily Press and goes off to buy one of her own. Later Thom and his girlfriend pass us on their way inside, “Is that the Guardian?” he asks.
“No, no just the local one.” I say.
“They picked the worst picture!”

I stick around and talk to Izzy. If Val were here we’d have found a pub by now, but in the middle of the afternoon, there is nothing open. Izzy and I are getting on well, comparing notes, promising to send each other tapes. We have a long walk to the railway station to use the loos, it kills some time. When we get back we settle down close enough to catch a bit of the sound check. Some of the others go a bit nearer to see if they can see anything in this rather oddly laid out venue. They come back with a mysterious object, given to them by a roadie. It’s a bit of one of Phil’s drums (a snare skin) and we end up putting it in the car.

We wait for a long time. We’re too far away from the town centre to do much else. It gets cold and dark. Rebecca is worried about whether we will be on the list tonight. When we reach the door and we’re not, she gets a bit panicky. I’m relatively calm for once and send someone in to ask for Tim. He soon appears, all smiles, and produces passes from his little belt-bag.
The deal with these triple A passes is that we can use them to get in, but not to wander about once inside. We’re only slightly behind everyone else when we get to the front. The Waterfront is a very small space with a low ceiling. I fetch a Red Stripe before the crush starts and get settled in. Soon the usual hyper-feelings take over, all this waiting makes me edgy. I keep my spot in spite of a lot of pushing and shoving during Marion’s set. When they’ve finished I swap places with Fiona, right at the front next to Izzy. We anchor ourselves to the barrier and stand firm. I can feel the pass burning a hole in my back pocket. We’re so close to the stage that even though there are bouncers and photographers in the pit, they’re not going to be in our way.

It is a rapturous set. They play The Bends and Thom is a little loose at first and then a bit more confrontational. By the time he gets to Bones he’s all electric-shock legs and jumps. During Vegetable he teases the front row, leaning over the short distance, grabbing people’s outstretched hands. We can almost touch his guitar from here. Planet Telex is a frenzy “Dance to this you fuckers!” Creep is for “Radio 1 listeners.” It would be perfect if he jumped into the crowd now. There is such an intense and concentrated feeling in the thin, sweaty air  it feels like you could touch it.

I’m not sure how, but I remain uninjured tonight, maybe I’m getting used to protecting myself. There were a couple of people passing out. It’s very hot and the ceiling is dripping. Concern is expressed about this from the stage and Blow Out is dedicated to “the people at the front.”

Ed laughs at me laughing at something. Before Ripcord Thom shouts, “This is fun! You’ve got to make the most of fun!” there is a look of total surprise on his face. The band are on fire and feeding off the crowd’s reaction. As they leave the stage, Ed grabs the central mic and yells “You were fucking amazing!” there are cheers enough for another encore but they’ve already gone.

I peel myself off the barrier and hug Izzy. This was the best gig since the last best one. I fetch some water and find the others. I sit down to catch my breath, can see the Marion contingent talking to Jules, their bass player. I wander outside, the door staff here are a bit more relaxed than they were in Manchester. I see Tim and he says “That’s why it’s good to do so many!”
“Worth it!” I gasp and he’s pleased. Jonny is chatting to some lads who are explaining to him that the girl who was shouting at him wasn’t talking about “Happiness”. She was shouting “Show us your penis…”!

As I go back inside, I pass Thom and splutter “That was good!” and he pulls a face that simultaneously says ‘Understatement! Oh wow yes! And I know!’ He’s in a rush to collect everyone and get going. Tim asks us how far it is to Northampton. There is no question that we will also be heading there, the next stop on the tour, after tonight, we have to have one more.
We take Izzy to her B&B and then struggle out of town on the one-way system. Alison and Fiona are following us back to Grantham to sleep on the floor. It’s 3am and there’s not much traffic. When we get in we catch the end of the late night music show The Beat and to the delight of every one but me, Marion are on.

 

22. Northampton, Roadmender, 23 March 1995

Fatigue and traffic queues. Another one-way city. We have trouble parking when we reach the Roadmender. The others are conferring about directions when I spot Jonny walking across the road some way in front of us. He’s got shades on and big expensive-looking headphones. Eventually we park in a multi-storey then go for a wander into town and have some food.

Back at the venue we see Caffy and then see Thom with his girlfriend again. Izzy appears and we leave the others to go for a walk. Waiting outside venues all day for something to happen is cold, tiring and induces a particular flavour of depression in me. We walk to the market square so she can get some chips; I introduce her to malt vinegar, which she loves. They don’t have it in Japan. We sit and talk some more. Marion don’t really move her either. We spot several of them looking around Our Price. We go back to tell the others that waiting by the venue is a bit of a waste of time, the objects of their interest are out shopping, but they still want to stay where they are. Hanging about with nothing to do takes the edge off my happiness, so when Izzy suggests walking to her B&B, I go with her.

 

By the time we return to the Roadmender it is time to form a queue. Tim comes out to give us the passes today. Thom passes by but it’s like he’s got blinkers on. Despite the power of the stickers we’re penned in behind a fence by the venue staff. It’s getting cold and I’m starting to feel tired.

Today is our last gig. We just want… I’m not really sure what we want. Thom to ourselves again for five minutes? We keep knocking it down, 4 minutes, 3, 2, 1. Izzy has letters for Thom and Jonny, for now they’re stowed in her teddy bear-shaped camera bag. I feel like I must at least say goodbye. We’re in a weird position. We’ve been hanging out with them for the best part of a fortnight. But now their real friends are here we don’t really count. I know I’m being unreasonable but it doesn’t change how awkward and empty it makes me feel.

Once we get inside, I change my shirt, dump my bag with Pete on the merch stall and buy a pint while Izzy bags a spot at the front. We’re very far over on Jonny’s side and there’s a light and a speaker in front of me, but it leaves space for crumple zone. By now I find Marion’s formula posing and guitar slinging hilarious. The place is jam-packed, and I’m glad of being in this spot as there is nowhere else apart from the very front row where I would have been able to see anything. The Roadmender is an old school building with the hall as the auditorium, the toilets are still very school-like, and there are lots of little rooms off to the sides that must once have contained classes.

Thom’s not quite on it tonight. But there are moments that make me frustrated to be stuck standing behind this light. Bones is about “feeling it and meaning it or not and not seeing why he should have to ALL the time.”
He’s giving out chords. Anyone Can Play Guitar in A minor. E minor for High And Dry (I think). I want to off load all my feelings, but chances of escapism are tempered with the knowledge that this is my last show of the tour. Norwich was so good, it flicked the switch and this doesn’t quite do it in the same way.
After there is a lot of waiting about despite having proper passes. Julie from the management is around, moaning about never getting a holiday (as if her’s is an ordinary job!) She’s going to Japan in May with the band. Caffy is around but she’s tired and not making much sense. Izzy and I stick together. I tell Rebecca just to go with the Marion gang and not to worry about me. Colin, Jonny and Ed are talking to people; Phil and Mrs Phil are leaving. No sign of Thom.

I thank Tim for everything and he says, “As long as you enjoyed it.” At the moment I probably look like I’m not. I ask Caffy if she’s seen Thom. He’s had an interview and no one has seen him.

I need air and take Izzy outside. Thom is signing something for another Japanese girl, but his girlfriend is waiting for him and he’s anxious to get going. We catch up with him and Izzy gives him her letters and then nervously in broken English asks him a question about lyrics that she’s been itching to ask all day. He apologises before she can finish. He’s got “so much to do in the next 24 hours.” He turns to me and says, “Can you believe they had me being interviewed coming straight off stage and tomorrow I’ve got to do eight interviews before we go on?”

I make sympathetic noises and say, “It’s not fair.” This is old, stressed Thom. “Good luck with all that…” I trail off because he pulls a face at me. I pull one back, I mean it. He’s desperate to leave. Izzy and I stand there for a second feeling awful and let him go. I call “Goodbye,” pathetically. We go back inside feeling like it’s the end of the world. The others are deep in conversation with Jules from Marion. I don’t like the look of him. We mope about, there’s no booze left and nothing to stay for. When we go outside again, we pass Colin, he remembers us and shakes our hands.

Rebecca and the others want food now, so we find a late night chippy. But Izzy and I don’t feel like eating. How can something that makes you so happy hurt this much? I don’t even understand what I’m feeling. I hug Izzy when we drop her at her B&B. I will really miss her. Rebecca talks all the way home, but I just want to sulk in peace. I really don’t want it to end. I don’t want to go back to reality.

The First Big Comedown. March- April 1995

March 24th -April 3rd

I go back to my parents and promptly get ill. A fortnight of late nights, hangovers and standing around in the chilly night air have given me a bad cold. I sleep a lot, watch videos and write up as much as I can remember about the tour. My brother, who has recently bought a drum kit, identifies the circular bit of discarded gear that I’ve brought back from Norwich as a snare skin. I leave it with him in case he can use it.

The music papers have, as expected, all chosen to review the London Forum show. They all seem to have developed an established Radiohead phrase book. Even the Guardian’s reviewer toes the line.

 
I send a Thank You card to Tim via the management office. There is a TV ad for The Bends with a clip of the High And Dry promo and I keep a tape in the machine in order to catch and record it – but it’s so short it barely registers. It looks very odd among all the other ads for cars and lifestyle that play during the late night Channel 4 Yoof programmes.

Radiohead are going to support R.E.M. at Milton Keynes Bowl on July 30th. Maybe all that talk in the reviews about ‘stadium rock’ isn’t so far off the mark.

I’m still writing up my diary on the train back to Glasgow. I arrive back to lots of post from my pen pals. Kate in Croyden has sent me a tape of the Forum show; it was broadcast on XFM (the London-only indie station). It sounds like Thom was having a weird show. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. Against the odds he seems to be enjoying himself.

Jonny is on the Mark Radcliffe show reading extracts from his favourite poetry – e.e.cummings, Thomas Hardy and Friday Night At The Royal Station Hotel by Philip Larkin. I also find Volume 13 – a CD/ book of rarities that has the demo version of Nice Dream on it. The lyrics are different from the ones on the album, more like the Craig Cash session version that I’d heard at Val’s. I write a letter to Thom that I won’t ever send.

April 11th -15th

Val sends me a parcel of ‘zines but asks me not to phone her because she’s “cross with me.” I’m not really sure what I’ve supposed to have done. I don’t think she liked the fact that I carried on the tour without her. This sinks my mood. I’m running out of money so I go to Edinburgh to get a lift down south with my Uncle. I get back to my parents and find a big square parcel that contains a signed copy of The Bends on vinyl and a 12-inch remix of Planet Telex. Rather confusingly it doesn’t say who it’s from. The next day, another parcel makes things a little clearer. A promo copy of the Astoria video, a CD of the My Iron Lung EP and a Melody Maker compliments slip. I’ve won a competition! I can’t help thinking there’s something fishy going on here…

 

I get back to my University work with a sense of impending doom. Literature rots the brain.

Watching “Astoria. London. Live”

The Astoria is gone now, but my memory of my first visit there lingers on and thankfully there is the video to mark the event.

Those are my arms; God, the director must have hated me. The mosh is alive, it’s moving so much and is so tightly packed that I literally couldn’t get my arms back down… and I had a compulsion to stretch out and reach for the sky or the stage and feel every note, and watching it now, in those early songs I still do. Ed is trying a little too hard, what with the flowing white shirt and jumping on the riser before the first song is even over. Phil’s got his little hat and Colin has a ponytail for goodness sake. But Thom, who starts nervous, comes alive as the set unfolds. Jonny is all hair and lips; they both look so brittle and skinny. The whole gig is as tight as Jonny’s arm brace. So much tension. There were a couple of moments where I thought I might die that day, and I wouldn’t have minded.

I was bruised from the two gigs in two days they’d already done and I was running on very little food or sleep. But we’d had a lift with Thom in the band’s old van to get there and I’d been in a dream-like state all day… He wouldn’t talk for most of it, resting his voice, nervous as hell because MTV were filming the gig, the first time they’d done a whole show for cameras. We’d got into the compilation tape in the van, my first real introduction to Nick Drake, Syd Barrett and a load of newer stuff that I already recognised. A tape I’ve tried to recreate from memory several times since.

As we pulled into central London, Thom put his sunglasses on and went back into himself, psyching himself up. Val and I withdrew to Tottenham Court Road where she forced me to eat something despite the fact that I had no need for such inconsequential things as food. We hid out in the pub for a couple of hours until the gig began. She went upstairs to the seated area, while I tried for one more night at the front, but I got stuck behind some real London gig types, about three rows back and for all my efforts never managed to make it to the magic spot on the bar. (I’m kind of glad of this now, because it’s mortifying enough to have my arms on the video, if you were actually able to see my face, I’d never be able to watch it again).

The bruises on my arms from being at the front the night before in Wolverhampton hadn’t started to hurt properly until I got crushed again in the Astoria’s moshpit.
The band were soon playing like their lives depended upon it. People think I’m on drugs at gigs, but I never have been, it’s just I dance like no one is looking at me and I feel it, all of it, with all my extremities. Watching this gig again, you have to remember that The Bends wasn’t even recorded yet and most of the people in the room had never heard the new songs before, it was only the third night that some of them had ever been played to a British audience. By the time they get to Black Star, the first of the new ones, my arms are stuck in the air, I can see my silver bracelets on one wrist and big Swatch on the other, and I’m wedged in. And then Creep kicks in.

I knew I wasn’t going to survive another moshpit, but I couldn’t move, I had to fight to stay standing up, I’m still there in the slow bit like a drowning woman. But I love this. (I’ve got the shivers down my spine watching it again.) The light is on the crowd and I can see my bracelets as I reach for the stage. I somehow stay on my feet as the song builds through the high note but by the time it hits the climax I’ve fallen back. That’s when I had to move, all I can really remember is feeling like I was being asphyxiated, my ribs being squeezed, unprotected because I couldn’t get my arms down.

Thom reaches “I wish I was special” and someone shouts, “You are!” I don’t think it was me but I’ll never be sure. There is applause and Thom says, “This one is about knowing who your friends are.” And they play The Bends, it crashes in, Ed is still in full Pete Townsend mode, grandstanding it, Jonny doesn’t need to, the song consumes Thom. If you could sing through gritted teeth, this is what it would sound like. I think at this stage I was still in the middle, but a little further back, the low incipient moan of guitar begins the next song, and I know what it is, even if no one else does, I know if I stay here I won’t stay conscious. So I crawl, literally crawl, out to the side. The Astoria has a very wide stage, with a pretty good view across the floor, I have to go quite a way out before the crush loosens enough for me to be able to breathe again.

My Iron Lung. Jonny plays the intro and Thom pulls a face, lips pursed in a “Oh yeah come and get some” pout and he gives an approving nod. The rhythm kicks in and his voice just holds. He’s smiling for the first time, a sly grin; it’s all working now. Is that still my hand in the air? I thought I’d got out by now. The memory plays tricks. The crowd can’t all know this song yet, but it provokes a crazed moshpit. The guitar line comes out perfect, so tense, so wired that it ends up on the album version. Every time I hear it I feel this urge to rent my garments and stretch and scream. They drop into Prove Yourself and I know now that they’re in their element, Ed’s calmed down a little bit and Jonny’s got his head down, all hair. Thom hits the long note; Phil and Coz are just concentrating.

Maquiladora
is the ghost of the nasty rock album that might have got made but in that moment it sounded great, all warring guitar lines and endless John McGeogh chord progressions. Three guitars full on. Thom’s sweating now and Jonny’s shirt is too small. The quite-bit-loud-bit of Vegetable, Thom without a guitar bathed in yellow and then blue light. Jonny’s hair like it’s been cut to look at it’s best when draped over his face as he bends into his guitar.

There is silence as Thom starts Fake Plastic Trees. He’s playing an acoustic for the only time of the night and it descends into a rather scratchy ending from Jonny. They’re almost too self-conscious to be playing a slow one and follow it with the wake up call of Just. I’m still hanging on for dear life but I love this one, it’s mine. People around me are bewildered that I already know the words and by how much I’m grinning. Ed’s jumping about on the drum riser again.

Thom introduces “The single that never was a single” and gives a sly grin – I like to think it was for Val up in the balcony, a little credit for stealing her phrase. And they hit Stop Whispering. Thom’s red sleeves against the blue light of the rest of the stage. By now Ed’s shirt is undone as they go quiet for the “it doesn’t matter anyway” section of the song… it builds to a rather muted, yet still angry “fuck you” less petulant than it usually sounds, meaner. Then a storm of strobe lights finish the song. They don’t pause for breath, going straight into Anyone Can Play Guitar, both Thom and Jonny are bent double over their instruments. The pit is a raging sea again. Ed and Jonny change ends, like Jonny has only just looked up and realised how it’s going, flicking his hair from his face. There are an ocean of hands stuck in the air now. Thom fighting his guitar like he’s defending himself from it. Jonny flicking his switches then in a hail of noise they leave the stage.

When they come back, Ed has a fag on and a towel round his neck, Thom looks like he’s about to start giggling and plays the madrigal intro to Street Spirit alone. Colin has finally taken his crumpled jacket off and is wearing a glittery T-shirt underneath. Thom catches a laugh and sticks his tongue in his cheek like he’s made a mistake but I can’t hear a bum note. There are people up on shoulders now, swaying to a tune they’ve never heard before. Street Spirit isn’t quite yet the thing it will become, but Diane, the singer from The Julie Dolphin is at the back of the stage adding keyboard sweeps to the chorus. The rhythm is constant, Philip still concentrating and Ed is finally holding his red guitar still. Thom’s hair is matted with sweat as the song rings to a close.

Pop is Dead is “Dedicated to the members of the Press as it always has been”, and a few lyrics are changed, “One final cap of speed to jack him off… bunch of fuckin’ losers.” but it doesn’t matter now, because WE are winning.

It’s a flash in the pan sort of song and only a warm up for the real finale anyway. Blow Out begins and Thom whispers something in Jonny’s ear and makes a kiss-off face. Ed is back to showing off, Thom redirects what angry energy he has left and Jonny keeps his tricks up his sleeve until the very end throwing out chords all over the place. Thom grits his teeth, Ed pogos and Jonny thrashes through another strobe storm. I’ve transcended the pain and the tiredness, my memories of the actual event are vague, mashed up with the video, but I was as lost in this song as they were; heads thrown back, eyes closed. Thom’s guitar reaches the floor and he kicks it down, “Thankyouseeya” and he jerks the mic away, leaves the stage in a hail of feedback and it’s over.

 

May-October 1995

MAY

I go to more gigs in Glasgow when I get back, trying to find the elusive feeling and never quite managing it. I have fevered postal exchanges of Radiohead gossip and photos with Izzy in Japan; long sessions of tea drinking and tour stories with Maree after English Literature lectures, and becoming a bit anaemic after a half-hearted poverty-enforced attempt at vegetarianism.

I am living on the edge of my student overdraft and falling asleep listening to Pink Moon by Nick Drake. I continue to not smoke dope at parties; listen to The Bends at top volume at every opportunity and over analyse the meaning of the B-sides. I try to make the rudimentary Radiohead websites work on university computers, hungrily watching any TV clips I can lay my hands on (The Ozone, the Fake Plastic Trees supermarket promo). I watch the mail deliveries waiting for the Ansaphone “fan club pack” to arrive. When it comes the purple and silver metal “R” badge takes a permanent position on my jacket.

I sit up late and write adoring yet sarcastic letters to Thom, some of which I actually put in the post. I worry about what all that touring in America is doing to him. Meanwhile I barely notice how much I am struggling to pass my English Literature course and realise too late that just as I was starting to find some people to talk to, a lot of my friends are leaving to spend the next academic year studying abroad.

May 27th 1995. Later…With Jools Holland on the BBC. Other guests include Elvis Costello, which has me imagining Thom meeting one of his heroes. They seem nervy and intense, you don’t realise how fierce they are until you put them in a room with other bands. Thom’s weird leg shuffle causes some odd comments from my flatmates when we see it on telly.

JUNE

Fake Plastic Trees makes it into the charts and Radiohead turn up on Top Of The Pops (still kind of a big deal). Their performance is beamed in from the USA. To my surprise, Thom now has orange hair.

Thom and Jonny play some songs on Radio 1’s Johnny Walker session, including the first play of Subterranean Homesick Alien, named for “Sir Bob, St Bob!” Dylan. Thom says “acoustic” like he’s from the North of England. The song is so perfect, I play my tape of it continually and it helps distract me from my exams.

More letters from Izzy: she went to the pub with the band in Tokyo when they were over doing promo. I debate going to Milton Keynes Bowl for the REM support slot (I don’t manage it because my succession of crap summer jobs don’t actually make me any money) but some of the set is played out on the radio. I don’t get good enough marks in my exams to stay on my English Lit course. I spend the rest of the summer worrying about what the hell I’m going to do next.

JULY

Izzy reports for NME on the formation of Phil Is Great – a fan club just for Phil!

Britpop peaks with article in Melody Maker. I go to the Leeds Heineken Festival, which is still free, and see Pulp.

Radiohead dates are announced for October/ November. The tour is a gift, a list of towns where I have somewhere to sleep for free.

Just is going to be the next single and it’s getting some radio play.

W.A.S.T.E. Newsletter #9 is a combination of philosophy and football.

There’s an informative Dazed And Confused piece where the band interview each other. Thom mentions Mo Wax records for the first time and Jonny’s started to get him into jazz.

AUGUST

The Just video is brilliant and the single gets into the top 20. Thom’s REM diary is in Q Magazine.

SEPTEMBER

Just is number 10 in the charts. The Chart Show ‘pop fact’ claims Jonny has got married. There’s a photo spread in Smash Hits from the Milton Keynes gig.

The War Child album project happens. The record is recorded and released in the space of a week. The Radiohead contribution, Lucky, sounds like the best thing they’ve ever done. After listening all day, I nearly miss it when it’s on the radio. The reviewers of the Help LP, agree with me about Lucky. Radiohead are “unable to be anything but brilliant”.

I go back to Glasgow to face a year as a part time History Of Art student. I’m reading a lot of situationism and feeling a great deal of self pity, paranoia and confusion. I don’t like my new flat and sharing is doing my head in. I’m drinking too much, trying to get a job and failing. I’m buying clothes in charity shops and dressing up in a shirt and tie.

OCTOBER

The band have their gear nicked in Denver. This upsets me at the time and feels really important. I hang out with Maree a lot and she feeds me with photocopies of Japanese magazine photos of the band. I learn how to blag myself into gigs to write reviews for a student tabloid called Chutney. I resign myself to the fact that Val is no longer answering the phone.

 

23. Glasgow, Barrowland, 31 October 1995

I can barely contain myself. I give up trying to have a normal day and go to the venue at 4pm to find some new Japanese girls have already formed a queue. I talk to some of the other keen types at the front, one has been to three REM dates including Milton Keynes, which has her converted to Radiohead. Another is a mass of teenage hormones and hyperventilation. It starts to get cold and I have a moment of de ja vue. Maree shows up at about six o’clock, I’ve managed to keep our place in the queue and things start to improve. I spot Tim and Caffy, they’re looking for Izzy.

I realise it must have been her I saw from the corner of my eye earlier on and we run up the street to greet her with hugs. She’s changed her hair, brought one friend with her and gained another since they arrived. They all come and stand in the queue with us, no one seems to mind. She saw Radiohead in the USA. It was like “Oh, Hi Izzy! Meet REM!”

I ask her directly how she can manage to afford it. She’s 25 and quit her job in insurance. She’s spending her savings and the exchange rate on the Yen makes it sensible to do that abroad right now. Phil passes and is asked “any spare tickets mate?” by a tout.

Inside the venue, there is a girl with green nail varnish who is impressed when I tell her I’ve seen the band so many times. She tells me I look like one of the characters from the film Clueless. We run for the front. There is no time for beer and we’ve lost Izzy because she’s trying to get a ticket for another of her new friends. We fidget to the funky intro tape until Sparklehorse come on. I’m slightly perturbed by the presence of a double bass, trumpet and banjo on the stage. In this Britpop era these are rarities. They do the maudlin melodic thing, so I close my eyes and drift away.

Tim the Tour Manager is putting out the set lists and lighting some Halloween pumpkins on top of the guitar amps. He leans over and tells us that Izzy and her pal have got in and there’s nothing to worry about. It’s all waiting and tension for a bit longer until the sampled intro and then the shimmering and by now familiar Alice Coltrane piece. With the pumpkins glowing on the amps, it’s all gone a bit magic, mystery and suspense.

Thom appears, hair even more orange that it had looked on Top Of The Pops, in a yellow plastic jacket, big red and white shoes and a dark polka dot shirt. Jonny’s in a floppy shirt, Ed’s had a haircut and Phil’s in bright green.
They go straight into My Iron Lung this will be visceral all the way, I can feel it. Then they crash through Bones and Anyone Can Play Guitar. Smiles and singalongs all round. They are really here and it really is Glasgow Barrowlands again! They do Vegetable, Prove Yourself, High And Dry is a big wallop of a pop song. They play Sulk to our surprise. They do Man-o-War (Oh God, oh God!) They do Blow Out and go off on one and then go off stage.

When they come back they play Lucky, beautiful. They have new gear, which is a bit weird, I’m looking for the familiar stickers and markers, they’re not there. Thom’s acoustic now has a “Protect Choice” sticker and Jonny’s Fender is already developing scars. Colin is being particularly funky and moving about. Jonny is actually looking at the crowd for once. Thom is all flailing limbs.

Maree blacks out and is hauled over the barrier during the penultimate song Street Spirit. They end on The Bends and I feel like I’ve been shot. I’m drenched (the bouncers had water squirters). I sit on the floor once there is room and try to recover. I need a drink. I’m wet through.

Izzy appears. She has a pass and so she doesn’t have to avoid the security guards who are starting to throw people out. I say goodbye to some of the girls I was talking to outside before the show. One has Thom’s sweaty towel… Maree, Sekiko (an older Japanese woman) and I retreat to the toilets and spot Paul Prentice selling his “official” fanzine on the T shirt stall. We mill around. I’m all panic and paranoia but I keep hanging on and hanging on. Suddenly the last of the burly security guys have gone and I see no obstacles. I make a dash for it upstairs, followed by Sekiko.

With a quick ‘Where’s Tim?” to Jim the soundman, which I feel legitimises my being up here, I head for the dressing room area and find… everyone! It feels like a scam. Apart from anything else, I had to see Tim to sort out the rest of the tour. He’s very cool about it, “Just write down names and places.” He can’t believe I’d not been given a pass, had bought a ticket and didn’t want to blag in a load of other people. No, I say, just me. Any gig but not London. I know the drill by now.

Izzy is drinking and is already funny. There’s no Thom yet but the others are all around, Colin is talking to a very boring man. We are perusing a copy of the Radiohead World Service fanzine which has the lyrics to Lucky.

I get my breath back and feel 100 feet tall. Caffy asks about the student paper I’m writing for and says she’ll send me some stuff to review. I ask if she’s heard from Val, but apparently she’s ill and is going to be out of circulation until at least February. She’s not coming on this tour at all. It’s a shame she’s not coming but I selfishly feel better for knowing it’s not because of anything I might have done.
Thom’s off being interviewed by the NME, he comes out of the inner room and then, Charlie Chaplin comedy style, goes back in again (to fetch his eye drops).
I’m feeling bold and come straight out with “You look knackered!” It was too hot and they’d got used to playing half hour sets as a support band so an hour and a half felt like a lot. Maree asks him about Sparklehorse and he says “That guy has melodies I’d kill for.” He wanted something different and not indie guitar, after “bloody Marion”. If not them, he would have had “a techno DJ or something.”

“Want to see something really disgusting?” and he shows us how the end of his finger nail has all but come off and makes a guitar strumming motion in explanation. Earlier Izzy’s pal, Keiko, had bought him some plasters, which he still has. Thom asks me if when they played here with James at the Barras did it sell out? No… he giggles as tonight it has.. “It was awful that one.” He remembers!

Tonight it was quadraphonic sound with speakers at the back, could we tell? Not from the front not really. Phil sees me and congratulates me on my rendition of Vegetable, I was singing it with feeling. Oh my god he can see me from back of the stage. He says it again, “You knew all the words!” When you’re getting killed at the front then you sing like you mean it. They all think I’m mad. I know it.

I ask about the gear. It just went. The whole van disappeared and they haven’t seen the driver since. It’ll turn up in 20 years as memorabilia. Maree gets to talk, the Japanese fans give Thom his presents, Keiko gives him a T shirt. Izzy, thinking of the Lucky lyrics, asks “Who’s Sarah?”
Thom leans in, conspiratorially, “An old friend… erm.. don’t tell Rachel…” It’s all in what he avoids saying. Ah we see. “It just scanned so well.. so there it is…” he grins.

Izzy gives Thom a present, all wrapped up, for his new house. I fidget with my Get Lucky badge (a black cat from an old book club) but don’t get chance in the huddle to give him anything. Thom’s off to bed. “See you tomorrow,” he says.

Maree is very happy as we go outside. I’m skipping down the street. I don’t remember how we got home. She sleeps on my floor. We lay talking in the dark, solving the problems of the world. Eardrum buzz and very little sleep. Excitement.

 

24. Leeds, Town & Country Club, 1 November 1995

I eat breakfast while listening to a tape of Thom and Jonny on XFM sent by my Croydon pen pal (it was only broadcast in the Greater London area). She’s sent the whole session from the Gary Crowley show, it includes another new song, An Airbag Saved My Life, the title is inspired by, “A headline in an AA magazine,” says Thom.

I take the noon train to Leeds, at York as I change trains I walk past Rick Witter singer of Shed Seven. I’d been to see them with Val and she was quite friendly with them. I say hi and tell him I’m off to see Radiohead. I take great pleasure in telling him it’s going to be a sell out show.

I meet Nik, an old school friend who now lives near Leeds and go for a pint. Then to the venue for a quick recce. After a bite to eat, I go back to queue up at 6.30pm and find Izzy and Keiko waiting. I’m on the guestlist and have an aftershow pass. Nik has a bought ticket and is intent on leaving as soon as the show ends to catch her bus home, which means I can’t sleep at her house if I want to stay. I tell her not to wait for me, I’m so used to being able to get home from gigs in Glasgow at any time of night that I’d not really planned for this. Oh well. I leave her and move to the front during Sparklehorse’s set, close to Ed’s side tonight. The venue is big and packed. I’m trying to record the show on my crappy Dictaphone in case they play Man-O-War again, it’s tricky though as I don’t tend to stand very still and trying to hide the tape machine under my shirt makes the sound muffled.

Thom comes on wearing a pair of joke shop bottle bottom glasses that Pete the T Shirt guy had on earlier. He keeps them on for My Iron Lung but then hurls them off ,“I can’t see a fucking thing!”

It is a shorter set tonight, I notice because I’m not dying by the end of it. Thom puts down a heckler who shouts “Ginger!” with “It’s out of a bottle!”
Blow Out is still a monster track that gives me shivers, Planet Telex explodes into a funky bass monster and I need some space to dance to it. They do play Man-O-War but my tape doesn’t really work.

Nik rushes off but I’m in no fit state to find out if she enjoyed herself. Izzy and her friends find me and we put our stickers on. We get herded into the lobby by strict bouncers, one of the barmen is busking Wonderwall, which is becoming the topical tune of the tour. We’re kept out in the cold, but someone brings us cans of pop. Colin and Ed pass through and wonder why we’re still outside.

At midnight Caffy appears and takes everyone who’s still here upstairs to the dressing room area, she has with her a snapper from Raw magazine (short lived Britpop publication) and he’s taking photos of everyone. Thom surfaces wearing the T shirt that Keiko gave him last night and is again bombarded with novelty gifts from the Japanese contingent. A bottle of sake from Sekiko, which Thom says he’ll save for a special occasion, Izzy hands him a first aid kit and we look at it with bemusement. Someone has been to a joke shop and bought bubbles and magic smoke paper. We share a filmy bubble passed from Thom’s fingers to mine where it disintegrates. These little gift ceremonies stand in for conversation where there are too many nerves and not enough English spoken.

Thom goes to fetch his bag and on his way back past us someone comments on the amount of badges on it. I take my “Get Lucky” badge off and give it to him, “Add it to the collection,” I say.
“Are you sure?” says Thom.
“Sure!” I reply .
“Cool!” says Thom and he seems quite chuffed, I explain that it was from school book club.
“They gave out badges instead of books?!” We giggle and it’s a little moment that makes loads of numb-bummed hours of waiting around on cold pavementsworth it.

Phil passes me on my way out and he’s still teasing me about my singing along, “We didn’t do Vegetable today…”

“Oh give over!” I holler after him.

Outside Caffy and Terri Hall ( her partner in Crime at Hall or Nothing PR) are launching fireworks while they wait for a taxi. I go with Sekiko and Keiko to their B&B round the corner. We sit up talking, empathising and reading music papers until gone 3am. Sekiko snores a bit and I can’t sleep. In the end I go in the bathroom and get a couple of hours kip on the floor.

 

25. Manchester, Academy, 2 November 1995

It feels weird to be in Manchester without Val. I arrive with Keiko and we go to the Tourist Information Office to get a hotel, we find Izzy already there and we all get a bargain £17 deal for Sasha’s, the city centre hotel where I’d ended up in the bar last time I was here, nice coincidence. We go for a wander so the girls can get their photos developed, Keiko buys a woolly jumper from a stall. Tim had looked cold the other night, she explained, she wanted to buy him a thank you present.

We take a long walk down Oxford Road to the Academy, as the bus station is in the process of being demolished and without Val I don’t feel like dealing with public transport. I’m trying not to spend any more money and I don’t want to arrive at the venue too early. When we get there it turns out the band arrived at 10am. We sit around and get cold. Izzy and I go for chips and a cup of tea and as we walk past Abdul’s I tell her about last time I was here. I think we should hide out in a pub for a bit, but no one else wants to leave for fear of missing something. I compare notes with Izzy, she’s been to over 30 gigs on three continents so far. At about 5pm the band start to sound check; Some intrepid girls have wedged the back door of the venue open so we can hear them play India Rubber, Thom is warming up his voice, there are a few false starts at Subterranean.. and then they batter into Nobody Does It Better, which becomes a messy guitar jam, followed by an off key crack at Street Spirit and Banana Co.

I fetch more tea, go to the nearby theatre to use the bathroom and then come back to find a queue forming in front of the Academy. Tim and Lisa Abuse wander by – she’s finished her course and is doing something else now but is coming back for the gig. Tim says there is officially no after-show tonight, “It’s not because we don’t like you or anything.” The band are going home as they have day off tomorrow.
Keiko gives Tim his jumper, it fits and he seems genuinely touched that she’s included him in the present giving. She says she’ll start a fan club “Tim is Cool!” she’s the president.

Back at the queue and the girls who’d been hanging around the back door are now first. But we discover a separate door for the guest list. It feels like a snub to them, they’ve been annoying us a bit with all their “Oh he’s so short in real life” banter.

Inside it’s already quite busy, Sparklehorse are growing on me, I can see Thom stage left nodding his head appreciatively, lost in the last song. The pint of beer I had on the way in means that I’m now desperate for the bathroom. Bad planning. I’ve waited too long and now it will be a mad dash to get through the throng and back again in time for Radiohead coming on. I have to fight my way through the crammed hall and put myself in a bad mood. I make a lot of enemies on my way back, which wrecks the anticipatory feeling that needs to be cultivated before the band come on stage. I keep making gestures to point out that I have queued and have previously been at the front but everyone thinks I’m pushing in. “Gosh I thought I’d never get BACK!” I annunciate loudly as I get back to put one arm on the barrier. There’s no room now and the loud girl next to me expresses her displeasure at my appearance by hurting my arm.

There is a change of set tonight, with Street Spirit first. I’m trying to take a few photos but now I’m not on the barrier it’s difficult to stand still and as soon as they play Bones it all goes mental and I’m in pain from trying to stay on my feet. It doesn’t cross my mind to move.

Thom does Kung Fu moves during Creep and suddenly there are crowd surfers, I’m trapped half on the barrier and half off. I get the fear and turn my head away from the front. I’m over charged and angry, tired and losing my grip. They play Man-o-War again and I have a moment of clarity, the lyrics are clear and I’ll never hear it the same again. Blow Out gets a strobe, Lucky is the highlight again, with Jonny standing on a box, wiggling his hips, the guitar part hits the heights and drives the crowd mad. Planet Telex is funkier than anything else and Banana Co makes it into the set. Thom forgets the words to You, and says “bollocks” off mic then tries again and gets it back. They end on The Bends after a bit of a rant about it being “a good record”, earlier he’d said something about how as a front man he should say something original, and then pointedly confined himself to saying “Thanks for coming” between nearly every song.

Heeding Tim’s words about no after show, I get outside as fast as possible and go back to our earlier perch at the back of the venue. The evening doesn’t feel complete yet. Phil drives away in his Polo the van is there for the rest of the band. I sit on the little fence and feel crushed, literally and emotionally. I got hurt in there and I just feel like I have all this energy that I don’t know what to do with. Lots of kids have gathered, they want to see the band off, get autographs, touch the hem of the garment. I feel sick and people keep asking me if I’m OK, I must look a sight by now. Ed comes out and attracts a small mob, then Jonny, I sit and wait, watching it all unfold.

There is a larger crowd now and I notice that Thom is in the middle of it. I get up and walk around the outside of the group. Thom’s got his backpack on, covered in badges but not the one I gave him last night, maybe he lost it. The crowd parts and I’m now in front of him, my badge is on his yellow jacket, bang in the middle. I throw out an arm for an awkward half hug and wheel off feeling better. The crowd hinder the progress of the band getting into their little van and then make it difficult for them to get out of the car park, “This is fucking uncool!” Thom chuckles as they try not avoid running people over.

Izzy, Keiko, Sekiko and I get a taxi back to Sacha’s. I have a bath and then doze off listening to them talk in Japanese. They all go to the other room and let me sleep.

26. Nottingham, Rock City, 5 November 1995

After a couple of nights in my old bed at my folks, I get the Sunday service bus into the city and walk through the Victoria shopping centre towards Rock City.

Myoko is also on her way to the venue. When I get there Keiko is outside with a big bunch of flowers as it is Jonny’s birthday. Izzy is still on her way from London with Caffy, I hang around for a bit and get irritated by the other people. The point of all this waiting about doesn’t seem clear anymore, but I don’t feel like I can do anything else, I’m too strung out. Eventually we get to hear the soundcheck as a reward for standing in the cold and Jonny comes out to collect Keiko’s flowers.

Inside, on the guest list again, I find my brother and his mates. Jonny is DJing from the back of the room, it sounds like the same record my brother and I bought yesterday on a visit to the local charity shops, a Hammond organ easy listening version of Light My Fire.

We get some drinks and find a good spot on the steps, on Jonny’s side of the stage, it feels like a long wait before a band comes on. Caffy and Izzy show up, they’ve had some “vodka training” this afternoon. The wide expanse of Rock City is packed by now. No one quite knows what to make of Sparklehorse, but I think I’m starting to “get” them. Jim and Andy go into the throng ready for Radiohead to come on. I don’t feel like it tonight, I want to try and tape the show, but my pocket recorder has its limitations.

There is a lot of dry ice and then they emerge. Thom has some glasses with yellow lenses on and braces holding his trousers up. “Welcome to Rawk City… heheh” and they hit Street Spirit straight off. Bones and Just see the middle of the room bouncing, they play nearly all The Bends tracks and Creep sounds particularly good. Thom turns the mic on the front row and they sing Happy Birthday to Jonny. “Over the hill at 24…” our boy is in a good mood tonight.

Blow Out is discharged mid-set, Fake Plastic Trees, Lucky, You, and Subterranean Homesick Alien with just Thom and Jonny playing. My brother comes back to where I’m standing and he’s completely soaked. I fear he will black out and I drag him to the bar. I have to beg for some tap water as the barman wants me to pay for a bottle. I point out there is a big dehydrated lad about to pass out across his bar and he gives us a tiny plastic cup.

They end on The Bends and I’d like to hurt the pillock behind me who can’t sing in tune. Keiko comes back from the front with a plastic cup –“Thom’s drink”. I have a taste, vodka and juice, and then one of my brother’s friends takes the empty cup as a trophy!

When they’ve gone we stick our green after show passes on. Deus Suds and Soda plays and I feel like dancing; I’m less battered than usual. I find Caffy and lose everyone else. She says this gig was better than London, which was too big. As I go to the cloakroom to fetch my bag I pass a wild-eyed girl who I’d seen before the show. She starts talking intensely about how much she enjoyed it and fails to notice Thom behind her, he mouths “Hiya!” at me; the girl doesn’t even notice and leaves without turning round.

Caffy goes off to round up some journos, so I go to find Izzy and agree to catch up with her later. We are hanging around waiting to find out where our passes will allow us to go. Thom is fielding a couple of autograph hunters and then a rather weird bloke who doesn’t seem to take the hint that he should leave.

Izzy has a plan. She takes my camera and asks Thom if she can take a picture. I whirl him away from the intense bloke and he sticks his tongue out for the camera. It gives him his cue to escape, Izzy and I go to find Caffy. She takes us down to the dressing room, several corridors away in the basement. We hover about, not sure if we are supposed to go in. It’s not a big room and there are plenty of people in there already, cleaning up the band’s rider. Thom appears again and wonders why we’re hiding in a corner. We’re given drinks and take in the scene, an NME photographer, another guy who must be the writer, a handful of people we don’t know and some crew members.

I have my bag with me and inside is an inflatable birthday cake, that I’d found in my bedroom at home. To cut a long story short, my brother and I had ordered some joke shop stuff from a mail order company about a year before; as my birthday was only a couple of weeks away, my mum had inflated the cake and left it in my room to find when I got home. That morning, realising it was Jonny’s birthday, I’d deflated it and stuffed it in my bag on the off chance of getting the opportunity to give it to him, it seemed to fit in with all the joke shop stuff the Japanese contingent had been passing around earlier in the week.
“Where’s Jonny?” I ask between puffs into the cake.
“Back at the hotel. What is that?” Thom has started paying attention.
“It’s just silly… it’s a cake.”
“You bought that?!”
“No! I found it at home…” this sounds less plausible now I say it out loud.
“Well blow it up and we’ll leave it outside his room…”
It’s difficult to inflate a cake when you’re laughing as much as I was at this point.
Colin comes in, sees the cake and likes the idea, “We can put it in a box and get room service to deliver it.”

Thom passes around some cans of Red Stripe but Izzy has spotted a bottle of Stolly in the ice box and large drinks are made with cranberry juice, “Caffy is my vodka teacher!” she laughs.
“Get drunk!” says Thom, who has been on the red wine.
“You too!” says Izzy. I have one later but I pour it myself as Ed’s measures are half and half. Talk of vodka leads Thom’s train of thought to his brother getting a job in Moscow and the conversation wanders.

“Have Sparklehorse grown on you yet?” he asks me.
“Slowly,” I reply.
“The album’s great. It’s just the one guy doing everything.” He is somewhat in awe.
“It was pretty mad down the front tonight, I’m glad I wasn’t there.”
“I can’t understand how you stand it at the front,” he says.
I ponder for a moment. It’s not easy to explain to him. “Well I need to be able to see… and that makes it worth it.”
He pulls a face but I think he’s starting to get it now.

Later on I’m putting something in my bag and Thom spots the badges on it. I have sets of little people on pins.
“Wow they’re good!” he points.
“They’re ‘Worry People’,” I explain that they were a present, “They make them in South America somewhere, I think it’s about wrapping the thread around the wire to occupy the hands, like some people have beads.”
“Brilliant!”
“You can have one.” I take one of the pins off my bag. Thom protests but it seems like the perfect thing to give him and I have two sets. He pins it onto his jumper. A member of the crew comes by and points, “Ah worry people!”
“How did you know that?!” Thom is surprised he’s the only person who’s not heard of them.
“You have to whisper your problems to them and they take them away.” says the roadie. This is even better than my idea! “You should worry when your worry people have a nervous breakdown.”
“I guess I should put them on my jacket then,” says Thom, “so they’re on a level to tell them my worries”. He puts his jacket on and pins them next to the Get Lucky badge. I sneak a photo as he comes back around the corner.

Thom’s braces are hanging off his shoulders and consequently his trouser hems are dragging on the floor. It draws my attention to his feet and reminds me that Maree had been talking about his shoes. They are big rubber soled orange snow board sneakers. I tell him I like them. “You can get them here now.” He says, though he obviously got them abroad.
“What size are they?” I stick my foot out and we compare feet. They’re a 7 like my DMs. We talk about the Pretenders recent cover version of Creep, he doesn’t mind because they have to pay for the privilege but he’s not heard it yet. I describe it and there is a little flash of pride across his face when I tell him that Chrissie Hynde can’t quite hit the high note.

Izzy and I stand there talking and giggling, Thom wanders off and comes back with a bowl of what looks like cornflakes, “Frosties and vodka!” I don’t believe him!
He tells us he got the yellow jacket in a charity shop in Oxford, he lets us feel how nasty and plastic it is. Which reminds me, “You know that record Jonny was playing earlier on with the version of Light My Fire?” I ask,
“Yes. S’awful!” says Thom.
“Well me and my brother found the same one in Oxfam yesterday… he keeps buying them.”
“You can get too much of a good thing!”
“He’s got this other one and it’s called Everything You Ever Wanted To Hear On The Moog…”
“Everything You Ever Wanted To Hear On The Moon?”
“No Moog, like the keyboard you know?”
“No MOON was better. Hang on.” Thom dives off to get his bag. He comes back with a little hardback note book. He writes in it with a Japanese biro.
“You’ve got to get the brackets (on the moon).”
“Is that the ideas book then?” I ask. I only get a glimpse of the familiar scrawl inside it.
“Well you have to keep it all together don’t you,” he says and puts the book away.

Caffy shows up and it’s time for bed. Izzy and I have to leave with her. She is easy going and lets us sleep in her hotel room, with me taking the generously carpeted floor. We eat the complimentary biscuits and contemplate stealing a set of plastic ducks from the bathroom (but forget to take them with us in the morning.) The vodka helps us sleep. Thom gave the rest of the bottle to Izzy to take with her. Later I find the soggy label in my pocket.

The Cake was later to be immortalised in the NME

 

27. Cambridge, Corn Exchange, 6 November 1995

We forgot the little ducks in a rush to get a taxi to the station to get a fairly early start, Myoko finds us at Ely when we change trains and it’s a nice journey. When we get there I drop them at the Holiday Inn and set off on foot for the college where K lives. I stop off at the market and buy a bunch of dark orange Chrysanthemums. It’s a sunny day and on my walk through Cambridge with the flowers, I must have been smiling because people smiled back at me.

K is stressed but has the afternoon off, we have lunch and listen to The Cookies (she is having a girl groups phase). I go out at about 4pm to get some more blank tapes and to swing past the venue to see if the sound check has started yet. Myoko is there in the cold but Izzy has gone back to her hotel for a sleep. Just then Thom comes around the corner with huge shades on and a big shoe box in a bag. I ask him if Jonny got his cake. “Yeah”, he laughs, “he’s been walking about with it all morning!”

I skip off back to the college, it’s too cold for hanging about and besides I want to see my friend. We drink strong tea, then later on Guinness and then raid yesterday’s papers for reviews. The guy in the Observer has completely missed the point. K gets dressed to go out and plays me some Shostakovich.

When we get to the Corn Exchange they are overly strict about who can stand where with which tickets. K has one she’s bought but I have to hang back and join a guest list queue and then wear my pass for the whole night. We’re sent upstairs but find that K has to go to the back, up high in a seat and I have to stay in the middle mezzanine level with a limited view through some railings and the ceiling of the tier above making for a weird letter box effect. There is no sign of Keiko and Izzy until the very last minute before Radiohead come on. This is my last gig of this tour and my good mood of earlier on has sunk.

They enter with The Bends and seem on good form. I have a terrible view from here but maybe tonight my recording will work. By leaning forward to see better I’ve lost my seat to a couple of people and end up having to kneel down for the whole gig, which made moving difficult, it doesn’t seem right to be seated for a Radiohead gig.

Lucky comes in the first half of the set and Thom changes the words in Man-O-War. He announces a new song, Bishop’s Robes, about school. “It’s like Killer Cars and will be on the next four B-sides.” Thom sings the entire song sitting on the floor, it’s a slower, reflective number. For once during Blow Out I can see what is going on across the whole stage I forgetting where I am and get into it. Maybe it’s just a different view from here, not as bad as I thought. It pulls straight into Fake Plastic Trees, Thom announces in his best BBC voice that this is being recorded for the World Service. The encore is Thom and Jonny doing Subterranean Homesick Alien and Nice Dream. Then Thom says “Some dickhead in the Observer, not that I read the press ever, but someone left it in the dressing room and I read it, three years after the event, it said,” and here he adopts a snide monotone, “’Radiohead don’t really have any good songs except for Creep… all that misery stuff doesn’t wash.’ And that’s the sum total of his opinion on Radiohead…” Lots of shouting from the audience. “And that’s why I don’t need the press…” and the chords of Street Spirit twinkle through the room.

They end on Stop Whispering, the “fuck you” drowned out by cheers. Then there’s a second encore of You with Ed doing lots of triumphant jumping. The band applaud the crowd and leave the stage laughing. Nice to see they’re making a habit of enjoying themselves.

I wait for K, we go downstairs and I spy Tim, having little to lose as it’s my last night, I ask for another pass from the pile he has in his hand. I stick it onto K, who is spoiling her glamorous rock chick look with a cardigan. I find Caffy and Izzy, who enjoyed the view from the special balcony. It’s all very organised here in contrast to last night and we have to wait for the bouncers to show us through to the aftershow bar.

There’s a box or two of bottled Fosters lager, but only Tim has an opener. I lean over and take Cokes from the bar for Izzy and the others. I take some photos of the Japanese girls. Izzy bought a fake fur coat from the market and she looks like a grey teddy bear. Thom has worked his way down the room, I get pulled into the conversation when a woman asks about the worry people, still pinned on his jacket. Are they from Peru or Chile? “We’re big in Chile apparently” says Thom.
He’s going home to Oxford after this.
“I’m going home tomorrow,” I say, and he gives me a hug, I manage to entangle my bangles on the worry people, but get unhooked before I damage anything.
“It’s OK,” says Thom, “They’ve still got their heads on.”
“Well,” I say as he goes, “send us a postcard or something from somewhere.”
“January!” he says, like it’s the light at the end of the tunnel of touring.

He makes about three attempts to leave, each time getting caught up in another conversation or having to go back for something, the last time he passes I wave and on impulse lift my camera, he waves back looming in to make an out of focus close-up. And with that he’s gone.

I hug Izzy and Keiko. I’m going. I hug Izzy again. They’re going to tomorrow’s show. Colin, always the last to leave, is still holding court with his Cambridge pals in the corner. K and I go out into the street. Duncan the roadie is loading up gear and laughing at a road sign near the exit. “Meeting place for the retired”.
We have soggy chips from one of Cambridge’s upmarket food vans and stagger back to K’s college. We finish the Guinness, I feel gently elated and all is right in the world.

 

My Iron Lung. Smash Hits Poll Winners Party. 3 December 1995

Living in a student flat with dodgy electrics, having to share a TV with four other people, not having a VCR on which to record anything… I was always worried about missing something. Without the means to buy my own TV and living in an era before You Tube had even been thought of, trying to catch any clips of Radiohead on TV was a precarious business. It usually involved a volley of phone calls to my brother, still living at the parental home with ready access to a VCR, and pleading with him to bung a tape in and hit record. In this way I eventually got to see whichever three minute segment of Top Of The Pops or the ITV Chart Show happened to feature the band.

When I found out that the band might be on the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party, a distinctly unusual place for them to turn up, I tuned in. My flat mate’s instinct was to turn over when the Singing Squadies performed their hit. The full running order shows how much of the show was given over to the current boy band screams (and sworn enemies of real music) Take That.

Just in time we flick back to the right channel and catch Radiohead in formation on the large Wembley Arena stage, performing My Iron Lung, with the only live vocal of the whole show. Thom pulls exaggerated faces and the others faithfully mime their parts. Jonny however dumps his guitar on the floor, twirls it around by the neck and generally shatters the pretence. At the end of the song, Thom, clearly out of patience with the whole charade, stalks around in a circle. The presenters are clearly shaken and don’t quite understand what they’ve just seen. Without seeing the rest of the show it’s hard to explain how weird the performance looks amid all the boy bands and bad pop jokes. The audience sound scared.

It’s a great Radiohead moment, rescued from the jaws of some ill advised request from EMI to become a dissenting gesture against the dying pop beast. Later I hear from Sekiko (who somehow got into the audience for this show) that they had to come back to London between shows in Belgium and Holland to fit this in, none too pleased. She went to the European shows and later sends me tapes which include new songs “No Surprises Please” and “True Love Waits”. The next phase has begun.

 

28. Manchester, Apollo, 11 July 1996

The year seems to go by quickly. I’m still doing my part time degree course and still living in a student hovel. Radiohead bubble under in my consciousness. Highlights are the wonderful Street Spirit promo video; writing to Frances, a girl who I met at a gig who is putting together a funny little fanzine called Lewis and swapping compilations of video clips with a chap called Pete. By the midpoint of the year he has amassed about 25 hours of footage from TV around the world plus a few bootlegs. I copy my collection of clips and a tape of Japanese TV that Keiko has sent to me (which involves pulling in all sorts of favours with the University AV department) and swap with him. I trade tapes with Roger, a guy in Canada who has constructed the most comprehensive Radiohead website so far, and catch up on the support slots the band have been playing in the USA. In the summer I get a part time job in an art gallery and move out of the hovel. By July I’m desperate for a gig…

A month of anticipation culminates in a night of broken sleep with my stomach in knots. I take a coach to Manchester and meet Maree at Chorlton Street station. She’s been living in London, hanging out in exalted circles and is even more glam than usual. We take a cab to the venue which is in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by semi-derelict carpet warehouses. We find the only vaguely inhabited pub so we can use the toilet, but we don’t feel welcome enough to stay for a drink.

There’s no where else to go so we head back to the Apollo and hang about at the front. There are some kids outside and we can already hear Radiohead soundchecking. They seem to be playing new stuff, all of The Bends and You but we can’t hear that well from here, are they playing the whole set?

Lisa turns up, she’s now working as a PR. She thought she might be working on behalf of the Fan Club tonight, but it turns out we just have to pick up tickets left at the door in Julie from The Management’s name. Lisa heads inside to find Tim. Frances, who I have been writing to and swapping tapes with, turns up and joins in the general nervous atmosphere.

Phil is outside waiting for some friends, he’s totally shaved his head now and no one except for me recognises him. I ask him how it’s going and he tells me Belgium was good, America was good and asks me how big the festival is going to be this weekend.

We get inside, the Apollo is a big theatre space. We all get to the front but the stage is still very far away. Scott Walker is on the intro tape. The Divine Comedy are the support but only do eight songs. Neil Hannon is showing off an impressive vocal range, a nice suit and a cigarette roadie. Any other time I would have really enjoyed their set, I’ve seen them before but no one else here seems to have heard much of their stuff.

I spot Tim and call to him, he says “Hi” and asks if I want to stay and how many friends have I got with me and gives me sticky passes for later.

The feeling as we wait for Radiohead is familiar but different somehow. Marvin Gaye on the speakers sounds almost too laid back. They come on just after 9pm, almost on time. Thom’s got Action Man camouflage trousers on and a T-shirt bearing the legend “Final Home”.

They open with My Iron Lung and do a lot of jumping around. Thom looks like he’s trying very hard to “rock” during the first new one, Electioneering.
It sounds like they’ve changed the end (compared to the Canadian bootleg I’ve heard). They play Bulletproof and though I’m not even trying to record or take photographs tonight, I feel like I’m actively having to try to pay attention. Something doesn’t feel quite right.

They’ve played all of The Bends apart from Sulk; they play Lucky and most of the new stuff – I Promise, Lift, No Surprises (he’s rearranged the words) and an acoustic encore of a song called Let Down, which sounds like it could end up being fantastic.

Somewhere in all this Thom introduced what he called their “Pink Floyd number.” And then they played a track I’d not heard before, a long rather rambling messy nightmare of a thing. It’s all over the place, I don’t like the gestures he’s making or the lyrics about “Let it rain”. Very worrying.

After the first encore he asks “Any requests?” and after much on-stage debate we get You, the first Pablo Honey track of the night. They ask again and I’m shouting for Subterranean until I’m horse, but I’m drowned out by all the rabid cries for Creep. Thom says “No I’m bored of that song!” but there is a lot of booing. Earlier Maree had said “If they don’t play Creep I’ll love them forever.” But they give in and play it, which makes me quite angry. Thom stands stock still with his arms by his sides, but he still gives it some effort where it matters, he could quite easily have let the audience take over the singing. After that there is nothing else they can do and the show is over.

As everyone moves away from the barrier I feel a bit dizzy, chewing gum being the only sustenance I’ve had all day. I’ve not felt the elusive feeling. Something didn’t kick in tonight.

We wait around in the corner with our passes on. We then get herded down some damp stairs into a brightly lit room, which has been serving as the catering area. It’s nearly 11.30pm now and Maree can’t stay long, she’s booked on the bus back to London. I talk to Caffy, there were some gigs in Oxford before this, which somehow I’d not found out about in time. She’s not working tonight, she just really wanted to see the band. She’s coming up to Scotland for T in the Park, Mansun are playing and they’re her favourites. I have a swallow of a can of Red Stripe that Tim has put in my hand, but there’s not much around to drink and so I give it to Caffy to finish. Tim takes me aside and asks me what I think it would be like, from my perspective on the other side of the barrier, if the next time they tour it was big venues like GMEX, Wembley and the SECC. I tell him I’m biased, but I like to be close enough to be able to see. It’s a scary thought. I introduce Frances to Caffy and they chat about fanzines.

I still feel a bit shaky and I’m finding it hard to hold a proper conversation. Frances has to go, her dad is waiting for her to give her a lift home. He’d had her spare ticket for the show. “Why didn’t he come back to the after show?” asks Caffy. We both laugh at the idea.

Everyone is asking after Val, but I’ve not heard from her in months. Frances leaves and I stay. I’ve booked the coach back to Glasgow in the early hours so I’m in no rush. I drink a can of fizzy orange and feel a bit better.

Thom appears some time after midnight, in a checked shirt that doesn’t go with his camo fatigues. He’s got a Guinness in one hand and a bottle of Bordeaux in the other. He also has plastic cups and pours wine for Caffy and I before we’ve even said hello.
“How are you? How was it?” I ask.
Before I can say it myself he says, “Terrible.”
It didn’t happen, it didn’t click. He knows it too. He doesn’t know what this elusive thing is called either but we both know something was wrong. “I knew since I got up this morning that it wasn’t right.”

We’ve found some seats now and are about to get into the subject, when a guy with a big cigar comes over and completely ignores me as he tells Thom that it’s the first time he’s seen them when he’s not been working. Is he someone important? Where does he get off tipping his ash on me? He’s telling Thom that he likes the Floyd number and he should bring back the beginning part at the end. Thom cuts him off and tells him it sounds like four songs at the moment and he’s not sure why they played it tonight.
I pull a face at the mention of The Floyd. “I don’t want to end up being The Floyd” says Thom.

I’ve downed the wine and stopped shaking. The cigar guy’s gone but Thom seems in a bit of a state. “How big is T In The Park?” he asks me. I tell him that my guess is that it’s probably not as big as Reading Festival, but I’ve never been before.
“We’d better play The Bends stuff then.” He talks about the new songs, about how he doesn’t want to make The Bends again. They could so easily do that now. He knows that some of the songs are great and that they work. They have to touch him too. Lift works, maybe. He ponders, sometimes the songs work for a couple of months and then he goes off them. I tell him it can’t be as bad as that time they were at Rak and he was pacing the floor telling us about it. He doesn’t believe me; this is worse.

I tell him about the tape of the Toronto show I got from Canada, he’s glad I got to hear that gig. He’s worrying about not being big enough to headline T in the Park. Tonight it felt like a big stage and he couldn’t see the audience, it was like singing karaoke. Sometimes festivals are better because you can see the crowd. He’s worried about becoming a product. He’s worried about the new studio and not being able to explain things to people. He’s nervous, it’s all a “bit of a headfuck.” A very Thom phrase. He’s using the word “one” a lot in reference to himself. I’m worried because he’s worried.

I hitch a ride in a cab with some folks who are going back to the Holiday Inn, but I don’t feel like hanging about much more. Caffy gives me her room number in case I miss my bus, but I get to the station in good time. On the coach, I fall asleep awkwardly and wake up in Stockport less than a hour later.

Tonight was weird, I don’t like how it made me feel, like someone was trying to kick my stabilisers away.

Arrive back in Glasgow about 5.30am, having woken up at Hamilton, in time to see the T In the Park site being set up on the outskirts of the city.

I have to hide out in the 24 hour café because I can’t get back into the flat where I’m staying until somebody wakes up. I need some time on my own to wallow.

 

29. Strathclyde Park, T In The Park, 13 July 1996

We get down to the site on the bus and wait in the drizzle. I can’t find any stage times and get a bit stressed. They have new Radiohead T shirts on the merch stall. I buy an orange one with “Leisure Is Pain” and a rather situationist list on the back and a Prozac tablet on the front.

Eventually I find a running order and head to the NME tent to see Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, then we have a beer and pop our heads around the dance tent to catch the end of Audioweb covering The Clash’s Bankrobber. Find the little King Tut’s tent and see Drugstore, they are so cool. Isabel says “The best band in the world are on the main stage tonight” and then plays her cover of Black Star. I catch a bit of Mazzy Star but give up, I’ve seen them before and Hope Sandoval refuses to engage with the audience. My brother Jim and his mate Andy have come up from Nottingham for the festival, they go off to see The Prodigy while I find Frances and her little brother. We both need to be at the front, so we push through and end up enduring an hour of Alanis Morrissette. I’m missing Beck and The Chemical Brothers for this, but now I’m here I can’t get out. It will be worth it.

After much cursing and crushing they’re on. Old songs and new songs are hitting the spot. Lift, Just, Bones, Bends, No Surprises (oooohhhhh). I’m not at the very front so I have to move about a lot to keep my spot, I’m sure I’m annoying people, I’m doing a lot of shouting and shaking my hair. The field was full, judging by the look on Thom’s face it was working better than he thought it was going to. He encores with a solo version of Thinking About You for the first time in ages, and it’s beautiful. They all come back on to do a rock starry wave goodbye. Colin is polite and thanks Drugstore for their earlier cover (he must have seen it). Someone says something about going off to get high.

Frances finds me again, she thought it was a good one. We wait as the field clears, persistence pays off in the end as a roadie throws sets of drumsticks our way. Mine are chipped and busted, one has a bloody thumb print on one end.

I drag myself around the festival the following day, bumping into people I know, seeing Super Furry Animals and finding Caffy in the crowd for Mansun. She describes the scene in the backstage bar last night – Thom came in, saw how many people were there, gave a big grin and then disappeared again. I stomp around in a bit of a daze trying to make sense of the Manics, eating bean burgers and being unsure if Pulp suit a crowd of this size…

Paranoid Postcards from 1997. January-June.

January.

I spend a lot of time swapping emails and tapes with Roger, a guy who has made a Radiohead website in Canada. Rumours abound that the new album is finished, but it might not be out until June. More rumours that the band have been holed up in a big old house belonging to Jane Seymour.

February.

A letter from Julie at the management – It will take at least 3 months to mix, manufacture and market the record. Exit Music is “staggering” and likely to be on the album. I try compiling a complete gigography for Roger’s site.

March.

My friend and former flatmate JC is living in London and goes to see Drugstore play at ULU. After the gig she phones me, Thom showed up to sing a new song with Drugstore. She was so surprised she can’t remember what the song was. I’m laughing and crying so hysterically (because I’d nearly caught the bus down to go to the gig myself) that my new flatmates are worried about me. I go to see Bax Lurhman’s Romeo + Juliet at the cinema, Talk Show Host soundtracks a character’s angst and then at the end I have to strain to hear Exit Music over the credits, as the cinema is full of noisy teen Di Caprio fans. It has a crescendo that sounds like The Smiths’ Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want and it contains the line the killer line “ we hope that you choke.”

April.

The album, now entitled OK Computer, might be released early in Japan. The Canadians have picked up a tracklist – but where are Lift, I Promise, True Love Waits and Man–O-War? According to NME the working title was Zeros and Ones, after a Sadie Plant book… she wrote the Situationism tome that I was so into a while ago. Paranoid Android is 7 minutes long with choral arrangements. I’m frightened! There is a show in Dublin on June 21, K is keen to go and make a trip out of it.
The latest rumour is that Parlophone is going to make videos for all 12 songs and have a tape in the shops by Christmas.

May.

Labour win the election by a landslide. I keep missing Paranoid Android on the radio. Radiohead are in Q magazine. Thom’s got black hair and it’s really short. The Dublin gig is going to be huge. Sekiko sends me a tape of OK Computer, a copy of a Japanese promo, there’s a lot of hiss on it but I sit in the sun and listen on my headphones. It feels like I’m imagining it. I figure out the words to Let Down and No Surprises and feel a bit emotional. Unprompted, my brother points out the DJ Shadow references in Airbag. Paranoid Android still doesn’t quite feel like a Radiohead song. There is a poster for it across the road from my bedroom window with the lyrics in different sized type, “The Yuppies networking- ah, The panic the vomit, the panic the vomit.”

June.

The single goes into charts at number 3, kept off the top slot by girl band Eternal and Hanson’s MmmBop. The album gets a completely mental 10/10 review in the NME. I’m in Nottingham when OK Computer comes out on the 16th. I go into the city to marvel at the window displays and hunt for a cassette…

30. Dublin, RDS, 21 June 1997.

K and I head to Dublin on June 17th, having booked a B&B close to the venue. We spend three days dodging the rain doing touristy stuff.

The night before the band are already sound checking at the venue. I see Tim but bottle out of shouting to get his attention. We’ve bought tickets. It never occurred to me to ask for a freebie for such a big show.

On the day of the gig, which on the posters around town has been billed as “The Longest Day”, we get up early so K can go off on a jaunt leaving me to get my head together. I go into Dublin and go to the National Gallery of Ireland. It’s still raining, I go back to Mrs Birmingham’s B&B and wait until 3pm. The hordes are already descending. I join a queue but get too jumpy, I so do a circuit of the venue in an attempt to calm down or spot someone I know.

There are kids from all over Ireland in the queue. The doors open just before 5pm. There is a wristband system for the front area and you have to be over a certain height to get let in. I end up in the second row, until somebody who is already drunk needs to get out to puke, and then the front barrier is mine! I chat to some girls from Cork, chew gum and try not to think about how much I need the toilet or some sustenance. The rain stops.

Teenage Fanclub lift the mood, and we clap, sing and smile along with them. Massive Attack groove like a stoned thing and it feels too early in the day to be watching them. “We’re doing it for these guys because they are the best!” The rain holds off until there is five minutes to go and then we get soaked.

Radiohead make a big entrance to Fitter Happier. Lucky rocks into My Iron Lung and then Airbag. Colin doesn’t last long with the sleigh bells on a stick. They mostly play new stuff, some B-sides and Talk Show Host is particularly good. Karma Police has me singing along and contact seems to have been made. I blow a kiss to the stage and wave. I’m in love with it and it’s wonderful again.

It’s their biggest ever gig and they’re number one. Thom can’t think of much else to say. He’s playing up to the crowd and making everybody feel it. Paranoid Android makes sense now, it’s so much better than last time. Creep is pure karaoke and I’m the only person in the place not singing along to it. The only other Pablo song is You, played in the encore. It’s all adrenaline and guitar overkill, I’ve not heard it done like that in a long time. High and Dry is dedicated to the rain keeping off and then, just as the set finishes, it pours down again.

K finds me afterwards, she’s been at the back getting pushed about. Only the front was sectioned off, but the whole crowd would have benefited from more partitions. She got a nip from someone’s hip flask and somehow managed to stay on her feet. I purchase a Gucci Little Piggy T-shirt (all the rest have sold out).

There is a gate leading tantalisingly to the backstage area, but without a pass there is no way I’m getting through it, I keep an eye out for Caffy or Tim but they’re inside. K goes back to the B&B. I get talking to Atsuko, a Japanese girl who has been studying in Cambridge. She went to a warm up show in Belfast on the 19th. She’s another one of Thom’s pen pals. We bond quickly.

One of the security guys suggests that the bands are all at a hotel near by. We go for a walk to see how far away it is, as standing around here is getting us nowhere. We’re getting cold and wet. It’s not the right hotel. We go back to the exit gate at the back of the venue. A Renault space-vehicle pulls out, Thom’s in the back. I put up a hand to wave, and he mouths “Lucy?!” He’s grinning and blows a kiss. “Where are you going?” I ask, he shrugs. I blow a kiss back and wave as they pull out. It’s all happening too quickly. We run a little way after the car, waving and laughing…

 

BBC TV: Glastonbury Festival, 28 June 1997

Looking back on it, this was the moment when Radiohead went supernova. The moment after which nothing would ever be quite the same again. The Bends had grown slowly, picking up good sales and critical momentum, but OK Computer had been anticipated, it had gained a lot of ground even before it had been released.

Paranoid Android was getting radio play in a way that none of their singles, not even the initial release of Creep, had received. If anything it was a more audacious move: a six and half minute epic in three movements. Don’t mention the P word.

Glastonbury. There had been no festival in 1996 and the BBC had taken over the coverage of the festival from Channel Four. There was huge excitement about the unprecedented amount of coverage that had been promised. I desperately needed a topic for my Film & TV Studies dissertation. I realised that the logical thing to do was use the only material I had in any quantity, a genre that I now had a specialist knowledge of: the coverage of live music on television. The coverage of the festival offered me an opportunity to make a case study. Still on a roll from the Dublin show, I was back in Glasgow riding a wave of end of term hangovers and grappling with my art student flatmates to get control of the shared TV set so I could stay glued to the coverage all weekend; the radio on in the other room with cassettes primed to record as much as possible of Radiohead’s Saturday night headline set.

On TV, presumably due to some sort of licensing deal, the performance was broken up into tantalising sections. Late on the Saturday night, I sat on the edge of the sofa swearing at Jo Wiley as I could hear the band playing in the background while she wittered on, filling in until they could cut live to the Pyramid Stage. Her co-presenter John Peel remained as deadpan and nonplussed as ever. When they finally let us see the band, it was perfectly timed.

Thom, severe and fragile in black shirt, cropped black hair and wielding a black Alvarez acoustic/electric guitar, leans into his mic and addresses his lighting engineer. “Andy, can you turn on the lights so we can see the people, ‘cause we haven’t seen them yet.”

There was a gigantic roar from the crowd. Thom says hello, a little taken aback as the shear scale of this gig becomes apparent. They start Paranoid Android, but something is wrong, he shakes his head like he can’t hear what’s going on. As ever with this band, things don’t go quite now they planned, but the results somehow end up transcending their original intentions.

Stage-right Thom dashes over to speak to a roadie (I think it’s Tree) and misses out a line of the song as they try to resurrect the monitors. Close-ups of Jonny’s Strat distract the unknowing viewer from this niggle, but I remember a feeling of panic, what if it was all about to go wrong on live TV? However, the second “moment” is about to happen. On the other side of the stage, Ed is grinning as he realises he can hear the crowd singing along to Karma Police. A few weeks after the album’s release and everyone knows the words.

Thom catches this too and grins into the crowd. He launches into Creep. It stands out in the new set, for different reasons than it used to. Now it’s even more their novelty song than it was before. This time he’s taking it seriously. Leisure Is Pain, says the legend on the back of his recycled shirt. He stands stock still, arms folded, a shot of the crowd as they sing it back to him, with the lights facing out onto them showing a sea of bodies.

Climbing Up The Walls is an icy hand on the spine, then comes moment number three, No Surprises. For once we get to see Jonny playing the glockenspiel. Thom’s got his eyes shut, concentrating on the song. The camera cuts to the view from the stage and at the other end of the site fireworks bloom in the sky. They pop and fizz as if timed to coincide with the end of the song. The band seem to pause to let them finish before they kick off Talk Show Host. 

Thom’s still looking around for the source of some stray noises and the fireworks continue to detonate. The song peters out as something goes awry, but no one but the band seems to mind. The camera cuts to a wide shot, so I can’t see. Thom comes back into focus, guitar-less for Bones, straining to hear his cue without monitors. It’s a song that always marks an intense point in the set. At the end of the vocal, he nods and takes in the scene with a look that says “OK. It’s on.”

And as if to prove it, the three guitar battle of Just follows on. Ed jumps, Jonny goes for it and the crowd move as one and then the strobes activate and all too soon the live coverage is over.

Later on, Jools Holland introduces more highlights. “This gig means a fucking lot to us” says Thom, and he realises it would be churlish to talk about the technical difficulties they’ve been experiencing and thanks the audience for their patience. They play High And Dry, Ed and Jonny facing off in a rare moment of on-stage interaction.

The final song is Street Spirit, provoking Jools Holland to note that the set has been a highlight of the festival, and in the next few days pretty much everyone agrees with him.

 

31. Doncaster, Dome, 2 September 1997

Having contacted Caffy and found out I’m on the list,  I get my brother to drive me up to Doncaster, from our parents’ place it takes about an hour to get there on straight roads.

The Dome is a leisure complex in an out of town site with a McBurger, an Asda and a sports field, surrounded by park land with a water feature. It’s like one of my inappropriate gig dreams coming true. (I have different dreams where the band are playing in places where gigs wouldn’t happen in real life. Doncaster reminds me in particularly of one where they were playing at a Center Parcs- like place, I can hear them in the distance but can’t find the stage, then I need the bathroom and have to keep walking in the opposite direction… then usually I wake up.)

After a brief recce, Caffy appears. After some reorientation, like us she can’t quite believe this is the venue, she goes to find Tim and we’re sorted with tickets. When she returns we explore the grassy hillocks behind the venue so she can have a smoke and we can talk. On the press front, it’s getting madder. The Daily Mirror offered the band a double page to do what they like with but they didn’t do it. The Daily Mail, who ran a rather dubious piece with a photos of Abingdon School and of Thom’s rather modest suburban house, had wanted an interview. They ran the sneaky pictures without it when he said no. They don’t talk to tabloids. The Telegraph rang up to ask if they could do a fashion shoot with Thom.. to everyone’s amusement.

All the guest lists on this tour have been full for months and Caffy is putting hacks off until the bigger tour in November. She’d had my name down for this gig already.

When we return to the venue, the queue is already snaking through the entire building and out the front. I manage to eat some bananas and drink some coke, my brother eats cheese balls with Lucozade. He finds some mates from college and then we pile into the ‘sports bar’, the football is on the telly and there are lads everywhere.

Caffy orders her speciality a “Woof Woof” : vodka with Hooch alcoholic lemonade as a mixer. I have a vodka and coke. I am tired and restless. We can’t hear anything from the arena and when we go down at about 8pm we’ve missed most of Laika’s set. It’s packed and it’s going to get sweaty. I leave my bag at the T shirt stall, where dreadlocked Pete remembers me, then join my brother at the edge of the crush, on Jonny’s side.

The dub rumbles on and I try not to say stupid things. I’m in a hole in this unreal place. Fitter, Happier kicks in and the room roars and there’s too much smoke. My brother goes off into the throng and I dodge my way in a bit further, I’m too small to make an impact on this very laddish audience. Airbag, Karma Police, My Iron Lung and onto Banana Co, nearly all the newer stuff. The Rhodes piano on Subterranean Homesick Alien, B-sides Polyethylene and A Reminder. You – the only track of the night off Pablo Honey. I keep trying to be able to see the stage and wiping the sweat off my face with my clothes. I need to be swept up, to feel it, so I close my eyes and let it take me.

Somewhere in there, a stomping version of Talk Show Host, Just, Bones, Paranoid Android, No Surprises, the ‘D major’ chords of The Bends and off beat clapping for Fake Plastic Trees. High & Dry is still the ‘pop song’ Climbing Up The Walls, Lucky is still the tune that tips the balance of the night, Planet Telex goes and goes but Thom forgets a few words and chords fly out and off and it’s not totally there. It’s this place, it’s too shiny, too much of a sports centre.

There are two encores of mostly slower numbers, ending with The Tourist which is for ‘discerning listeners in Doncaster and the surrounding area’ perhaps a reference to the fact that we’re not actually in the town.

Afterwards I’m soaked and in pain. I claim my bag and the bottle of water I’ve been visualising for the last hour. I recover my senses and my feet stick to the floor. My brother doesn’t quite know which way is up. He’s soaked from head to foot apart from a tiny bit at his ankles. I watch the ever growing crew dismantling the PA and become quietly anxious that there’s no one around except for Phil.

Caffy reappears having been back to the bar, watching the show from the balcony. She goes back stage and we wait for Tim. This is not an aftershow as such. He seems a bit confused, but when I tell him we’re cold he let’s us follow him back to the catering room so we can have a sit down. We find some soft drinks and when Caffy comes in she brings us some orange juice. There are two girls who seem to work for Radio 1 Newsbeat, but they’ve finished for the night. Phil and Colin are talking to their friends. I say hello, and Colin asks politely if I enjoyed the show, the same thing he always asks.

We decide to leave and downstairs there is a crowd of fans waiting by the bus. They double-take at my brother, I hear someone call out: “That’s not Phil!” I can’t quite make myself leave yet. I wander about and catch Tim on the stairs, I ask if he can fit me on the list for The Astoria gig tomorrow.

Thom’s already gone. I’ll have to be satisfied with that, it’s been weird and I’m knackered and cold. We try to leave again. Caffy offers me her train ticket back to London, as she might be getting a lift with the crew, but we have to wait while Jim Warren goes to check. It turns out she’ll have to stay in a hotel tonight anyway, but it was a nice thought. I use her phone to call JC (my friend who is now based in London) and tell her that we’re on for tomorrow.  On the notice board by the door someone has written: ‘Tonight – the best band in the world’. Caf takes a picture. Everyone is on the bus and most of the crowd are gone. We have the car heaters on all the way back to my parent’s to dry my brother out.

32. London, Astoria, 3 September 1997

Trains and tiredness and it’s raining. When I reach The Astoria, the only people there are a group of girls who’ve come straight from school to queue up. I hang around with them for a while until I remember that the guest list will have a separate queue. I duck out and around the other side of the entrance with my umbrella up to wait for JC and fend off the touts.  The guy from Ipswich who does a fanzine and his train-spotter friend are hanging about but I’m not in the mood for their brand of earnest chat today.

JC turns up a bit late and by then the doors are open. Tour Manager Tim’s at the box office and I claim a couple of ‘generic sticky passes’. I put my bag in the cloak room and we find ourselves in the Keith Moon Bar.  The last time I was here was THAT GIG. We go to the balcony, as I’ve convinced myself that I don’t want a repeat of my near-death experience downstairs in the crush.

We spot a few Britpop B Listers in the crowd and a few bigger names, Michael Eavis, Jo Whiley, Neil from Suede. We cram into one of the table seats at the edge of the balcony and when someone wants the space next to us they ask which part of EMI we’re from. I tell him we’re with the fan club. Turns out it was the EMI conference at Canary Wharf today and the employees are here en mass. It feels like the whole company is here and they’re all up on the balcony. We are the only civilians.

There’s no support and it’s head’s down and straight into Airbag (the rest of the set list: Karma Police, My Iron Lung, Banana Co, Paranoid Android, Subterranean Homesick Alien, Just, The Bends, No Surprises, Talk Show Host, A Reminder, Lurgee, Maquiladora, Motion Picture Soundtrack, Fake Plastic Trees, Exit Music and Nobody Does It Better)

It’s a compact little set but the B sides are especially exciting. They play Maquiladora for the first time in ages and Lurgee gets an airing which I’m pleased about.

Thom apologies, but if he throws up on the bouncers it’s because he’s been up since Doncaster with food poisoning, he mimes puking to prove the point.

I rock in my seat but it’s hard to move and my knees hurt. I want to piss off the accounts department or whoever this lot who are sharing our table are. They don’t seem very interested in the gig and keep chatting. I think I manage to convince them I’m nuts by singing along and doing a weird sitting down dance in my seat.

There is a enthusiastically demanded encore. When they come back on, Thom has a stool and he does “One we haven’t really recorded” Motion Picture Soundtrack. Compared to the version I’ve heard on a tape, he’s swapped the lyrics round…“Red wine and sad films, cheap sex and sleeping pills…”  I’m ready to burst.

He does the rest of the encore sitting down. The others come back on. Someone shouts “Jonny you’re a god!” and it throws them. Thom yelps a laugh. The audience take over bits of Fake Plastic and it’s a ‘moment’. A further encore, Nobody Does It Better and he’s dropping words all over the show. When they’re done they’re done. There’s lots of back patting, Ed especially is on a male bonding tip, hugging Jonny then Thom. It was kind of good to get the view from up here but I need to be able to move about and I want the contact you get at the front. I’m very selfish at these gigs.

I struggle through the bar to the toilets, past Zoe Ball and a scrum of EMI hacks. I can hear Caffy and find her to say hi, but don’t see her again for the rest of the night. The place is packed and the bouncer is letting people back up to the balcony and the other bar. We go for beer which isn’t free, much to the EMI staff’s chagrin. We sit with a view of the exits and spot Ed with a table of ladies and a bald guy who might be Stanley. Jonny, his wife, Tim and Colin are on the other side and I find myself explaining to JC who is who. Thom appears and I want to speak to him before we have to leave to get across town but I don’t want to interrupt. Ed passes us and asks me if I enjoyed it, I say ‘not bad’ meaning ‘bloody amazing’ and he smiles.

Thom’s not mingling; we’re trying to ignore the loud group next to us (is that Gary Numan?) There are too many EMI folks. I go to reclaim my bag, and when I come back I realise that everyone else is getting chucked out. I find JC outside in the rain looking a bit damp. I don’t want to leave but she drags me off, we have a night bus to catch. We come around the corner and pass the front door and there’s Thom keeping dry in the door way, seeing some people off. We exchange hellos and a hug, I mumble “See you later” and can’t quite make myself say anything else. I am too shocked. I don’t know if I feel happy or sad.

We drink hot chocolate to keep the cold out until the night bus arrives.

33. Blackpool, Empress Ballroom, 7 September 1997

I go back to my parents’ for a couple of days of nothingness and surrealism. And Princess Diana’s funeral on television.

I phoned Caffy at the last minute on the Friday, I need another gig. Blackpool or Stoke she says – I opt for Blackpool as I can split my journey back to Scotland and finding somewhere to stay will be easy in a town full of B&Bs. I caught her just as she was sending the fax through to set up the guest list.

On Sunday I get a train in the afternoon, via Manchester, loaded with my big rucksack full of all the stuff I’d taken home for the summer. When I get there, it’s already dark but I find a B&B for £13.50. I ditch my stuff and go for a wander past the Tower and despite going round town in the wrong direction, eventually find the Winter Gardens.

United Kinkdom, it says on the posters, that is about right. There’s a perverse selection of other shows on at this warren of venues; Jim Davidson is on next door and on the way here I’ve seen every kind of souvenir tat for sale.  I want to eat but find that I can’t face anything that’s on offer. I fall over Frances where she’s sitting in the queue, she says she’s more mature now and not doing a fanzine any more and doesn’t have much to say for herself.

There’s a separate entrance for the guest list, so I hang about there until 7pm when the doors open. When Tim arrives he asks me if I’ve come with a friend, do I want an extra ticket? I decide it would be too complicated to introduce anyone else into the mix now and I just want to get inside the venue. A proper ballroom with chandeliers. I fetch half a lager and position myself about three rows back on Ed’s side.

Laika are all bass and no one seems to appreciate them or the dub intro tape that follows (is the place full of Liverpudlian Cast fans?). There’s a dumb teenager bias in this crowd that makes me feel a bit old and grumpy, but once the band come on and Airbag kicks in, it’s all systems go.

After three songs, I pass my bag forward over the barrier and bail out to the side where there’s room to frug on the edge of the action. They pull in Bishop’s Robes in the middle of the set and Polyethylene again. Lucky gets saved for the encore, I was beginning to miss it. The bouncy floor yields to stomping and we get Nobody Does It Better to end on. It feels like it was a good one, more than the last two did.

I get my stuff, drink my water and linger by the sound desk. Caffy appears shortly, “I’ve lost me journalists!” We wander casually back stage to the catering area with its plastic chairs and bright lights to find her charges already there reading the roadies’ Sunday Sport and staying up “past their bedtime”. Caffy introduces me to ‘Roy from Select’ and a photographer who’s name doesn’t stick, as “Lucy from… all over”. Roy is having trouble with the song titles, he’s written bits of lyrics down and is looking for a band member to fill in the blanks. Caffy passes him on to me and we plough through his notes from tonight and the Astoria.

“The one that sounds like The Ronettes?”

“Maquiladora.”

After that, trying to make simple conversation is tricky, I ask him if he likes the band and I get his full thesis on how he likes OK Computer but not The Bends. I try to open the discussion out but he seems to be pretty ignorant of their other work. I keep trying to show an interest while Caffy goes in search of some beer. They still want a band member to talk to and no one has emerged yet. Caffy returns with Red Stripe for everyone and I move away from the Select guys, who are reading out stories from the Sport… Thom’s in the corner talking to some people about Apple Macs, I don’t want to miss him again. I stay and drink my beer until he’s finished talking and nearly everyone else has left. He comes over and apologies for not talking to me on Wednesday and I shrug as he sits down opposite.

“What was with all those EMI folks?” I ask.

“They paid for it!”

“I was on the balcony…”

“Oh well then!”

I ask him how the tour’s going. Bridlington was ace, a mad place and the Dundee show was in the town hall. We agree that this is the surreal venues tour. I ask him if he’s ever been to Blackpool before (somehow I doubt it). He says they arrived late last night and the first thing they saw was a girl walking down the middle of the street in a tiny little skirt and a fur bra and nothing else, and it was freezing. “You’ve got to admire that really!”

We talk about America, what he makes of all the fuss over the album and if he thinks it will calm down any time soon. “It’s only a record y’know.” They’re working until May, but “we’re getting three weeks off at Christmas, it’s a record, we could even MAKE a record” he jokes.

He says he’s been up and down, he’s been writing but it’s not…

“Not songs?” I suggest.

He shakes his head.

The promoter was trying to persuade them that next summer they should hire out Milton Keynes Bowl and choose all the other bands and make a day of it. No way says Thom, “Wembley Arena (in November) OK, well that’s sold out, and everyone gets there eventually and I’m used to the idea now and we’ve got to do it, but after Glastonbury I’m not into doing festivals again.”

I saw it on telly, I tell him.

“Technically it was the worst gig of my life and I’d been nervous for about three months and then all the monitors went down and the lights were burning out my retinas, we were bouncing the sound off the mud.

“Have you seen any of the TV stuff?”

“Only Karma Police and I don’t want to see any more.”

“Everyone keeps saying how great it was and I was sitting there watching it on TV and I could tell you were shit scared, you all just kept looking at each other.”

“Well,” says Thom, “My friend, who we’ve seen since in the pub, was there, up on the hill and he says it looked amazing…”

“…with the fireworks?”

“…and everyone was really into it – so am I just being selfish because I had a bad time? I’ve got to accept that it’s the ‘event’ that counts. Andy on the lights has got all this mad stuff for the big shows, projections, stuff hanging from the ceiling. It’s cool.”

He wasn’t sure about the audience tonight, “When we played Polyethylene they weren’t getting it.”

“I enjoyed it!”

“Well, you would!” We pause to sip our beer.

“But what about you?” he asks.

“Pah…” I sigh and pull a face.

“That bad eh?”

“Still at Uni.”

“Edinburgh isn’t it?”

“Glasgow.”

And I tell him all about swapping my degree from English to History of Art, which will mean being a student for five years instead of three. When I mention History of Art he says “Dante!” and tells me his girlfriend is doing her doctorate on illustrations of early versions of the Divine Comedy.

I tell him about my subsidised trip to Holland to visit art galleries; he goes off on a art tangent talking about Italy and New York. They didn’t pay me to go to America, I say. “It’s only £260 on Iceland Air,” he says, trying to help…

I dig a photo out of my pocket. I took it in the summer, of the window display in a record shop in Amsterdam. I show it to him. “It’s suppose to be you with radio ears and a rain cloud over your head,” I explain.

“Old hair but… yeah…” he says, taking it and putting in a combat pocket. We talk some more about the art I’ve been studying. We agree that we like modern stuff the best, but he was mad for William Blake in his first year… and then we start on literature and I get a run down of books he studied at University.

“We arrived and in the first class there was this mad guy who told us to take lots of drugs. ‘I’m not expecting you to do any work,’ go and be yourselves. And we were all like “weyhey!”

I decide I must be at the wrong University. He says once he discovered the Marxist critic Terry Eagleton that was it. We talk about books and he remembers being surprised that he got really into The Portrait Of A Lady…

Caffy pops up to say goodbye and gives me her large vodka and orange, she hugs Thom and I tell her I’ll probably see her in November… We talk a bit more until Tim shows up and says it’s time to go. We stand up and realise everyone else has gone and we didn’t notice. We get to the door and we’re going in our separate ways saying ‘See you’; I’m doing my shrugging trick then Thom gives me a big hug and pulls a face. Tim says “See you tomorrow?”

“Stoke?! Erm yeah if that’s alright?”

“Yeah”, they both say, “of course it is!”

“OK then.” Looks like I’m going to Stoke.

I can’t follow them out, so I find the goods exit and eventually I’m in the street again. There are a handful of stragglers near the bus but I walk calmly past them, they don’t know where I’ve been. I get to the end of the road and feel like I’m going to burst, I’m all charged up and suddenly realise how hungry I am. I look up and I’m on the seafront, the Irish Sea stretched before me in the dark. I lean on the promenade rail and let out a scream that at 3am, there is no one around to hear.

 

34. Stoke-on-Trent, Trentham Gardens, 8 September 1997

My full English breakfast is floating in a pool of grease and tinned tomato juice but I’m so hungry I eat all of it. I walk through Blackpool. There are drifts of flowers at every available public monument following the death of Princess Di. The pavement near a war memorial is almost impassable. Before I get to the railway station, I call into a charity shop and by some freak chance they have a copy of A Portrait Of A Lady, one of the books we were talking about last night.

I’ve been to Stoke twice before, once when I was a kid to visit the Garden Festival (highlight: a huge water feature constructed entirely of porcelain toilet bowls) and once to check out a course when I was doing the rounds of my PCAS/ UCA shortlist, (highlight: buying a hat and a PJ Harvey album in one of the shopping centres that the place had got instead of a town centre, so unimpressed was I that I left without going to the interview.) Stoke is not a city but a conurbation of six Potteries towns, more like a project from my Geography A Level than a real place.,

After the train journey, I discover that the venue, Trentham Gardens is not a garden and is nowhere near this part of town. I call into the Tourist Information office, book the nearest available B&B and after what feels like about an hour on buses to find it, realise that I’ll have to go back to get money out as there are no cash points anywhere near the place.

It’s 4pm before I get near the venue, which at this point appears to be mostly comprised of a large car park. I can hear the tail end of the soundcheck. Some space noises and a song that sounds like it might be I Promise, drifts across the concrete. A croaky version of Paranoid Android follows, then A Reminder and Permanent Daylight. Emily the red haired girl and a friend of hers are here and they tell me I’ve missed True Love Waits. They’ve been here all day. When the soundcheck is over they go around the front of the venue to start a queue.

I stay where I am, there are steps to sit on here by the bus and the trucks. I wave at various people as they get on and off the bus. Later on Thom is approached by a couple of people and I hear a loud “No”. Some other kids are hanging about, working up the courage to talk to him next time he gets off the bus, but when he appears they freeze and instead have to listen to our quick conversation about the other bands that have played this venue, how Cast are awful and Ocean Colour Scene are beyond crap. The kids didn’t speak to him, they can’t believe that Thom is real. I chuckle to myself.

After this I can’t seem to shake off my new posse of awestruck teenagers, so I take them around the front of the venue to see if the doors have opened. Inside, I head for the bar and run into Lisa. She tells me she’s finished with zines these days, but R are the only band that really still do it, still give you the shivers down the back of the neck. We feel like the last of the old guard. I tell her about last night and she says I should ask them if I can help with W.A.S.T.E.

She’s with a friend, so I leave them and go off to see if I can get near the front. I end up in the middle and spend the whole gig hyper conscious of making eye contact with the stage. Because I’m in the middle I get absolutely killed. This crowd are mad for it.

“I know we’re in Stoke, but where IS this place?” laughs Thom. In amongst it they do Creep and Banana Co. And finally they play Let Down and despite the fact that they can’t do both halves of it together,  I can hardly believe it and I want to cry, but I’m not physically capable.

At the Rhodes for Subterranean, Thom hears a noise, “What was that? Probably nothing…” a heckler shouts something unintelligible and he drops into a riff from the Smiths song, “William, William…”

I can’t move enough in this crush to express what I’m feeling. I’m overloaded. I feel a distinct lack of dignity and something approaching self disgust. I scream and roar and cheer and stamp my feet. At the end I crawl out. Lisa grabs me and tells me it’s the best one she’s been at in a long while. She hugs me and says she’s thinking of going to the Paris show, and that I must come to the Nynex arena in Manchester on the next leg of the tour and stay with her. We end up in the foyer and I start to wilt through dehydration. I am in no rush to leave, but she’s driving back to Manchester and goes to look for her car. Tim pops up later, there’s no aftershow tonight, all the people hanging about are the crew’s mates. He nods over at a group huddled by the door – tonight’s token celebrity, Mark Owen from Take That, surrounded by hangers on and minders. Tim suggests I ask a local about taxis so I can get out of here. Eventually I find a pay phone and call one. Dead on my feet I find my way out past a throng of kids blocking in the band’s bus. I decide to stop now and go back north, as getting to Gloucester will break the bank and Brixton, like all London gigs, seems like a bad idea.

Another lonely, greasy breakfast. Aching all over, I load up all my gear and head for the train. I buy Q magazine, which has a big feature with Rankin’s photos of Thom in his big shoes and an interview, which is nice but gives nothing away compared to some of the conversation we had the other night…

 

35. Manchester, NYNEX Arena, 17 November 1997

The OK Computer arena gigs in November 1997 are the ones I have found myself talking about as the shows I enjoyed the least. But I was surprised, reading back through my diary, to find that I actually enjoyed the gigs and the band’s performance as much as I ever did. Retrospectively I’ve attached knowledge about what was going on in the life of the band at the time to my recall of events. I didn’t find out about that until a while after the release of Grant Gee’s tour documentary Meeting People Is Easy, which I will write about separately.

I think after the earlier 1997 dates, which were pretty special, where I felt particularly included and where I found myself lucky enough to get to talk with Thom on my own more than I’d done before, everything else was always going to stick in my memory as a bit of an anticlimax. In spite of being able to talk to him occasionally, I still relied on interviews and press coverage for much of my perspective on this person I wanted to feel like I was getting to know. I sometimes think I took things on face value too often, and with dreaded hindsight, I can see that neither version of Thom was the real one.

I’m trying to tell this story as it happened as much as I can, so I’ll try and separate the feelings I had at the time from the ones I had later…

Waiting at Manchester Piccadilly for my brother to arrive from Hull, where he’s gone to art school, his train is an hour and a half late. I drink weak tea and wait. We take the tram to NYNEX and marvel at the sheer size of the place, it swallows up the railway station and a multiplex, all the usual fast food outlets and as many adverts as can be squeezed in. We are told to return for the guestlist at 6.30pm. We go back towards the centre of town, where things are still in a mess near the Arndale Centre, there was an IRA bomb last year and Manchester hasn’t yet recovered. We find a pub full of indie kids and have a drink.

We walk back to NYNEX and confront the guest list ticket booth, I pick up an envelope from Caffy, but there’s only one ticket and one pass inside, I point out that there’s two of us and the guy picks up the phone. My brother panics a bit, the gig is sold out, but I try to stay calm. If the name’s not down… have I got anyone’s mobile number? No. I ask for Tim and the guy winks and tells us to come back in 20 minutes.  As a plan B we try to find out how much the touts want for a spare ticket, and get a bit more panicky. Then Lisa appears from out of thin air and immediately goes off to fetch Tim’s mobile number, she is wearing a ‘working’ pass.

In the meantime we go back to the desk and the guy there swaps my seated ticket for two standing ones and another pass much to our relief. We go inside hyped up, I dock my bag in the cloakroom and we go down the many stairs to the floor of the arena. The Beastie Boys are blasting out, this place is huge and loads of people are sitting on the floor. We get nearer the stage and realise that the DJ is James Lavelle (Mo’ Wax records honcho) playing his own Verve remix. I can’t keep still, I circle around until the kids stand up. Then Teenage Fanclub come on stage. Indie jangle abounds, they’re in their nice blokes incarnation, but the kids don’t move, except to eat crisps and the place is still half empty.

When they’ve gone, we can hear a DJ Shadow tune and it sounds great this loud. It turns out the bloke in the woolly hat on a platform where the sound desk should be is Josh Davis himself on the decks. Beams of light bounce off the walls, but no one seems to have noticed him. We dance about more than anyone else we can see.  My bro goes to get a bit nearer and observe Shadow’s technique (no movement above the wrist). This set fills in the roadie time, and had this been a small club show, it would have been the best warm up they’ve had.

Radiohead come on to Climbing Up The Walls, and every little thing gets a cheers (Thom coughs, “Yay!”, he takes off one of the two layered T shirts he’s got on, “Woo!”) They play a lot of OK Computer stuff. I get the feeling the front row are being very vocal but I’m not close enough. “We’ll be back here if any of you need any sexual favours…” says Thom in response to a heckle. The fast songs finally get this audience moving, Creep goes down well, My Iron Lung even better, it’s different here though, the venue is so large. They do Lurgee and Electioneering… People are talking through the quiet ones, Fake Plastic Trees and Bulletproof. For Exit Music I get stuck behind a guy who just won’t stop talking. I close my eyes and try to block him out, then give up and move. I keep trying to have a freak out and feel something that isn’t going through the motions. The gig takes a while to get going. It’s difficult to have an emotional experience in an ice hockey stadium with no ice and a popcorn concession.

At the end, Thom reads out a letter, the most words he’s spoken all night. It’s from the parents of a brother and sister who were at the last show at the Apollo, the boy had a heart attack shortly after and died. The mother has brought the girl to the gig tonight. They dedicate Street Spirit to them. It is simple yet effecting and makes me think of absent friends.

When it’s all over, we get our passes on and we’re herded into the seats. We find Lisa then get escorted to a roped off area and a kind of indoor marquee with tables, subtle lights and a bar. It feels like a wedding reception. It’s unlikely that we’re going to see much of the band in here. Lisa gets the beers in. We sit down and take it all in. Ed and Phil seem to be hosting their old pals, there’s no sign of the others. My brother is a bit overcome. We’re near Teenage Fanclub, and the Mo’Wax lot are over there.  And that looks like Mark Owen again in the other corner, fergawdsake.

I realise I have to get my bag back, the security people are unusually friendly and Lisa comes with me upstairs to the cloakroom, but I’m too late it’s been moved. We come back down in the lift, with DJ Marc ‘Lard’ Riley and his friends in front of us. After a little confusion, a security guy fetches my bag. We have another beer with Lisa and even though she’s forgotten about offering me a bed for the night, she offers to put us up. We go back to Heaton Chapel and get a few broken hours sleep. She has to get up early but will take us back into town in the morning so we can get a train back to our folks’.

 

 

36. Birmingham, NEC, 19 November 1997

It’s my birthday today.  I’m 23.

After buying myself some shoes in Nottingham, I get on the Birmingham train with one minute to spare. When I get there I call Caffy. She offers me a plus one for tonight, but sadly today I don’t have a friend in tow.

I go to the tourist information to find a B&B for the night. The woman behind the desk asks me why I’m here and when I tell her it’s for the gig, she says they could have sold all the tickets for it three times over. I take another train out to Birmingham International and from there a taxi to the B&B. I miss being the person who gets a free bed in someone else’s hotel room, £25 for the night is the top end of my meagre budget. Everyone else staying here seems to be here for the gig and when the bus back to the NEC shows up it’s full of likely candidates.

The NEC is huge, with echoing phosphorescently lit halls, like an empty airport with travelators and bright white walls. The Arena itself is separate and enormous. It’s the same guy on the door as last night but he doesn’t do any winking tonight. It’s a long walk from the box office to the performance space, past hot dog stands, beer stalls and merchandise. I buy a plastic-tasting beer and finally get inside. The ceiling is lower than in Manchester so it doesn’t seem so cavernous, but the inertia of the gathered audience in the face of James Lavelle’s DJ set is infuriating. I drink my cup of froth and wait for Teenage Fanclub to come on.  When Norman Blake plays the glockenspiel, someone shouts out “Jonny’s is bigger!”

DJ Shadow sounds more subdued than last night, it’s the shape of the room and the mood of the people. I have a go at moving about, I sometimes wonder if I’m the only person who comes to these gigs wanting to dance.

When the band appear, Thom sings Exit Music and it’s a bit wobbly. It takes 3 or 4 songs but then things start to fall into place and Subterranean is the song that flicks the switch. Jonny in the corner bathed in golden light, its beautiful and I feel lifted; like I’m feeling the feeling again. Even the green lights of the emergency exit signs at either side of the stage look like they’re calling me out of myself. I have space to move about, no one has elbowed me, I’m not being pushed around, no one cares if I dance like a maniac. The crowd have improved, I can feel it all around me, people are getting it.

They play Creep and the karaoke is in full effect, Thom is hamming it up, emoting and playing at being Frank Sinatra, doing all the actions, flashing his skinny body at the right moments. I scream and shout and jive my way through My Iron Lung, Just and Electioneering, there is no crush and I don’t have to fight to stay upright like I would have to in a smaller venue. At the end of Climbing Up The Walls, Jonny hits a weird note and Thom creases up, “What the fuck was that?!” Jonny comes over to the mic, but unable to explain himself he just says “I’ll get me coat.” Fast Show-style.

They play The Tourist, then the rest of the set list is a blur. Maybe I am getting over my need to be at the very front. The stage here is big and too far away for the sort of fan contact you might get at a smaller venue, I stopped worrying about that and let myself get swept away by the music.

When they’re done, I wheel around to the funereal jazz outro tape for a while until I find Caffy and get herded with the other pass holders into the “corporate hostility suite”. I see Tim to say hello to but he looks harassed. I join the Hall Or Nothing table with a journalist each from Melody Maker and NME. There are not many drinks and when some turn up I’m lucky to grab the last warm can of coke. I’m having trouble speaking, I’m not very good at talking to new people at the best of times but here everyone seems to be in the grip of their own in-jokes. They’re all driving back to London tonight so no one goes looking for booze.

There is a flyer for the new issue of Select on the table. Thom is on the cover of the magazine and the strap line says “I was ready to kill.” Caffy is not very happy about this and now is not the moment to talk about it. Jonny and Colin are around but there is no sign of the others. People are filtering away, it’s not really a party tonight, I wanted something to happen but no one knows it’s my birthday.

By the time I’ve found a pay phone so I can order a taxi, the place has emptied and there is nothing stopping me from doing a little exploring. I suppose I was hoping for a happy coincidence or to run into someone. I have to wait for my mini cab, as usual I’m in no real rush to leave, so I have a look outside to see if I can see where the bus is parked, but everything is behind a fence. I like to imagine the band were in there somewhere, having their own after show with the Mo’Wax crew…

Notes from 1998. January-October

January.

The year begins with the release of No Surprises on January 12, more B sides (Palo Alto and How I Made My Millions) plus emerging news about Grant Gee’s forthcoming film documentary. Ed and Phil do their bit on the radio, Thom’s pretty much stopped doing interviews, they’re going to be touring until the summer but there are no more UK dates. No Surprises hits number 4 in the top 40.

This is my last year at university. Mostly I am spending it drinking and talking cultural bollocks with the Visual Art Club and supervising the Film & TV resource room. (This involves kicking the photocopier and watching a lot of videos.) I’m enjoying this more than any of the work I’m supposed to be doing for my courses. I’m reading a lot but getting mediocre marks, I think I’ve got education fatigue.

January 26, a big envelope arrives through the post from Keiko. It’s a copy of Snoozer magazine with Thom on the front, but on closer look I see that he has signed it and written “Lucy’s” on his shoulder.  There is no letter enclosed to explain it. But a week later I get a postcard. Keiko and Izzy went shoe shopping with Thom while he was in Tokyo. “Great great greatest!” she says.

February.

February 14. The Unbelievable Truth play at King Tuts. Emily with red hair is there, having been on their trail and been to 15 gigs. They seem to be more a 4 piece than the advertised 3 piece, with Nigel (Thom and Jonny’s pal with the funny hair) on drums. Andy is darker, taller and physically just a bit bigger than his brother, but in his face, his chin and especially when he closes his eyes to sing, the resemblance is there as well as in his expressions and the inflections of his eyebrows, and his not-quite-posh Oxford way of speaking. I’m a little bit freaked out. Some of their songs are not bad, but my oh my there was a lot of REM in their house when they were kids.

Emily is down at the front taking photos but I hang back at the sound desk. She hangs around at the end because she’s not yet got autographs. Off stage Andy doesn’t have the physical nerviness of his brother, or indeed the vague look of ill health. I feel like I’ve fallen into the Twilight Zone. Emily and her entourage head off with the band up Sauchiehall Street and I tag along for a while, but keep going in the direction of home, not feeling in a position to do any proper ligging.

February 16. A friend has taped the MTV Radiohead Night for me. It’s a long play VHS so I have to go and watch it on the more up to date video players in the Resource Room. I fast forward through it and watch the interviews. Talking about touring, Ed says playing big gigs is about trying to reach out to individuals. Thom says it’s a “dream state.” It’s about “something in the air that wasn’t there when you started.” He also talks about how he feels after the shows, “I don’t go and say hello to anybody… I just go and sit on the bus now because I can’t do anything else.” The feeling of getting a new song right can “keep you going for ever.” And he says, “The most important thing in life is to establish heartfelt communication with others… there’s bugger all else to do.”

For some reason this interview in particular touches a nerve.

February 25. Get an email from a chap called Nick, who is producing a documentary on the band for Radio 1. He has a day of interviews with the band and Mr Donwood booked. He’s interested in breaking away from their “deadly serious image” and in Thom’s early artistic career. I email back, dropping a few hints. I’m interested because it’s radio (and not one of those rip off books that have started appearing).  I want to get involved and help out, use this as a way into something bigger, maybe. I send him some bits and pieces I have saved that might assist with the research.

March

When I get another email from Nick, it’s all off. Thom has cancelled. I take the opportunity to ask the radio producer for some career advice.

April

Atsuko sends me a letter with a slightly worrying report of Thom on tour, he was tired and fed up. I’d sent her a letter to hand to him, as it felt like the only way to get a message of support through.

I get to see Drugstore a couple of times this month, just to keep my hand in with the ligging. At one of the shows I end up buying the whole band a round of drinks. El President, their duet with Thom, has charted.

May

Seven Television Commercials, a compilation of the band’s promo videos is released. It’s weird to finally get to see all the videos after only ever seeing the bits they play on TV. They’re all about death and rebirth aren’t they?

I spend the remainder of the term trying to understand Hegel and Post-modernism well enough to pass my art history exams. I distract a friend in the exam by wearing my Leisure Is Pain T shirt – he is sitting behind me and spends the whole exam trying to read it.

Another letter from Atsuko. She got another note from Thom. He sent her his invitation to the Ivor Novello Awards and told her that he has a new house by the sea.

June.

W.A.S.T.E. arrives and confirms Thom is by the sea. He likes the sound of the waves. There is a postcard to send to Bill Clinton about Tibet. They are playing one of the Free Tibet gigs with REM. He’s not losing it, he says, “Honest.”

June 25. Much to my relief I get my degree result. I got a 2:1.

June 29. A Rabbit In Your Headlights, Thom’s song from the UNKLE album, is on the radio. It makes sense. It sounds like they locked him in a room with a piano until he came up with something suitably doomy.

July.

Graduation.  Which is fairly inauspicious. My parents visit and then leave me to get riotously drunk with people from my class. I end the evening playing pool in Nice ‘n’ Sleazys.

July 12. Go to T in the Park on a one day ticket. See The Beastie Boys and Unbelievable Truth (who have Jonny’s guitar tech Duncan as one of their roadies) and Portishead.

July 15. Nick the radio guy is in town and I meet him for veggie food in the 13th Note. We talk about the documentary that was never to be (despite the fact they’d lined up Eddie Izzard for the narration) and I entertain him with some of my anecdotes.

August.

I exchange several emails with Max K, (who at this time is running the best Radiohead website). He seems to know whenever Thom gets spotted in the street. I arrange to swap a load of bootleg tapes with him. I also get Caffy’s new email and find out that she’s been working on a new fanzine that I could write for.

August 14. Go and see comedian Rob Newman at the Edinburgh Fringe… I’m happy to see him again (it’s been a while) but he has a gag about Radiohead being whiney and it upsets me. He was glad they weren’t on at Glasto this year, and “don’t let anybody tell you that they’re good, because they’re not.” He mocks High And Dry and says that’s the voice that your mum tells you off for using “One more word out of you like that…” It’s hard to hear one of my heroes slag off another…

I spend the summer failing to get jobs, even temporary ones and ones that pay £3 per hour. My “self esteem” is possibly at an all time low, now I don’t even have University to distract me, I feel rather purposeless. The band seem distant from day to day life, once in a while I note in my diary how good a particular album sounds on my headphones. My film tutor suggested that I should be a journalist and that I should send articles to magazines but I’ve not been writing a great deal lately and I lack confidence. I fail to get jobs in two book shops and a video shop; and I can’t seem to stick to office temping for more than a couple of days at a time. I give in and sign on.

September.

Max sends tapes, there are gigs with the new songs – Big Ideas (Don’t Get Any) and How To Disappear Completely And Never Be Found. Maybe there will be something to look forward to now.

September 26. Max emails to tell me that Thom and Jonny are in Israel, that there is not going to be a B-sides album  (which had been rumoured) and Meeting People Is Easy (Grant Gee’s film, henceforth referred to as MPIE) will come out on video at some point. Apparently it’s full of depressing footage of Thom facing off the media circus. Radiohead are playing an Amnesty International gig in Paris on December 10 and the W.A.S.T.E. HQ was very busy when Max visited recently.

September 28. I buy the Velvet Goldmine soundtrack, which has Thom “doing” Bryan Ferry, he sounds… drunk…and not like himself, but you can hear its him in the characteristic splutter on the plosives.

October.

Go for training at a job in a book warehouse, but I also have an interview on the same day for a job in a record shop called Fopp. I know which job I would rather have. I leave more nervous than I went in and spend the rest of the day feeling like I’ve blown it. But they call me the next day to ask me to start on Monday (in two days time). I’m so surprised, I nearly fall over.

October 5.  Start the job and learn the ropes quickly. The next day I sell a lot of Morcheeba CDs.

October 7. Thom’s birthday. I’m in the shop first thing and I put one of my favourite B-sides, Lull, on the stereo in his honour (as when it’s not busy we can play what we like). We play and sell The Beta Band 3 EPs a lot in true High Fidelity fashion.

I phoned up a number advertised in the NME to find out about the Show Travel packages for the Paris gig, but the prices are off putting.

 

37*. Fopp Records, 8 October 1998

I’m on the later shift at the record shop today, this morning I almost put on my Paranoid Android T-shirt but changed my mind at the last moment. It is busy in the shop all morning. At lunchtime, I eat a sandwich in the Botanic Gardens and when I come back at 2.30pm, I go back behind the counter. I look up to find myself face to face with a man with a beard. It’s Thom.

And HE says, “What are you doing here?!”

He’s grown the colour out of his hair. He’s got a big khaki coat on. He’s got a hand full of records and he’s grinning at me.

When I remember to breathe, I realise I’m not dreaming, I’m at work and I’ll have to reach the vinyl down from the shelf. He’s got Squarepusher, Plasticman and Arab Strap albums and several more techno 12 inches that I have to find.  I slow down. Over the last couple of days I’ve developed a fast pace, this is a busy shop. I have to look for the records but I want to look at him to make sure he’s really here. He comes round the side to the vinyl counter and as I get the discs down from the shelf he puts them in the sleeves. I’m glad, because at this point my hands are no longer responding to signals from my brain. Someone else leans over asking for a listening copy of something (there is a deck on the counter with headphones so people can listen to the 12s, we get a lot of DJs and techno fans in), he doesn’t notice who he’s pushing out of the way.

We must have been talking because he tells me he’s up here visiting a friend for his 30th birthday. I tell him I just started this job, he asks me if this means I’ve graduated and I tell him I got a 2:1.

He tells me they’re staying at the local posh hotel, which he’s quite amused about, it’s his birthday treat. I must have asked him how things are going because he says, “It took me three months to be a normal human being again.”

I ring the records in the till and he produces a large roll of notes from his pocket to pay. I don’t want him to go yet, we’re still talking, I go around the counter so I don’t have to serve anyone else. (No one else in the shop at this point has recognised him, he looks different with the beard and longer hair) He mentions Paris and I ask him why they are playing it and he starts to say “Well, Amnesty….”

I know that, I say, but the rest of the bill is a bit dubious… He agrees, he feels a bit dodgy because the other bands are “a bit crap apart from ADF. But if we don’t do it now we never will. We’re getting to like not playing live.”

“That will never do.” I say. We both pull a face.

“Where did you hear about it anyway?” he asks, surprised I know about the show.

“Caffy,” I tell him. “And I get email from Max.” My spies are everywhere, I’m not sure if I actually said that out loud.

“Oh,” he says, “You’ve got an email then? I’ll give you mine.”

I dive back behind the counter to get the only available paper, the stickers we use to mark damaged records, and a pen. He scrawls his email  address on one and I write mine on another and we swap.

The Mercury Rev album Deserter’s Songs is playing in the shop. We’ve been playing it everyday and it’s selling well. “What is this?” he asks. Jane, the manager, is passing by at that moment, probably keeping an eye on me, and she tells him.

“Oh I’ll have that,” says Thom to me, “Colin told me about it.”

I hurtle off across the shop to get a vinyl sleeve, but when I get back he’s changed his mind and would rather have it on CD. He pays cash again and I say something about not knowing how to give him a staff discount yet. “It’s OK,” he says, “It’s my job.”

I want him to stay a bit longer. I ask him how big the Paris gig is going to be and he tells me it’s about 150,000 capacity.

“Oh piece of cake then!” I raise my eyebrows.

“You’re staying in Glasgae then?” he asks, doing a Scottish accent.

“Looks like it.” I shrug.

“Well,” he says, “It’s better than London here.” We talk a bit more but he has to meet Rachel and their friend. I give him a hug before he goes.

I disappear into the back room and drink a glass of water. I try to regain some hold on reality. I hide the sticker in my bag and then I go back onto the shop floor. About half an hour later, when the shop is less busy, my friends Nigel and Kath come in. Before he says anything else, Nigel asks me “Have you seen him?”

When I reply in the affirmative he says “Thank God for that, we’d have got you the sack if you’d have had to run out of the shop.” It turned out they’d just seen him in Ashton Lane, not far from the shop. They only knew it was him when they heard one of his companions call his name. He had bags from every one of the five record shops in the area.

I have to work until 7pm, and it’s all I can do to hold myself together. At the end of the day the manager gives me a beer, she wasn’t sure who it was I was talking to but when I confirm it, she was characteristically only concerned about how much money he was spending. “He’s loaded isn’t he?”

I wonder what it would be like if I could just phone the hotel and take them all out for a drink, like they were friends of mine. It is not going to happen.

I’d had dreams where I’d taken Thom shopping, (like the girls did in Tokyo) but this felt even stranger than those. The job (which I have for the next 6 months) never quite recovers from this moment.

*I know, I know I’ve done it again, but at the time it had been so long since there had been  a tour that it counted as a “hit”.

 

Meeting People Is Easy. October-November 1998

When I go to check my email the day after Thom came into the shop, there is a rumour circulating from the Japanese continent that Thom is going to be a father. I somehow doubt that this is true, as he surely would have mentioned it yesterday, but I use my new opportunity to contact him to find out what’s going on. He puts me straight in a reply the following day. (In the end it was Phil’s wife who was about to have a child and someone somewhere got their wires crossed). It feels weird to be in a position to quash some inaccurate gossip.

I spend the next week or so in a daze, trying to work out whether trying to go to Paris for the Amnesty gig is even an option. It isn’t.

I find working full time very hard going and I am becoming quite depressed. Don’t think this can be entirely due to having to play Robbie Williams’ new album all day long in the shop, although it doesn’t help.

Caffy puts me in touch with a Melody Maker journalist who is compiling a feature on pop fans.  I send him the story of my first letter from Thom.  I don’t have a computer of my own and I have to check my email every few days in a local book shop where there is an internet café. When the MM comes out Caffy says if she were a pop star she’d be honoured to have me as a fan! Which was very nice of her, I’d been rather worried about my contribution, but I’m starting to think about writing more about my experiences.

In November Caffy sends me a promo copy of Meeting People Is Easy, I am a little awed by it at first. There are new songs and Thom talking about “the most important thing.”

There are moody scenes soundtracked by Scott Walker songs, the queue outside the Astoria (but not the one I was in) and a brief glimpse of Keiko crying as she sees the band off at the airport in Japan. I buy a copy of the VHS as soon as it comes out.

The NME are making a lot of the “Thom hates fame” angle. Atsuko (who I met in Dublin, who is now back in Japan) has asked me to find out if it would be possible to interview Thom for InRock, the magazine she works for, but in the end she calls me and asks me to write something about my experiences and review the film.

Here’s what was translated for the magazine, published in January 1999:

Grant Gee’s film Meeting People Is Easy gives an intriguing insight into the process of touring and promoting the album OK Computer. It takes its visual cues from the sleeve artwork of the album, making the endless cities that the band visit look like alien landscapes. The band themselves also seem like aliens at times, at the start of the film they appear to land from a spaceship and then make their way towards a stage to the strains of Fitter Happier. On the streets of Tokyo, they try to mingle with the crowds but end up standing out and looking lost in the futuristic city.

The album’s recurring themes of movement, speed and transport are interpreted here as views from vehicle windows as the world speeds by in a blur of bright lights, freeways, tunnels and airports.

It is remarkable how close Gee has come in interpreting the band’s musical vision on film.  Reading through some of the countless press interviews that the band did to promote the album I found that the way they describe the songs and feelings on OK Computer corresponds very closely to the images in the film.

Thom tried to describe the point of view from which he had written the songs:

“It was like there was a secret camera in every room and it’s watching the character for each song.  The camera’s not quite me, its neutral, emotionless, but not emotionless at all, in fact it is the complete opposite.”

Grant Gee has said of the film, “What I tried to do was to scoop out the emotion as much as possible and just show frustration.  Even though there are some candid scenes in there, it is kind of empty.  There’s nothing you can show about these people that’s going to have anything like the same impact as the music they make.”

The music is the connecting force. The most important thing in the process. The Radiohead live experience is only shown in fits and starts in the film but there are moments when it all comes together and even someone who is not a fan can feel the emotional power of the music.

The first song that we hear them play is the first song that they played to the world on the tour at the opening show in Barcelona, Lucky. Jonny Greenwood recalls “shaking in Barcelona and never wanting to loose that feeling” The excitement of playing live is as palpable for the band as it is for the audience.

The film is less about the band than them at the centre of the process of taking their music out to the world. This process is not even really fame because they are not really  famous.  They are not (thank goodness!) famous like movie stars or household names but their job now involves taking part in the process of celebrity, the rounds of interviews and TV appearances, self advertisement that leads them to become a kind of human product on the global marketing treadmill. It is their own fear that they will become part of this machine, the fact that it is so much not what they are about that makes the film so compelling.

For these five worriers, being caught up in this intense situation is often more than they can stand. In taking their art to the people there are a lot of draw backs, a lot of reasons to quit.  As it becomes monotonous and they become weary (as in the later sections of the film) they have to keep focusing on what it is that drives them on.

As Thom has said:

“There are a lot of good reasons for not doing tours. It fucks you up, it takes too long and it costs shitloads of money…but…its about looking people in the eye when we play our songs.”

The film is full of hidden tension. Touring the world is the thing which drives the band to greater success but at the same time it is also the thing which prevents them from leading normal human lives and being able to concentrate on the thing that they love, the music.

Yet as the film illustrates, their music comes from the kind of situations which they encounter on the road. The emotional resonance of the songs fits with the images. Shopping malls and ‘modern life’; handshakes and carbon monoxide… Meeting People Is Easy manages to be both revealing and not at the same time. There are candid scenes of the band back stage but we never get any closer to finding out about how they work together. The film uses fragments of interviews and footage which manage create an impressionistic and occasionally profound picture of Radiohead without ever achieving concrete coherence.

Throughout the film, Gee returns to the idea that all the critical acclaim the band are receiving is adding to the pressure on them to live up to expectations. The barrage of press-superlatives builds up and overflows until they feel the fear of the inevitable backlash. In one interview, done on the Australian leg of the tour, Thom talks about success bringing with it new responsibilities, making taking risks very hard. There is always this fear deep down, but risks need to be taken, success should bring them the freedom to express themselves creatively, rather than add to the pressure to bring more success. The pressure of feeling it and meaning it all the time as a job means that Radiohead often take everything too seriously.

The moments in the film where it is most obvious that Radiohead are better than any of this, worth more than all the strife that they have to contend with are the fragments of new songs.

One which may or may not be called Big Ideas (Don’t get any), performed in New York and others which we can see being worked on in sound checks, including one with the lyric ‘You follow me around’ that sounds a little like a country-style REM song.

For me, as a fan, the part where Thom talks about the most important thing being that he can remember what it is like to have songs which were etched on your heart when you are were a teenager, when life goes wrong. When he realised that his songs were as important to people as The Smiths or REM were to him, then that is what makes it all worthwhile. To know that he understands the big deal is very meaningful.

 

I watched it again, for the first time in a long time in 2011 (in the process of writing this):

I always find it strange that the band portrayed in this film is the one that a lot of people think is most like the real Radiohead. It’s a film about the process of promoting a record as much as anything, I think at the time I relied on it to fill in the gaps, there was almost a year and a half with no gigs. The hyperbole around OK Computer always bothered me, and watching its effect on the band is quite an uncomfortable experience. Meeting People Is Easy is rather one sided in that respect. Grant Gee is not at every gig, he drops in at various points on the tour and perhaps by choice doesn’t attempt to give a balanced picture. Some of the absurdity but little of the humour of the Radiohead camp is captured by his cameras. What comes across is Thom’s inherent distrust of his own success, the fact that touring is repetitive and tiring, not particularly glamorous and at some points just down right inane. I do wonder if music journalists still ask those same, humourless, pointless questions these days?

Thom’s body language throughout is something that could probably offer a student of psychology a lot of mileage; there is never really a chance to see him when he’s not under pressure. I don’t think this helped dispel any preconceptions about the band, they DO take things very seriously but there are moments of levity on tour that MPIE totally neglects to mention.

Grant Gee isn’t trying to shoot a concert film, its more all about the peripheral stuff – and there are things here I recognise – soundman Jim on his skates; Tim looking at his watch and handing out cups of tea; the strange polite air of resignation with which the band awkwardly conduct themselves in the face of formal meetings with foreign record company personnel. I do sometimes wonder how I never ran into the film crew on my travels (they were at the Astoria fan club show but I never noticed).

My least favourite scene is the clip from Sky News where the monstrous presenter Kay Burley talks disparagingly all over the promo video for No Surprises, calling it “music to cut your wrists to,” while her fellow presenter seems to actively enjoy watching Thom narrowly avoid drowning.

There are some interesting cuts between photo shoots and interviews taking place and the finished articles, like the Raygun piece where Thom talks about college radio being “fridge buzz” and in Japan where he extrapolates a complicated economic theory, as if being able to talk about anything other than himself is more important than talking about having made the “best album in the world” for the 1000th time.

MPIE throws up a couple of faintly surreal moments: “Tower lobby floor?”  The band get lost on the way to shoot a video acceptance speech for the NME Awards, fuck it up, re-do it and get very frustrated only to have the NME use the botched version and in the process make the band look like they’re trying deliberately to be iconoclastic.

Some questions are thrown up. Did Thom ever wear anything other than those giant combat trousers?  Has Ed ever considered going into politics? His ability to answer questions without actually saying anything meaningful at all is surely a valuable skill in that field. Indeed his best contribution is now something of a catchphrase…“Polaroids? What kind of Polaroids?”

Thom doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself, which concurs with reports I received at the time. He frames everything in comparison to their performance at Glastonbury, which has become the benchmark against which everything else is measured and found to be disappointing. “Everything that happened after Glastonbury has been a let down.”

There is a moment near the end of the film when Thom seems to be losing his ability to communicate, he implies that he’s bored of the songs and all but suggests packing it in, telling the others that they should “get out while the going’s good.” Even while they’re still on tour they’re bracing themselves for the inevitable backlash. The film ends back in New York with a new song, which a TV presenter refers to as Big Ideas (don’t get any). Thom introduces it as being about “believing you’re actually wonderful when you know it’s not true.” (This song will eventually take about nine years to be finished and be recorded as Nude, on In Rainbows.)

After watching MPIE, I don’t think I ever took an interview at face value ever again. If it had been all I had to go on, I would have been even more worried about the future of the band than I already was.

Notes from 1999

January.

Working in the record shop on my feet all day is exhausting. I spend my wages on discounted CDs and let my friends take advantage of the perks.  The manager insists on us playing acid jazz funk most of the time, which does my head in.

February.

In my diary I seem to be punishing myself for not living up my own expectations of myself, for not being able to talk to people, for getting drunk too often, for not being able to make my feelings known. Despite being involved in a short film that a friend is making, I don’t feel like I’ve found a way to express myself. I don’t have the confidence.

March.

After feeling that I’m decidedly on the bottom rung of the corporate ladder, I get taken aside by the boss and told that as I’m “not management material”, this is the end of my trial period. Basically, I get sacked. I feel reckless and light on my feet as I leave.

April.

I go back to signing on. Whenever I seek careers advice I get told I have to push myself more. I should really go and do something vocational, or a journalism course, but after 5 years I can’t take any more academic education and besides, I can’t afford it.

My mum lends me the money to get my own computer, so I can write more, but when it arrives it has a fault and I have to send it back.

I’m still checking my email at a friend’s and I get an email from Thom, with the subject line “How to build the ideal bunker. He says “we are sort of working now.” He was just looking at a pile of cut outs and words and “this bloody broken keyboard and wondered how you were.” There are vowels missing and letters doubled (must be the keyboard.). I write back and tell him about the state of play and the Elvis Costello gig I was at the night before.

He’s playing a solo set on June 13th in Amsterdam for the Free Tibet gig. I email My dad’s Dutch cousin and she invites me to stay with her, when I tell her why I want to come, she buys me a ticket for the gig.

June.

Lack of money and direction cause me to pack up and leave Glasgow. I try to convince myself that I’m not moving in with my parents, rather storing my stuff there while I go travelling. I go to Hull and call in on my brother before I catch the Ferry to Holland. The ferry was cheaper than flying, and I haven’t booked a cabin. Instead I stay up and watch a not very good Mel Gibson thriller and then lay out my sleeping bag on the floor between the seats to snatch a couple of hours sleep. In Amsterdam I meet my dad’s cousin Maria at Central Station. Her flat is not far away, she’s an academic and it’s full of books. I can stay here while she’s at work. I feel remarkably sprightly considering my lack of sleep and go exploring. I spend the next couple of days going to galleries, shopping, wandering around. I really like Amsterdam. I visit the Stedelijk Museum, The Jewish History Museum and Kitsch Kitchen (my favourite shop in the world).

There is a fringe event for the Free Tibet movement in the Dam Square, I go and have a look and spot a few familiar faces in the crowd, including Emily with Red Hair. I make contact with Keiko later and go to meet her at her hotel. We talk excitedly. She’s been to 40 gigs by now. We catch up on the gossip (Colin got married, it was Phil’s wife who had the kid, Thom and Stanley really liked Tokyo). We’re rather ridiculously excited about tomorrow’s gig.

 

38. Amsterdam, RAI Parkhall, Tibet Freedom Concert, 13 June 1999


The venue for today’s Tibet Freedom Concert is a big exhibition hall. Keiko photographs everything and is gutted when they don’t let her take her camera inside. She and her friend Myoko are on the guestlist and I have my ticket. I buy a T shirt with the line up on the back on the way in. We set up camp about three rows from the front. It’s a bit of a scrum. The faithful are here in force. In front of me is a very small girl with a tattoo of the ‘hex’ star symbol from the OK Computer art work.

Despite the crush, it’s all very civilised with everyone holding their places. We are surrounded by the Dutch wing of the fan club, The Panic Button, who have their own T-shirts and a photographer ready down at the front. We watch Luscious Jackson, some dancing Tibetan monks and Dutch hardcore band NRA, whose fans mosh like crazy, a weird juxtaposition with the images of non-violent protest being shown between the acts. They do a dance which consists of running around in a small space at high speed whilst punching and kicking each other at random. They’re just behind us and I reciprocate a few elbows, but they’re too funny to get annoyed about.

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros are next on. They play several Clash songs and some new stuff. I admire Scott their bass player, with his strategically placed tattoos. They play I Fought The Law. It’s your actual Joe Strummer and he’s on the same bill as Thom!

Ben Harper, who follows with a sit down blues set, is rather boring by comparison. He even manages to make Voodoo Chile sound dull. I’m fainting with hunger but there’s no time to get out of this crowd now. As a Tibetan artist plays a one stringed harp-like instrument, Keiko and I try not to get too excited about the sound of an acoustic guitar being tuned just behind the scenes. We exchange good luck hand shakes and brace ourselves. I have my camera and my crappy tape recorder but they are just a distraction. I focus on staying upright. Thankfully there is not too much of a surge in the crowd when the catsuit-wearing Dutch VJ woman announces the next act.

Thom saunters on and sits behind an upright piano. Jonny is here but he’s not playing yet. It’s just Thom at the piano playing a quiet new tune. Something about a little row boat and nothing to fear… He pulls some faces and then exchanges instruments with Jonny to play Street Spirit. There are some distracting noises off stage and as usual he doesn’t look happy when people talk during the quiet bits. He’s nervous but just about in control. He doesn’t talk much, but when he does it’s about why they are here, playing at the Tibet Freedom show.

“There’s a lot of issues going on at the moment, so it’s understandable that Tibet is not getting the attention it deserves but there’s an underlying issue. The issue is where world powers choose to exceed their authority and where they don’t, the selective amnesia that keeps going on around us and the media keeps just portraying it as the truth. So erm that’s why we chose to do this gig.”

He strums a few chords and starts “I hate these.. curtains..” He’s trying to play I’ll Wear It Proudly, Elvis Costello’s song he’s previously cited as a favourite, but he can’t remember the words. He turns to Jonny in bewilderment and swears and laughs. I call out what I can remember of the words, something about “the colour of your hair”, there is a whoop from somewhere in the audience and he pulls it back together, and introduces the song properly. (it’s ‘flaming curtains’ he can’t remember)

With Jonny on the Hammond organ, they get through it. The words come through clearly “if you don’t know what is wrong with me you don’t know what you’ve missed.” Beautiful.

They go straight into Lucky and we get a smile when everyone sings along. A girl behind me with an Alannis Morrisette placard uses it to poke a photographer out of the way so we get a better view. There are no cameras on the stage. No posing for the big screen. In spite of the size of the venue, this feels like an intimate gig. Thom moves to the piano for Karma Police and is saved by the audience when he gets the chorus ravelled up.  They’re not on stage for long, we get Exit Music, and he takes a little bow centre stage at the end.

Fake Plastic Trees is the soundtrack to the next bit of video footage when the curtains close. Keiko and I escape to the toilet. We want to find Thom and say hello. We spotted the VIP rooms but there is no way to get in, we get pass outs and go for a look outside. Without passes we’ve not got a hope, but it feels like we ought to try.  Keiko knows enough crew members to ask for and she’s very determined. We go back to the arena, we don’t want to watch Garbage. Keiko leans on a fire exit door and it opens out onto an area where the buses are parked. No one is stopping us so we go for a look around.

Keiko and Myoko are convinced that there’s nothing more to see and decide to go back to town. I promise that the next time we see each other will be in Tokyo. I find a spot to sit down, and let the sub Led Zep dirge of Alannis wash over me. I don’t understand why she’s so popular. Blur come on late. They look chunkier than they used to. Alex is playing a stand up bass. They play most of their album 13, which I’ve been listening to a lot lately. This new weariness kind of suits them. They encore with the never played live before Blue Jeans and the rousing Song 2. It gives me the required lift from my exhaustion to get out and back to town.

 

 

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Notes from 2000.

February.

I mentioned the new “website” I’m writing for, (people dont’ really understand the idea of an “online” only magazine yet, they keep asking when it’s coming out) in an email I sent to Thom late one night, and he replied a few days later. He said he was worrying about “finishing, touring, fax machines and parking, the usual stuff.” He also said “I could do an interview whatever that is”.

March.

Finally there is some tour news.  There are half a dozen European dates in June and July. Ed’s diary, which he’s been posting online since last summer, says they’re getting their heads above water.

March 25, wake up to find that while I was out at a gig the night before, I missed Thom and Jonny playing a DJ set of their current favourite tunes as a webcast. My connection wasn’t really up to it anyway, and they do these things unannounced… It made me jumpy to miss it. Another gig, Coldplay and Terris to write it up for the web-magazine. They sound like EMI’s wet dream of the saleable bits of Fake Plastic Trees.

May.

Thom eventually answers the email full of questions I sent, he’d lost my email the first time and I had to send the questions again. I don’t know how to edit it, don’t feel I want to alter what he’s sent, so I send it as a Q&A piece  and they run it without a great deal of fanfare. It’s the first interview he’s done this year, but not many people notice.

They are playing a UK show on July 1st, as part of the Meltdown Festival, curated by Scott Walker. He writes, “we’re a bit rough and creaky like old men.”

Caffy fixes me a press ticket for the show…

39. London, Royal Festival Hall, Meltdown, 1 July 2000

In London, I go for a look at the art at Somerset House. Then in the afternoon I sit on the South Bank, eat my sandwiches and watch the people go by. In between rain showers and cups of tea, I read the paper and use phone boxes to try to call Caffy’s mobile and set up a meeting.

About 3pm I get through and find that she’s feet away from me on the other side of the doors. She has a ticket for me. I’m looking for Keiko, but no one has seen her. I resume my vigil but I think I’m probably just trying to sublimate the tension, directing my nerves onto something else. I wander around and spot Emily with the Red Hair and various people who look kind of familiar. But I feel detached and sit on the fringes. These must be the people from the new Message Board. I’m looking for Max K but I don’t even know what he looks like.

The tickets were hard to get hold of, 500 were reserved by WASTE and some people queued up in the early hours of the morning when they were released to buy them at the venue. Other people paid five-times the face value for them on eBay. I know how lucky I am to be here at all.

At 7.30pm I realise I can go inside, there are already people in the bar. I see Tim the Tour Manager and Brian the Manager on the door. We chat and I ask how it’s going.

“It was OK until today…”

“…And then the fear set in?” I suggest.

“Something like that,” Tim says.

I douse my headache and low blood sugar with Coca Cola at the bar. I have a glance at the new T-shirts, but the picture I like is on a long sleeved brown one…

I find I’m on the fifth level of seats, this venue is more formal than I’m used to.  I’m going to have to stay in my seat. I park myself and realise that Steve Punt (the comedian and member of The Mary Whitehouse Experience) is at the other end of the row, and this instance of the interconnectedness of all things makes me laugh heartily.

Clinic are on first. They wear masks, they go dungadungadunga, but that’s not what we’re here for.

The place is still filling up with people while they’re playing, which is very distracting in a venue like this where you’re meant to be in your seat to concentrate. I’m still looking for Keiko. When Clinic have finished I go back downstairs to buy a shirt, having decided on a Khaki one with Customer Focused Music Solutions and a drawing of a hug on the front. I have another Coke and settle back into my seat as more people arrive in the row. Radiohead are on at 8.45pm, this venue is strict about timings.

Thom, in baggy shirt and black trousers appears on stage and says “Hey!” and they kick off with a new one: Optimistic. It wails and thrashes and it is ON. Awesome. Jawdropping. Apeshit. Incredible. I’m writhing in my seat.

The new stuff is intense and dark but the beats! The bass! Colin is playing a stand up bass. Phil is playing a techno programmed machine. It’s wonderful and I’m so glad I waited to hear the songs here. Beautiful. I’m shivering. It’s been a hell of a long time, but they’re back and it feels very good.

There’s one for “Tony Blair- what a shame I never got to shake hands with him”, the song sees Thom sit astride the piano stool centre stage and he gives toothy grins at appropriate moments… Dollars and Cents (“the pounds and pencesssssss” he hisses). That makes it 10 new songs, enough for a new album. Ed tells a story about watching a nature programme this morning about the mating habits of Chinchillas. The female “pisses in the face of the male” if she’s not satisfied. Apparently they’ve had this image in their heads all day.

When they’re done, I walk past Polly Harvey on my way to the Ladies. I am so shocked I think I actually said “She’s tiny!”, out loud and scared her away. I finally find Keiko, she is by the sound desk, but we are both speechless. She’s bought one of each of the new T shirts.

Out of 22 songs in the set they played 10 new ones. I remember a weird feeling about the Royal Festival Hall on the night, more usually used as a classical venue, known for its great acoustics, it was mentioned in several of the reviews – which were decidedly mixed. (The worst one is probably this one from the Guardian.) I was so overawed that I didn’t manage to write one of my own.

I remember clinging on to my seat, unable to keep still, annoyed at being unable to make a decent recording of my own, being disengaged from reality. I was there but not there. I remember sitting down in my seat and I remember the band coming onto the stage, but the gig itself, like some traumatic experience, is not clear in my head at all. I couldn’t take it in, all the new stuff, I wanted to memorise it on the spot, I wanted to be able to take it away with me, to hold on to it.

Cutting and pasting. Notes from July & August 2000

July.

The NME announces the LP will be called Kid A. It will be available in October. The gigs that have already been announced are in September, in a specially constructed tent that the band are taking out on tour with them. The track listing for the album is still to be finalised, with The NME speculating that the songs played at the Royal Festival Hall will make up LP4, the internet is rife with ideas about which tracks will be included.

The relatively new phenomenon of mp3 downloads means that bootlegs of all the songs, apart from Idioteque are available “with the right software.” Piecing together info from fan sites and Ed’s diary (on Radiohead.com), the NME claims the band have about 40 songs to chose from. They speculate that the remainder will be released as a series of 12 inch singles…

From Thom’s website postings I note names of possible forthcoming songs: There There, Wicked Child and Knives Out. These ramblings on the website have a lot to answer for. My old notebooks are variously full of:

  • quotes from Guardian editorials (including whole columns by Hugo Young),
  • notes on anti-globalisation
  • unrecorded playlists
  • meaningful paragraphs from Douglas Coupland novels, [e.g. Miss Wyoming p114: ” If he learned one thing while he’d been away, it was that loneliness and the open discussion of loneliness is the most taboo subject in the world. Forget sex or politics or religion. Or even failure. Loneliness is what clears a room.  …He also just wanted to see her face. This is how fans feel about stars, he thought. So this is what it’s like…”]
  • notes for an unrealised short film drama about George Orwell, including long passages from Nineteen Eighty Four
  • telephone numbers for film making training courses I never joined
  • scored out ‘to do’ lists
  • fragments of overheard conversations
  • email addresses
  • definitions of words like ‘lassitude’
  • the seeds of melodramatic and unfinished short stories about people who run away from home
  • notes for gig reviews
  • evidence of an obsession with Jonathan Richman’s Roadrunner
  • scribbled lists of situationist book titles.
  • Things written to make me look occupied while drinking tea at a media training course.

I eventually get a work experience placement at Scottish TV, writing factsheets on social issues to accompany their daytime programming. I go and see The Unbelievable Truth at King Tuts again. I go and see Rob Newman at the Edinburgh Fringe again. I go and see Drugstore, again.

August.

I luck into a job with an independent TV production company who are looking for a researcher for their video review show. My friend Nigel is one of the presenters, and another friend of mine has already been unsuccessfully interviewed for the post. After submitting some of my ideas, they decide to give me the job for a trial period.

Not one of the reviews of the summer gigs agrees on what the new songs sound like. There are several mentions of prog and jazz, but that is usually short hand for “music we don’t understand that isn’t entirely based around guitar, bass and drums.” The lyrics, often mumbled, are oblique and misquoted. I have a go deciphering some of them in my notebook.

The Tent Tour shows are advertised in the broadsheet press, and quickly start to sell out.

In an attempt to prevent the album leaking out before its formal release, there are a selection of listening parties. The Daily Telegraph documents the one for journalists, (a sign that Radiohead are now a serious, even mainstream, band).  “Yesterday I woke up soaking” the author David Cheal mishears the opening lines. “Commercially,” he concludes, “it’s probably suicidal.”

The playbacks for the fans take place the following week. Admission is granted on a one ticket per person basis. I pop into Fopp and pick one up as soon as they’re available. The playback is on September 4th at King Tuts. I go along alone and am given a specially printed “Radiohead drinks voucher.” I get a beer and find somewhere to sit. There are less than 50 people milling about, drinking and chatting. They’re just going to play the album over the venue PA, none of the fancy headphones and beanbags that were at the press event. It’s hard to listen with everyone talking. I close my eyes and try to focus. I just want to hear it. They play it twice round. I can pick out the brass on The National Anthem, which is the main difference from the live version I heard in London. It’s frustrating because of people talking. But I get a flavour of the record and I’m intrigued and excited. The texture of it is different to anything they’ve done before. There are no pop songs, but as lately I’ve been listening to plenty of Warp Records releases and other electronica on the recommendation of my brother, and the playlists that Thom has been putting up on Radiohead.com, I’m not all that shocked. Kid A isn’t that weird if you’ve spent the last 6 months with Autecre albums on your headphones.

The album cover is already on the Radiohead website. And there are some of the video blips, with very short clips of the songs, but my internet access is still too slow to play them all or absorb them coherently. I find an unused poster for the playback, with the mountains from the album cover in another record shop. I drop a pound in their collection box and take it home to put on my wall.

After the playback I email Thom. I tell him I’m impressed that he finally carried out his threat to use brass bands; that I’ve started a new job and that I want to come to some of the tent shows but don’t have tickets. They are £25 each and are selling out. This is the moment to take him up on his oft repeated offer to see me right for the guest list.

40. London, Victoria Park Tent, 24 September 2000

In September, I start work at the TV production company in Glasgow. I can’t get much time off, but InRock, the Japanese magazine where Atsuko is still working, arranges for me to get a ticket to one of the London shows, so I fly down. I arrange to stay with my uncle’s brother, his place is on the outskirts of the city, on the right side of London for Hackney. I go and visit him in his office in Canary Wharf, he writes obituaries for the Daily Telegraph, and pick up his spare keys. I don’t know anyone else with a spare bed in London at the moment. I only have one ticket for the show (normally I would trade my plus one for a bed). It somehow doesn’t occur to me to be sociable, I have to leave as soon as the show ends to get back to the end of the tube line. Here’s the review I wrote, which appeared translated into Japanese:

UNDER A BIG TOP, it says on the ticket, just like the circus.

Radiohead, the most contrary band in the world, are proving that they can do things their own way. They’ve taken over the park and the surrounding area,  announcements in the tube station anticipate the invasion, warning us to avoid counterfeited tickets and to behave on the way to the park, hoards of fans walk from Mile End through Tower Hamlets, some with ghetto blasters discreetly blasting out tapes of the new album , “Just follow the crazy people,” says a bemused policeman.

Inside the big blue tent, Mira Calix DJ’s some fractured beats over the babble of chat until Clinic make their appearance as support. Their weird new-skiffle rattles round the arena. They are a band who are ever-improving and their new material shows them stretching their formula to stimulate parts that most bands rarely bother with. They rock! (as Thom would say). They’re followed by more submersible beats and some choice hip hop.

Radiohead go straight into a threeway of new songs from Kid A and we don’t have time to catch our collective breath. Optimistic, and Morning Bell with their outstanding bass and drums respectively make an immediate impression, but without the horn section it is difficult for The National Anthem to be more than a shadow of the recorded version. The OK Computer songs that follow, Airbag and Karma Police become singalongs, strangely comfortable in their angular new surroundings.

Up in the roof hang six big screens like CCTV, spying from different angles, we can see Ed’s one finger piano during In Limbo; Thom’s tambourine; Jonny’s endless supply of instruments – here is a band who have adapted, who are learning, exploring.

My Iron Lung sounds as angry and loud and raw as it did 6 years ago when they first played it and I am dumbfounded that after so long Radiohead can continue to surprise me. It is followed by the almost abstract Permanent Daylight,  as if they are compensating for the lack of guitars on some of the new tracks.

The shivers down my spine hit when during How To Disappear… a giant projection of a green laser loop appears at the back of the stage, Jonny appears to be controlling its movement with sound – it twists and flips with the frequencies he produces.

Dollars and Cents, as yet to be released, starts as a muted and formless hum but builds into a remarkable rant – “…Dollars and Cents, the Pounds and the Pence, The Mark and the Yen..” – global villains in the war against the World Bank.

After the familiarity of Street Spirit and Paranoid Android (The People’s Favourites) Idioteque blows your head off… Thom is loving it, dancing and flailing and reminding me of the intensity of the earliest Radiohead gigs. He is racing against his own lyrics, which for once in the new material rise above the mix to be heard – “We’re not scaremongering, this is really happening”

Just is gleefully announced as being for ‘dirty little boys’ and sees both band and audience relishing their performance in a way that they didn’t on the OK Computer tour.

Radiohead haven’t reinvented themselves, they are just playing by their own rules, like they always wanted to. They are like people who have realised that the thing they are doing is the best thing, the only thing that they could possibly do. With this realisation they have been liberated.

To think that Radiohead are innovating by incorporating their love of Warp Records Techno and the electronics of bands like Can into their own music is to show up how stifling and unimaginative the category-crazy music scene has become in 2000. Breaking out of their prescribed roles, the members of the band are challenging themselves more than ever. Anyone that mentions ‘free jazz’ or ‘prog-rock’ or any other pejorative musical term when they hear the tracks from Kid A, is revealing their own musical ignorance. Radiohead’s reference points are literate and no more esoteric than any respectable record collection, it is their own skill at getting it wrong that has won through again. A contradictory band – they aim for a Techno track and get a catchy tune with words that stick in your head for days. They banish all logos only to replace them with their own – grimacing bears stare out from a thousand T-shirts and from the W.A.S.T.E. merchandise tent. They sing songs about the impossibility of getting your life together when clearly the idea of what Radiohead is, is stronger than it has ever been.

The encore, I Might Be Wrong sounding like a mutated Beck tune is the surprise of the night, but the feeling that they have returned at their finest is back in fullest force with Lucky and the pure simplicity of Egyptian Song which is a bliss of piano and twinkling lights. The final solemnity of Exit Music is broken by Thom stifling a giggle, he is clearly enjoying himself as much as the rest of us circus freaks.

 

41 & 42. Glasgow, Glasgow Green Tent, 28 & 29 September 2000

I go back to Scotland and figure I can’t go to the other Tent shows. Thom replies to my email. He’s in Brussels “listening to a chorus of a hundred trucks with their horns going forming these occasionally beautiful harmonies.”

There have been a spate of protests about fuel prices springing up all over the place this week, lorry drivers and farmers have been barricading petrol stations and blockading oil facilities.  When I ask him if I can bring a friend to the shows he says, “Bring someone you want to errr… impress.”

As I don’t have anyone like that on the horizon, I invite my brother as I owe him a birthday present and JC, one of my few Glasgow friends who still goes to gigs.

I’ve stopped keeping a diary and so my impressions of these gigs weren’t captured in as much detail as previous ones. These two shows have blurred together. I was frustrated at not being able to leave work early to get across to where the tents were pitched. I remember sitting at my desk in the afternoon, knowing that the band would already be in town, that the tent would already be up and the sound check would be taking place without my being able to get there.

By the time I reached Glasgow Green and negotiated the long walk along well cordoned paths to the tent, I was only just in time to catch the start of the show. I missed the ritual of arriving early, pitching up at the front and watching the stage being prepared.

I’m not close enough to be able to see much of what’s happening on the stage. The gigs themselves are not preserved by my faulty memory. I remember being very happy that Thom had put me on the list, honoured that he’d added aftershow passes.

Of the Thursday, I have one enduring memory. My brother Jim had been interested in the intro tape that played between Clinic and Radiohead’s sets. He’d heard that Warp Records’ artist Mira Calix (aka Chantal Passamonte, wife of Sean Booth from Autechre) was due to be the DJ on this tour. When we briefly spoke in the catering tent after the show, I introduced my brother and he asked Thom if “Chantal” was here DJ-ing or if it was a tape. Not many people had heard of Mira Calix, let alone knew who performed under that name. Jim had been hanging out and working with artists affiliated to the Warp crowd in Sheffield. He’d been at parties with them, he’d projected video at a variety of gigs and he moved in the same circles. He knew the people behind Skam Records, Autechre, SND and a whole load of the electronic music that Thom was now into. My brother was unselfconsciously telling a story about working with them and Thom was hopping from foot to foot with excitement. “You know Sean!?”. My younger brother, for that moment, was infinitely cooler than Thom.

The next night, the tent contained a typically excitable Glasgow Friday night audience, revved up, loud, beery and boisterous. I was wound up, on edge, having raced to get there and meet JC. The crowd took over the feeling that night. The gig felt physical in a way the shows hadn’t done for a good long while. Thom was dancing again, bouncing about and into it. The cynicism of the OK Computer tour was gone. I was glad this part of his performance was back, but I couldn’t see much of it and I couldn’t connect. I couldn’t get the release I wanted from the show. I felt like a frustrated addict.

In the aftershow area, JC and I found a table with an array of interesting European bottled beers cooling in a tub of ice. As we were examining them to see what they were, Thom appeared and asked us to find him one with “a low number”, he wanted to get an early night. Between us we pulled all the different types of beer out of the bucket, searching each label for the alcohol percentage numbers. Once Thom was satisfied he had the weakest of the bunch he wandered off and left us with a Belgian beer called Kwak, at about 8% it was one of the higher numbers. JC was convinced it tasted of bananas, but we drank it anyway. This may go some way to explaining why I can’t remember much of the rest of the evening.

We stayed put and calmed down a bit, drinking a couple of the beers. I couldn’t find my tongue to talk to Thom. My head was crowded with requests from other people who wanted to give him messages, or ask him to get in touch. In the end I just gave him a hug when he left. I noticed a pregnant woman leaving at the same time, but didn’t put two and two together. Having never been formally introduced to her I didn’t realise then who it was…

Notes from 2000-2001. Kid A / Amnesiac

One of the Warrington tent gigs went out live on Radio 1, and this seemed to seal the band’s improved relationship with the station, the weirder they sounded and the less conventional promotion they did, the closer they got to mainstream success. Kid A came out on the Monday, and was by no means a record that immediately made sense, nor was it as complicated and obscure as some of the reviews claimed. Braced for the electronics and prepared for the distorted vocals, to me it is very much a Radiohead album in structure, doubtless if an unprepared listener came to it cold it would be much more complicated. Compared to most of the other mainstream “indie” music around at that point it was dark, dense and layered. But if the band had ever had a manifesto, this was a fulfilment of it.

Radiohead demonstrated some of their diverse influences with a DJ set on the late night Breezeblock show on Radio 1 and made a return visit to Steve Lamacq’s programme before Christmas.

In February the news comes through that Thom and partner have had a child, a boy called Noah. I realised who the pregnant lady at the Glasgow gig was. The penny drops about the picture labelled “mini me” that adorned Thom’s page on the Radiohead.com site about 6 months ago. It all falls into place, but I’m still a little shocked. I worry about what it means. So many songwriters fall into a trap of writing mawkish tributes to their offspring. As someone who is completely child-averse, I immediately think of the novelist’s adage about “the pram in the hall way.” The thought that lodges in my brain is “I hope he still cares about his other children.” I think I mean me and the rest of the freaks.

2001

By the time the TV job ends, I have saved up quite a bit of money and I decide that I don’t want the life that I’d have to live if I struggled to stay working in production. An irreverent show about films was all well and good, but the company also made property shows and pun-inspired shows for Channel 4. “Reality” programmes and celeb-fronted pseudo documentaries are all the rage. I am welcome to submit ideas, but the culture of staying in the office until 11pm every night doesn’t appeal to me. I just don’t have that sort of ambition.

I do a bit of office temping and work on a couple of short film productions,  but I don’t have an idea of my own to film. I realise that I don’t enjoy the concept of day to day work. I’m not ready to submit to the monotony of it yet. I pool all my savings and calculate that I can afford to go to travelling.

Sometime in the summer, Radiohead announce more tour dates. They’re going to be playing in Japan in September and October. My various Japanese friends have been asking me when I’m going to visit them. It seems obvious that it should be for this tour. They offer to show me around, help with hotel bookings and even put me up.  I start to plan a big trip, even if deep down I know it won’t end up being a gap year or even a round the world jaunt…

Amnesiac is released on June 4. In the weeks prior to it coming out, some of the tracks leaked on to Napster, the new internet music phenomenon.  I haven’t been using it, due to slow dial up internet connections. Desperate for a review to meet her magazine’s deadline, Atsuko emails me, I happen to be at my parents’ place at the time and have to deal with an even slower than usual connection. She wants me to try to write a pre-release review of the record and directs me to Napster. I’m not keen, it is clunky and slow. It involves me tying up my parents’ phone line for several hours late into the night. I manage to hear snatches of about three songs; there are more but it’s difficult to tell if they are genuinely from the album. One (Pull/Pulk) sounds so unlikely that I dismiss it as a hoax. Authenticity is not something easy to verify on this internet. Still, I have the live performances to go on and with a bit of imagination and some quotes from the band’s self-service Q&A webpage Spin With A Grin ( Thom: “I think the artwork is the best way of explaining it. The artwork to Kid A was all in the distance. The fires were all going on the other side of the hill. With Amnesiac, you’re actually in the forest while the fire’s happening.”) I blag it, use my muso-skills and piece together something vaguely coherent for her to translate:

If Kid A was staring at the fire from afar then Amnesiac is apparently standing in the middle of the blaze. On opening track Packt Like Sardines you can hear the flames crackling. Like Kid A, this fifth Radiohead LP will need to be listened to more than once to make coherent sense but unlike Kid A, some of the individual tracks have an immediate impact that tells you this is where Radiohead are at.
Pyramid Song – a single! – is possibly one of the most funereally beautiful tracks ever – all layers and floating sounds, reuniting Thom with cars, astral objects and angels (all the things he used to see). It connects the past and the future. Where Kid A seemed difficult to some, Amnesiac has more continuity – but only if you’re aware that the band have been immersed in influences as diverse as Alice Coltrane, Boards Of Canada and Big Band Jazz.
But as ever such theories are shattered by the danceable I Might Be Wrong and the distorted electronic soundscape of Pull/ Pulk, which sees a scared child-Thom trapped and falling through revolving doors. Amnesiac promises lots and delivers more than such a short review can possibly some up. Roll on the live dates.

Increasingly, the internet is the source of my Radiohead news. I’d stopped buying the NME regularly in favour of its free website. Less and less paper amass in the archive.

Follow Me Around, a web site maintained by a Canadian called Beryl and Max K’s Radiohead-Announce mailing list keep me up to date with news, with an email from one or other of them every few days.

The band’s official site remains notoriously oblique. I call in at the fast moving Message Board from time to time, but with dial up it’s tricky to stay long. I’m only interested when the band (who post in blue) pay a visit. I read the archives of their replies to posts.

In March, this news drops:

Radiohead will headline a live event on July 7 in South Park, Headington,
Oxford featuring special guests (to be announced) and Oxford bands.
Tickets are £27.50 and will go on sale at 9 am on Friday March 16 through
the following outlets:

Ticket Line: Radiohead ticket line 0870 730 7305
Website: http://www.radiohead.com
Box Office: The Zodiac, 190 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1UE
(There is a booking fee of £2.25 except for cash purchases at the Zodiac
where there will be no surcharge).

The first single from Amnesiac (released on June 4) will be Pyramid Song,
out on May 21st.

Some comments by Jonny from the NME: “Sorry to get all Smashie and Nicey, but we’re doing this concert for local charities, which is kind of why the council are up for it. We asked Beck and he’s agreed to do it. I think he’s going to do a solo acoustic set, which will be great, very exciting. I think Supergrass as well, because they’re fantastic and local. We’re going to try and get Lard [from Radio 1] to open the show.”

He also confirmed that Radiohead have no other UK dates planned this year…

Yasuko (another Japanese friend) is thinking ahead and buys me a ticket.

The rest of the year passes…

43. Oxford, South Park, 7 July 2001

There is no where left to stay in Oxford. I travel to London, where I have a friend with a sofa. The London-Oxford buses run all night.

Back into Oxford. My bus arrives in the early afternoon, I miss the stop for Headington just as Keiko phones me (by this time I have a pay-as-you-go Nokia that looks like a big grey lego brick).  She is waiting for me outside the site. I get off and rush back, but I need cash and I have to go all the way up the Cowley Road before I can find an ATM. I run around and find the entrance to the park, but she’s waiting at the box office, all the way over on the other side. I arrive, hot and bothered to find her, my ticket in hand. We say “hi” to Caffy, who is in the press portacabin and we enter the site.

It’s big, like having a festival all to themselves. We find Yasuko and her friend, also over from Japan and I pay her for the ticket she bought me. Keiko and I go to the Merchandise tent and wait for ages because it’s so busy. There are cool shirts made especially for today. “South Park” hence a black shirt with Kenny, Kyle, Stan and Cartman as modified bears. There’s a white shirt with the band drawn by the South Park animators. The first band (either Hester Thrale or The Rock Of Travola) are already on.  We go back to Yasuko but she soon goes off to find a copy of the special edition of Nightshift magazine that someone is giving away. Keiko and I find the shorter beer token queue and then the beer tent, more for the special minotaur cups than for the Fosters inside.

Yasuko doesn’t come back, she’d found a way to get nearer the front. Veteran jazzer Humphrey Lyttleton and his band are on next. They played on Amnesiac and on Later… with the band. They’re sparky and sound great. Humph cracks jokes and the mosh pit respond with “Wham Bam” when required. They play a lot of Duke Ellington. There’s a lovely feeling in the air.

We have more beer and I go for a wander. There is a notice board where people have been leaving messages for each other, mostly using their messageboard aliases. I didn’t realise they knew each other in real life. I eat some rather disappointing falafel and go back to Keiko to watch Sigur Ros, who only play about three songs.

Supergrass are on next, I spend the start of their set in the beer queue but the latter part gets the field rocking. Beck’s acoustic set afterwards isn’t very exciting by comparison. He plays some Hank Williams and his more maudlin stuff from Mutations. We move forward a bit during his set. Keiko leaves me to go and find the toilets. She’s gone for a while and when she returns, she explains that she just bumped into Julie from the management, and she’s given her a wristband for the hospitality area. And when Keiko told her I was here too, she gave her one for me. She’s also put us on the list for the party that’s happening at the Zodiac later on… “Lucky or what?”.

I rush off to use the hospitality toilets and also run into Julie and her partner John. We have a quick chat and then I go back, as the loos are the best bit of any outdoor hospitality area. It keeps trying to rain and Keiko has got a special rain cape as well as one of the Yellow cagoules that the band have made specially for the day. My own coat is turning out not to be very waterproof.

After Beck’s done, I’m starting to feel a bit claustrophobic and I leave Keiko to wade a little further into the crowd while I settle for being able to see both the stage and the big screens which are at the half way point. Back here I’m surrounded by older fans and aging hippies. The Inkspots play on the PA, which means the band are due. Marc “Lard” Riley introduces them, but I can’t really hear what he says. Radiohead appear, go straight into The National Anthem and I’m ready.

The bass! I’m dancing my arse off and then keep going for Airbag. Packt Like Sardines comes next, it moves like a train, I’m hearing it live for the first time and it all starts to make sense. My Iron Lung is in there somewhere and I still love it. There’s lots of tambourine on Dollars & Cents and I Might Be Wrong. Lucky is spine-tingly; Pyramid Song, which I love. Thom is face on to the camera at the piano. Everything In Its Right Place starts off as Beck’s Nobody’s Fault and then samples the crowd.

“Bugger!” in a silly voice is Thom’s expletive of choice when he makes a mistake. He’s having trouble with lyrics, gets How To Disappear back to front, “Are we the only ones that are nervous?” Paranoid Android is dedicated to Geri from the Spice Girls who had been sitting next to them on the train back from Paris. No Surprises is for Tony Blair, then he forgets the words to The Bends but the crowd take it.

They encore with Fake Plastic Trees and Karma Police. I’m soaked with rain but euphoric.

They come back again and Thom announces, “This one is to send you off with bluebirds in your hair.” And he tries a couple of bars of Motion Picture Soundtrack on the synth. The rain as got into it. “It’s Kaput, Jah?”

He abandons the synth. “OK change of plan.” He whispers something to Plank. “This is an old one, you might remember. We might…” and they play it!

Creep. He hams up the “perfect body” line and dramatizes the verse, but they’re actually playing it, and no one thought they would. The ‘kerchunk’ from Jonny’s guitar is awesome, more so for having been missing of so long. I screamed after I’d stopped laughing. It was a wonderful way to end. By now it’s raining properly. Keiko finds me, she’s in tears, but grinning.

By the time we make it into the hospitality area I am soaked to the skin. Fortunately I have put spare clothes in my backpack and even more fortunately they’re inside a plastic bag, as the zip has bust on the pocket of the bag and water has seeped inside. Once in the ladies portacabin I peel off my wet top and replace it with a dry one as fast as I can. I wring about a pint of water out of the shirt I’ve just taken off.

We find a spot in the hospitality tent and sit on the floor, it’s dark and no one that Keiko is waving at can see us. We move to chairs and watch the comings and goings. Jonny and Colin with various members of their families, Ed and Phil with their friends. Thom is around, talking to people, a girl who grabs his arse is seen off, but unusually he’s giving autographs. He doesn’t stay for long. It feels like the end, I’m wet and I’m tired. Fairly soon we end up outside again. Caffy and her chums are heading for the Zodiac and then I remember what Keiko said earlier about a party. There is a crowd and I don’t recognise the route in the dark.  We’re making our way. Just when I think we’re lost, Phil taps Keiko on the shoulder and we follow him. She’s on the list and we’re in.

It’s cold inside until people start dancing. I join Caffy and her mates on the floor for Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin), some hip hop and Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and feel a bit more warmed up. I need to sit down after that and drink some water.

Thom is at the bar. I restrain myself from running over, as he’s talking to someone. When I spot an opening, I wave and when he spots me he comes over. I start a wave salute gesture, that turns into a complex hand shake but he goes in for a hug. It’s a big squeeze.

“How are you?” I ask.

“A bit emotional!”

I affirm that I’m feeling the same, but I can’t really speak after that hug. I take him over to where Keiko is and they hug too. He’s drinking water and when Keiko examines it, a gesture that expresses her surprise that he’s not drinking booze, he makes a baby rocking motion and pulls a daffy face. She congratulates him and he appears to be playing with his watch. It turns out it’s got a screen that holds a photo of the baby on it. He takes it off so Keiko can have a better look.

When he leaves for the bathroom, I manage to ask him to come back, as Keiko wants a photo. When he returns I still can’t speak much, but I tell him I screamed and fell over at the end of the show. It’s getting too loud in the club for talking. Keiko steps in and gives me her camera, I take one of the two of them and the flash is a bit harsh. I stand behind him, propping him up and she snaps us. He goes to find other people, saying “See you later.” But we have to leave. I make a sign for a keyboard and ask him if he still gets his email. “Of course!”

We do our funny handshake and I head for the door. Tim is outside. I give him a hug too. He says Belfast (the only other UK gig this year) isn’t confirmed yet. I tell him I’ve been invited to Japan for the dates there and he seems to approve. After assuring him that we have a plan for getting to our beds we head for the bus stop. Caffy and pals are already there. It’s about 3am…

Victoria is deserted when I get back into London. My friend lives in Pimlico and I walk down the traffic-less street, past Westminster Cathedral and past Scotland Yard and Channel Four’s HQ. I can’t feel my feet on the ground. Back in my friend’s flat I wake her up and start telling her about the day at one hundred miles an hour… I don’t remember sleeping.

Sunday morning, I wander the record shops of Soho in a daze. It’s one of those days when everything feels like it was meant to happen. I find all the records I’ve been searching for, I have a conversation sparked by my South Park T shirt. The guy behind the counter in the shop says something about bluebirds in your hair and it turns out he was there too…I am still grinning and I go on doing so for the rest of the week.

 

44. Belfast, Odyssey Arena, 14 September 2001

Without reliable internet at home, I have been calling in to use a friend’s computer to check my email and catch up with news sites. I have been lurking the Radiohead website’s message board but so far haven’t really got to grips with it. I notice that the same group of people post messages there fairly regularly – they must have the internet at work. In the afternoon of September 11th, I stop by to check my email and then can’t understand why none of the major news sites are working. I log into the message board and am alerted to the reason why the news sites traffic has gone into meltdown. I turn on the TV just as the second plane hits the towers.

The board goes into overdrive as New Yorkers, just arriving at work, try to establish the whereabouts of friends who might have been in the vicinity of the World Trade Centre.

The next few days take on a surreal quality. Caffy sends me a ticket for the Belfast gig. I have cheap flights booked and a friend who lives in the city with whom I can stay. She is also going to the show. With all the mayhem that ensued following the attacks, there is some doubt about whether the show is going ahead. I consult the message board hoping for some sort of official word and end up conferring with other fans who are going to the show. I email W.A.S.T.E. but they can’t tell me for certain if the show will go ahead. I decide to risk it.

My reaction to the global crisis is tempered by a recent, unexpected family bereavement. I am more effected by this personal, unrelated death than by what is happening in the wider world, all the disruption just adds to my sense of dislocation and nervousness.

Some of the “boardies” have arranged to meet up in a pub in Belfast before the show and I agree to meet people that I have been talking to, at least if the show doesn’t go ahead we won’t have had an entirely wasted journey. I’m not keen on flying at the best of times, but with heightened security measures, two pat-down searches and no small amount of extra paranoia, I make it to Belfast.

While my friend Karen is at work, I go to meet the boardies in the Crown Liquor Saloon, a magnificently ornate bar near the Europa hotel. They have chosen the place partly for its décor and partly because it has a web cam… it makes it a fitting place for people who have until now only met online to rendezvous. It is the first time most of them have met each other in person and the first time I’ve met people I’ve only spoken to on the internet. I have a pint or two of Guinness with five or six boardies and their various friends, most of whom I have exchanged threads with on the board, but a few of them are new to me.

Everyone is here especially for the show and most have travelled to see the band before. My friend joins us after work and they bombard her with questions about Belfast, which she finds amusing as she’s only just moved here herself. They leave early to get to the front at the gig, but as I have press tickets for seats, we aren’t in so much of a rush to get there.

As a one-off UK date amid the tail-end of a Northern European tour, this show at the Odyssey Arena is a large scale but strangely low key event, the boardies and other faithful have raced to be at the front. From where we are in the seats, the venue, which is a big ice hockey stadium, feels like a hangar. I’m side-on to the stage, Jonny-wards. It’s packed but the atmosphere is oddly sombre. Today has been declared a national day of mourning but we’re here now and the show will go on.

Anti Pop Consortium are the support, but no one is familiar with any of their stuff and they play without anyone really noticing them. When Radiohead emerge, the impact of the opener National Anthem is blunted by its being followed by the instrumental Hunting Bears, however momentum picks up again with an intense Morning Bell and My Iron Lung. Ed is wearing a stripy woolly beanie hat, and some of the boardies are heckling him about it.

Street Spirit is dedicated to “Americans trying to get home” and there seems to be no need to mention the current state of affairs again. Now is not the moment for politics.

I don’t have sufficient room to stand up without blocking other people’s view, so I end up dancing in my chair, a weird bum-shuffle that involves banging my knees on the rail in front of me. I Might Be Wrong, after a false start where Jonny’s guitar won’t work, sets me really moving. They play Pyramid Song next and I feel suddenly subdued. This song fits how I’m feeling: sad, angry, but at the same time more determined than ever to live my life by my own rules. I find I am crying my eyes out. I’m glad then, when they follow it with a noisy rendition of Paranoid Android which allows me to pull myself together with some more jerky chair dancing.

By now it’s become the custom to end the main set with the long build up and break down of Idioteque followed by Everything In Its Right Place. Jonny creates loops, Phil drops in the extra off-beat and Thom leaves the stage first, letting the song deteriorate one band member at a time. It echoes around the venue and from my perch up in the seats I can see the people I met earlier cheering for an encore. They are rewarded with three – Like Spinning Plates is turned back inside out from the reversed sampled album version and Thom performs a solo acoustic True Love Waits. A finale of How To Disappear Completely nearly sets my tears off once more. The line about the Liffey gets a huge cheer from the locals.

I am dishevelled and exhausted. There is an aftershow in a small room in the bowels of the building and I manage to get my friend in. We sit in a corner with some beers. We are befriended by a manic American girl, who without any prompting starts telling us her increasingly disturbing recent life story. She is stranded, flights back to the US being yet to return to anything even close to normality. She has a large bag and has apparently brought a selection of books on politics to give to Thom. He is avoiding getting involved in a long conversation with her and is busy with some other people. When he’s with Tim, I pop over to say hello and try to explain my plans for Japan. Tim confirms that I won’t need tickets and that he’ll be there to sort me out for any shows I want to attend. He thinks I’m crazy, but seems to be quite pleased that I’m making the trip, Thom tells me I’ll get to see what the really mental fans are like. I have a weird tangential conversation with him about airport security checks. One of the buttons came off my coat when I was searched earlier and it somehow that seems important now. He asks if that’s why my coat is so creased and I feel affronted (I am rather proud of my orange duster coat, but it suffered from getting soaked at South Park, it obviously hasn’t recovered.)

I feel like I’m superfluous to requirements tonight, there is nothing else to say. My friend and I finish our beers and go outside. The American woman was on the point of getting thrown out, she is in a state of anxiety, tonight having been even more emotional for her than it would have normally, and we persuade her to come with us. We walk her back into the city centre through the encroaching fog and drop her at her hostel. As we cross the river Lagan, walking back to my friend’s flat, my enthusiasm has picked up again. I’m on a high knowing that I can get into the gigs in Japan and that it’s not a completely crazy idea after all.

45. Osaka, Osaka-Jo Hall, 29 September 2001

After consuming the best Chinese meal of my life and many “Gintonics”. My hosts introduce me to the delights of proper Japanese karaoke. We murder a few Radiohead numbers while we’re at it, then we all spend the night in a rather anonymous hotel in the centre of Osaka.

About 11am, next day, we take the courtesy bus from the railway station to the Imperial Hotel, which is on the other side of town. Keiko has had a tip off from her contacts on the crew: the band are staying here. She’s booked a room here herself. She checks in and we meet up with Izzy. We hang about in the lobby trying, but probably failing, to look incongruous.

I need coffee or tea, my caffeine habit is making me antsy, so I go in search of a convenience store. The girls think the band will definitely be here today, so they don’t want to leave. I return after half an hour with a bottle of cold sweet coffee drink and a doughnut. Tim and Jonny have been and gone. I sit down and read my guide book. At 1pm the organ in the café below the lobby starts playing (is it automatic?).

As if on cue the band gradually start to appear. Thom comes over to us (of course he does, says Keiko). Tim spots me and seems surprised, but once I assure him that I wasn’t kidding – I’m really here, he makes sure we’re all on the guest list for tonight’s show. Thom takes a gift from the Katharine Hamnett shop from Keiko and tells her he’s already had a day off in Tokyo to look around the shops. He has a yoga mat in his bag, and when Keiko asks what it is, I say something about my mum doing yoga and how it knocks years off you. “Well as you can see…” says Thom, looking very jetlagged. When I tell him I feel a bit ropey due to last night’s karaoke, he says “Sake?” Before I can explain he tells me that Colin drank his way through a selection of sakes and had the worst hangover he’d had in 10 years.. .“You have to try it!”

They leave the hotel and everyone waves them off. The four of us go for a walk through a very long underground shopping arcade. Osaka is full of malls. We eventually find a sushi restaurant with a conveyor belt. I try some and catch up on my tea drinking. The girls show me a huge slot machine arcade and then we have ice cream. Back at the hotel we head to the room they’ve splashed out on, we watch a bit of TV and Keiko has a nap. Izzy goes out, I crack open a beer and we wait for it to be time to head to the venue.

Later we take a taxi to Osaka-Jo, the arena is at the castle. There are food stalls and bootleg shirts and carefully organised queues for the official W.A.S.T.E. merchandise. Everyone else is buying stuff, but I duck out and find Katsu (Keiko’s boyfriend) waiting for us. We suss out the guest list and get our passes sorted for later. My ticket is for the 15th row, it’s seated but it’s not a bad view.

Clinic are the support here and they do their thing, as they’re wearing their hospital masks the Japanese just think the whole band have caught colds. At 8pm, very much on time, Radiohead hit the stage and start with National Anthem and it doesn’t matter that I’m sweaty, that I’m having a bad hair day, that I haven’t eaten since the sushi – I’m bloody well in Japan, I’m actually here!

The only audience noise is polite and in-between songs, there is a bit of whooping, there are a few Americans and Aussies in the crowd, about the same as the number of Japanese at a British gig. Someone heckles – “play some jazz!” and Thom points at Jonny. They play Spinning Plates and then Talk Show Host which sounds all over the place.

After the show, I feel very sticky so I change into one of the T-shirts I bought in Tokyo the other day. We are shown to the aftershow, it feels like we’re in a loading bay, but apparently this is it. The party is in a hallway. Tim comes by and we agree that this is just as glamorous as usual.

There are some folks from EMI Japan, but not many other people. Eventually a tray of soft drinks, tiny cups of orange juice and something called Pocari Sweat, arrives. The band appear one by one, Thom last as ever, they have got some white wine on the go.. s’alright for some…
Thom comes and stands next to me, the only non-band English person. He says hi to Keiko and Izzy. Phil comes by and looks surprised to see me, “You’re everywhere!”
“Well,” I say, “I couldn’t refuse a free tour of Japan!”

“Neither could I,” he says, “And I’m getting paid for it.” I explain to him that I’m going to Australia after this, I’m not just here for the gigs and he seems to approve.

Thom is surrounded by two geeky guys from, I think, San Francisco, who ask relentless questions about bootlegs and live CDs, he can hardly get a word in. They are talking about the show and he says they were trying to do Talk Show Host without the clicks (the guide rhythm) and it all got a bit lost somehow. I agree and have to join in the geek-out, because these boys aren’t going anywhere. I’ve never known Thom to be particularly into technical chat, what they don’t seem to realise is that he isn’t a fan, he’s in the band. Is he really going to know or care about the bootleg CDs that people circulate? Eventually a lady from EMI whisks him over to a group of people he has to meet. Izzy and Keiko talk to Ed.

When he comes back Keiko takes his picture with her phone and the EMI woman tries to stop her, “It’s OK,” says Thom, “She’s a special case.”

Outside we wait around by a fountain, I’m very tired all of a sudden. I find Yasuko, who I now realise wasn’t at the aftershow. She says she wants to stay out and gives me directions back to last night’s hotel, my budget doesn’t stretch to a night in the posh place where the band are staying. I catch the train but get stuck at the wrong exit at the station and have to take a taxi the rest of the way. I take a bath and watch an American sitcom, Dharma and Greg, if I remember rightly, much improved for being dubbed into Japanese, before I collapse into sleep.

46. Osaka, Osaka-Jo Hall, 30 September 2001

Yasuko and I walk through the underground mall to avoid the rain, have breakfast in a café and then catch the courtesy bus back to the Imperial Hotel.

We are going to stay in the hotel tonight, we are sharing with Atsuko, if we split the twin room three ways it’s only a little bit more expensive than the very basic place we stayed at last night. We can’t check in until 2pm, so we go to Keiko and Izzy’s room and find them just getting up. We all go out and meet Katsu in another mall, Hep 5, it has a Ferris wheel attached. We look around Snoopy Town, a shop entirely dedicated to characters from the Peanuts cartoon. Then we all have frozen yoghurt in the Lovers of Yoghurt shop. We head back to the hotel in time for the 1 o’clock organ and discover there is actually a person down there playing.

I’m sitting on a sofa, nonchalantly looking at my book and the others are scattered around the lobby. Thom is at the check-in desk, he’s early for once and then he comes and sits on a stool in front of me and has a moment. He’s a bit hung-over, a bit tired, he’s had about 4 cups of coffee (“it’s not strong enough”), it must be jetlag and I mutter something about my own insomnia and then wish I hadn’t when he looks concerned and says, “That’s not good.”

The others descend on us to say their hellos and give him gifts, then Thom shows us some of the cool stuff he’s bought this morning in Tokyu Hands hardware store. Jonny bought a coat for his very small dog. Thom shows us a sign with a crossed out mobile phone (which will end up on stage later on the back of the Rhodes organ) apparently it translates as ‘NO mobiles in the hospital’; he has a selection of stickers and he says they are destined to go on his guitar. One has a sleeping baby, that’s for Noah. He leafs through the pile of stickers to show the others and then passes them to me. He asks me if I’ve been to the shop yet and I tell him I did briefly, he comes to a blue sticker with a panda on it that bears the legend ‘I miss you’ and I make an appreciative noise (I have a thing for pandas). “You can keep it,” he says, “I’ve got more.”

More girls appear with gifts and want autographs. Izzy has a copy of Cut magazine from last year with loads of Stanley’s Kid A artwork in it. “Sign your favourite one.” Thom hasn’t seen it before and begins leafing through the pages. He turns to the flying bears one, which I say is my favourite, although we agree it’s a little weird now after New York and everything. And then he realises that the next picture is actually called World Trade Centre. “Fuckin’ ‘ell!” we both say.

We agree that there is some dark stuff in Stan’s brain. Keiko produces special pens and gets Thom to draw on her phone and he does elaborate Os and signs things for the others, I don’t have anything handy for him to draw on. The promoter shows up and it’s time to leave. Izzy says he was a “Chimpira” (a jerk) for not realising who we were, didn’t see Thom with us, was rude to her. I demonstrate how to react to such treatment with a hard stare. I teach her how to say “Don’t you know who I am?”.

We retire to Keiko’s room and slowly get ready. We meet Atsuko at Osaka-Jo station. I’d forgotten how tiny she is, but it’s good to see her. We talk a lot. We walk to the venue and realise that the doors open very early – 5pm for 6. We check the guest list and collect passes for all of us. We sit in almost the same seats as last night, all in the same row. On the way I eat a skewer of yakitori and drain a bottle of coke but it only goes a small way to countering my headache, I don’t think I’ve been getting enough caffeine.

Clinic are hard work the second night in a row but their allotted half hour passes fast. I see “Astral Clouds” (a.k.a. Chris, one of the boardies I met in Belfast). He is sitting behind us and wants to meet the legendary Keiko. I point her out but now it’s time for the gig. The atmosphere has lifted, last night everyone commented on how quiet it was, now it feels more lively.

The band do everything right tonight and somehow it’s got more of the feeling than last night. Sometimes when they have to fight for it, it shows through in the performance, they are more determined. Everything In Its Right Place gets REM’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It as an intro. Idioteque kicks in with full-on berserk dancing. We can see Ed doing his best effortless sexy rock moves on the big screens. They do Permanent Daylight and then return for an encore of The Thief (by Can, “buy all their records, they’re great. This is dedicated to George Bush who is a thief and will always be a thief, just someone else’s monkey.”) They end on The Tourist, which calms it down nicely.

We wait around. Atsuko sits against the wall, someone told her they could see a ghost behind her and she’s not taking any chances. We persuade Yasuko to use her pass and come with us, it will be her first aftershow and she is nervous. There are issues at play here that I don’t understand.

Tim is first on the scene, trying to break the ranks. He’s had enough of the rather officious Japanese security and their over zealous tidiness. He can’t put anything down anywhere without someone moving it, he couldn’t take drinks onto the stage. He asks Keiko for some choice Japanese phrases and when I produce my phrase book he reads out some of the cultural tips to the amusement of the assembled natives then takes it with him to make notes.

Tim says “Don’t stand here talking to me, go talk to the band.” But they are all engaged. Thom is behind us with uber-fan and magazine boss Mr Tanaka from Snoozer. He’s talking about having trouble keeping up with new music since Noah was born. Again there is no booze, only pear juice, but the band have found their white wine. We’re all standing in a big circle and Thom comes to us next. I tell him that the freaky dancing was even freakier than usual and he says he put his back out during Idioteque. He is rosy cheeked from his wine and the heat and very talkative. It was a better show but they still found the crowd quiet. He said he tried to keep the gaps to a minimum, leaning and beckoning during You And Whose Army usually whips up the throng but here it was greeted with bewilderment.

It’s too early, we’re all sober. “Sober!” you should go and get drunk. He promises Izzy some Vodka for when Caffy is here. Caffy will be in Tokyo for only two days, that’s no time to be sober. He says he wanted to say “How’s your business?” in Japanese – a standard Osaka greeting, but he wasn’t sure the crowd would take it the right way.

Yasuko and I go back to the Imperial via a convenience store, I have some cold noodles and a beer. I chat to Atsuko for ages, talking rapidly to reclaim my English, it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t understand me, she knows what I’m talking about. It’s soon past midnight and I’m falling asleep. All three of us share the big bed. Atsuko has to get up at 6am and go to work. Yasuko, sitting out in the corridor for most of the night, doesn’t seem to sleep at all.

47. Tokyo, Budokan, 2 October 2001

There is no gig on 1st October, but we start the day hanging out in the lobby of the Imperial one more time. I sit in what has become my favourite seat, with a discreet view of hotel comings and goings. Behind us Ed and the management are discussing a planned dinner in Tokyo and the problems of catering for vegetarians. I think I hear someone say “Thom’ll be OK if there’s plenty of sake.”

Tim appears and we swap a few more gems from my phrase book. I write down some useful phrases for the non-meat and fish eaters on a page torn from my notebook. Thom toddles along and sits with us again. He’s got all his bags with him. “I’ve got my computer in here, I can do everything on it now.”

I tell him about my brother’s attachment to his own macbook and a programme he uses called MAX, “Oh,” says Thom, “Jonny uses that.” He mimes ‘wall of electronics’ to indicate the amount of kit Jonny has. “If I had all that I’d stop singing entirely… so…” he trails off.

Jonny appears and Thom explains to him that we were talking about plug-ins…

Katsu shows up again and gives us a lift to the station where Yasuko and I get a train back to Tokyo. Keiko is sticking around in Osaka for a while longer. When we get back to Shibuya, Yasuko goes to pick up her Hamnett jeans (just like the ones Thom has.) It’s raining, so I go off to buy an umbrella in a shop called Loft. I call Keiko to arrange meeting later then look round more shops and drink more iced coffee.

When we meet we have some traditional Japanese food; as no one will let me eat the same thing twice, I have to try as many different dishes as possible. I’ve tried a lot of things that I’ve liked, but Keiko insists that eat the fermented beans that taste a bit like glue and I need a beer to wash them down.

Keiko explains why she can be a bit hesitant about including everyone else sometimes, she and I been doing this touring thing for a long time and she feels we’ve earned our perks. She isn’t keen on people going to after-shows if they haven’t done it under their own steam. I tell her I’m just trying to be nice and share, but I can see her point too. We have an increasingly drunken conversation, including much amusement about the automated announcer on the Shinkansen saying “brief stop” every time the train calls at a station, this has some how become a euphemism for going to the toilet.  We go back to her house to listen to the B-sides compilation, Itch.

October 2nd, Sunday. Keiko is going to find the band’s hotel, but I should really see some of the city. We make a deal. She wants to take her mother to the hotel to meet Thom… and today I shall venture forth on my own to be a tourist.

I go to Ebisu and the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography (at Ebisu Garden Place, home of the beer museum where Keiko used to work.) There are lots of travellators at the station in an aerial walkway, this is the futuristic Japan I had been dreaming about.

The photo museum is a bit disappointing at first, but towards the end there are some contemporary exhibits that I enjoy. I eat lunch in the plaza and buy some postcards to send home. I managed to ask for everything in Japanese. I meet Keiko at Tamachi and we go to check our email in a manga library internet café. Today’s Radiohead News is the announcement of a live EP, to be released in November.

Back at Keiko’s flat I write my postcards and wait for Yasuko and Izzy to arrive. We set off for the Budokan on the underground. It takes time to cross town and there is too much hanging around for my liking. It’s very busy and I get the fear. We meet Atsuko and get inside the building.

We’re in the toilets. I had been assuming we had plenty of time it’s still early, but bloody hell they’ve started. I can hear the bass of The National Anthem thundering through the walls. This is not a good moment to be crouched over a traditional Japanese hole in the floor toilet with your jeans around your ankles.

Atsuko is waiting for me but the others have already gone in. She has a different ticket and I don’t have anything other than a pass and Tim’s word that it will grant me access. I have to go upstairs into the rows of seats, rather than on to the floor where the others are. This is a huge circular venue, the seating stretches up the curved walls almost all the way to the ceiling. I’m hyperventilating. They’ve started! I don’t have a seat number. All the seats are full.

I find myself repeating the most useful words I have learned in Japanese: “Wakarimasen! Sumimasen!”

The rising panic in the song matches how I’m feeling. The wall-shaking loudness of the bass-line mirrors the tension in me. The panic, the rush. Every time I think I’ve found a place where I can stand still, a security guard comes to move me along. I keep looking for the others but they are down on the floor while I’m in the vertiginous curved roof of the arena.

A uniformed guard moves me and my bag (I’ve brought a present for Thom with me) ever upward. I end up right at the top on the last row with my back to the ceiling. Gravity is still working but I don’t understand how I am managing to stay up here, plastered against the wall. How is this building standing still and not hurtling through space?  I feel like I’m about to fall into the crowd below, the stage is so far away the band look tiny.

I feel awful and realise I’m crying. I’ve come this far and I’m at the back, so far away from the stage, the crowd isn’t very lively, I’ve lost my friends, I’m overawed and over the edge.

The band play for about an hour and a half. They don’t seem that into it, not getting anything back from this polite crowd. The sound in here is clinical, there’s no warmth. There is an undeserved encore of Pearly and I am the only person in the upper tier dancing. They do Like Spinning Plates and the atmosphere picks up. But by the time they’ve finished I don’t want them to come back out on stage again, I want this to be over. I put my coat on over my pass. I need a drink. I stomp off to find the place where we have to wait.

Astral Chris appears with a triple-A pass stuck to his chest, he’s been in the photo pit. He’s never been to the afters before and doesn’t seem to know the score. I want to talk to someone about my dissatisfaction with the show. I can’t explain it yet. We get into the room and there is beer. I grab one and leave him to mingle. I need a bit of space. When I tell Tim about getting stuck at the top and he says there were no seats left so they invented tickets for us. Oh god, now I’m being ungrateful and I feel worse.

Caffy is there with Craig, the journalist from The Face, I talk to them, he’s interviewed the band before and is the man for the job. He’s Scottish, and under the impression that I live in Tokyo, but I tell him about my world tour. I try to explain how I wasn’t feeling it tonight, he asks if I can always tell.

Tonight is 40 something, so yeah, I tell him, I can usually tell. I have more beer. Caffy thinks that his piece will be good and finally lay waste to all the “miserable bastard” stuff that keeps getting written. This trip is her swansong, after this she is leaving the industry. She says that the band have never got mad at her even when she thought she’d cocked things up and she’s learnt with them, but she’s going to have a year off, start putting gigs on herself.

Thom swings by and doesn’t hear me when I call after him, Tim urges me to go after him. I tap him on the shoulder and ask if he’d like an early birthday present. I give him the yellow gift bag I’ve been toting around all day. He takes out the T-shirt I found yesterday in Ueno, it bares the legend SONGWRITER in white across the chest.  “I couldn’t resist it” I say. He gives his loudest laugh, a big whoop, and holds it up to his chest to show Colin. We have a half hug and pull the face. I try to explain why I thought it was a crap crowd and he pulls a serious face and I think maybe I should shut up about it. He shows me a copy of Snoozer, he’s rather impressed by a magazine that would put Aphex Twin on the cover. More beer.

The Americans have shown up. Jeff is talking to me about Japan and that woman is bombarding Thom with politics again (It reminds me of Belfast. Is she the same woman as was there? I don’t know.) I wish he would just tell her to shove off. She gives him a weighty tome about US international relations and he finally gets away. I pass him his gifts and rejoin Izzy, Caffy and Keiko.

As we were leaving, going downstairs, Thom appeared from a door on the stairs. He told us to wait. He went to the dressing room and came back with a bottle of vodka that they’d had put on the rider especially for Izzy. “Drink it with Caffy, she saved it for you.”

Yasuko and Atsuko are waiting outside. They’re leaving for Yokohama tonight but I decide to stay another night in Tokyo.

48. Yokohama, Arena, 3 October 2001

In Tokyo, the band are staying in the Meguro Gajoen, the poshest hotel I’ve ever seen in my life.

Keiko and I head there about lunchtime to meet up with Caffy and the others. Caffy is in the café having cheese and biscuits for breakfast. The coffee is so expensive and she’s so jetlagged that the time of day no longer matters, so she’s ordered a margarita. Izzy arrives and insists on showing me inside the ladies toilet. There is a stream with a bridge and a gold leaf ceiling. Waiting in the queue is like being at Japanese Bathroom Disneyland.

After some deliberation about the prices we join Caffy in the café and get a quick look at the interior waterfall and giant Koi Carp pond that make up the rest of the hotel’s “river”.

Still desperate for caffeine I order a £5 coffee, hoping that I might at last get a decent hit and Izzy has a G&T. We help Caffy plan places to visit on her map, she’s only going to be here for about 48 hours. You have to go to the shops in Shibuya and to Kiddyland, we tell her, it may be just a toy shop but it feels like a theme park. Colin and Jason (the photographer) leave some of their stuff with us and go off to shoot elsewhere in the hotel.

Later Phil is outside for his part of the photo shoot, lying on the ground by the waterfall.

I don’t get time to investigate Caffy’s room, but it sounds amazing, decorated in a traditional Japanese style but with all modern conveniences and technologies. Apparently the band have got rooms that are even more lavish – but I don’t hear about these until later. After another visit to the amazing toilet, we join the band as they assemble to leave for their bus. Thom tries out his Japanese on Keiko and Izzy.

We see them to the door (this hotel has a huge passageway for a lobby) and then we leave to have another look around Harajuku. We all end up in Kiddyland, and I buy a plethora of Afroken stuff (a dog with a rainbow afro hair-do from the Hello Kitty stable) and a T-shirt for Tim. It is red and has a scooter on it with the words ‘radio flyer’, which seems appropriate.

We eat pizza and work ourselves up to the trip to Yokohama.  We look in Tower Records and have a beer, then take the Chikatetsu to Shin-Yokohama station where we call out “Ya-Chan!” until we spot Yasuko and her boyfriend Yama-chan who are waiting to take us to the venue in his Landrover Discovery.

I’m eager to be early tonight, the others have standing tickets and somehow make it to front and centre on the floor near the stage. It’s a big arena, Atsuko comes with me and we discover that my seat for tonight is in the equivalent of the Royal Box, she translates for me as the steward explains that it’s basically the best seat in the house.

She is meeting some other friends and leaves me to it. I sit at the front of the box (although if I wanted to there was a lounge where I could watch the gig on a TV screen). I have the box to myself and I lean over and watch people filling the hall until Clinic start their set, dumdumdumdah… it’s almost a relief to hear the Ink Spots CD that has been the warm up music, even if its starting to sound a bit scratched.

Tonight hearing The National Anthem segue into Hunting Bears sounds good and I make my seat squeak jiggling about in lieu of dancing. The crowd noise is reverberating off the walls, I can hear them, the band can hear them and despite the big venue acoustics it is working tonight in a way it wasn’t at the Budokan.

Everything In Its Right Place at the end of the set has been a highlight every night, even when Thom can’t find the right key to start it. Tonight he quotes from REM’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It at the beginning and when we get to the off kilter drum pattern at the end, everyone claps in the right places, in time.

Thom is ON IT. He climbs over onto the prongs of the stage, first one side then the other and gets a little fan contact from the front row. It’s great to see him moving about so much. I clap until my hands are sore and manage to keep up with the drum fills. The encores were perfect – last night is forgotten. I’ve found my feeling again. I go to the private bathroom attached to the box, wash my face, then fix on my minotaur sticker. I go down to find where people are congregating. Atsuko and Yasuko are my plus-two for the evening.

Inside, Tim is already being lavished with gifts by an older woman fan from Baltimore; Astral Chris and the American contingent have somehow found their way in and are mingling. I give Tim his present with a card on which I’ve written “Timseiko” (Tim’s the best). Laden with shopping from earlier on, I have copy of Rockin On (the Japanese equivalent of Q magazine), there is a big feature on the band and I intend to get them all to sign it. I don’t want to be frantically trying to do it tomorrow. I’m also blazing a trail for Atsuko and Yasuko who don’t often get chance to get things signed. I borrow a marker pen from the crew room. I find Phil first and he’s very nice about it, considering he’s a blur in the picture. Colin and Ed sign and point out that the photo in the magazine is from Paris.

Thom is already surrounded, but the others want me to go first. I ask him if I can have this to remember my trip. He has a glass of wine on the go and agrees with me that it was a better show than last night. He’s livening up a bit and makes a mess of my autograph trying to do it one handed. He signs Atsuko’s poster and Yasuko’s Ne Pas Avaler T shirt, he notices that she has on the same jeans as him. He doesn’t understand people’s fascination with that particular T-shirt… he’s washed his beyond wearing.

The circle around Thom now comprises me, Keiko, Atsuko, Yasuko, Chris and some girls but I feel like I’m doing all the talking. Jonny’s not around, a crew member had made an off-colour remark about him feeling ill. He’s indisposed, says Thom. Apparently he’s gone mad for all things Honda and he’s going to buy a scooter tomorrow. I tell him Jonny on a bike is a strange image – “Not in leathers surely?”

“Nah,” says Thom, “denim.” We can’t imagine him in a helmet. There are some jokes cracked here that go over the heads of most of the assembled ladies.  Sometimes Thom has a very childish sense of humour. We go back to talking about the show and he says again that tonight was a better show. He does that rubbing his hands together gesture – like he’s feeling the warmth.

Someone says something about the way he was running about on stage and he says “It was a bit cheesy but it was sincerely meant.” Colin had said something about how tomorrow will be more relaxed, “Yeah,” says Thom, “Can’t be as bad as – where was yesterday?”

“Budokan,” I say. We’re agreed.

Izzy and Keiko are a bit drunk. Where have they been all this time? With Caffy? With Tree? Talking to Ed? Atsuko and Yasuko are happy that they got their chance to meet and get things signed by the band but neither of them have said much.

When we get outside, Yama is waiting in the back of his Landrover, having a beer out of the onboard fridge. We drive the others back to Tokyo and then go back to Yasuko’s place on the outskirts of Yokohama with Pavement playing on the stereo. Her place is full of DIY artwork and musical instruments. Kind of reminds me of Val’s flat.

49. Yokohama, Arena, 4 October 2001

I wake up feeling a little bit fizzy due to beer and a nip of sake at 2am. We take a train into the centre of town and I stow my bag in a station locker. Yasuko and I meet Misako, another friend, for lunch. We go for a wander around Yokohama, it is utterly modern and weirdly artificial. I buy more stickers.

Today I don’t really care about anything other than getting to the show on time. As it turns out we are early and I sit outside with a beer and chat to Chris and the intense American woman who was around the other night. I don’t think they’d realised that I would be talking to Thom the other night, I’m trying to be laid back but I’m probably not doing very well.

Once I’m inside I have enough time to buy a poster, there is a special folded one with Amnesiac artwork just for this tour. I’ve got a seat in a box again, but it’s a different one to last night, slightly further back. Clinic have already started and it’s dark so I can’t see. By the time the Ink Spots CD kicks in, I’m in my seat and ready.

From the first moment they know that tonight is the one. Bam! They hit the stage with full force and it stays like that for the whole of the first hour. I hardly notice the time passing, I’m on my feet doing the freaky dance for the duration, I have to rest during Paranoid Android because my legs are starting to hurt. I don’t care if I’m in anyone’s way. I get some energy back and dance to a typically jerky Idioteque. Everything In Its Right Place, which has been my favourite every night, is so great. I clap until my hands sting. The feeling is at its strongest and I’m not sure whether to cry or scream or just keep repeating “Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go!”.

Looking at my copy of the set list, I can only remember elation mixed with the feeling I get when it’s the final show of a tour. Thom reminded the crowd it was the last one like he was happy that he got to go home now… he also seemed unsure when they would be playing live next.

By now the live versions of the Kid A and Amnesiac songs are outstripping the recorded ones about three fold. Kid A seems hollow by comparison. In the live stuff there is abandon and energy in place of the clinical precision. This is the main reason why I keep coming back for more.

The crew’s promised practical joke was a remote controlled robot that invaded the stage during Paranoid Android, in the end it was a bit half-hearted. Ed and Coz tried to kick it and Thom didn’t even notice. They came back on for the “good vibes” of Street Spirit, absolutely rocked out The Bends and then all five of them came back to form a line at the lip of the stage to take a bow, each clutching a champagne glass to toast the crew.

Then they proceed to play a tidy version of Neil Young’s Cinnamon Girl. “We love this!” says Thom. It has riffs, flourishes and joy. I don’t know the original (yet) but I’m humming it all the way through the throng to the back of the hall to wait for the others. Caffy is there with her laminate and I try to make Yasuko wait here so I can get her in with us.  I’m feeling good as I know I will see Thom again one more time and complete the mission to get everyone’s stuff signed by Jonny.

We get beer and talk to Caffy. I want to help the others to meet the band but I also need to be an individual entity for the evening, a separate person. We wait a long while for other folks to appear, so by the time I get a pass for Yasuko, she’s already been chucked out of the venue. The beer flows and so do the vodka and orange juices. I have to stop worrying about everybody else. I shouldn’t try to do impossible favours, this is the last show and who knows when the next one will be, good vibes have to be stored, goodbyes have to be said and so do thank yous.

I chat to Phil. “So that’s the last one then, have you enjoyed it?”

“Of course,” I say. “You get to go home now.”

“So do you.” He replies.

I explain that I’m staying around for another week and then going to Australia for a month. I tell him I’ll have to get a new job when I get back and he says, “Would you rather be working or touring around?” I tell him I think we have already answered that question…

There’s a spare set list from tonight’s show on top of a flight case so I nab it and when Thom appears he finds Keiko and I are still standing while everyone else has got stuck into the vodka, he sticks around to talk to us.

“Did you hear I got mobbed?” he asks gleefully.

“You what?!” I’m surprised he seems so uncharacteristically pleased about this.

“You know that T-shirt you gave me, well it’s probably going to be in The Face. We went outside into the people waiting at the back door and Jason took photos.”

Apparently everyone was a bit stunned but he just stood there and let them crowd him. He stands stock still to demonstrate. “It was mad!”

“You love it!” I say, laughing. He laughs too.

I have more Tokyu Hands stickers and hand over one with “It’s new I’ll give you a ride on it!” over a picture of a moped, for him to give to Jonny, who is yet to show up himself. Keiko is a bit tipsy and she’s hugging everyone. I produce the set list and ask Thom to sign it, as he made a mess of autographing my magazine last night. He leans on my book and does a completely over the top satellite O in his name, which makes me unfeasibly happy.

“Oh,” says Thom, “He didn’t get a scooter in the end. Bottled it at the last minute.”

I give Thom a ‘baby on board’ sticker when he said he’d not seen that particular one.  He’s trying to take some more from my pile but I tell him off,  he’s already got loads. He goes off to get another drink and see some people, but says he’ll come back to us later.

The jumpy American woman bumps up, the US contingent had been huddled together in a corner looking on disapprovingly at our drinking, taking things seriously while me and the Japanese girls were enjoying ourselves. She’s got a bag of stuff, mini discs, CDs, books and apparently she’s trying to lighten her luggage. She circles on Thom wanting to explain why she’s here and what she’s got for him, keeps repeating herself and can’t get it out. He’s got his head on one side listening, being very understanding. I cough and hint and Keiko makes a face and Thom makes a face at me in return. She’s just about done. I want to pull Thom away and rescue him. She’s going, no she’s still here. By now we are all three of us trying not to laugh.

Jonny is around and I trouble him for a signature on Atsuko’s stuff. I tell him I’ve given his sticker to Thom, but he is polite as ever and willing to talk to me. I tell him that tonight was the best show, that Japan has been amazing and that I’m off to Australia next, it is possible that I would travel somewhere without the incentive of Radiohead gigs.

Thom comes back and Keiko is in full hugging mode, language seems inadequate. She thanks him for playing Lurgee and later she told me that he whispered to her that they played it because it was her favourite. She’s a bit teary and we’re all getting a bit tired and emotional. When the beer runs out, she drinks some of Thom’s Champagne.

We are still chatting as the rest of the band are leaving, space and time is unravelling with drink. Keiko gives Thom a huge hug and I ask if it’s OK to take a picture. I take one of Thom and Keiko, Keiko takes one of him and me and he takes one of me and her. As he turns to go he tells me to have a good time in Australia, and I give him a hug myself.  The big bouncer is asking us to make our way out and I’m so happy and full up, I don’t want the moment spoiled. We know the drill by now, don’t rush us.

Keiko and Izzy wobble down the long corridor, I’m sort of crying now, following behind, it probably won’t ever get better than this. Outside there are a pack of patient people waiting to see the band off. The Western contingent stand around separately. The other intense American woman is there and Jeff and his friend, plus Astral Chris. Yasuko is crying, I hug her and explain and apologise, give her the autographed stuff. Remember the good things, what else can we do? I’m too emotional right now. I manage to talk to Chris, without having to say it, none of us want to leave until the very end.

Eventually Keiko phones home and her folks come to pick us up. One of the intense American women gives Keiko a present for Phil, that she hadn’t yet managed to pass on. She doesn’t like these people being so familiar with her but it is taken as read that Keiko will go to the airport to wave the band off in the morning. It’s like she says, “This is my job.”

Back in Tokyo we eat and try in vain to sleep. Izzy turns up in the early hours, unable to remember how she got back…

50, 51, 52. Lisbon, Coliseu dos Recreios. 22, 23, 24 July 2002

This tour was the start of a new era. Radiohead’s “official” message board (RHMB) had taken off in a big way with the faithful and lots of people were making friends in real life.

It was to be a Gentlemen’s Leisurely Tour of the Iberian Peninsula: five dates in Portugal and seven in Spain were announced in the spring. I knew I wanted to go but I didn’t know how I was going to pay for it. About a month before the tour was due to start I found myself with a new job. It meant that I couldn’t do the whole trip, but I could take a week to do the Portuguese dates, so I pulled some strings and made some compromises: I’d do the first 5 shows and then go home and back to work.

Then I found out that loads of other people had had a similar idea…

Due to a combination of delays and strikes I flew first from Glasgow to Birmingham, where I spent several hours waiting in the departure lounge listening to The Fall on my minidisc player (It’s been serving me well, in the little case I bought for it in Japan. I’ve not yet gone over to mp3s).

The next leg of my trip takes me to Paris, where I use my hesitant schoolgirl French at Charles De Gaulle to claim a compensatory free drink and wait some more. When I finally get to Lisbon, my rucksack is still in Paris. I have to check into a cheap hostel for the night with no kit.

Lisbon is sticky, hot and uncomfortable. I’m unwashed and unhappy to be parted from my carefully packed bag, but I only have one night booked. In the morning I head out of town to the chain hotel where some of the boardies are booked in. I’ve never been so glad of a complementary towel and toothbrush in my life. I take a long shower and feel human again.

My first full day in Lisbon is spent scouring clothes shops for cheap knickers and a clean T shirt, I’m not very good at roughing it.

My bag turns up a couple of hours before my travel insurance would have kicked in, but by then I’ve booked in for another night at the hotel. My hard learned travel principle “how much am I prepared to pay to avoid doing that” continues to serve me well.

We have the weekend in Lisbon to be tourists. I find myself in an interesting city that I otherwise might not have visited with a small group of new friends. We go to Sintra, climb a hill and manage to get hot, bothered and a bit lost, but it doesn’t really matter. It’s just nice to be here.

When Yasuko arrives, I transfer to her hotel nearer to the venue in the centre of the city. We explore Belem to see the tower in the Tagus estuary and the monastery, beautiful white buildings that look splendid in the heat.

Back in the city centre we take a tram to the castle. As more boardies arrive for the gigs Samuel, one of the French fans, films them and asks them to introduce themselves. His idea, along with Nazaré, another of the French boardies, is to make a film about the tour and present it to the band so they can see how they’ve brought all these different people together. There are a series of surreal moments as Sam asks the same questions of everyone he meets while pointing his video camera in their face: “What is your name? What is your board name? Where have you come from? Why are you here?”

On the first gig day, a relaxed queue forms around the outside of the Coliseu dos Recreios. Large as the RHMB group is, there are plenty of other people here too. Locals, many of them teenagers; Americans who are fitting this in while they “do” Europe for the summer; members of the rival message board run by the At Ease website. But there is no tension in the air, the weather is warm, there is a pizza takeaway near the venue and no one seems to mind if we take it in turns to fetch food or go off for a drink at one of the al fresco bars up the road.

These temporary pavement dwellers have made themselves at home, some scavenge cardboard boxes, either to sit on or to make signs to hold up at the concert. Marker pen fumes fill the air as creative types draw Scary Bears and “RHMB is here” on a card large enough to be seen from the stage.

My lack of funds mean I was only able buy a ticket for the first show. Even though I can now ask the band for guestlist, I like to have a ticket as a back up in case I can’t get it organised. A safety net in case they change their mind. Back in March all the shows had sold out quickly, even when extra dates were added.

But my fears were unfounded. Thom had replied to my email before I left the UK:

(you) will be on da guest list plus umm 2.. ill tell tim on the way
down….
hope your well lucy..
sorry to be brief am fukking busy

I like that he randomly gives me a plus 2. This means I’ve got to choose my friends carefully. Tim emailed me to confirm this arrangement, now I just have to find him.

I can’t seem to separate the three Lisbon gigs from each other in my memory. There were so many new songs and a communal feeling of anticipation in the room on each night. I remember fidgeting through Four Tet’s support sets (some of the front row habitués had set themselves the challenge of making Kieron Hebden smile). Great warm up music though Four Tet is, it’s difficult to focus on a bloke standing behind a lap top in the middle of an empty stage. I decided that what he was actually doing was emailing home. I imagined his messages: “Dear Nan, Portugal is lovely. I’m playing to the same crowd every night, these Radiohead fans are mental but they seem to be enjoying the music. Wish you were here…”

I think the eventual winner of the “make Four Tet crack a smile” bet was M, one of the American contingent. Her shouts of “Kieron’s a fox!” followed by the occasional wolf whistle finally got him to laugh, but he never missed a beat.

I remember being startled by the single drums set up on either side of the stage before the band came on. No one knew what to expect. Had they turned into Adam and The Ants? Was this their Burundi-influenced new direction? When the band appeared, Ed and Jonny have drum sticks. Ed was revelling in this new role and Jonny played with concentrated gusto, his guitar slung across his back. There There was a revelation and soon we were all clapping along. It really shouldn’t have worked but it did. Thom was still in the middle, hair at messy angles, back to battering a guitar.

The thrill of brand new songs continues through the show. They keep coming, some so new that Thom needs a lyric sheet on a music stand in front of him (these become prized possessions when he later chucks them into the crowd). They play the long lost Lift, this is the kind of crowd that appreciated that it’s not been forgotten. Most of these songs are still at the experimental stage. On one Phil provides backing vocals (he seems to have invested in a gaudy new shirt for the occasion), on another (Myxomatosis?) Thom appears to be playing a Keytar!

There’s something jubilant about these shows. I come away a little stunned – there is a lot to take in – but it’s OK  -I get to do it all again tomorrow and the next day!

*

When Follow Me Around (Sam and Naz’s film) finally made it to the internet, several years after it was made, it eventually had the band-approved sound desk recordings to accompany the live footage. It was delayed because they wanted to be legit and had to wait for EMI to sign it off. Clara and I saw a cut on a visit to Paris to visit Naz later but it was a couple of years before the rest of the people who were in it saw it.

I have some rough bootlegs of the Portugal show, recorded for the most part on a microphone secreted under Astral Chris’s hat. The volume fluctuates, the sound glitches and there’s a lot of audience noise, (I think I recognise some of the screams). The machine whirs between tracks, limited battery life meant only the brand new songs got recorded, and it would be a few years before the band released them. At the time they were all we had to go on.

“Nice and fast. Here we go,” says Thom, introducing a now almost unrecognisable Up On The Ladder (that song won’t emerge as a finished article until the In Rainbows sessions). “Little raindrops, little raindrops” I misheard as the chorus of Stand Up Sit Down. I loved it. It is completely frantic and it will never sound quite so intense again. I continued getting the words wrong, letting it carry me away, dancing like a maniac, ready to burst every time they played it.

The song that we now know as Where Bluebirds Fly can just be made out playing as intro music. By the second night everyone is clapping along to set opener There There like it’s an old fave. We know that “We are accidents waiting, waiting to haaaaappen” is going to be the line that sticks in our memories. Scatterbrain is the least Radiohead-sounding new one; the hyper Wolf At The Door might yet be called “Stepford Wives” and the lyrics tumble out of Thom’s mouth so fast he’s almost falling over the words; Go To Sleep has the closest thing to a guitar solo they’ve had in a song for a long time.

I have sticky passes for all the Lisbon shows, but these aftershows have all merged into one memory. On the second night when I got to talk to people, I remember meeting Tim and he asked me if he should let some of the people hanging about outside into the party. I felt honoured by the responsibility, it was for me to decide if they were “alright” or not. My plus-two meant I took both Clarabelle and Yasuko with me, and Chris had also found his way into the little bar at the back of the venue.

Tim explained to me that this would be his last official stint as Tour Manager. He was ‘retiring’ from the road, but he was still going to be working in the studio, “mowing the lawn,” as he put it. We had a nice chat and he asked me if I had any idea how many gigs he’d been at… we started trying to do sums and I said I’d let him know about the online gigographies so he could try and work it out. It was cool to be able to swap war stories with him.

The others found the bar and discovered the local speciality cocktail, the Caipirinha. Somewhere in between drinks I drag Clara over to where Ed is sitting and introduce her, she’s his particular fan. I wasn’t going to mention it, but Chris passes by and drops out that she is one of the people behind the “Harem”, a lighthearted and at times very silly Ed fan site.

Later on when Thom appeared clutching his now customary red wine, I was sitting in a corner with a can of coke, trying to wake myself up. I still have my ‘entourage’ around, but he’s come to talk to me.

“It’ll give you cancer.” he says pointing at my drink, but I sense this is part of some in-joke I’m not party to. He asks if I enjoyed the show and I start trying to explain which songs, whose names I don’t yet know, are my new favourites.

“I like the rock one. You know the Neil Young-y one,” I say (I mean Go To Sleep).

“Oh no. Not rock,” he says slightly horrified, “Neil Young, we wish!”

We talk about Lisbon, I ask him if he’s seen much of the place yet, tell him I like the way it’s a bit dilapidated and shabby round the edges.

“It reminds me of Cuba,” he says, not quite prepared to tell me more of that story. He’s talking about their hotel, how it’s not really up to much, how they’d probably be better off staying on the bus.

“It’s not bloody five star!” He’s joking. I think.

“It’s not like in Japan,” he says, remembering the last time I saw him.

I remind him about the golden bathroom ceilings and rivers running through the lobby in Tokyo. We have a wistful moment, no other hotels will ever measure up… and I didn’t even see inside the rooms.

“There was a TV in the bathroom, and a stereo…” he tells me, becoming animated.

I’m visibly impressed.

“I put Aphex Twin on,” he mimes, “and danced in the shower… ‘come on you c***s lets have some of that Aphex Acid!'” he giggles. I don’t think he realises the mental image he’s just conjured up for me. I think I just stood there with my mouth open.

53. Porto, Coliseu do Porto, 26 July 2002

We have a day in between gigs and take the train to Porto. When we get there the station is decorated with traditional blue and white tiles, just another one of the pleasant little details that Portugal keeps unexpectedly throwing in my path. We jump into a taxi to our hotel. Just as we’re approaching some traffic lights and on the same street as the venue, Thom crosses the road in front of us… we wave frantically but we don’t think he’s seen us.

The venue is round the corner and up the road from the hotel that Yasuko and I have found. It seems rather grander than our usual budget B&Bs but like most other things here, it has a faded glamour. We settle in, discover we have room to put up another person in our room if need be, then head out to explore the city.

Guidebook in hand I lead the way back to the crossroads of the main streets. Just as we stop on the corner to consult our map, Thom, Phil and Jonny cross the street coming from the venue. Everyone mimes their surprise, it’s just another ordinary day in Radiohead town… I swallow my astonishment and say hello and it comes out in the same Pete and Dud tones as Thom’s “Evenin’.”

We spend the next day exploring Porto; a lot of the others are intent on queuing up at the venue for most of the day, but it’s too hot to be sitting on the pavement so I resist until later, trying my usual tactic of swapping places with people so I can at least get a decent view. The venue here is similar to the one in Lisbon, maybe a little larger. The gig itself is rather hazy. Without looking at a set list I can’t separate it from the others.

I remember frantically trying to avoid The Intense Americans who had decided it was their mission to be my friend. I remember dancing around the empting hall after the band finished. Lions of Judah by Steve Reid on the PA (I had to ask the soundman what it was, it was so perfect for stomping).

After leaving the venue, a big gang of us wander down towards the river. There is a late bar with tables outside, surrounded by Heras fencing because, like in a lot of the city, there was work taking place to install an underground system. In spite of the roadworks the bar is pleasant enough and the night is young, if a little chilly for sitting out after midnight. We all get drinks and “real life” friendships continue to develop between the boardies. Sam is still filming, capturing the post-gig stunned state that we’re starting to get used to after four shows in five days.

The night wears on and the beer flows. Some time around 2am a large group of people appear on the other side of the fencing. It’s the band and various friends, staff and hangers on. They’ve been to a club. When we spot them we wave, beckon them and shout, inviting them to join us. They wave back and laugh. When Thom gets to the gap in the fence he stops and feigns coming down the steps towards us. He steps in and out a few times, will he, won’t he. Various boardies offer to buy him a drink and he seems to be seriously considering it. In the end he follows the rest of the group back up the hill towards their hotel… Sam is still filming and he catches Clara asking me how it feels to be “stalked by a member of Radiohead…”

54. Porto, Coliseu do Porto, 27 July 2002

In the morning we find ourselves in a hungover daze wandering around the huge and incredibly well stocked FNAC record shop. It’s a department store sized depository of music with large generically organised sections. I get lost in Funk & Soul and then wind up looking through the further reaches of Jazz. I find the Steve Reid album that has the track I’ve been dancing to at the end of the shows, and some rather natty Studio One compilations. On my way to the checkout I pass Jonny’s guitar tech, the unmistakably tall Duncan, staggering under a gigantic armful of CDs. It would be nice to be able to buy whatever I wanted without having to think about the bill.

Before the show, we take a last wander around the riverside, then Yasuko and I go for dinner. I make the mistake of eating a big bowl of spaghetti and feel like I should go back to the hotel for a nap. When we get back up to the venue, it’s time for the gig to start and I don’t feel like I’m ready to go through it again. Loads of the others are staying on and going to Spain for the rest of the tour and I can’t. I have one more day here after this and then I have to leave. I’m never in a great mood on my last day of a tour and today is worse than ever. They’re going on without me, to beautiful places that I would really love to visit. I have my new job to go back to, and not enough money in the bank to stay.

When I’d told Thom that I was only here for the first part of the tour, he’d tried to console me by saying that at least I was there for the start. I had wondered aloud about coming back for the final show; I could fly into Madrid and go to Salamanca… but he shook his head. I think if he’d have responded with: “Sure I’ll put you on the list,” I would have thrown caution to the wind and come back.

They played a selection of new stuff again and somewhere towards the end, as they hit the encore, Keiko arrived. Her plane had been late and she nearly missed the show completely, but she made it. It was like I was handing the baton on to her. As if to mark her arrival, they unexpectedly played Creep at the end of the show. By the time we found each other we were both in tears.

We staggered out into the foyer, to find Mungo manning the W.A.S.T.E. merchandise stall. Keiko bought T-shirts and chatted to him while I attempted to pull myself together.

Tonight’s mission was making sure Sam and Naz got their interview with Thom. Back in Lisbon, when I’d had his ear, I’d mentioned to Tim the Tour Manager that they were shooting a film about the tour, and that as it was “for and by fans as a present for the band” it would be great if we could pass it on to them. I’d also hinted that if there was any way we could get the band to take part then it would be the icing on the cake. He took the hint and said he’d see what he could do. I’d left it in his hands until now, knowing that there was no use in pestering them into doing it – if they wanted to get involved then they would.

Tonight, when we got to the aftershow, I found Sam and Naz already there. The little back room where the crew catering had been laid on contained a few people sitting on plastic chairs, finishing off the remaining drinks and chatting in a subdued, deferential fashion. Phil and Ed came in and went out; there were a couple of faces I recognised but the band were mostly elsewhere. Tim appeared and invited the French filmmakers to accompany him, leaving the Japanese contingent and myself to the warm beers.

About 45 minutes later they reappeared drinking Champagne from small plastic cups. Thom had granted their interview. He had apologised as he was still eating his dinner, but he’d answered their questions on camera… Naz and Sam were thrilled and more than a little tipsy.

I was pleased to have been able to help set it up, but sad not to be able to say goodbye to the band in person before I left. Outside, round the back of the venue, as the local crew in their special W.A.S.T.E. T-shirts packed up the gear, a few of the die hard boardies were hanging about on the pavement, still reeling from the show.

I stumbled out expecting the familiar reception: hard stares from people as thy deduce that you are NOT one of the band and therefore not worthy of attention. But on this tour most of the people hanging about were now my friends.

In the morning I made a cursory visit to the Port caves on the other side of the river, but I was too tired and deflated to really take it all in. And then it was time to go home.

Back at my new job I spent most of the next 10 days on the RHMB, keeping up with the people who were still in Spain. San Sebastian, Bennicassim and Salamanca. I felt more and more dejected with each set list that got posted up.

On the final night, August 7th, resigned to the fact that I wasn’t going to make that last minute trip back for the last show, I joined Edinburgh boardie Melody Nelson at a DJ Shadow gig taking place as part of an off-shoot of the Edinburgh Festival. It was at the Corn Exchange, not the greatest venue the city has to offer, but my new job had allowed me to get hold of some tickets. It was small consolation, but it was better than sitting at home thinking about a show I couldn’t be at.

After the gig (of which I have no memory whatsoever) I went to catch the last bus back to Glasgow, only to have it drive straight past the stop (already full up – one of the perils of Festival season). With the offer of a sofa at her mum’s flat, I followed Melody back to a pub near her place and then had to go outside to take a phone call from Clarabelle, who like a large group of the boardies, was in Salamanca. The gig there had just finished.

Radiohead had played requests. They played You (for the first time in years). The venue was amazing…
With every bit of news I felt worse. Standing out on the street in chilly Edinburgh, about as far away from Spain as I could be, screaming with something between excitement and despair at my friend as she ran up an astronomical mobile phone bill. It was hard to hear how wonderful the rest of the tour had been. Not being there is still my biggest regret… but at least I’d been there for the first plays of the new songs.

2003: Hail To The Chief

The Radiohead TV/ Chieftan Mews Webcast took place just before Christmas 2002. (The DVD entitled The Most Gigantic Lying Mouth of All Time – or as I like to think of it, The Most Chaotic Stocking Filler Of All Time – which came out some time later, contains the best bits.) Drinking along, joining a virtual party, I managed to see the trail of clues and a couple of new songs by commandeering a friend’s broadband. Thom giggles through a karaoke Winter Wonderland, plays a touching first version of Mr Magpie and the heartbreaking I Froze Up.

Thom graced the cover of the first NME of the New Year, inside a feature on the forthcoming album collating all the rumours and possible track names. The LP is slated for June and is mooted as a “return to guitars”. The band claim it has been an easier and quicker album to make than its predecessors. Ed (as ever) throws out a tease saying it’s full of “swaggering” songs, in Q the others put this down to the Iberian tour. I get very wary when Ed starts talking in historical musical terms, “You know like when the Stones got their groove on.” They’re talking like they’re going to push this record. But it’s still not Thom doing the interviews (not yet anyway).

In March the “club tour” is announced and within a week the ticket stampede is a news story in itself. On the Board there was a highly organised chain of people buying for each other, whoever reaches the payment page buys a full allocation, knowing there are people who will need the tickets. There was no question that I wouldn’t try to go to every show with venues this small. I got sucked in, even though I’d shied away from buying a lot of tickets in the past.

I’m part of this caravan now and I can’t really plan a trip if I can’t say I’m going to be able to get into the shows. With Tim not doing this tour, I don’t feel I can ask for freebies and so I let people buy tickets for me and judging by all the WASTE envelopes in the 2003 box I spent a good deal on tickets myself.  It’s becoming more expensive to be a Radiohead fan.

Around the same time, it is announced that Radiohead will headline Glastonbury this year, along with some other European festivals. The comparative smallness of the “club tour” bodes well for more dates later in the year, but for now it feels that like the fans, the band enjoyed the smaller shows last year and are trying to keep the feeling going.

Hail To The Thief will come out at the beginning of June, just after the tour. The press take it upon themselves to focus on the “Anti-Bush Slogan” of the title. There’s another war on and a storm (in a teacup) ensues. (Some American NME readers don’t like it. ) The ticket frenzy also sparks some coverage focusing on the band clamping down on eBay resellers, among the first artists to do so. Glastonbury Festival later follows suit introducing an ID policy for ticket buyers. Ticket touts are no longer just the scary Mancunian blokes you see outside every gig… they’ve gone online and there’s a lot of money in it. This is not the last that we will hear on the subject.

By April, a not quite finished mix of the album has leaked onto the internet. Someone at work (who it turns out is also a Boardie) gives me a copy burnt onto CD, but I don’t want to listen, it feels disloyal. The band are more pissed off about the unfinished version being out in the world than anything else. Of course the NME take the opportunity to print the “spoilers”.

Thom pops up at an antiwar protest at RAF Fairford in April, adding further weight to the “protest album” angle.

In May the NME (about the only print mag I’m still regularly buying at this point as most stuff is online now) runs a Thom cover, “It’s our shiny pop record” (yeah, right ). Again the paper focuses on politics, convinced it’s a protest record, while the band seem to be more convinced of their new energy and optimism. The following week Thom and Jonny give a track by track run down, a new openness perhaps compared to their approach in the Kid A era.

Via an EMI contact I’ve got through work, I manage to obtain a promo of Hail To The Thief (it turns out to be the special “map” edition; that I was sent it without having to beg, plead and send in review copy reflects that this album has a massive promotional budget) I agree with the idea that it is a brighter record; it’s not pop, not rock. But it is a very Radiohead record.

Hearing the finished versions of these songs somehow depletes the live versions I’d got used to. These songs are set now. The production, after the complexity of the Kid A and Amnesiac sessions is less interesting but after repeated listening it is revealed that there’s something else going on, a different quality, different weather.

This is by no means a simple record, but neither is it quite what I was expecting.  Radiohead’s sometimes peculiar blend of anger and humour sit together on this album and it is perhaps more transparent than their “difficult” 4th and 5th records; it does have a powerful energy but not the same kind as they have when they play live. I can never have ears that didn’t hear these songs in Portugal, and I sometimes wonder if I’d have a better relationship with the record if I hadn’t been ‘given’ those songs early. Having said that, I wouldn’t swap those shows for a whole Napster worth of albums…

The most notable thing about HTTT is the influence that having a kid had on Thom’s lyrical outlook. Sail to the Moon, Where I End And You Begin… these are the closest he’s got to love songs, and the whole thing is crammed with children’s book imagery – Bagpuss, Gulliver’s Travels, Chicken Licken.  He remains as wonderfully oblique as ever – if Kid A was “rambling in open spaces” this is walking in cities, it’s windy weather, it’s the empty centre in the middle of the hurricane.

For me, HTTT is a couple of tracks too long. Scatterbrain is too much like REM and should have been a B-side; Go To Sleep never quite works and great as Wolf At the Door can be live, it sort of peters out at the end and finishes their run of great last-on-the-album tracks. It doesn’t quite cohere as a complete listen like even Kid A does. Backdrifts is loose and it works, catching the mood. Go to Sleep remains a battle not to be a rock song. I’m not sure they succeed, as in the process they knock the balls out of it; if this is them being relaxed then I liked it when they were uptight. The subtitles for the songs smack of trying too hard to give us options about their meanings – yet the lyrics are printed on the sleeve for the first time since OKC.

There There was the first single and remains the stand-out track, the one that will stay in the set… it builds and releases, and is mixed so you have to play it on repeat. (Listening now, I find HTTT benefits from being played LOUD.) They’re finding their groove but they’re not quite there yet…

Sure enough in the week before the “club” dates, a series of arena shows are announced for November… but first we have May and a tour to get through…

55. Dublin Olympia, 17 May 2003

I found the notebook that I was carrying on this tour, there’s a lot of blank pages left in it. There are a few scribbled lines trying to capture a conversation, hardly anything about the shows and on one page, Thom’s scratchy handwriting, to remind me to listen to a couple of records.

At the back there are some roughly sketched ideas for how to record my Radiohead adventures:

“Like a post-modern pilgrimage, we travel to witness sound and light transfigured into emotional magic. Primal dancing, whooping and screaming. Adrenaline and fears and toothy grins.”

A bit of bad poetry, no doubt written in the middle of a sleepless hostel night.

I’ve been trying to make sense of it ever since.

*

“It ain’t workin’ chief!” Thom’s having trouble with a guitar and he needs Pete “Plank” Clements to fix it. This phrase tickles me, Thom is giggling as he says it, like an on-tour in-joke. We’ll never know if that’s the case for the band, but it certainly becomes one for me and the gang of RHMB regulars that have turned up in Dublin for these dates at the Olympia, a theatre-sized venue in the centre of the city.

This is a smaller show than they have played for a while, about a tenth the size of the last UK/Ireland shows in the 10,000 capacity tents and the tickets tonight are like gold dust. We, the faithful, however, are used to this.

One friend from London has been camped outside the door since 5am, dressed in army surplus gear. A concerned and intoxicated passer-by has already offered him some food. “It’s OK,” he reassured them, “we’re waiting for Radiohead.”

“I’ll pray for you.”

The queue for these shows is a serious business, a lot of people have come a long way to be here, have gone to great lengths to get these tickets and they want the best vantage point possible once they get inside.

Personally I go through enough turmoil before a gig and standing in the cold all day is not something I enjoy. The first few people will hold their places all day and get the positions on the barrier that they desire. Much as I love that spot, I don’t have the energy, the patience or the kind of will power to make it something I can do without the help of friends.

Tonight there is a system giving wristbands to those with standing tickets so they can stand in a segregated area (“the pit”) at the front.  In theory this cuts down on crowd surges and makes it less dangerous to be nearer the stage; people don’t need to push each other around as much. In a venue as small as The Olympia it makes a difference, one of the main reasons to be on the barrier (for me anyway) is to support yourself when everyone behind you is pushing. I get quite near the front but not on the rail as I’d not been prepared to join in with the queuing hierarchy.

Four Tet is once again the support, and once again I picture Kieran Hebden on stage behind his laptop, emailing his nan.  In other circumstances his music would be engaging and I’d be dancing, but tonight we’re preserving our energy.

The drums are out on either side of the stage and There There, already an anthem, kicks off the show.  It’s a more open song that we’ve been used to from the Kid A era. The reviews talk about Radiohead being emotionally cold, as if you can’t have feelings unless you’re strumming an acoustic guitar, personally I think this is bollocks. Straight into 2+2=5, which is probably one of the songs that had the more orthodox listeners reaching for the their rock dictionaries again, as if Kid A was an aberration.

The press reviews of this show seem to concentrate on the difference between this new material and the old stuff, neglecting to notice how each time Radiohead return to the live arena they bring all their material into line. The new stuff – Where I End And You Begin – segues into Airbag and Lucky and then there is a straight run of HTTT tracks until Just gets an airing near the end of the main set. The band are still quite loose, this is the first show and things are still falling into place with the new material. Thom is playful, but when Jonny lets fly on the noisier songs, he and Colin look on with some bemusement.

The promise of an “intimate atmosphere” has brought people from around the world to these shows, with American fans making a larger than usual showing. Realising what a great time we had on the Iberian tour, and that for the foreseeable future all the US is going to get is stadium shows, compels people to fly in for these dates.

The NME canvassed the queue before the first Dublin show. Some people get a bit carried away and seem to think they’re speaking for everyone, that turning up at 6am makes them special; they obviously get a kick out of it. I’ve met a lot more of these people now, in person or online, and I have friends to hang out with, but as with the rest of my life, I’m not entirely convinced I fit in. I’m less shy than I used to be, more prepared for what being on a tour will take out of me. I know now to travel light, with adequate shoes for hours on my feet; an eye-mask and earplugs to make sleeping in hostels bearable. When it starts to become about the gang of people more than about the band, I get uneasy.

In terms of aftershow, I don’t see anything in Dublin. I take it as read that the band are off into the network of tunnels beneath Dublin that connect Bono’s many properties (I had to do something with my time in the queue, so inevitably I came up with a fiendish scheme about U2 owning the city).

The NME the following week has a quick catch up with the band after the first night. They were a bit shaky, the first one is always unpredictable, it will take a while to bed in the new songs. They’re going to change the set every night as they have so many songs to fit in. Colin, as ever, comes across as the biggest Radiohead fan of them all, “I’ve got a great job.” They’re even talking about how much fun they’re having!

56. Dublin, Olympia, 18 May 2003

Something is afoot with the people in the queue. There is an atmosphere. It turns out the people who arrived first, and one American in particular, have started their own system. They are giving people numbers, drawing on people’s hands with a felt tip pen. Don’t they understand? We are British (and Irish…) and we know how to queue.

I dislike the compulsion to start a line unnecessarily early before a gig, but this imposing of control on people who are, let’s face it, here to enjoy themselves, puts a serious kink in my day.

I am pretty psyched up before the show and it takes a lot for me not to go completely berserk. My first instinct is to find whoever is responsible and give them a piece of my mind, the thing is, other people are going along with it. I don’t remember the details (the red mist descended) but I remember saying to the queue at large, as I took up a spot at a reasonable time after lunch, “This is my thing, how dare you spoil it!”

Inside, the band are into it, the set list is different, as promised, with the song Kid A making a live debut. Thom turns it into something altogether more sprightly than it is on record, hopping around a small keyboard. He has to dash between mic and piano during Sit Down Stand Up, adding a slapstick element. The piano has a photo of Sid James wearing a crown taped to it , another band in-joke no doubt.

They throw in a few oldies including Talk Show Host, usually a sign that they’re feeling funky. How To Disappear with it’s line about the Liffey sets the home crowd into raptures and they make a fair stab at the slow hand clap of We Suck Young Blood.

57. Belfast, Waterfront, 19 May 2003

We left Dublin, but I recall few details. Clara, who was touring with me, remembers leaving the envelopes with ALL the tickets for ALL the rest of the gigs in the hostel and having to go back for them. The rest of us had taken the train to Belfast and she had to follow on the bus.

We arrived at our hostel en mass, the lady at reception asking, “Are you here for Westlife?” (The Irish boy band, the complete antithesis of our boys, are playing at the Odyssey Arena, next door to tonight’s venue.)

We make it to the Waterfront in time to discover that the queue has once again started early. An ever expanding group of rabid enthusiasts hell-bent on imposing a bureaucracy on fans of a band that have songs entitled 2+2=5, who sing about the debilitating effects of the daily grind, fail to see the irony in what they’re doing.

Tonight they have selected a red pen so that last night’s numbers in black will be rendered invalid. Melody Nelson, another boardie who is with us, pulls out her lip liner pencil and applies low numbers to the backs of our hands. I am pulled inside the venue with Dublin boardie Stooge and Astral Chris, who flank me in the crowd as the girls head for the barrier, I’m just behind them, we’re all in the crowd together for once.

This venue is weird, though smaller than the neighbouring Odyssey, it’s still an arena, a concert hall for orchestras. After the Olympia, which had a dilapidated grandeur, it is rather soulless. There are a couple of technical issues on stage and Thom can’t quite find his groove, a member of the crew gets a tongue lashing mid-set. Other than that the gig is a flurry of new songs.

Keiko is here and she has passes for this evening. The others all leave to go for drinks and she finds me, attaches a pass and we get herded away once the arena is cleared. The new tour manager is a friendly Frenchwoman called Hilda, she leads us through the bowels of the building into what looks like a hotel lobby.

Soon we are sitting on the floor sharing wine and Guinness with Thom. Keiko asks after his family and he tells her that they’d been in Dublin at the shows.  He’s obviously smitten with his toddler son, talking a lot about being woken up early and the cute things that he says…

I ask how the shows have been so far; we talk about the setlists and how the second night’s array wouldn’t have worked here. They lost their nerve but The Gloaming was good. I tell him I liked Kid A with the one finger keyboard playing. Keiko keeps pouring more drinks. Yasuko arrives. They ask if they’re going to play in Japan anytime soon, “Summersonic” says Thom. The contingent try to explain that it’s the wrong festival! Thom writes something on a piece of paper for Ya to add to her website.

We talk about music – The White Stripes – how come if everything is recorded on pre-1968 gear its still available on CD? If this is the new future of rock ‘n’ roll then why don’t they just let it die and let someone who uses samples get through? But Q love them… Q is a bad subject; it seems Thom is not the biggest fan of the current editor, even though he’s on the cover again.

He says the John Peel show is still essential listening. We decide Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Kills are just retreading PJ Harvey – “Better get Polly on the phone.”

We talk about shoes (he’s got white Clarks shoes on, that look like leather Cornish Pasties to me, as he was looking for something British made. “You have to take what you can get”). He mentions what he’s listening to and I ask him to write down the names – The Black Keys (“Not the ‘Blackies’, there two of them like the White Stripes… but…”) and B-Pitch Control (the Berlin label that he likes more than anything else at the moment).

We talk to “Big Colin” the head of security, he seems to know who we are and he knows the score with some of the more fervent admirers who are still waiting outside. I don’t want to speak out of turn, but I don’t care if I make enemies if I have friends like these. We get asked what shows we are going to. “All of them,” Keiko replies. She promptly gets put on the guest list plus two for the rest of the tour.

Hilda says it’s time to go. “Let’s not,” says Thom. We agree with him, but we’ve all run out of drinks and they really have to leave. He cracks his neck, “I really should have got it seen to before the tour.”

Keiko, Ya and I stagger outside into the night, we’re nowhere near where we went in and it takes a while to get our bearings. I somehow make it back to the hostel, where there are several rooms taken up by rival factions. Other people have better recall of who was where and who said what to who, who got off with who, who fell out with who. I begin to remember why being social on these trips is hard. I don’t want to deal with ordinary things. I don’t really care about the petty politics and I don’t understand why anyone else does.

58. Edinburgh, Corn Exchange, 21 May 2003

A travel day. It’s Melody’s turn to rescue the tickets, which once again get left in the hostel. This is getting ridiculous, at least we realise in time to alert her and she is on a later flight…

We regroup in Glasgow and are joined by Dop from Belgium and Pocki from Sweden, who are going to stay the night at my place.

On the day of the show we get a bus through to Edinburgh. We meet with Melody, go for a pub lunch and sort out the envelope full of tickets.

I have a love/hate relationship with Edinburgh. As a Glasgow-dweller I dislike the wind, the tourists, the transport, the snootiness and the venues. Why, when there are so many great places for a band play in Glasgow, they have chosen to play the only Scottish date in this barn of a place? The Corn Exchange seems more suitable to conferences and expos than an “intimate” evening with a band, but still the queue has formed early and the Americans seem to be in charge.

The Japanese contingent are here in force too. By the time we arrive there are plenty of people who know each other from the internet who are getting to meet “in real life” for the first time. Some of them will end up being close friends in the future. Some of them will be flatmates. Some of them will even end up married.  Everyone will have different reasons to remember this gig.

Sometime in the afternoon, a member of the crew emerges from the venue with a notice, copies of which are distributed among the queue. Word has got back to the band about the queue numbering, via Big Colin (Official title: “Head of Security”). Apparently, in Dublin, the queue system involved a couple of young lads wrongly being led to believe that their numbers would guarantee them a place at the front. They were sadly disappointed and complained to the venue. The band have got wind and are not best pleased.

The whole queue thing is just winding me up. The already numbered ignore the polite request and the struggle to get to the front continues. Reports from those who made it to the barrier describe a mad rush to get in, people running and slamming into the front board. One boardie whacked her knee and spends the whole gig in agony (and the next three weeks barely able to walk.) It’s a measure of the power of this band that even while injured, people choose to stay at the front rather than leave the show.

I don’t even try to get close to the front and hang back near the sound desk. I had to wait for an old friend from Glasgow to give him my ticket (as I’m now Keiko’s plus one) and people had been so hostile to folks joining their friends in the queue and thereby outdoing the system that I couldn’t be bothered with the hassle. Back here I can dance and not worry about trying to see the stage (I’ve been to gigs in The Corn Exchange before and I know it’s a pointless exercise). A lot of people at the front are convinced they’re getting eye contact with the band, that they can’t enjoy the show unless they’re at the front. I’ve been there and done that, at better venues than this one.

In spite of trying to make the best of it, I spend the show in a fug of annoyance. The setlist gets tweaked again and Like Spinning Plates gets an airing. Someone shouts out a request for the football scores and Thom says something about half time oranges. (Ed might have chipped in with something more realistically footy-related). I dance it out of my system. I need a fair amount of space when I get going, Sit Down Stand Up in particular sets me off, flailing frantic and fast.

Afterwards, Keiko finds me with a pass. We have a bit of a problem with a security man and my mood still hasn’t quite stabilised. I have a heated exchange with a jobsworth who kept asking us if we didn’t have homes to go to. Liggers and bouncers, oil and water.

I remember pulling someone through a door as it was closing and going down a long corridor, like something from one of my weird dreams. A back stage room with the usual remains of the crew catering and a few beers in a fridge. I flop into a chair and try to regain some composure. I am sweaty and thirsty. Big Colin approaches to tell me there is a girl outside who says she’s a friend of mine. He tells me her name, M, one of the Americans who was in Portugal. I tell him that I have met her but that it’s his call who he lets inside the after show.

I am surprised, a few moments later, to see her arrive in the room. She thanks me as if it’s my doing, she is fairly vibrating with excitement. I tell her to be cool, get a drink, sit tight, don’t get in anyone’s way. I can almost feel the disapproval radiating off my other friends. In the end, she confines herself to staring rather intensely at Jonny when he arrives. The hard thing is to know whether to behave like you belong here and mingle as if you were at a party, or to remain too overawed to say anything to anyone and risk looking like a potential nutter. I include myself in this, hell only knows how I look to anyone who doesn’t know me.

I passed the stage of caring a long time ago and after rehydrating myself, I wander over to Thom, who is being accosted by local music journalist and radio personality Billy Sloan. As I approach, Thom is politely but firmly refusing to have his photo taken in Sloan’s customary “friend of the stars” pose. Thwarted, Clyde Radio’s finest wanders off, but he won’t find any other celebs to pester at this party. Thom greets me and introduces me to some of his Glasgow friends (a former flat mate who now runs an art gallery and a couple of other people).

It’s tricky, in different circumstances – an art opening such as I often attend through work or a regular party – I would probably feel able to talk to these people. As it is, Thom introduces me thus: “This is Lucy. She’s seen us everywhere, forever.” And his friends don’t quite know how to talk to me, I am put firmly in the fan category.  I find it hard to think of anything intelligent to say about the Glasgow art scene at this moment, even though I write listings about it for a living. Thom’s presence makes me feel too self conscious. I’m not going to make any new friends tonight.

The afters peters out, so it’s back to the pub near the station. This has been a more relaxed gathering than the one I’ve just left. The rest of the gang are all here and have been joined by my old mate who by now has missed the last train home. I find myself directing him to follow the group who are staying at the hostel and they let him kip on their floor. I join the girls and to go back to Melody’s flat for a fitful night on the sofa.

59. Manchester, Apollo, 22 May 2003

A ramshackle bunch of us roll up to catch the train to Manchester from Edinburgh in the morning. Some more hungover than others.

The gig is at The Apollo. I’ve not been here since 1996 when I came down for the T in the Park warm up show, Manchester has changed a lot since then. We didn’t arrive early enough to queue, but there is room to dance near the sound desk and a bunch of us prefer to stay there rather than brave the crush.

The intro of Where Bluebirds Fly heralds the band’s arrival on the stage – there’s no Four Tet tonight.

Despite being a “small” venue, the shape of the Apollo (old cinema with a high ceiling and wooden floor) gives a weird hollowness to proceedings.

There There is a fixture as the opener on this tour. There is already singing along. Jonny has developed a way of slinging his guitar across his back then twisting it back just in time for his climactic solo.  2+2=5 goes by fast; The National Anthem, Orwellian voices from Jonny’s radio then rumbling, muttering moaning. I do my head down shuffle and shake dance.

“Alright?” Thom speaks and gets a cheer. Morning Bell, propels me into more dancing. Lucky’s intro is all chills. Backdrifts is introduced as a new song. I have to remember that for most people these songs really are new. It skitters into life and Thom’s vocal floats over the top, it ends in some twisty guitar. “This is a hopeful song. We’ve got lots and lots of hopeful songs haven’t we boys?” Sail to The Moon with its piano and space guitar, gentle, soothing, almost soppy.

“C’mon kids!” I shout – wanting to hear Kid A again, “Please switch on the machine” says Thom in a funny voice and the chatter of the crowd becomes the twinkle of Sit Down Stand Up. People keep talking through the quiet before the storm. Some of us are braced because we already know it’s not just another piano song. There is a shriek when it kicks off. That might have been me. Thom flips out after “the raindrops” as the drums kick in. It seems shorter than the earlier version. Thom sings the opening line of Scatterbrain a capella but stops and they start the song, to loud cheers. “Did someone say run to the hills then?”

I shout again and get Kid A. People clap along, almost in relief at a older song, but stop when the rumbling drums begin, it’s almost all drums with a little bit of one finger keyboard and I love it. Thom breaks it down to a refrain, at the end, “C’mon kids”.

No Surprises get the biggest roar of the night so far and more clapping (vaguely in time at least). Thom throws out an unaccompanied “leave me outta here” as an afterthought, then Myxomatosis, is twice the volume of anything that came before, all treated guitar and raunchy moves.

“Another new one, this involves clapping, but it’s very special clapping, where you’re not really there, you wait for the beat, then ten minutes later it arrives. If you don’t wanna clap, that’s fine, see if I care.” We Suck Young Blood.

Thom is downright chatty, Paranoid Android reminds me of the last time I heard it in this building and it gave me the fear. The crowd singalong turning it into a gormless chant, but as usual I wait for the twitchy bits. As with many Radiohead songs, the bit when Jonny breaks in and tries to ruin it is the best bit. I still hate the “rain down” chorus, mainly because no bugger can ever sing it in tune.

My Iron Lung further ups the pace, provokes some more clapping and out of tune singing and Thom howls the last “it’s OK” like he’s falling down a well.  Idioteque,  the opening sample more sinister than usual ends with the room whipped up into a frenzy. Everything In Its Right Place prompts overenthusiastic clapping that soon dies out as the bass kicks in, and fails to get back on track for the off beat at the end (which always irks me). The fade out lasts for ages as the band leave the stage.

“It’s Philip’s Birthday” Thom says in another silly voice as they come back on, and it gets sampled… the crowd pick up an out of time chorus of the appropriate song. The Gloaming rumbles into life, the spooky sample coming back at the end.

A rattle of tambourine and I Might Be Wrong shimmers into being. I am dancing again. It staggers and stutters a bit but Jonny pulls it back into shape with some rumbling guitar.

From out of nowhere they play Just and it feels like the liveliest thing of the night.

“This is from our third record, now we’ve done six. That makes us old. This is called The Tourist.” Not one they play very often, it seems to suit the mood of the evening. So much of HTTT is dark and sinister sounding but without the action of the Kid A era stuff. There have been none of the ostensible “rock tracks” from the album tonight, more of the atmospheric ones, some quite dirge-like.

The encore’s encore finally arrives with Talk Show Host, which has already had several airings on this tour, it’s slinky in a more direct way than the newer stuff.  Almost like a reward for the crowd’s patience, they play Fake Plastic Trees last. It has karaoke qualities. But Thom rescues it with his occasionally aired “crumbles and burns” glissando. The end sounds triumphant and grand  – which for a song about defeat is pretty impressive.

When the band are gone, the ska compilation wafts through the room and I am left dancing on the spot, trying to compose myself. My regular companions know to leave me alone for a moment now, to absorb the show, to come back to earth, but M, who had been so keen to join me in Edinburgh, doesn’t seem to realise that I need some space. She is everywhere I look, trying to get in my eye line. I spin around, not able to cope with anyone in my face right now. She doesn’t take the hint and follows me as I try to dodge her. She wants to know if I’m going to the afters. I’m Keiko’s guest so it’s not up to me to invite anyone else, it is not in my power and I don’t want the responsibility. But she’s still there. I snap. I’m not proud of it, I might even have told her to “fuck off”.

Next thing I know I’m inside a back stage bar with Keiko. It’s busy, there are a lot of people here, Manchester always seems to have a party going on after a show but it’s not one I feel part of. There is no sign of any of the band, they’re probably celebrating Phil’s birthday in private. Yasuko is still outside and Keiko goes to fetch her. But we don’t have a spare pass, nor can we find anyone to ask for one. She tries to leave and come back in but a bouncer has got wise to her plan to bring another person and won’t let her return. I go over to argue with him, protesting her lack of English, asking him to fetch a manager, but he chooses this moment to exercise his little bit of power and escorts us both outside. Karma.

Out in the cold I am fuming, angry with the bouncer, angry with the others, angry with myself. I avoid people from earlier, not wanting to join those waiting for the band by the bus, but unable to leave.

Eventually I end up back at our hotel with Clarabelle and Magnakai (I’m going to keep using people’s Borad handles, deal with it), who has nowhere else to go, sharing a generically branded room. I am in a foul mood which I can’t properly explain to the others.

This band, this bloody band.

 

60. London, Shepherds Bush Empire, 24 May 2003

Another day off and we travel down to London. I stay in Bow with Clarabelle and have a rest. I go for a walk in the West End and into Hamley’s toy shop. I have a memory of going there with my parents on a sightseeing trip long ago, not being allowed to buy anything. I wander around the soft toy department imagining what the younger me, enamoured of anything cuddly and panda-shaped, would have bought if I’d had enough pocket money. The toys are all very expensive. I stumble upon a rack of Mr Men books, still pocket money priced. I buy a copy of ‘Mr Worry’, he reminds me of someone.

*

Between Shepherd’s Bush tube station and the venue there are signs tied to railings and lamp posts, Hungry? Sick? – lyrics from We Suck Young Blood. We’ve already started making up parodies. It’s a bit disappointing when all you get when you call the number is previews of the HTTT tracks. We pull some down to keep.

Across Shepherd’s Bush Green outside the venue there is already a queue. I meet a few more people from the message board and do a recce of the place but I don’t queue up myself, I’ve had enough for this run. I don’t want to see certain people today.

I run into Tim, who I’ve not really been in contact with since Portugal. He is still working for the band, looking after their studio, he’s looking after the guest list tonight and offers to put me on it. This means I now have an extra ticket, so I call Kim, who just has enough time to make it over from the other side of the city before the show starts. By the time we get inside we can fit in one drink before kick off, then find a place to stand near the back, just under the balcony (which rather dampens the sound.) The show has a coherence tonight, in spite of London nerves, and it genuinely feels like a small venue.

Kim reminds me of Val in a lot of ways: she’s a bit older than me and knows her music; I love listening to her punk war stories and she has a filthy sense of humour. She knows how to enjoy herself and she understands. She “gets” the band in a way that makes sense to me. I have a more relaxed time of it and the band are more on it, like the other shows have been a warm up for this. There There and 2+2=5 are once again the openers, but then The National Anthem and Morning Bell make an appearance. A few of us are still persisting with the flamenco clapping for the latter. Scatterbrain remains my least favourite of the new songs, but then Thom has his tiny keyboard brought on and someone screams. There is a joy in the way he sings “C’mon kids” at the end of Kid A, it’s been my favourite thing about the whole tour. The rest of the show sounds like Jonny’s: Go To Sleep’s defragged guitar breakdown; the radio detuning into Climbing Up The Walls; the tension sustained into a dark Backdrifts.

Thom’s voice has benefited from a day off. “Smile Thom!” someone shouts,  “How big do you want the smile? Happy, happy,” he chants. Sail to the Moon floats by. Sit Down Stand Up is for “all the people with free tickets,” (there are industry people here, as ever at a London show, it always creates an odd vibe). No Surprises follows, finding its place as a come down. Talk Show Host. Where I End And You Begin. Paranoid Android. Idioteque. There is certainly more pace tonight. Everything In Its Right Place has a great bass break in it and we almost get the clapping right.

They go off for what seems like a long while. I Might Be Wrong’s riff grinds and they’re back, all tambourines again. The Gloaming. Myxomatosis. The bass is dirty, the audience is better. Lucky. The cheering lasts a long time.

Fake Plastic Trees “Still seems sort of relevant somehow.” It starts, guitar drowned out by singing along to make it almost a capella. Thom has his voice back, melts the “crumbles and burns” line again. The rumble is loud for How To Disappear, it makes the room shake. Six shows out of seven, by now the set list feels well honed.

Kim comes with me to the afters, as she’s never done one before. It’s a split level bar, we hang about and drink beers. It’s busy but I have some things in my bag for Thom and with a little Dutch Courage I approach him between conversations, I just want a little more time before the tour is over. I present him with a Hamley’s bag, my gift for Noah – “Mr Worry, because he doesn’t have to.” I have also brought a CD of Rob Newman’s political comedy (he’s made something of a come back and I’m a loyal fan…) Thom pockets it and tells me that Mr Newman is supposed to be introducing them at Glastonbury (sadly in the end this doesn’t happen).

We talk briefly, I mention I’m thinking of going to the Italian shows in July and Thom says he’s looking forward to them, is bringing the family. A lot of people want his attention so I go back to Kim and my beer. I want her to be able to say hello, there are plenty of people here getting autographs, which is unusual, it would be nice to take advantage of the mood. Thom passes us and she says “Hello gorgeous!” in her own inimitable fashion. He giggles.

Later on I find a piece of artwork in my bag, given to me by my assistant at work (who also happens to be a Boardie…) I present it to Thom, but he assumes I want him to sign it, so does so and gives it back. I am about to explain that he can keep it, when a boy with a vinyl copy of OK Computer in his hand hoves into view. “Sign this for my mate who you told to ‘Fuck off’ in 1997!” We exchange face pulls and I get out of the way.

61. London, Shepherds Bush Empire, 25 May 2003

MTV are filming tonight’s show and someone has the idea that I should make a T-shirt for the occasion. Clarabelle takes a marker pen to a plain grey shirt and soon my chest bares the legend “Radiowho?” It’s an in-joke for us as members of the band’s Message Board where mentioning said band often sparks cries of derision from the regulars.

We travel into central London to meet more of the regulars and find something to eat. Trying to please everyone, we end up in a pub near the embankment with some sort of vegetarian Greek platter of humus, olives and pitta bread. There is something dodgy about the olives but we wash them down with a beer. The group makes its way to Shepherds Bush again, intent on a good time. But by the time we arrive at the Empire, Clara and I both have to make a beeline for the toilets in the adjacent pub, there really was something dodgy about those olives.

All thoughts of joining the queue are sacrificed to dealing with our health crisis. The worst is past by the time the doors open, but we are so late and I am so keen to get inside, that I neglect to check the ticket desk. I have a bought ticket for tonight and have not seen Tim again, Keiko and friends are already inside. I am still not feeling well.

The gig is being filmed and the cameras, one on a large boom across the middle of the crowd, are distracting. I can hardly seen anything from where I’m standing and I feel angry and ill. I’m not really enjoying myself anymore, maybe this is a gig too many.
I don’t remember any more than vague impressions of this gig. The MTV videos, which I got to see sometime later, and which are now on You Tube, don’t help fill in the gaps. The filming style anticipates the band’s own later use of CCTV, the gig had minimal lighting and despite the large cameras and booms at the show, most of it is shot in grainy close ups of hands and instruments. This was not the experience of an audience member, footage is shot from behind the band on the stage, perhaps trying to be immersive but failing to capture what it was like to be there.

The MTV special doesn’t cover the whole show, just a few songs interspersed with interviews. Thom appears on his own, he is the opaque, emotional centre of the band; Jonny and Colin are interviewed together – Jonny is musically analytical, Colin talks as if he’s the band’s biggest fan. Ed and Phil form the last group. Ed the band’s politician, presenting his version of what the new material means and Philip polite and diplomatic as always. I find myself identifying the most with Thom’s version, even if it’s not the most factual; he likes to mess with people’s expectation and even says in the clip that he likes to put things in the wrong place.

The most pertinent thing he says here, when asked about the fans who have travelled to see them on this tour, feels like a message for the gang of people I have got to know over the last week, “The people I know that do that (follow the tour) enjoy the fact that sometimes it goes wrong anyway. I tend to talk to people about that, I mean, they really don’t care. It’s kind of like a hanging out thing.”

That interview must have taken place before the gig, and I didn’t see it until weeks later, but he seems to understand why we’re here.

My notes are all about what happened afterwards. As I failed to check with the box office before the show, I have no pass. I go back once the show has finished but of course by now there is no one there and the list is long gone. I am ejected from the venue. I go round the block looking for anyone I know. Big Colin is too busy minding the door. I find a step at the bottom of a fire escape and sit down to wallow in my own stupidity. This was not how I wanted to end up, I’m cold and ill and fed up.

A while later, Hilda, the tour manager, who I have not seen a lot of at these shows, finds me. I have a card for Thom and I try to give it to her. I tell her I’m looking for Keiko, she will still be here somewhere unless the band are gone. Hilda drags me inside and up a lot of stairs. I pull myself together and try to act normal.
I had cracked up a little while I was outside, it wasn’t a good gig for me, it’s the last night of the tour. I’m angry at myself and other people and things I can do nothing about. We reach the upstairs bar and people are already leaving, but Thom is still there, signing Keiko and Yasuko’s posters. I arrive complaining about the cold and realise in that moment that I would have been on the list tonight, if only I hadn’t been puking before the show, why did I doubt it?

Thom pulls a face at me. They’ve been here for a while and he’s a bit drunk.

“Have you recovered?” I ask, meaning from the show.

“No,” he says.

“Is there any drink?” I’m parched.

“No I’ve drunk it all. All of it.” He’s not joking.

I give him the card, I’ve written down every thing I wanted to say. Tim joshes me to get out of the way, there are other people around trying to get things signed, I have posters in my grasp but I don’t want him to sign anything else. I just want a hug and we get a one-arm-each huddle. There are too many people and he’s too drunk and I’m tired and cold. “Italy’s not cold, see you in Italy.” And off he toddles leaving Keiko talking to Nigel. Tim says, “Email me.” He wants updates from the European tour…

May-June 2003.

The following night (May 26), Bjork is playing a rare live show at the same venue. A couple of our group have already got tickets and between us we score some more off people who are selling spares. (I rendezvous with a girl at Waterloo Station and buy her spare, she’d also been at Radiohead last night).

I am so exhausted that even though at any other time I would be quite enthusiastic at the prospect of the pride of Iceland in action, I find myself a spot to sit down towards the back of the Empire and don’t have the energy to stand up for most of the show. Consequently I have very little memory of it. Sometimes there really is one gig too many.

Back to real life. Having decided that we are definitely going to Italy, I only have just over a month to plan the trip. Over the summer I start attending a night-class, provoked by what was basically a dare from a friend, I become part of a stand up comedy workshop. I write a short set for my debut performance in a room above a pub. By the end of June I have done a few very short gigs. On the night of Radiohead’s Glastonbury headliner in June, I was on stage myself, delivering a tense 5 minutes of observations and fumbling my punch lines due to nerves.

The Hail to The Thief reviews, interviews and general press overkill continues (considering the band’s resolutions not to get caught up in the promo melee again, there is a surprisingly large amount of it.)

62. Bergamo, Il Lazzaretto di Bergamo, 7 July 2003

July arrives and a couple of extra dates have been added to the Italian tour.

On the 6th, I fly to Bergamo, the little regional airport served by budget airlines handily located for the first gig of this leg of the tour.

Bergamo’s old town is a beautiful historic hill settlement once ruled by the Venetians, it has a cathedral, pretty square, winding streets and gorgeous Italians on scooters round seemingly every corner. The newer part of town, which I only see the outskirts of, seems to be full of Russians, which leads to some confusion when I ask for directions. There is a youth hostel pretty close to the venue and I meet Clarabelle and some of the other regulars when I get there. We’d had an offer to stay with a boardie in Milan, but in the end we needed to be nearer the venue and not reliant on begging for lifts.

The venue, Il Lazzaretto, is a walled outdoor space between the hostel and the old town. Clara and I spend time in the old town sightseeing and eating ice cream in the summer heat. I have never been to Italy before and this place is what I imagined it would be like, sleepy shuttered houses and a steep climb to discover hidden treasures. There’s even a funicular up the hill. This trip already feels more like a holiday than these jaunts usually do.

When we check out the venue there is some unease in the queue. We don’t get the details until later, but something is amiss. There are rumours about some kind of security breach. We later piece together some details – someone on the AtEase message board had posted a bomb threat, so the authorities were searching and securing the venue. Lack of information, more than anything else, puts people on edge, the usual early arrivals are here sheltering from the sun with umbrellas and makeshift shades rigged up over the queue barriers and to be honest I’m only really getting my normal reading of stress from them. I missed Thom rehearsing Neil Young’s Down By The River on piano during the sound check. I will not queue on this tour, I’m on my summer holidays and the weather is glorious, there is food to be eaten and art to be admired. We spend the larger part of the day in the old town soaking it up. Back later and the venue is filling up like nothing has happened, everything seems to be back to normal.

Low are the support band on this tour, I remember the band mentioning their Things We Lost In The Fire album as a favourite. Much as I like their records, as a live act they are a little subdued for the levels of anticipation generated by a Radiohead crowd, particularly one largely made up of Italian fans (who are exuberant and rather vocal bunch, especially when they spot Colin watching from the side of the stage). Low play a delicate set as the sun goes down.

I was deep in the crowd somewhere, it was hot and sweaty even as the evening cooled and I had no great desire to be in the crush.  Radiohead’s stage set is minimal with the vertical strip lights at the back the only physical element, the lighting design is the main thing, mostly bathing the band in blues, pinks and purples. They start with There There, Jonny and Ed’s drums already on the stage. Thom has a jacket on for the first songs but is soon down to his white short shirt sleeves.

It’s a heavily HTTT-weighted setlist, but Talk Show Host makes a slinky appearance fairly early on. Punch Up At A Wedding has found its groove and when Thom gets to the “Hypocrite” line he swaps in “Berlusconi” for “opportunist” to cheers from the Italian crowd. Thom fights off the mosquitoes and barely says a word of introduction until the encore. The Italians make up for any language barriers by shouting general noises of encouragement and when they can’t sing along they loudly hum the guitar lines, much to the bemusement of the travelling contingent. I sink into the noise and the lights, trying to get the immersion I need, trying to dance, trying not to faint in the heat.

At the end, the crowd are quickly herded out of the enclosure. There will be no party for us tonight, backstage is locked down.

Back at the hostel someone has a bottle of Cinzano found cheap in the local supermarket and we brave the sauna-like conditions of the hostel to stay up late not yet ready to struggle to get a couple of sticky hours sleep.

In the morning, as we’re all gathering to move on to Florence, I finally meet Gabi, a fan from Argentina who saves up to travel to see the band in Europe. She’s one of the few others who has been a fan as long as I have, but we don’t talk much yet, still unsure of each other.

Onwards to Florence…

63 & 64, Florence, Piazza Michelangelo, 8 & 9 July 2003

Overwhelmed by actually being in actual Florence, I’m glad of the little studio apartment that I found on the internet. We are conveniently located at the bottom of a large flight of steps, with the venue Piazza Michelangelo (basically a car park with a giant replica of the famous David statue and a fantastic view of the city) at the top.

From here, Clarabelle and I have a base to explore Florence. As an art history graduate, for me this place is basically the mother-load, the cradle of the Renaissance and I want to visit as much of it as I can. We cram in the Uffizi, several art-stuffed cathedrals, more ice cream, more churches, exhibitions and a city bus tour where the 35 degree heat makes it almost impossible to sit down on the scorching seats… the gigs almost feel like an afterthought, ALMOST.

In the Piazza Michelangelo we watch the sun set over the Duomo to the strains of Low, looking down over the orange roofs of Florence I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming. It’s just about dark by the time Radiohead come on but it still feels like a ridiculously picturesque setting for a gig. (Apparently the band wanted the stage to face the city, but weren’t allowed.)

We paid a visit to the queue but I have no desire to hang around in the heat, even if it means I miss the chance to hear the band sound checking.

We went for cocktails at a nearby terrace bar and met Sam, last seen filming in Portugal.

The atmosphere, looking down on the city, watching it get dark, is what I remember. The gigs happened and I was at them but beyond that I don’t have much. Reports confirm that the band were more relaxed the second night.

Afterwards, I am in a funk, apparently one of the American fans was trying to find me to tell me that there was a party, but I was already outside and couldn’t get back inside the compound. We have an extra day here to pack in more tourism and then a short journey to Ferrara, a place that, where if not for the gig, I would probably never visit. I have no idea what to expect.

65. Ferrara, Piazza Castello, 11 July 2003

Going on tour has become an increasingly social activity, meeting up with people from the Message Board, travelling and sharing accommodation with them. Running into the regulars before the show is par for the course. The whole Italian trip had been a holiday that just happened to have five Radiohead gigs for us to plan our time around. The usual pressures didn’t seem so important, I hadn’t had any after show passes up to this point, it had been harder to make contact with the band as the shows were all large scale outdoor events.

We took the train to Ferrara, where we were booked into the large youth hostel, along with most of the other people following this tour.

Ferrara was a pleasant surprise; a sandy coloured Renaissance city with a castle dominating the centre, the adjacent square cordoned off for the shows. It felt like the band had commandeered the whole place.

Unlike Florence, Ferrara lacked the cultural pressure to cram things in, less touristy, with wide streets and beautiful buildings to stumble upon. We dodged into air conditioned shops when the heat got too much.

The queue, under umbrellas and hastily jerry rigged shade with the regulars sitting on broken down cardboard boxes in orderly lines between the metal crowd-control barriers. We pay them a visit when we buy our lunch of cheese and tomatoes from the nearby supermarket. I bring bottled water to a few people and offer to share food, but most of them are limiting their intake in the usual organised fashion.

I don’t really remember much apart from the heat. I got used to getting changed out of my sandals for shows but I think for this one I kept them on, risking having people stand on my toes. I’m not built for weather like this, I live in Scotland for goodness sake, and after a week I’m still not really acclimatised.

I can’t do my usual dancing for very long, it’s too dehydrating. My view is obstructed and the Italians seem more than usually keen to do their “vocalised guitar parts” trick.

The set is mostly Hail To The Thief songs. Thom has sweat bands on his wrists and Phil still has his suit jacket on. They seem in good spirits. There is a rocked out version of Talk Show Host fairly early on, usually a good sign. By now it’s dark, but the castle surrounded by a moat over-shadows the square, the dry ice from the stage and the steam rising from the crowd creating a strange coloured cloud.

Upon entering, I’d had been given a pair of after show passes, but when Clara and I approach the security at the exit at the end of the show, we are turned away. There is no party. After leaving too soon in Florence, I’m a bit disappointed. I’ve not seen anyone to talk to the whole tour, it would be nice to say hello.

We have to walk all the way round the cordon to get out, as the stage blocks off one side of the square. On the other side of the fence I spot Big Colin and shout something cutting to him about being a party-pooper. He just says they changed their minds and there will be no afters tonight.

I follow the rest of the gang back to the hostel, where I try to cool off and end up talking to a girl who is here because a friend she was travelling with is a neighbour of Radiohead’s Manager Chris Hufford and she has been given tickets. We stay up late talking and finish the last of a warm bottle of Martini Rosso.

66. Ferrara, Piazza Castello, 12 July 2002

Next day, Kim is coming over from London, a last minute budget airline trip to make use of one of my spare tickets. We have a leisurely day eating, drinking and dodging in and out of air conditioned shops while exploring the streets, never venturing too far from the venue in case we miss something.

On a wide street in the middle of the afternoon, Clara spots the unlikely looking trio of Thom, Hilda and Big Colin walking down the street. They’re across the road from where we are. As this may be my only chance for an audience, I dash out narrowly avoiding knocking a cyclist off his bike. Attempting to regaining my casual summer holiday demeanour I say hello, then ask Thom what happened to the party last night. “Don’t worry,” he says, “We’ll have one for you tonight.”

They go on their way and we go on ours, I’m reassured now that my last night of the tour will be memorable.

The show is much like last night’s. Thom has on a sleeveless top – not his usual shirt – the heat is getting to him. I don’t have much left of this gig, my memory gets erased later on and I couldn’t see very well. They finished with Sit Down Stand Up followed by Karma Police which drains the last of my energy and leaves me dehydrated.

The aftershow is in a cordoned off restaurant which is behind the stage on the edge of the square. The band have taken over the whole place for the duration, and it’s being used for catering for everyone. It’s still warm, even now it has got dark, we sit outside around the tables. Hilda presides over bottles of Champagne, pouring a plastic cupful each for Clara and I. Sian, the girl we met last night, who is a little more goth than most Rh fans, is here and swaps indie war stories with Clara. Low’s keyboard player is sitting next to us eating gelato, she’s the last of their rather subdued entourage to be out this late.

There aren’t many people here, maybe this really is a party for my last night with the tour. Thom comes in and helps himself to a drink. I go over and say hello. He asks me if I’ve seen whatshername, a notorious fan who I’ve been warned about before. I try not to listen to people’s gossip and not to judge people until I’ve met them, but her reputation  – moving to Oxford, basically to camp out in his garden – goes before her. He makes a face and tells me that she’s here – perhaps this is why last night’s party was cancelled – he assumes I know of her exploits and doesn’t go into it.  I later piece together who he’s talking about and realise I’ve stood next to her at a show before.  I’m still complaining about the heat, as he asks me if his stage attire – the vest – looked perhaps a bit gay… he shows me that the sweatbands are covering a nobly ganglion on his wrist and I get a health run down.

I go back to the table and Hilda helps us to more bubbly. I’m in the middle of explaining that I missed watching the band at Glastonbury on TV because it clashed with one of my first stand up comedy performances. I took a workshop class in night school, having been dared by a friend to give it a try. For the last couple of months I’d been doing five minute sets to tiny audiences in pub basements. It was completely nerve wracking but I felt like, compared to some of my classmates, I was doing alright. I reach the point in my story where I describe my fellow comics – “It was like a Prozac support group…” when Thom joins us to sit down.
“What? You’re not on Prozac are you?!” he looks concerned.  I try to explain, but he’s already into a rant about “Big Pharma” and his feelings about antidepressants… Clara dives in with her opinions on the subject and the conversation has spiralled away from me towards the dangers of Seroxat. Thom has picked up C’s plastic cup of Champagne to drink from and her subsequent admonishment pulls his attention back on course. I describe my experience on stage, how terrifying it was seeing the small crowd in front of me.

“Stand up?” says Thom, picking up the thread of the conversation, “Well you always did have good timing!”

I realise I’m comparing stage technique, talking about seeing the whites of an audiences eyes, with Thom Yorke and want to laugh hysterically. He says, “It’s only a microphone!” and even if you can see the audience, they go all blurred from that far away, that’s the best bit…” (My notes stowed away in a little book I must have had on me are increasingly incoherent.) I bolt the rest of my drink and assure him again that I’m not on Prozac.
I ask him what the word is on the lighting rig readout. Turns out it says “FOREVER” “The most used word in both mine and Stanley’s sketchbooks.”

Hilda opens more Champagne, we’re onto the Veuve Cliquot – “More?” says Thom, “Do you know how much that stuff costs?!” She laughs and opens another bottle and it is possibly the most (least?) rock ‘n’ roll thing I’ve ever experienced at a Radiohead aftershow to date.

The time comes for the band to leave. Hilda is gathering up gifts left for the band and finds a large yellow floral oilcloth picnic tablecloth in her hands. She doesn’t seem to know what to do with it and gives it to me (My handbag is made from similar material).
Hilda writes her email address in my notebook so I can get in touch about the next lot of UK dates. I mention that Keiko wants to take Thom shopping in Tokyo next year.
After so much Champagne we have to find out way out. We still have our large cups in hand and top them up before leaving. Everything seems hilarious. I gather up my table cloth and a couple of the Champagne corks and we spill out the back door.

 

Before the show, the others made a vague plan to meet up in a little park they’d found a few streets from the venue. Zara, known for her cocktail making skills, instigated a party – we just have to find it.

We’re drunk. So very drunk. I realise I’ve not been to the toilet for some time and with no other options available, I nip behind a skip in a side street, the pride of the British abroad. We take turns holding the drinks and the precious picnic blanket, then eventually find our way to where the others are enjoying the warm night and making quite the party of it on a grassy bank. Like us, they are all locked out of the hostel.

We join them and sit down on our now suddenly useful picnic blanket. Zara has made cocktails with Amaretto. I try to decline but a cup is put in my hands. When I sat down I became aware of just how much Veuve Cliquot is in my system. I sip the Amaretto concoction and try to concentrate on what everyone is saying, stop the world from spinning. I lay back and felt the grass and the oilcloth, stared at the sky, took in how wonderful it was to be here on a warm night with all these people having a good time. To have talked about stage fright with my hero. To have drunk Champagne in the Italian night. To have been given a gift that had been given to the band.

I took it all in.

I took it all in and then I threw up.

I threw up on the picnic blanket.

 

67. Manchester, MEN Arena, 22 November 2003

Over the summer Hail To The Thief is released in the UK accompanied by a hail of promo. Radiohead are everywhere. I go to an Edinburgh Film festival screening of some of the “Radiohead TV” videos, at the big Odeon cinema with Melody. EMI’s share price is in the news. The band tour the USA, play Summersonic Festival in Japan. The juggernaut rumbles on.

When the winter UK arena dates go on sale, I spend over £100 on 4 tickets for Glasgow SECC and leave the rest to fate.

In October, in an idle moment, I enter a music quiz competition in The List (a Scottish events magazine) and to my surprise win two tickets, first class rail travel and a night in a B&B for the Aberdeen show. Because I have the time off work, a little money and the RHMB gang will provide shared rooms, it feels like a good idea to go on tour again.

I email Hilda and Thom and ask nicely to be put on the guest list as they’ve both let me know that it’s OK to ask. They both reply that I’m down for plus ones for the shows I want (from Manchester onwards, not Dublin, not Cardiff – I have beds and a plus one everywhere else). Hilda is very straightforward, she trusts me and she knows how important it is to me to be there. For big gigs like these, where communicating from outside with anyone backstage is always a struggle, it’s a great relief to know things are sorted. It’s also cool that Thom still gets his email.

Interviews with the band prior to the tour all seem to be about how mammoth the US leg of the tour has been and how they want these shows to be fun. This will be the last batch of live dates for a while, various babies are due and the chaps seem to be falling over each other to note how much they’re enjoying themselves. There’s a lot of chat about avoiding long tours and packed promo schedules while being in the middle of exactly that. The sales of HTTT don’t match that of OKC. It is becoming apparent that massive changes are afoot in the way the music industry works. Records get leaked on the internet, people aren’t paying for music like they used to.

In a pre-tour interview in Time Out, Thom is asked if ten years in, he’s still excited by touring. The front page carries the paraphrased “performing still gives me the horn” quote. Having “the touring horn” becomes the catchphrase for our tour.

November 22, Manchester, MEN Arena.

I am wearing my Scottish CND T-shirt. I’d tracked down a Yorkshire CND No Star Wars T-shirt (like Thom’s) for Yasuko. In solidarity, I sent in my subs to the local branch and got a shirt in time for the tour.

Kim has booked a room in the Mitre Hotel Inn B&B at the Cathedral next to the venue. We’re trying to be a bit more “5 star” on this tour. She says we’re past roughing it. She’s wearing her Vivian Westwood coat and regaling me with punk stories. I go looking for Picadilly Records with Pocki to fill in the day.

Back at the arena, there are a lot of the regulars queuing around the outside of the building, I speak to a few of the people I know from the RHMB, the At Ease crew are here too, but they make me jumpy. Keiko and I are on the list (and I shouldn’t worry about this but I always do until I have ticket in my hand and I’m inside the venue.)

We have seated tickets from the guestlist. Being in Manchester again is always a little weird. The MEN is huge and uninviting. The stage feels a long way away, even though we have good seats. The support for this leg are Asian Dub Foundation. Ed contributes guitar to a couple of tracks on their new LP. He lurks at the side of the stage and plays guitar on one song. I’ve seen them before in smaller spaces and they’re not an obvious choice for this job. The warm up music is still the Trojan Rocksteady Box Set.

I have new boots on and not enough room to dance.

All the gigs are going to be this big. I’ve spoiled myself for venues. There are some people sitting near us smoking joints and I feel queasy. Pocki, Wooly and Will were a few seats behind in the W.A.S.T.E. seats.

I have a sticky pass and there is a little room for us to be herded into afterwards.  I run into Thom coming out of the bar as I’m coming back from the toilet. I thank him for the tickets and try to articulate how I feel about big shows without sounding ungrateful. I’m never well enough prepared for what to say and always wish my life was more interesting so I had more to talk about, and then afterwards I remember all the things I wanted to say. He was in a bit of a mood, I shouldn’t let it affect how I experience the show but I do. He can’t see the audience, he was playing like he was behind glass – in stadium mode. The bar was throng, he shouldn’t have gone in

 

68. Newcastle, Arena, 23 November 2003

A train to Newcastle, where it is even colder than Manchester. Really bitterly cold, windy and wet. Travelling light, I don’t have all the usual winter paraphernalia I would have in Scotland. Yasuko has a room for us in the nearest budget hotel to the arena, if I had any sense I’d go to back to bed but I attempt to explore a bit of Newcastle until the rain puts me off. I just need to go off on my own for a while. Already the group mentality is making me tense. I have what Clara calls “tour Tourettes.” I’m swearing even fucking more than usual.

The Japanese contingent are already down at the venue, braving the cold, but I know that my ticket will be a seat again, so there is no need to queue.

Hilda has put my tickets in a small envelope with a note on fluorescent pink paper: “Just to say that there’s no aftershow tonight, so we’ll see you tomorrow!” I end up with a spare ticket – everyone has bought theirs in advance, anyone who might know someone who wants it is already inside the venue. I hate to waste a ticket when they’re so hard to get but these people don’t leave it to chance.

I have another seat that I don’t want to sit in. I’m on my own, I can feel a cold coming on. I want to be happy and these shows don’t make me happy. Spoilt brat.
I wrote the set list in my notebook with notes on Thom’s inter-song chat: Gloaming, 2+2, Morning Bell, Where I End…, Stand Up Sit Down, Kid A, I Will, Myxomatosis (“Bush and Blair, shut up- just don’t say anything.”), I Might Be Wrong, Paranoid Android (“What the fuck is wrong with you lot – do you not get out much or something?”), Sail To The Moon, Talk Show Host, Punch Up, Just (I scream loud here), Idioteque, No Surprises, There There. Encore: You And Whose Army (nose cam), National Anthem, Wolf At The Door, Karma Police (with the a capella bit), We Suck Young Blood (hand claps led by Ed and sustained by Coz), The Bends, Everything In Its Right Place… FOREVER the tickertape read out across the top of the stage in LED lights. At the end it changes colour and speeds up.

Sartorial notes: Ed – Red T-shirt with obscured writing; Jon – Yellow T-shirt; Thom – No Star Wars and another jerkin; Phil – White suit; Coz – black. Ed was definitely playing with ADF on The Enemy Of The Enemy and possibly on Naxalite, which is their best song.
Back in the Jury’s Inn, I get woken up. Yasuko has crunchy plastic bags in her luggage and I realise I’m a terribly light sleeper. I don’t think she went to bed at all. They leave at 5am to fly to Bristol. I couldn’t have survived another one without sleep. Newcastle is so cold. Clara has gone to Norwich as her friend has a baby due.

I retreat back to Glasgow for a couple of days rather than schlep to Cardiff. Back to Limbo before flying down to London.

 

69. London, Earls Court, 26 November, 2003

Yasuko has found a cheap B&B near Earls Court and we all load in.

There are more boardies here than in Newcastle, I catch up with a few people and try to avoid the one or two who give me weird vibes.

The guest tickets are for block 18, nearest the stage and tantalisingly close to the standing pit. There are sticky passes. I have called in Rebecca, now living in London, at short notice to use my spare.

Keiko and Yasuko have passes too but, as usual, have also bought standing tickets enabling them to get the best of both worlds. I am reminded, in the seats, that the thing I get from this isn’t just about being here, it’s about being able to immerse myself, to let go and be in the gig. So much of that is the struggle of being in the throng that the experience is diminished by being safely installed up here. I am self-conscious and ridiculous (and doubtless annoying as hell to those around me) trying to physically engage with the music while trapped in a tip up seat. Radiohead shows are not for watching, they’re for taking part in. So I shake the whole row, I stamp my feet, I sing along, I scream and holler.

There is an aftershow in one of the corporate suites. By the time I’ve found Keiko, Caffy and a beer, I missed Thom and we don’t see him or the rest until near the end. Keiko takes her chance for a hug and we realise that he’s talking to Polly Harvey. Because we’ve interrupted them (we hung back until Keiko could stand it no more) PJ gives me a hard stare. The fact of being “just a fan” slaps me hard in the face. We’re welcome until we’re not. We’re not all that important. I’m getting paranoid and these record company dos are not the place for it.

Broken sleep in the cheap hotel. There isn’t much to do in Earls Court. It feels like I should conserve my energy.

70. London, Earls Court, 27 November 2003

Tonight’s seat is in block 2 on the opposite side, still close to the stage. We seem to have more room. I have called in Meg, a friend from University now resident in London, to use the spare. She notes that Miranda Richardson, Queenie herself, is sitting behind us. Half way through the show we realise that we’re surrounded by heavily pregnant women who keep getting up, presumably to use the bathroom. It doesn’t occur to me until later that they are band member’s girlfriends (both Colin and Ed’s partners are due to drop sprogs in the coming weeks).

Tonight’s afters are accessed by wearing a “Worm Buffet” plastic wrist band. We are herded into a waiting area with a woman who turns out to be video producer Dilly Gent and I realise how desperately uncool I am – I’d love to ask her about her work but I can’t handle it. I’m just a fan again.

There is large area put aside for the huge number of London Liggers and a party is already going on, the band are here somewhere. There might even be waiters.

I stop trying to pretend to fit in, drink some beer and dance to Hey Ya.

71. Nottingham, Ice Arena, 29 November 2003

I spend another day in London. I make a deal with Ken to get a lift up to Nottingham. I’d half planned to go to my parents’ for the night but it feels like a bad idea to break the tour again. Ken drives me in his BMW – Rh fans come in all shapes, do all kinds of jobs, are from all kinds of backgrounds. He’s someone I would never have met but for these shows, and someone I would never imagine would collect set lists and befriend roadies, but here we are speeding up the M1, both equally excited about the show. That’s the thing, I keep hoping each one will be better than the last. They’re not bad but the actual performances on this tour are all but erased. Was I getting what I wanted?

In Nottingham we park up and I rendezvous with my brother who is also going to the gig. I do a bit of shopping before the show. In a skate shop in Hockley I buy a pair of black wristbands with white dice on them.

My brother has a friend who is also on the guest list through some tenuous friend of friends connection and I end up sitting next to her. The seat feels even nearer the stage, The Ice Arena is massive, soulless. I find it very odd to be back in Nottingham at the other end of the venue size scale. In return for the lift I give Ken my other pass and he brings a bunch of the boardies to the afters, they have a polite conversation with Phil (Phil only ever has polite conversations). I see Thom for long enough to give him a dice wristband but it’s all over soon enough, the show already a blur.

(Later Yasuko sends me a photo she took in Dublin, he’s wearing his wristband).

72. Glasgow, SECC Arena, 30 November 2003

Nov 30, Glasgow SECC

I bunk in with Yasuko and her boyfriend and share a very early taxi ride to the airport for my early flight back to Glasgow. It’s still early when I get home and I go to bed but foolishly don’t turn my phone off. I have a couple of hours before calls start coming in from people who are meeting me at the SECC. I am delirious from tiredness and flu symptoms but I can’t get back to sleep. I head out to the SECC to see who is already there.

Melody Nelson is coming over from Edinburgh to be my plus one for the evening. I have sold on all the tickets I bought to friends and boardies. Our seats are at the very back of the hall, at the top of tall bleachers. The band are so far away that if Thom wasn’t wearing those awful white trousers, I wouldn’t be able to see him. We’re even too far away to properly see the screens. Meanwhile various friends are down in the crush. I couldn’t have done it tonight, too tired, too ill, but I still envy them.

There is a weird three-part sound mix tonight, it sounds odd, like Jonny is too loud. The venue (the hangar-like Exhibition Centre) is atrocious and I usually avoid going to gigs here if I can possibly help it. The layout, with a wide standing area and seats at the back, doesn’t make for a good view at the best of times, but from here at the very back I have a full view of the lighting rig. No one in the seats stands up and I have no leg room, even dancing in the chair is tricky (Yama and I have a go at a hand jive to some of ADF’s set but we are just messing about). By the last encore the few people behind us have left, so we stand up for Karma Police and Everything In Its Right Place and at last break a sweat.

Inept security staff nearly get us lost, but we eventually find the catering – a fridge, some trestle tables and almost a beer each– the SECC is a draughty barn of a place and it feels like we’re in a loading bay at a service station. It’s Melody’s first time and she wants to touch the edge of Ed’s garment, he’s her favourite and she’s very enthusiastic and nervous (and I can’t really deal with it right now). I always feel like I should share this chance to get close to the band but then feel like I can’t help but leave people out. In a way it would be great if everyone could come, but the band probably wouldn’t show up for a big group of people. Sometimes it’s the greatest thing imaginable and sometimes it’s teeth-grindingly embarrassing.

Keiko moves in, determined as ever to get her minute with Thom. I give him a postcard from a T-shirt shop in Nottingham that has Saddam and Bush on it, which seems “of the moment”. I tell him I’m coming tomorrow and then that’s it because it’s killing me, my voice has almost gone. We haven’t really been able to talk this time around and now I can’t talk at all.

73. Aberdeen, AECC,1 December 2003

I won tickets for Aberdeen and that is the only reason I’m going. By rights I should give in and go to bed for a week. I’m too old for this shit, not fit enough, shouldn’t drink every night, shouldn’t worry so much. I should get a budget for my own room so I can get some sleep. I should have learnt all this stuff by now, but somehow it doesn’t work like that.

We make our way to Aberdeen in the first class carriage. It is dark by the time JC (my 7th plus one in the last 10 days) and I arrive. We have just enough time to check in to the weirdly old fashioned hotel before heading out tothe Exhibition Centre on the edge of the cityin a taxi. I have to hang about for an hour to collect my other tickets. The power of the internet allows Pocki to track down someone who wanted to come who could get here on time. I leave the spares at the box office for someone from the RHMB. Every extra minute waiting outside when a gig in about to start is agony.

Usually given the chance, I would have swapped my seats for standing but I feel like crap, I’m cold and at the end of my tether, so I take the seats. As has been par for the course on this tour, I immediately feel hemmed in, stuck in the middle of a row. There aren’t many other guests in the row, just a couple who are talking about “Philip” and have the only passes in the place. I say something to them about the seating and the woman asks me if I saw them in Edinburgh earlier in the year, when I reply in the affirmative she says, “Why would anybody want to see them twice?” I am painfully diplomatic, you never know if the vaguely posh person you’re sitting next to is one of the band’s family member. “They’re different every night” I tell her and bite my knuckles to stifle the laughter. She says, “Oh I’m sure “the boys” would be pleased to hear that.” I don’t really care who you are, but please don’t be quite so condescending.

I stand up and move about but a steward shines a torch on me, demanding that I sit down again. I can feel the whole seating structure moving. I sit down and start to cry. I’m sobbing for the entire first half of the set. It’s the only catharsis I’m going to get.  It’s my last show of the tour and I haven’t felt the feeling yet. I haven’t really connected. Everything feels so distant. I have a hollow feeling in my chest, a pain, disappointment. And then mid way through we get Creep and I HAVE TO STAND UP. The lights blaze on the guitar crunch and I feel it tear me apart. They play No Surprises in the encore and I attempt to phone Clara so she can hear and I start crying again.

The chaps who bought my spare find me at the end, very chuffed to have made it in time. I find the Japanese contingent and collect hugs from everyone and can’t control myself. I always hate the last one, they all want me to come to Dublin but there’s just no way, I’ll make myself too ill. We linger before going outside.

Outside in the dark I wish I had a hat and scarf. I wish I was in a warm bed but I want to spend a bit more time with people I might not see again for years. We never know when the next tour will be. I want to salvage some feelings. Sam and Keiko and some of the other hardcore are here at a railing near the back of the bus, I join them. Big Colin comes out and tell us that he’s let the band know we’re here and he’ll ask them to come out and see us. (I hear later that Big Colin took pity on them and invited them inside for a coffee earlier on when they were queuing). Keiko appears with a beer for me, blagged from ADF. I talk to Sam about the film he shot of us in Portugal (they showed it to the band, Dilly Gent liked it. Now I really wish I could have talked to her in London) and I talk to Emily, who always seems tired and nervous and jittery, but is probably no worse than I am myself.

Thom and Phil come out at the short end of the bus cordon, the people waiting run down and I end up at the back – I don’t do this anymore. I can only look on and listen in. Thom is on form, Big Colin and I trade some back-chat because we know what he’s like. The Americans start in on politics and Emily comes on like a foreign correspondent, asking formal questions. Colin asks if she has concealed recording equipment. Thom reels off his story of political engagement inspired by witnessing police horses and broken legs at the Poll Tax Riots. Get him on a soapbox says Colin, “It’s all about the music, when did you get so serious.” “Yeah,” says Thom to me, “I just want to dance. I saw you dancing and in Nottingham too.”

Sam gets his set list signed, but only by Thom and he gives it to me – “For your anniversary.” It’s ten years to the day since I met first Thom and spoke to him. Today is also Keiko’s 80th gig. She’s happy. She still has Dublin to go. I wave to the blacked out windows of the bus. Keiko and I trudge up to the Holiday Inn, so I can call a cab (JC went back to our hotel as soon as the show was over). There are lots of goodbye hugs and everyone wants to know if I’ll come back to Japan for the shows in April…

74. London, BBC Maida Vale, 8 December 2003

I dosed myself up on cold remedies and went back to work.

As soon as the tour was over there was an announcement on the Zane Lowe BBC Radio 1 show: Radiohead will play the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, a special acoustic session and a Q&A to be recorded for his show (now in the regular evening slot) and it is happening on December 8th, the following Monday.

The RHMB goes into overdrive and quickly organises people to enter the competition for tickets, Ken taking the helm and sharing email addresses so that no matter who enters, everyone who can get there will be in with a chance of getting inside.

I email Hilda to thank her for the tour and to ask if there’s any way she can fix it… after such big gigs, a little session like this will be extra special. Ken enters the draw using my address (being online at the right moment). A volley of emails to Hilda later, and I’m confident enough to book a flight down, take a couple more days off work and make sure there are bodies for all of the tickets. And then I get an email from Radio 1, because I’ve won more tickets!

On the Monday there is much lunacy as both my flight from Glasgow and Pocki’s from Sweden are equally late. Eventually we meet at Stanstead and take the train to Liverpool street then tube to Tottenham Court Road. We find a noodle bar so we can eat and coordinate with incoming boardies to meet at Russell Square to go to Ken’s flat. Boardies from all over the place (Marv from London, Dop from Belguim, Nien from Holland) are already here. We then go on a London transport odyssey which involves a lot of walking, particularly around Baker Street Underground Station (leading to a lot of air saxophone tributes to Gerry Rafferty.) Everyone’s in a good mood. We eventually have to take two black cabs from Paddington to find Maida Vale tube station as the trains weren’t running. Here we find a shop to purchase beer and then follow the instructions on our maps to find the studios – More boardies – Angie, Jodi, Fiona and the At Ease contingent (Irish Claire, the Italian sisters) are already waiting. Colin Greenwood passes us to go inside the studios and we all act cool.

Kim rocks up in a cab with two bottles of M&S own-brand champagne.  Clara arrives in a cab straight from work, closely followed by Tim C, they will take my spares.

Tim the TM appears on the entrance steps, “Wotcha”. He hands me an envelope with my name on and two tickets inside…and then asks me if I have any spares

Everyone is queuing at the wrong door. I have to wait to claim more tickets at the and miss the best spot. Tim G collars me, wants to know who else he should give his spares to, he has just four tickets left and he wants me to call it! I can’t, I know all these people, or they know me, so I tell him I know Jodi (who is still waiting) and he should get in and the rest should be random. He wants me to go out and hand them out but I refuse the responsibility. I go inside, convinced I’ve missed my chance to get near the front but the others are all sitting on the floor forming a front row and have saved me a spot right in the middle.

We pop the cork on the first bottle of Kim’s Champagne, pour some plastic cups full and pass them round.

Tension mounts while we wait, we are given a stern briefing from the BBC producer about not taking photos or using recording equipment during the set.  “Zane Lowe” (Who is this weird man little man in big shorts?) appears and fauns over his introduction. He’s got one of those DJ voices that sounds insincere because he’s trying so hard to make everything sound “amazing”. Awesome, Zane, awesome.

Thom and Jonny come out from the back and hop on stage. (“Is this it? Do we start now? Have we been introduced?”) They’re going to do a semi-acoustic set:

Jonny plays his Fender with the sticker “Attack no. 1” for opener Go To Sleep.

I Might Be Wrong. Being at the front makes me conscious that people can see my fidget dancing.

Like Spinning Plates.  I literally bite my lip to stop coughing or crying.  Or grinning like a loon.

Bulletproof. There is not a dry eye in the place.

Follow Me Around. An audible “Yay,” as we get an unreleased oldie. Later, when I hear the radio broadcast I can pick out other people’s voices and my own.

Fog. Thom makes a false start on the piano. We all shout “AGAIN!” He corrects himself, “It’s called Fog, Again.”

He turns back from the piano, looks over and sees me, “Alright Lucy? I see you’re on the bottle already!”

I’m surrounded by champagne bottles and cans of red stripe. What a time to name check me.  Everyone laughs and drowns out my pathetic reply, “They’re not all mine! It’s a picnic!” (To my disappointment this doesn’t make the final cut on the broadcast).

They play Lucky. I’m still grinning and biting my lip and trying to contain myself.

No Surprises has Jonny playing the glockenspiel parts on a celeste, and afterwards Thom tells a story about how after they had “toured themselves stupid with OK Computer,” he got drunk in his local with a man who said that No Surprises was the most depressing song they’d ever written and at the time he had to concur.

So he brings us back with Karma Police, Jonny once again playing the celeste and I feel like I could burst from happiness. The whole thing is a dream – like the ones I have where I’m at a gig in a library or a greenhouse, some place where it shouldn’t be, wouldn’t be in waking life.

In between the set and the Q&A, I open the other bottle of bubbly and it gushes everywhere – I fetch some toilet paper to mop up and of course pass the band on their way back into the studio. Sheepish.

Tall stools are brought in then Phil and Colin join Thom and Jonny. Ed is not here (his baby is due.) There is a lot of laughter, Thom succeeds in sitting cross legged on the stool, yoga style, giving everyone a great view of his torn jeans.  We all heckle. It’s like an in-joke that Zane Lowe doesn’t understand. Some of this will get cut for the radio.

Fan: “Is there anything you would have done differently?”

Thom: “No Chesney Hawkes hair do – he copied me!”

On the radio the questioners all sound very nervous, some utterly star struck.

Thom ends by telling us that this year has been “psychologically quite hard for me” but today is like the end of term and they all seem in good spirits. There’s just time for infamous message board user Damien to lower the tone, I don’t find out until later but apparently he accosted Thom for an autograph in the gents at an inopportune moment. Some people have no idea about etiquette.

On leaving I find Hilda and give her a huge hug. Twice. I can’t see Tim to thank him and find out who he let in. I see Julie from the management and ask her if Thom is still about – I think I referred to him as “The Chief” forgetting she wasn’t in on our RHMB-speak.

This is it and I have to act now. I walk through a barrier and call his name and lean over the half open stable door to the green room area. I hand him the another dice wristband, “You might as well have the pair,” it’s not much but I don’t know how to express how I feel, because I don’t really understand what it is. We do a weird convoluted handshake and I say Merry Christmas. I can leave now.

The others are loitering outside, not really wanting the dream to end. They wave the band off and everyone is euphoric, that they got in, that it happened. We start walking away and Plank and a couple of the techs come out. “Don’t drop those guitars” says Clara, “Spare us a Tele mate!”

“You looked like you were going to burst all through that!” Plank says to me and he gives me HIS set list with all the tunings on it. I shake his hand because I never get to thank him. I can barely talk, my voice is gone.

We skip off to the pub, a place called The Prince Alfred which has funny little half doors that you have to open and go under to move between snugs. I am instructed to drink slowly. We meet Max K, the legendary webmaster, now caught up in Stanley’s art world in Bath. He realises I’m “The” Lucy and we catch up on each other’s notoriety.

There are more shenanigans on the tube, everyone is in a great mood, we get sandwiches at Euston station and then go back to Ken’s Bloomsbury pad for more booze, some detuned guitar, a bit of gloating on the board (not me) and then eventually I drag Clara away to go to her place on the night bus. Utterly hollow and exhausted but boy, what a finish.

Fylingdales, 25 September 2004

There will be no gigs in the UK in 2004.

Things quieten down a bit. In January Thom writes an op-ed for the Guardian about the Hutton enquiry (his interest in the David Kelly case will eventually surface as the song Harrowdown Hill on The Eraser).

In May, the NME make a big fuss about the end of the tour – Radiohead play Coachella Festival California. I get sent a few photos (prints through the post, as broadband is not yet universally A THING) from various gigs taken by various friends. The messageboard has become a fixture, having a desk job means a lot of screens open, every bit of news filters through.

The board doesn’t talk about the band much, but Thom posts that he will be attending a CND demo at Fylingdales in North Yorkshire, it’s an open invitation to join him there on September 25th.

Having donated to CND for my T shirt I’ve been receiving their newsletters and learn that the Glasgow branch plans to send a minibus down to the march.

Yasuko and Yama will be in the country. They suggest that I go down to meet them at the protest. The minibus is a free a ride down. It’s on a Saturday, and I’m not doing anything else. So why not?

I’m uneasy about going but I feel like I ought to do something, meet some of the CND folks, they might be simpatico.

The Scottish CND crowd are a very small group of young people. I suddenly feel very English, very middle class and very clean. They share their over earnest war stories and heavy social inadequacies. It might be the passive smoking (they pass around joints and I don’t smoke) but I find them a little intimidating. I feel like an imposter. One of the CND dudes names drops Tommy Sheridan (local political leader and figure of some controversy). Any kind of activism on the Glasgow scene always seems to go hand in hand with “revolutionary” politics. In my meagre experience, people who claim to be anarchists in these situations don’t really understand the argument.

I’m too much my mother’s daughter for this kind of thing and much as I sympathise with elements of their naïve radicalism, I find my common sense won’t let me take them entirely seriously. I’m not political enough for them.

As soon as we get onto the motorway I feel like I shouldn’t be here, but I’m stuck on the bus now. I find the guy asking me questions a bit intimidating, even though he’s only trying to make friends. I shut down, the dope fumes and the lack of windows in the van make me feel car sick. He starts to find this behaviour tantalisingly enigmatic and gives me his number (I am so far out of my depth that I don’t realise he’s actually cracking on to the new girl).

By 2pm we’re only at Manchester, and no one seems to know where we’re going. I’ve done the journey from Scotland down South enough times to know that we’re taking the long way round. The event was meant to start at noon. It was optimistic to think we’d arrive before the demo started. But by the time we finally find the place, in the middle of the moor, it is all but over and Thom has gone. Thankfully Yasuko and Yama are still here. They have photos. He was here and he made a speech.

The whole thing is rather surreal. Yasuko has a B&B in Whitby, so I get them a lift in the minibus back to town. I turn down the return trip to Scotland. I don’t want to spend another moment in that van. We stay to explore Whitby, which is a lot more gothic than I remember. We have fish and chips on the harbour front and go for a pint in a pleasant pub.

I bunk in with them at their room for the night and decided to spend Sunday here. I remember this part of the world from childhood holidays, and it’s actually rather nice to be here again. They want to see the area while they’re here and I remember the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. We have a nice day riding on steam trains and catching up. Then I go to the real station where I say goodbye to brave the Sunday service back to Glasgow.

When I get home I email Thom and Tim.

Tim reckons we just missed them, they left to drive back to Oxford straight after the speech. He tells me the Radiohead boys are in and out of the studio in twos and threes to try out new songs and do demos “which is exciting”.

Thom replies:

“what a bummer missing the event. did you feel radioactive afterwards? i did.
they have a ‘leakage’ problem apparently. thanks for making the effort. im glad i went it made a bit of a difference.”

I transcribe Thom’s speech for Yasuko, it begins “How dare you Mr Blair…”.
There are photos doing the rounds and the demo got mentioned in the papers. Mission accomplished.

75 & 76. London, Ether Festival, Royal Festival Hall, 27 & 28 March 2005

2004 was a long year without any gigs. After the weird disappointment of going all the way to Yorkshire and missing the demo, I jumped at the chance to get tickets for Jonny’s collaboration with the London Sinfonietta when it was announced in December.

The faithful Radiohead news sites become quicker on the draw than the official one, At Ease in particular is doing all the work, keeping up with everything that the band do, no matter how seemingly insignificant.

This outing is a big deal to the regulars, they come from far and wide for this tidbit – the Americans are here, Yasuko makes her annual UK trip over from Japan, Naz is here from Paris. Pocki and a load of the boardies all come to London and I meet up with various people throughout the day. Freed from the constraints of a gig, this is a civilised ticketed seated classical concert, we can all socialise and just show up when the doors open.

Jonny’s composing work is a side bar to The Band, but as this is going to be the only show in a long time it feels important to be here and keep up with developments. Apparently the band have been the studio and we feed on any crumbs from the table.

Jonny (in The Telegraph 22/03/05) describes his burst of activity with the orchestras as “an overreaction” to Radiohead’s decision to take six months off after their last tour.  He gives the impression that they’re not in each other’s pockets outside of studio time. Radiohead is just one of his many jobs as he takes on more contemporary composing and soundtrack commissions.

I have virtually the same seat in the centre of the stalls for both nights and as such I don’t have distinct memories of the two concerts which were distinguished only by Thom’s change of shirt and slightly fewer nerves from the musicians on the second night. I recognise Ed, Colin and various people from HQ in the rows in front.

The programme of stark 20th century compositions, Middle Eastern music and a couple of Radiohead tunes, is joined together by Jonny’s new work for the London Sinfonietta. The Nazareth Orchestra reflect his links to Israel and his love of Arabic music (presumably both through his wife and from Radiohead’s early success there which led to them making some enduring musical contacts). The virtuosity of the non-pop musicians is breathtaking and only adds to the oddness of the event.

It’s a restless bill – the fantastic spookiness of Messiaen’s Fête des belles eaux and at other end of scale the vibrant, exotic Enta Omri. Jonny’s own Piano For Children is a disquieting piece played on a partially detuned instrument. There is a weird tension in the air. Are we at a classical concert? Are we allowed to applaud? The audience is reverential in deference to the classical instruments, the awe-inspiring sight of all those Ondes in one place is beaten only by the sound they make.

We try to appreciate the whole concert, but really we’re here because Thom and Jonny will be performing a new song. This comes at the end of the set. Arpeggi, which features lyrics that had surfaced on the website, is performed here with all the special instruments and musicians. It will probably bare little relation to a finished Radiohead song, but it is the nourishment we all crave. The astonishing version of Where Bluebirds Fly, an instrumental now transformed into a vocal exercise pitting Thom’s wail against Lubna Salame’s otherworldly sound, stands out for me, being beyond anything that Radiohead could possibly have made on their own.

Video and sound recordings of Arpeggi and Bluebirds, which I gorged on after the shows, have edged the other music out. Everyone was saving their batteries for the man himself. Rarely performed Messiean is one thing but it cannot compare to the possibility of an unreleased new Radiohead song.

All I appear to have in my notes are a few scraps from meeting Tim afterwards:

He asks me what I’ve been up to for the last year and half and I can only think to say “working” because without gigs to go to everything else in life feels pretty insignificant. We share a moment of nostalgia, maybe there’s only me and him who remember what it used to be like, before all these other people came along.

After the show in the foyer, I’m on high alert but there’s no way Thom could come out and quietly mingle with that electric shock hair-do. I mouth “hello” to Jonny but everyone is vying for their moment so there is no time for a meaningful conversation, even if I could find the words for one.

We all need a gig fix and this is not quite it. It was like being given an aspirin when what you really want is a rock of crack.

September 2005 A Letter to Loosie

There are no more gigs this year. Flipping through my box of cuttings, all mention of the band is limited to Thom’s various appearances and utterances on the subject of Climate Change – he’s “cashing in the chips of celebrity” with lobbying and protest, working for Friends Of The Earth’s Big Ask campaign.

Missives from the studio (mostly about songs that will never see the light of day) appear on Dead Air Space. For once Thom is posting them, so they are typically oblique and then there is this:

 

“What do you think I should do?”

It occurs to me that I have the means to share my answer to that question with Thom. So I email him.

I think it’s a really bad idea to start glad handling the government, even with the best of intentions… I’ve been reading the articles, went to see George Monbiot at the book festival, I just don’t want him to “do a Bono”… I fire off an email and go back to work. At the end of the working day on Friday 30 September, I check in with the messageboard, Max K has made a rare appearance hailing me to check my email. Before I’ve even logged in the message has changed to “check DAS”, it seems Thom decided to share his response to my message with everyone…

I emailed him back saying I “felt rather notorious now” (our South Californian friend had managed to out me and use my full name on one of the other message boards, and I wasn’t comfortable with what that might lead to). The next time I check DAS the post has gone.

A storm in a teacup maybe but after a long time with no communication it was exciting to hear from him (even if it was only a private message for a short time).

In October, Caffy arranged a screening of Naz’s Follow Me Around film in Greenwich, as part of a festival she’s staging. I go down for the show and sit at the back with Clarabele, doubtless annoying everyone else by laughing loudly during all the bits we remember…

2006 Preamble

The band surface in April with a big interview in NME, spun out over three issues. Much of what has been going on while they’ve been “away” gets fleshed out. It sounds like a familiar story to me; Thom’s been “freaking out” – on the surface doing all the politicking and protesting – being what the NME calls “the world’s most fearless musician” – while at the same time wondering if the band are finished. His refusal to meet Tony Blair made headlines (well thanks for not going through with that one Chief, I told you it was a bad idea) which NME reiterates, theorising that the new record might at long last be politically focused. Thom denies this and expostulates his “new suburbian” idea – which to my mind is more OK Computer in character than Hail To The Thief.

Each visit to the studio puts the band in jeopardy – at least that’s how they describe it in interviews – we get used to this uncertainty, but each time they come back with reports of their near-splits; of various members getting “the fear”; of the precarious nature of the enterprise; it gets more real, more possible, more frightening for those of us that rely on them getting it together and coming back for more.

Each bout of doubt, each time they try something new (in this case bringing in producer Mark ‘Spike’ Stent for an abortive session.) This time though, it does seem like something has actually changed, they are without a label for the first time since 1991. Thom gets a lot of his angst about the music industry off his chest, but even freedom, it seems, is scary. The record is still a work in progress, but there are a lot of songs on the table. There’s a lot of talk about the internet (MySpace has just become a major force, NME focus on the discovery of The Arctic Monkeys), Thom reiterates his familiar cry “you need to sort the fucking radio out” and name drops a few artists he’s interested in but any talk about “grime” is a red herring.

The forthcoming tour has sold out… we’ve had all the now usual madness to get hold of tickets – coordinating purchases, hovering over “buy” buttons at seconds past the release time, caning overdrafts, hurting our credit cards.

The constant state of flux, one of Val’s favourite ideas from back at the start, is still the prevailing mood. Don’t they realise that was always where we were? Maybe this is all a feint to put us off. There is mention of a possible “download only EP” later in the year. A lot of half spoken ideas, hints that they’re planning something unconventional.

NME points out that agreeing to play V Festival seems out of character but perhaps the doubtless large fee will provide a financial cushion to tide them over without a big label?

The May dates are in relatively small venues, followed by some festivals and a couple of larger shows. They want to play the new songs. It’s unclear why these shows aren’t another Gentleman’s Leisurely Tour (like Spain in 2002), some of the regulars are a bit miffed by the idea of Wolverhampton and Blackpool, but at least the two shows in Copenhagen offer a chance for a weekend away.

Meanwhile the 1000 tickets that are actually on sale for the Friends of The Earth benefit show at Koko sell out in the blink of an eye, I manage to get two – one for me, one for Kim – at £55 each it feels like a big commitment  – but it’s a benefit and you can’t blag those can you? I should have realised that any show where they hold back 500 tickets (with none for WASTE and no preference for the fan club) was going to be an odd one. Thom and Jonny are not the only act on the bill, but clearly their first gig in a long while is going to be the biggest draw.  I get tickets for a selection of the other shows and there is a lot of plotting to make sure everyone gets to go where they want to go. I’ve done this enough times, it ought to get easier, but it never gets any less nerve-wracking.

77. London, Koko, The Big Ask, 1 May 2006

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.

78. Copenhagen, KB Hallen, 6 May 2006

The week back at work passes in a haze. Koko was at heart a champagne reception for people like David Cameron and Zac Goldsmith, there’s even a clip on Newsnight. Basically our ticket money paid for a celebrity chef and load of fizz for politicians, spin doctors and corporate types who got the best seats. And presumably Thom telling them to stop pissing on the planet. This is the sort of thing that makes me want to have words.

On Saturday, I wake too early and go to the airport. I am astonished at how much I’ve spent on tickets for this tour. It feels important to be at the first shows. This being a weekend and a location we’ve not been to before, there are several people heading to Denmark for the trip.

In Copenhagen I take a cab to the hotel where Kim and Ken are already installed in the bar (marvellously called “Backstage”), with beers in and food ordered. I check in and join them, then Gabi arrives and we eat expensive but welcome club sandwiches and chat. We’re in Frederiksberg and the venue is at the other end of a very long street. There’s a vaguely retro feel to the shops, but everything is very clean, Copenhagen is a large, spread out city. The venue when we eventually reach it, is a sort of sports hall (with pitches at either side). There are 100 or so folks sitting around (at 6.30pm) waiting for something to happen.

The hardcore are already here, Tea on Neptune, So-Cal, Yasuko, Astral Chris and a load of other regulars are in the middle but there are three doors which open outwards, there’s going to be a scramble. It gets organised when the efficient lady bouncer bosses them around. We all wiggle to the side as the queue moves back. The tickets are scanned with barcode machines (the first time I’ve seen this, what a great idea) and we get frisked (second time today, they were very thorough when I changed planes at Schipol), then we’re in.

There are seats at either side and up at the back, but all the queue people have gone directly for front and centre. We easily slot in on the far right, Jonny-wards, one row back. It’s already very hot and Kim ducks out and goes back to the seats before Willie Mason, his teenage drummer and crusty violinist come on. He is a bit one note. Damn it, in the USA they’re getting The Black Keys as the support. However, he is prompt and off after exactly 30 minutes.

The crew setting up are reassuringly familiar. Ken stands between me and some rowdy Danish skin-head types with Gabi to one side and for a while Petter is behind me. Unbelievably I’ve almost forgotten how great it is to be (almost) at the front. After the last show especially, to be able to see at all is a huge relief. A sense memory kicks in.

The intro radio interference noise starts at 9pm. It goes dark, there is a minute or more of bewildering samples before the band come on stage. The Rhodes is up front. They play Everything In Its Right Place. Everyone claps along. The band don’t look nervous. They’re all grinning! I’m grinning! The feeling is switched on. They play The Bends, they play some new ones, they play Let Down and Copenhagen experiences what might be its largest ever collective orgasm…

Thom plays a tiny three piece drum kit and thumps hell out of it. Jonny bows his Fender for Pyramid Song. There is some shaky percussive fruit. “Show us your fruit!” I keep saying “fucking hell.” This is the band of, oh, ten years ago? This band is enjoying itself and playing rock and noisy cathartic and wonderful. I’m so happy my boys are back.

By the end I’m soaking wet and speechless. People hug me. Yasuko hugs me for ages, as knocked out as I am. Kim had a good view from the seats. These people get it. I try to avoid the front and centre faction, Ange gets it, but the yanks? I don’t understand. Why the long face? I gather myself.

We get moved out to the foyer. I pop my head around the door and spot Big Colin ushering folks backstage, I get no response to my greeting and it doesn’t bother me right now. We head outside to get soft drinks and walk back to the hotel.

In the bar we flake out and get beers. The UK gang all enjoyed it. Tea on N has a face on because she didn’t like the new stuff (well give it a chance love!) I end up reminiscing with Astral Chris and Ken. Some of the roadies come in for a drink, Duncan and Graham the soundman, they’re all staying here, Plank and Colin and a few more. Not much of an aftershow then? The bar closes at 1.30am but they let us finish up and it’s 2 before I get back to the room where Kim is still half awake. We giggle. Our boys are back.

79. Copenhagen, KB Hallen, 7 May 2006

In spite of the late night we’re all assembled in the foyer by 9am as we’re keen to see as much of the city as possible and Kim has to leave at 2pm, she has to be at work on Monday and so she’s bailing out. Gabi and Ken join us and we set off in search of breakfast. We walk towards the centre, but soon realise that nowhere opens until 10am, we keep going and on a tip from a lady on a bike we find a bo-ho neighbourhood a few streets away. The first promising café with a brunch menu reels us in. We watch dog walkers and cyclists pass as we order platters, mine comprises fruit, yogurt, bread, hummus, avocado, pancake, syrup, jam and salad, and a large pot of coffee.

We all fill up and move on, prepared to face the day. We walk through what must be, judging by all the sex shops, Copenhagen’s Soho and then back to the Tivoli Gardens, which turns out to be a retro wonderland of fairground rides, sweets, tacky prizes and references to Hans Christian Anderson. The theme is fun, the weather is nice and we soak it up. I hook a duck and win a windmill, I feel 10 years old. We walk round taking photos and keep going past the parliament to Christiana, the hippy free state where photos are not allowed. Cops and dogs now freely roam, but once it was the free love, free dope enclave. We have a fruit juice and listen to an improv jazz band as people around us inhale furtive spliffs.

A bit more walking (Ken is determined that we will see as much as possible) then a taxi back to the hotel to send Kim off in time for her flight. We have a couple of hours to rest before the show. I have Anna Karenina to finish, she’s already under the train, how much more of this book can there be?

Tonight we get the bus to the venue. Once there I am greeted by our Southern California correspondent, but I can’t make eye contact as I will erupt. Keiko has, naturally, gone shopping. Ken goes for pizza and we share it with the waiting Yasuko (who tends to forget to eat). Gabi and I go for ice lollies, we decide we’re tired and will go for the seats but some how we end up in the queue anyway. I have to lurk about and sell Kim’s ticket, which takes a while but I eventually get almost face value from some nervous Danes.

Our entry to the venue is surprisingly smooth, I head for the toilets then into the auditorium, expecting to find my friends in the seats, but I do an actual double take when I realise they’re all on the barrier on Jonny’s side, in an even better spot than last night.

The queue faction are all trapped four-deep in the middle. Don’t they realise? I’m a bit stunned. We can come and go as we please, like in a dream… I brace myself to get sore arms but I don’t get buffeted or pushed at all. It’s very hot again and I’m a bit too short to get comfortable on the barrier but otherwise, we are here!

It’s a similar, slightly less Bends-favouring set to last night, same new ones, Let Down is aired again. Oh my, oh my! I don’t have enough moisture to cry. The staff get buckets to us sooner than last night, even a plastic cup of water out of what is basically a big bin, is welcome. I try to remain in the fleeting present.

After about half an hour my feet don’t really hurt any more. They play Planet Telex and there is nothing better than this. I’m wrung out by the end. Arpeggi with the full band is lovely. Spooks a surf guitar tune, is a nasty flash of rock. Bodysnatchers offers the opportunity to close your eyes and be taken away.

They’re back in love with some of the old stuff. I think the first night had the better set list but they play enough of it again to make this show just as good. I wring out my shirt at the end.

Keiko appears, cool and collected from the seats. She hugs Chris Hufford, he still never remembers me. Ken is lurking around me like he wants something. Later in a taxi back to the hotel I tell him straight that there’s no need. I choose when, I choose who and he’s forgetting he’s had his turn. Get out of my eye line kids, I’m having a moment. I want to be here and love this and not have to worry about the rest of it. Back at the hotel, the bar is shut, so we get beers from the 7-11 and watch Euro-TV in someone’s room, I stay until I can no longer fight sleep.

The band go on to Amsterdam, I go back to Glasgow. There is already a bootleg of Copenhagen. There is a lot of emailing between us. News breaks that tonight’s (10th May) show is off. Phil’s mum has passed away. For a while the rest of the tour might be in doubt.

The next day the word from W.A.S.T.E. is that the rest of the dates will go ahead. Thom has posted “theeraser.net” on DAS. The page features music and a Stanley Donwood animation. I email Max K, on the inside, to check that this is what I think it is. There will be a solo LP on XL Records as soon as next month.

Curiouser and curiouser.

80. Blackpool, Empress Ballroom, 12 May 2006

We are all travelling to Blackpool separately. I arrive after taking an early train to find Keiko smoking a cigarette outside the station. We walk into town and go for a coffee and a chat. There are already funny vibes on this tour, but she managed to speak to Thom in Amsterdam. She heard about the solo record. We are feeling old school. We look at this week’s NME and giggle. We go back to the station where we find Yama and wait for the others to arrive. Once everyone is here we go in separate directions to find our B&Bs. I take Gabi via a route that passes the venue, streets and streets of cheap guest houses. We freshen up then go back to The Wintergardens.

Some of the others are already waiting at the venue but Chris suggests we go for fish and chips on the pier and marvel at the surreal nature of Blackpool. Gabi, coming from Argentina, finds a lot of things about Britain strange, but Blackpool takes the prize for the oddest place she’s been to see the band. She finds it dirty and brash, not to her taste. Having been here before, I have a weird affection for the place. Off season seaside towns appeal to my English sense of failed romanticism. They’re a bad joke, a Morrissey lyric, a faded childhood dream… tawdry and greasy and loud.

In the amusements on the pier we run into Tim who is looking for somewhere to watch the England football match and Mel from W.A.S.T.E. with her kids. We walk through the slot machines and the flashing lights of the arcade games with them, trying to explain the unique appeal of the British seaside to Gabi.

Friday night in Blackpool. The gig is a blur as they so often are. I have a Daily Telegraph review from the following Monday which notes that the band’s greatness can be judged by the songs they leave out – they’ve got more good songs that they can fit into a two hour show. There is room for six new ones tonight:  Bangers and Mash (with the tiny drum kit); the ripping guitars of Bodysnatchers; Nude (formerly known as “Don’t Get Any Big Ideas” which has been kicking around since at least 1998, it’s lost it’s ‘I’ll Wear It Proudly’ harmonium and turned into a slinky, tingly “ballad”. They don’t really do ballads but that’s critics for you). There’s also 15 Step with its electro jerks and House of Cards completing the handful of new numbers. The review notes that no new album is as yet on the books. But we’ve been here before and we know how it works.

81. Blackpool, Empress Ballroom, 13 May 2006

The British seaside is not quite as exciting as going to new territories like Copenhagen or Lisbon for a gig, but the rituals are the same. Today I queue, there’s a line down the outside of the venue, a guy compliments my shoes “nice dabs!” I really don’t remember much beyond that. Gabi is still not enamoured with the place, people are breaking away into their own little groups, I want some space in my head so I can process the new songs, I like having friends but sometimes I find myself pulled in too many directions. Caffy is here and has discovered a B&B themed on The Beatles.

The show is consistent with last night’s. Afterwards I find Lisa, through from Manchester, and we have a quick catch up. She’s got a proper job now, a real life, but Radiohead still hit her where it hurts. The band are driving home tonight, something they still do if within striking distance of Oxford. I pinch a Lucozade from the rider. In lieu of an aftershow, Bar Red, the pub next door to the venue, is staying open until 2am. In need of a wind-down, I go to join the others, have a brandy for medicinal purposes, but can’t find the Japanese contingent. A quick look round the back to the stage door tells me where they are. I don’t want to, I’ve told myself I won’t, but I end up waiting with them, caught up in the buzz, needing to see Thom, needing to connect just a little bit more. It’s getting colder now and only the brave keep waiting, eventually rewarded with signatures, a few words. I think I got told off. I don’t need to do this any more.

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.

 

83. Wolverhampton, Civic Hall, 16 May 2006

We survive another night in ‘Guest House Paradiso’… and are the earliest customers in the M&S café. With little else to do but wander round taking photos, we end up eating in the same place again, after a short while I realise that George Michael is still playing on a loop. By mid afternoon I can take no more and ask one of the bar staff if they might possibly be able to change the music, he looks at me with a browbeaten expression and explains that he can’t. The stereo is locked inside a cupboard and they don’t have a key. He can’t complain, it was the boss’s choice, but I can see a hollow look in his eyes, if I think two afternoons of ‘Father Figure’ and ‘Careless Whisper’ is hard to bear, then try working here.

Later we head to the venue, the regulars are queuing, much to the amusement of the locals. We have seats tonight in the balcony so can avoid all that. I bought a ticket for Gabi, co-ordinating all this took the rest of the afternoon.

The new songs dominate the set and Let Down is the first encore. There’s more locals in the crowd (only the really committed would spend so much time in Wolverhampton). I don’t think there is an aftershow in spite of my sticker. I think the band went home.

In the meantime, this email has arrived, which explains why Thom is so chummy with XL Records….

info@waste.uk.com

15 May 2006

To: me

this is just  a note to say that something has been kicking around in the background that i have not told you about.
its called The Eraser.
nigel produced & arranged it .
i wrote and played it.
the elements have been kicking round now for a few years and needed to be finished & i have been itching to do something like this for ages.
it was fun and quick to do.
inevitably it is more beats & electronics.
but its songs.
stanley did  the cover.
yes its a record!
no its not a radiohead record.
as you know the band are now touring and writing new stuff and getting to a good space so i want no crap about me being a traitor or whatever splitting up blah blah…
this was all done with their blessing. and i don’t wanna hear that word solo. doesnt sound right.
ok then thats that.

i think its out in july and im pretty certain XL are going to put it out.

love thom

www.theeraser.net

84. London, Hammersmith Apollo, 18 May 2006

In the clapped-out room in Wolves Gabi makes a video of Yasuko and I, trying to perfect our clapping along to 15 Step and falling about laughing.

Somehow we all make it to London and go to the various places where we have beds for the night (we’re crashing at Ken’s bachelor pad in The City along with Jason from New York). I take a walk from the South Bank via Fleet Street to rendezvous with the others at Eros at Piccadilly Circus so that those who have come from afar can see a bit of London. People have come from Sweden, Vienna, New York, even Peru. Some of us go for a drink in Soho before making our way to the venue in Hammersmith.

The Peruvians, a couple of very young chaps who run a Radiohead website called, logically, Radiohead Peru, have been saving up for this trip, their first chance to see the band. For various reasons Radiohead have not been able to play in South America (expect Mexico City) up to this point and the internet is getting restless about it. The Peruvian contingent mention their annoyance at every opportunity and are keen to petition the band in person. Gabi runs her own Radiohead web site in Argentina, I sense a rivalry between her and Italo who runs Radiohead Peru. He’s a very persistent guy, a little naive but very excited to be here.  He gets interviewed by the NME, which rather goes to his head.

By this point, I’m tired as well as elated, aggravated by everyone else’s shit and I just need to commune with ‘my boys’.  This is what I’m here for and all the social stuff, all the normal people stuff just gets in the way. Every time my fix is interrupted, when what I want to happen doesn’t quite happen, I get a little closer to realising that those days might be over, that we aren’t really real friends (we can never be real friends) that they are The Best Band In The World ™ and now they’re one of the biggest as well.

The Boardies converge on a pub near the venue, we are already virtual chums so there is a lot of catching up over beers. We don’t really have much in common beyond a love of this band and a compulsion to enliven our less than fulfilling work days by chatting on the band’s Message Board.

These generally shy people meet; some get together, then split up, some marry; some share flats, form allegiances, some fall out spectacularly. Somehow the gig itself isn’t all this is about, for some people it’s not the biggest part any more, but that isn’t true for me. I am in my usual pre-gig funk.

For the first night at Hammersmith Keiko and I have seats, tickets from Julie at the management. We break away and take our places in the balcony.

We have time and space to catch up here, she has been doing this for a long time too. She has her own rules, she’s worried that I’m trying too hard to please other people, to make too many friends. I know what she means. She says we have earned this. My instinct is to share, use any spare tickets, make sure everyone can get in. Knowing how great getting into an aftershow makes me feel, I want others to know what that is like. However, taking new people along is a nerve wracking experience. What if they don’t understand the etiquette? I convince myself that I understand the rules, but worry that I don’t behave well enough myself when I get there. That’s the nature of Radiohead, there is always worry.

We have a wide view of the stage from the front row of the balcony, these guest list seats are the hottest ticket in town, I’ve been hanging on the phone all week to get them, but the whole of this tier must be guest list. Friends in high places.

At first, a London show seems a little more restrained than the nights that have gone before. Something about a London crowd still reins in the energy of the band. In Thom’s case, it makes him extra edgy. But that’s London, the number of liggers, the presence of “friends”, of “industry people”, mention this weird atmosphere to anybody in or with the band and the reason is always just “London”.

But then the show opens with Videotape. Thom starts in the dark at the piano but for the first time the rest of the band join in, then it hits me (again) why it’s this band and not any other. In the hands of a lesser outfit this would be an Bics-aloft ballad, but as they add layers of rhythm and noise it swirls up into more than just a little song full of sentiment. It has centrifugal force and the precious feeling I’ve been waiting for falls into place.

This opening threatens to alters the dynamic of the night but the red lights flash and Radiohead clatter into a noisy segue of The National Anthem and 2+2=5.  I hate to be in a seat for this. I writhe to the rhythm. I am long past caring how much this annoys those around me. This is why I am here. It pulls my nerves taught, chills my spine, steals my breath.

Seven shows into this stretch and the new songs are making themselves at home in my head. The new version of Nude is not just the latest version of ‘Big Ideas’. It starts quietly, people shout “Go on Thom,” like they’re cheering on their team. He sings without an instrument, grips the mic tight, the crowd fall silent, he only has to sing, knows he’s taking everyone with him. The new songs are falling into place, little tweaks, notes taken, ideas worked through. It’s always the new songs.

Thom plays I Want None of This, a restrained piano-led piece as the first song of a second encore. (They recorded it quickly and released it as a download in aid of Warchild last year, it has been the only official release for a while. Brave move.) Somewhere in this massive room one person is shouting, a few people chatting is inevitable with an unknown quiet number but this is drowning out a particularly Neil Young-ish chord change. With a venom not heard from him in a long time, Thom silences the heckler with a curt, “Shut up you cunt.” (A moment immortalised on YouTube – we’re in the era of phones aloft by now. You can piece together most of these Hammersmith shows, there were more people with better phones.)

London shows, man.

Keiko and I stagger up the stairs into the back bar. I get pulled apart by these shows and I have difficulty explaining the state of myself to people. It’s not just a gig. It’s not just a spectator sport.

Keiko is talking to Sharona, Jonny’s wife (of course they’ve met before). Keiko is somehow different to the rest of us, more memorable, more of a fixture, the crew know her. Today there are quite a few recognisable faces around (if your frame of reference is Radio 4) John Simm is here. (Some people say the actor looks like Thom, but in this context I can’t see it); The comedian Jeremy Hardy; Abingdon School alumnus Tom Hollander (with a heavy beard) he must be someone in the band’s old mate.

The hangers on don’t stay long, there’s no free bar. In spite of this, Keiko and I stay and drink a few beers together, we need this space to calm down. I say hello to Phil and later Ed, but Keiko has more chat for them than I do. We hunker down, realise we’re not going to speak to Thom and have another pint. This show was top drawer, and it feels about the music again (it was never not about the music, don’t let it be about anything but the music). I’m still trying to analyse it in the mini cab back to Farringdon.

85. London, Hammersmith Apollo, 19 May 2006

I have an almighty hangover.

Earplugs and eye mask only get you so much sleep on the floor of an open plan flat with three other people in it.

Regrouping in the shopping centre at Hammersmith, Gabi and I have a meal but I’m still feeling a little unusual by the time we head to the venue. I have a standing ticket tonight. Lots of boardies are here queuing, I make a deal and save myself a place but I’m not even going to try to make it to the front. Gabi and some of the others do. Last night was one of those shows that makes you vow never to stand anywhere else but I don’t quite have the moral fibre for it so I hang back with a gang of boardies leaning on a rail in the middle of the floor.

After the support, just before the surge, I need the bathroom. In this old theatre it’s at the side of the hall through a small corridor, not a moment for claustrophobia. I tunnel my way out, do the necessary then with head-down-elbows-out fight my way back in. Facing down disapproval with every “’scuse me.”

It takes longer to get back than it took to get out, while I was in the ablutions the crowd has constricted, this phenomenon occurs at every packed show but you can never quite predict the moment it will happen. At a Radiohead show like this, it usually happens too soon and the last ten minutes or so before the band come on stage is spent squashed, in a state of high tension.

“I’m trying to get back to my friends,” I keep repeating as I dodge around people’s pints and black looks. Attempting to get further into the crowd at this late stage is very poor form, I rarely try this unless I am actually returning to my spot (once or twice it has become necessary to employ the manoeuvre to get a better view, but it usually comes back to bite you).

I tap the girl in front of me on the shoulder, “Excuse me I’m trying to get to my friends” she turns round and it’s Shirley who is in fact one of the friends in question. I take my place between her and Marv and try to collect my thoughts. I am flustered, my stomach hurts, I’m dead tired but I’m still wired enough to keep me going.

The venues this week have not been tiny but they are small in comparison to outdoor gigs. The rooms are large enough to benefit from the screens that float at the back of the stage. Tiny cameras positioned at strategic points around the stage capture little details of the band in action: a foot on a pedal, Jonny’s fringe, Ed’s shakers. My favourite is the one I think of as “nose cam” which allows Thom to sing into it in extreme close up while at the piano, employed to best effect during You And Whose Army which to shake things up a bit, opens tonight’s set.

There are nine new songs tonight: Open Pick, 15 Step, Arpeggi, Videotape, Go Slowly, Spooks, Bangers ‘n’ Mash (My initial amusement at Thom’s tiny drum kit has given way to enthusiasm for Jonny’s snake charming guitar), House of Cards and 4 Minute Warning which they played (and fluffed) in Copenhagen, which involves Ed, Colin (with two tambourines) and Jonny congregating around Thom’s piano for a slow number apparently about nuclear war. They don’t play Nude tonight and some of those titles need work, but they have at least an album worth of new material. There is even room in the set for Street Spirit and to my delight, Black Star (with audible vocals from Ed!). They finish on Karma Police and people who have come for a sing-a-long get their money’s worth.

Keiko bestows her pass upon me. This is my last show of this tour and she wants me to be able to talk to Thom. In the foyer, we’re doing our usual thing of waiting for useful people, waiting for everyone else to leave while not getting thrown out ourselves. Ken, straight from work and still in his suit, has a photo pass, Gabi is on a high from being at the front and I want to take her with me but can’t find anyone who can make this happen. I stick the pass to my jeans, tell her to not get thrown out, and go upstairs to the bar. Ken strolls in with his obscured photo pass and a business like smile at the bouncer (sharp dressing in this context means you’re industry – looking like you belong here is half the battle).

Upstairs, we find Mel from W.A.S.T.E., who Ken has met before and who now remembers me. We ask her nicely if she could possibly see her way to getting Gabi up here. She leaves us in charge of her son Cole (who is about 10 and wearing a Radiohead shirt a few sizes too big for him). He has the dazed look of someone who has just had their world rocked off its axis. Radiohead shows will do that to you.

We take in the scene in the bar, the afters are already in full swing. There’s Adam Buxton talking to Julian Barrett and some other comedian I can’t quite place. There are a few familiar crew faces around and I go for a sweep of the room to see if I can find Tim. He’s on the edge of a group of folks who are surrounding someone I can’t quite see. I go over to say hello and realise that the person at the centre of the group is the young actor Daniel Radcliffe, now about 16. I do a double take and carry on talking to Tim who says something about it being an all ages show… Back near the door, Ken is still waiting for Mel to come back. Cole is minding his own business, still getting his breath back.

“Do you want to meet somebody?” I ask.

His eyes pop out of his head when he sees who it is and I shepherd him over to Tim, “Do you think he’d mind?” I step back and let the only other actual kid in the room meet a Wizard.

Mel has returned with Gabi and demands to know what we’ve done with her boy, we explain that he’s over there, talking to Harry Potter and he won’t be long…

I’m off the sauce this evening and need a sit down, just my luck that tonight is the free bar (should have kept my powder dry for the last night of the UK leg.) I let it all go on around me for a while, these things are all about waiting. Tonight I am sweaty and goggle eyed which is not a good look when the bouncers have their eye on you. I find a vantage point and watch as Daniel Radcliffe is introduced to Thom Yorke. He has the same look of shock and awe that Mel’s son had on meeting him.

Later Thom is at the bar talking to an older, well dressed couple. It’s not his parents and they look too formal for industry folk. If I don’t go now, he will be gone. He does this thing where he has a spare drink in his hand ready to head off to a private area where no one will be allowed to follow like he’s only just popped into the bar to see if there’s anyone he should be talking to. This usually only happens after an hour or so when the first wave of liggers has drunk all the free booze and left the building.

I’m trying to time this right, I don’t want to interrupt his conversation, but I also don’t want him to leave without having the chance to at least say hello. I hate it when people interrupt us, so I don’t want to do it myself. The security guy has been clocking me for the last 15 minutes, I’m sitting on my own without a drink and I doubtless look dodgy. He will not hesitate to put me out in the street without an excuse. I head for the bar and the edge of Thom’s conversation with the couple. For once I’m sober when everyone else is several sheets to the wind.

“Oh hello,” he says when he spots me, “this is Lucy who’s been coming to see us since nineteen ninety… what is it?”

“Three.” We both pull an “oh shit” face.

“Bet that makes you feel old!” says the chap.

Thom is not quite laughing, “These are my neighbours from… oh you’re not meant to know this…” he tells me where and I stick my fingers in my ears pretending not to hear.

We get to talk then, the couple realise that I’m not here for an autograph, I want to ask about the solo album, “So it’s not drum and bass then?” He scowls at me.  He says he’s doing a photo shoot around London “in a dirty raincoat”.

He says something about doing anything after three beers, and he’s clearly had more than that by now, but the bar is closing and he has to go.

Julie from the management appears and before I know it Thom is gone.

Julie comes back, clutching a large cardboard folder, unusually she’s a bit drunk too. It’s her birthday, she’s been to fetch some artwork from Stanley. She lets me sneak a look at what will be the long fold out cover of The Eraser. I thank her profusely for her help getting me on the guest list and she tells me how many people she turned down,  Razorlight weren’t getting in but apparently Keane were here, Jamie Oliver, Siouxsie Sioux (I thought that was her). LA is so over subscribed they’ve already turned about 50 big names away.

I don’t remember getting back to the flat.

Next day, Yasuko, Yama and I head into Soho to see the rest of Stanley’s exhibition at Lazarides Gallery (I’d missed the opening last night as it was before the show). I have no idea what this album will sound like yet but the artwork looks like a black and white vision of my walk down Fleet Street…

The Eraser. 2006.

News of Thom’s solo album spreads gradually. We’ve seen the artwork (at Stanley’s Lazrides show), he’s confirmed to me it’s not drum n bass… but what will it sound like? Has he played us any of the songs? (Just one, as it turns out, Cymbal Rush at Koko. Told you it didn’t sound like a Radiohead song).

The NME reports on the tour and in between interviewing “super fans” and obsessing about the amount of guitars the band are using in the new stuff (as if this re-legitimises their presence in their pages) it offers a preview of The Eraser. It is coming out in July, it is not the end of the band, it is songs, it has been made with Nigel, it “was quick and fun to do”. Thom doesn’t want to hear that word “solo”. No one has heard it yet. It was a secret so people didn’t think the band were splitting up.

The rest of the page is taken up with interviews with fans, the NME’s attitude is still to present people like Tea on N’s experience in pejorative terms, probably because she dares be critical about the new stuff – it IS unfinished after all. All the new songs get the full treatment (in other magazines too) which is rather unfair, but they’re already out there. Turn over of bootlegs is faster than ever. Videos are on YouTube before the tour is over. You don’t have to wait for someone you know to get their hands on tapes anymore.

The NME’s hyping of every last fart of Radiohead output, keeping track of the recordings of new songs available online, interviewing someone who is bootlegging the shows (this isn’t a new phenomenon after all, it’s just a band of this size makes an impact, makes it news worthy. The online activity is starting to register with the paper press, who are still getting to grips with having websites, are being out done by big blogs like Pitchfork). Also Thom is resolutely not talking directly to The NME, so they have to fill the cover-promoted feature with something.

The Eraser website has an animated bit of the artwork and continues to be updated with clips trailing the release. I resist until Gabi sends me a link to the whole thing and we listen together, early one morning, instant messaging as we hear each song.

To me it is the sound of Nigel locking Thom in the studio and forcing him to finish the songs. It’s more intimate than recent Radiohead music, the vocals are right in your ear, sexy in a resigned way rather than angry. The other thing that stands out is Thom singing in character or as another person talking to him, observing himself from outside. It’s personal stuff with all the personal bits taken out. Nothing is ever as straightforward as it appears with Yorke lyrics.

In an interview conducted in Blackpool with Rolling Stone’s David Fricke published online on 1st June (one of the first in what turns into a two month campaign) Thom talks about the album being ideas that “worked in an isolated laptop space”.

“It’s the stuff I do when I get bored…” He came to it thinking he was being clever with programming but in the end Nigel forced him to be a singer again. “You should have seen the stuff I didn’t put in.” He confirms that any future record deals will be for one album only. He’s into the idea of making singles and EPs but they haven’t really talked about how to release in the future yet. “I want something that gets you out on the dance floor, I always have, but we never do that.”

So what has he learned? “I have a lot more confidence.”

“I had fun doing it as well. That is mostly what I have learned – this is fun. I’m very lucky.”

In the photos the raincoat doesn’t look that dirty.

It doesn’t sink it yet but this moment in the band’s trajectory is pivotal. Saying no to meeting Tony Blair was in the middle of it. A breakthrough in the struggle. A lifeline to the creative energy they need to make another Radiohead record, where the personal and the political are expressed together with a clarity heretofore not achieved. The inspiration for Harrowdown Hill is much discussed and becomes a news story in itself (as quotes from interviews are wont to do in this age of rolling news).

(See The Eraser LP review Pete Paphides, The Times, 30 June 2006).

Working at the edge of a newsroom has compensations for me. I have access to all the papers and keep all the reviews. There are dozens, every newspaper now has a music section and recommends tracks to download, in all but a couple you can sense the frustration that this is not a Radiohead album. There are a LOT of interviews with Thom, which there haven’t been for a while. This LP gets well documented. Reading between all the angst and end of the world-ing there’s a more settled, more confident Thom operating in the middle, he’s got an overview, he knows what he can do and what he can’t. People still don’t quite realise how funny he can be.

The Eraser, Amnesiac… rubbing out and forgetting, sorry to be here doing all the remembering for you…

86. Edinburgh, Meadowbank Stadium, 22 August 2006

A northern show to balance out the two consecutive V Festival appearances (money in the bank against any future risks to be taken while being without a label). Tacked on to the T on the Fringe bill, although this show is a headline gig and not a true festival appearance, everything in Edinburgh in August is labelled “festival”.

The night before, Boardies Shirley, Anthea, Tim C, and Jodi meet me in Glasgow and we go to the cinema to see silly Jack Black comedy Nacho Libre and then end up in a Monday Open Mic Night at a bar called Bloc. I am persuaded to air my karaoke Fake Plastic Trees… later Ange shows up and kips at my flat.

Next day to Edinburgh. Melody Nelson, sends intelligence on the size of the venue and the various plans to meet up before the show. Yama and Yasuko have a B&B booked as close to the venue as they could find and I plan to crash with them. Meadowbank is a large venue holding 25,000 usually used for sport and only occasionally used for gigs.

I bought a ticket, then found out that Julie from the management has put me on the list. Then at the last minute, a work email informs me I have a plus one from the promoter.

Ange wants to see Edinburgh Castle so we go there first and take some photos. Knowing I have guest list tickets, I decide not to queue. Nearly everyone has a mobile now so most of the organising is done on the hoof. With all these spares I seem to be a hub for ticket exchange, I set Ange up with a free spare, as she is really short of cash we try to sell the others, but no one coming down from town to the stadium needs one. It seems there were more tickets released after the initial run sold out.

It gets nearer and nearer to show time. I can hear first support act Deerhoof inside, already on stage and I need to be in the arena. We run for the door and throw the spare tickets to a group of people sitting on the grass outside, one day this good fortune will revisit us in a time of need, “Use them, give them away, it’s Ticket Karma!”

We have beaten the crush to an extent, and we end up somewhere in the middle for the eccentric and enjoyable Deerhoof set. As it gets busier I have a decent view of Beck, whose show begins with an extended film of his puppet alter ego touring the city. The last time I saw him play was a few years ago at The Gig On The Green in Glasgow, during the Sexx Laws tour when they played in jumpsuits with police incident tape around the stage, I’d not seen him since and he gives good live show. It’s weird to have a light hearted act supporting Radiohead.

The weather has held and this long night is still light, if a little chilly, when the band appear. Jonny has his hood up, Thom with denim jacket buttoned. Through Beck’s set I’d gradually got pushed further and further back. Meadowbank is a wide arena with the stage set up in the middle of the athletics field. By the time the crowd consolidates I find myself way back in the centre of a tightly packed scrum. I tell myself I can stand it, but I’ve lost most of the people I came with and I don’t have any allies to help me stand my ground. Radiohead come on with Airbag, then 2+2=5 then The National Anthem. The mosh gets increasingly ferocious, this crowd are on the move and I realise that I won’t stand much more or be able to see anything. It’s dark now and I have to jump up and down to even see the lights.

I duck out to the side, can see the running tracks marked on the ground under my feet. As the set goes on I keep moving, trying to get a vantage point at one side or the other, but there are too many heads in my way, no matter where I end up I can’t see. I give in and dance, trying to work off some of the nervous energy I have bottled up. The set is has more regular-crowd pleasers than the May tour, Videotape and Nude slot elegantly into the middle, giving a respite from the singing along and the younger than average crowd throwing its weight about. I keep dancing. Another short new one, All I Need, slows the pace for a couple of minutes. I pause and watch the big screens.

They keep playing for over two hours, they’ve played 24 songs including True Love Waits. I’ve got nothing left, I feel like I’ve been beaten up or run laps of this track.

Then they play Creep and I laugh my head off. The lights blaze as Jonny’s guitar cracks, Thom is just about drowned out as a forest of arms go aloft.

Yasuko and I take our passes and eventually find the aftershow in a commentary box at the side of the stadium. The toilets are no longer plumbed in and it’s all a bit ramshackle. The band are off somewhere else. Someone spotted the tiny figure of Johnny Marr so they’ve doubtless got an inner sanctum for the likes of him. I say hello to Thom as he passes through and see Phil talking to Kate Rusby in a corner. I push Yasuko to speak to Thom as he comes back in and he tells us he’s off to have his back done (they’ve got a masseur!) I could use that myself right now, I have headbanger’s neck.

87. Amsterdam, Heineken Music Hall, 28 August 2006

I arrive the day before and hire a bike. My paper map of Amsterdam blows out of the basket early on so I go back to some of my favourite places – Kitsch Kitchen, the shops in the Jordaan, looking for coloured tights in de Bijenkorf the department store near the Dam Square… I like Amsterdam, can stay with family and go back there often. I am late to the meet up at de Waag – a restaurant I recommended to the Boardies – and find them all in the midst of a celebratory dinner. I join for a portion of amazing gingerbread ice cream and a few drinks then wobble back to my second-cousin-once-removed’s place.

I have Gabi’s ticket for this rescheduled show. I sent her a load of videos and clippings as a swap.

A lot of the usual crowd are here making a weekend of it. There are a few of the long serving hardcore who will travel any distance, some more determined and single minded than me and there are few more recent members of this contingent who enjoyed the shows earlier in the year and still need one more fix.

Mid-morning I arrive at the station adjacent to the Ajax stadium complex, which houses tonight’s venue. There are about a dozen of the hardcore huddled together in the rain outside the Heineken Music Hall. Some of them have bought fishing stools and waterproofs from a sports shop, which is helpfully located across the concourse.

This place has the perfect set up for a queue. Polite, good humoured security staff; catering facilities; transport; shops; a bar next door… everything we need. I have bought some food and drink to share, a trade off allowing me to take turns at the front of the queue while coming and going throughout the day. The most zealous of the queue fiends aren’t here and there is nobody numbering anyone’s hand. I bring coffees and snacks then go back into the city to meet other friends. When I come back I meet Scarlett.

An intense person even for a Radiohead queue, she wears huge heels, has monstrous fingernails that have grown into talons, and loads of tattoos, many of them Radiohead related. At first I am suspicious, I’ve run into other people in the queue that scare me with their need to be near the band. A bit rich coming from me, but I’m very self conscious about what I’m doing. She introduces herself, she’s been following the tour in America, apparently with no thought to the expense. She’s here for the music, she says, has been getting more tattoos along the way. She wants to compare notes so we go for a drink in the cinema bar.

She is vague, but the gist of it is, due to tragic family circumstances, she has inherited some money and decided to follow her heart’s desire, following Radiohead on tour. I’m sceptical, always, but the more she tells me, the more I want to know. There are things she seems to understand, and more importantly, she doesn’t want anything from me. We get supercharged on whisky and lemonades and talk ten to the dozen. For about an hour we are temporary best mates.

Later we get soaked in the rain outside. The waiting is part of the whole experience, the community of feeling. As we wait, Ricci, who comes to a lot of shows, says something that stays with me. “What do other people have in their lives that makes them feel this way?” I can’t answer, because this is the only thing in my life that makes me FEEL this much.

Because this is a one-off gig it feels special. Knowing it will be the last one for what could be a very long while, makes me determined to soak up as much as I can.

It’s got harder and harder for me to deal with the politics of the queue, no other band I’ve ever seen inspires in their fans this kind of mania for getting to the front. Sometimes I can’t handle it, and end up somewhere further back, dancing, but those gigs are somehow never quite as good.

After some banter with the Dutch doormen, we surf a wave of euphoria into the hall. And there I am, on the front row, there’s a moment of relief and a sense of achievement. I’d been denying it to myself, but I need it.

Once you’ve got your spot, you can settle in for the real waiting. You can come and go (at least until it locks down) and have a beer and know that the rest of the night will fall into place with the security of that barrier under your arm, your belongings safely tucked in the pit, allies on each side. The tacit rule is that you can’t be here unless you’ve earned it. If you don’t queue, then try to go straight to the front, people don’t like it. I don’t have the patience to go through the process very often. I get too aggravated in the queue. I don’t really want to share my band. I don’t always want to tell tales of past adventures to people who will then latch onto the possibility of being my plus one. But on days when it all works and that doesn’t bother me, the prize is precious and worth the hours in the rain.

The barrier in front of you allows you to relax to certain extent, you don’t have to bob and weave all night to be able to see. There’s no one ahead of you to flick their hair in your face or to be six feet tall and block the sightline. You have a clear view of the stage and if you’re lucky you can immerse completely in the experience. You can turn everything else off and merge into the show, it’s not just in front of you, you are part of it.

I find myself with my eyes closed. I want to be swallowed up by the music, lifted out of my body and into the noise, but I also want to be able to see everyone and everything happening on the stage. The tension between these contradictory desires is over powering. I want the charisma and sexiness and soaring joy of the whole experience. I want this to be just for me, but without the rest of the crowd there would be no show.

In Amsterdam I get what I want. This is the show I craved. The songs are just right, the band are in their best mood and everything clicks. I am on the edge of being drunk but even after all the whisky it’s the gig that has me intoxicated.

I reel outside, suddenly alone, not ready to join the others. I wander round the back of the venue where the Japanese and Italian contingents hover by the bus. There is no party tonight as far as I know, there is no sign of anyone. I blow a kiss at the bus and find my way back to town.

 

88. Jonny Greenwood & BBC Concert Orchestra London, Queen Elizabeth Hall, 24 November 2006

Jonny’s new piece, Popcorn Superhet Receiver, is being played at a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. (The full programme: BBC Concert Orchestra – Red, White and Blue. Anne Dudley – Northern Lights, Steve Martland – Crossing the Border , Joe Duddell – Shadowplay, Jonny Greenwood – Popcorn Superhet Receiver (Thomas Carroll – cello, Robert Ziegler – conductor, BBC Concert Orchestra)

There is a fairly large scale boardie meet up – we have a quick go on the Carsten Holler slide at Tate Modern then food in the Archduke pub. My impatience with the others spurs decision making.

The first half see the BBC Concert Orchestra play a sort of cello concerto with the emotional performances and wild hair of the soloists providing the entertainment.

At the interval I spot boardie Estelle in the foyer and think she’s queuing for the bar, but actually she’s taking to Jonny, so I wait and say hello, faltering into a two handed hand shake. He thanks me for coming and I ask “How are things?” and he says “How are you?”. I ask if they’re keeping sane and he says no – and I say “good sign” – he says at least they can all stand to be in the same room together – I ask him to tell them hello from me.

I find the rest of the contingent in the bar, the late comers having arrived. Some people want me to go with them to talk to Jonny and I tell them “go on, do it yourself.” I’d forgotten how they get the shakes in the presence, because I don’t really get that anymore.

His piece in the second half starts noisy then gets rhythmic with slap bass and violins played with picks (like ukuleles). Half the players look bemused and the other half look like they’re enjoying it.

After, we regroup, people get Jonny to sign tickets but I don’t speak to him again. The rest of us repair to the South Bank for drinks.

Visit to W.A.S.T.E. HQ, 27 November 2006

I stay in London for a few days, see Nouvelle Vague play at Bloomsbury Theatre with a group of boardies and hang out with some London friends. Last time I was in touch with Mel she mentioned that if I was ever in the area I should drop in at the office, so for once having some time on my hands, I catch a slow train to Reading from Paddington so I can visit W.A.S.T.E. HQ.

Mel comes to pick me up in her VW Beatle. I spend and hour and half at Sandbag the merchandising arm of the Radiohead empire, that began as the fanclub newsletter service way back at the beginning. An unassuming industrial unit on the edge of town an estate, it combines warehouse and office from where Mel, an old friend of the band, and her cohorts organise operations.

We chat, drink tea and I pass round my gift of fairtrade chocolates.

Tim’s not here, he’s still working at the studio, but Mel regrets not calling him to tell him I was coming. The only studio gossip I manage to get is that the band didn’t have a good time with the producer Spike Stent. They all agreed it was a rough patch. Mel says it’s been a difficult year.

I offer my theory on the Radiohead creative process, they have to go through the mill it to come up with something new and I mention what Jonny said on Friday about not keeping sane.

As other members of the team pop in, I give a potted history. I’ve been at this Radiohead game longer than any of them. My archive is bigger! I joke with Mel that I need a museum, a “clean room”to keep all my cuttings in. Imagine the box sets, the basement tapes we could compile between us. Mel remembers Tim’s birthday gig, in Reading and tells me about the unused video for Creep made by her ex-boyfriend.

Someone is wearing an Eraser T shirt, I remark that it doesn’t exist to buy. Mel sends him to find one for me. She digs around the filing cabinets, trying to find stuff I don’t have. The only item we come up with is a copy of W.A.S.T.E. newsletter issue one. It’s just tour dates and a doodle of the Trade Muck shirt. There never was a number 3.

Radiohead have the least commercial merch of the any of the artists that they deal with here, which is saying something coming from the purveyors of the Keane Shower Curtain and Guillemots socks.

I ask if they ever see their directors (The Band). Thom only comes here when he’s getting his car serviced round the corner (and, Mel points out, it’s not a Landrover).

We look at some old posters and note that the Greenwoods are the only ones who have not changed since the beginning.

Once all the tea is drunk, Mel drops me back at the station.

In Rainbows, In Between. 2007.

After some frustrating posts in code on the website, which send a segment of the boardies into such turmoil that it makes the news, various faffings about on the Radiohead.TV website and a general feeling that Mr Donwood has a bit too much time on his hands…the Radiohead rumour mill is in overdrive.

An article in Paste Magazine (7/9/2007) suggests that the band have completed an album…. but now they’re out of contract with EMI, what are they going to do with it?

On September 30th I get an email from Tim advising me to look at Radiohead.com if I haven’t already, as I “might be interested.” Suddenly all the slightly frantic texts my phone received after I’d gone to bed make sense.

Having hit a low with my job as well as failing to get anywhere near my dreams of working in radio, this bit of excitement couldn’t have come at a better time.

When the album eventually drops, I have to hurriedly download it before leaving for a long train journey to be at a funeral. Headphones, as always, offer a safe harbour from reality.

In Radiohead-land, everything is clicking into gear. In Oxford a boardie spots Thom out jogging (jogging!) and we speculate that he’s “getting match fit”.

There is a ton of press surrounding the “pay what you want” concept of the In Rainbows release. The music itself hasn’t quite hit yet and the band aren’t doing interviews. There have been none of the usual months of build up, no reviews and then a ton of ill-thought-out spontaneous diatribes from music journalists who feel left out.

Radiohead have “broken the music industry.” A moment to relish for those of us who realised that they’d been trying to do exactly that since as far back as Pop Is Dead.

Tim emails back to ask me if I can take the temperature of the reactions to the release of “my mates and the people on the message boards.” I throw back a few thoughts. £40 for the box set, which basically contains a whole album campaign’s worth of tracks is actually less than you’d pay for an old style album and CD single sets so I’m happy to pay it.

A webcast entitled ‘Thumbs Down’ happens on the evening of 10th November, it’s stuttery but less jerky now I have broadband and a second-hand beige tower PC replacing the temperamental iMac. I’m able to watch it all, until in the last ten minutes, the sound fails. (Later on Max K rescues the missing section and puts it up again). The webcast is over two hours long, filled with performances of the new songs, Adam Buxton video skits and covers of The Smiths’ Headmaster Ritual and New Order’s Ceremony. Radiohead are in charge at last and they seem to be enjoying it.

In Rainbows is the most distilled essence of Radiohead’s sound that they have so far produced. I, inevitably, order the full £40 box set and take my download straightaway. My first listens are filtered through an onslaught of emails from people who are doing exactly the same thing simultaneously.

Safe in the knowledge that the tour won’t follow until next year, there is time to prepare to do it properly. In November I join a large group of boardies at ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas curated by Portishead. Much of the time in Minehead is spent trying to keep warm, socially lubricating on Holiday Camp lager and hanging about waiting to see if the rumours we’ve heard about Colin turning up to do in an unannounced DJ set are true.

89. London, BBC Broadcasting House, 1 April 2008

In January of the new year, the band emerge to play what was planned to be an in-store at Rough Trade East in Spittlefields, London and turns into an impromptu gig in tiny venue 93 Feet East. In Glasgow, at work, glued to developments as they unfold on the faithfully Radiohead-obsessed BBC 6 Music, I stand in the corridor swearing down the phone to the few boardies that make it to the show. I don’t like secret shows, I especially don’t like secret shows that I have no chance of being at. As evidence of this gig emerges, my pining for gigs gets worse.

In March the BBC announce that Radiohead will be held captive in Broadcasting House for a whole day. Or rather as the BBC website would have it:

Radiohead: Double Duty
Band to perform two free gigs for the BBC
11 March 2008 – Radiohead are to play two free concerts for the BBC in London on 01 April and 6 Music listeners are in with a double chance of seeing them.
The band will perform at the BBC’s Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House on 01 April for BBC Radio 2 and they will also play a matinee concert at the same venue, on the same day, for BBC 6 Music.
6 Music will record the matinee performance and you’ll be able to hear tracks from it between 4pm and 7pm.
Fans can apply for tickets to see Thom and co at the Radio 2 concert by calling 08700 100 200. Phone lines will close on 13 March and winners will be chosen at random.
Steve Lamacq will announce details of how you can attend the matinee performance on his show on 17 March. Tune in from 4pm for full details.

Demand for tickets is obviously huge, even more than for the Maida Vale show a few years ago. I try everything and abandon all dignity, emailing everyone I can think of to try to beg tickets. No BBC contact or Radiohead insider is safe.

A select group of boardies who are either in London (and can therefore drop everything and turn up), are in Europe (and are therefore theoretically able to drop everything, jump on a plane and turn up) or are desperate and dissatisfied enough with their jobs that they can ditch to London for a few days (me) form a cartel and start calling in favours.

We get friends to enter the BBC competitions on the condition that tickets will be surrendered, we register multiple email addresses, we follow every tip off about the number of tickets, about WASTE fanclub ticket lotteries, about BBC staff allocation…

Tim can’t help. Julie is too busy, I don’t feel confident asking Mel…

I find out with moments to spare that I have a pair of tickets from Waste’s allocation. I don’t ask questions, I tell Gabi the spare is hers, book us a cheap hotel in Paddington and get myself to Regent Street.

I’m already in London when I find out that I have a job interview in Ealing the day after the show.

My tickets are for the second gig of the day, so we spend the afternoon hanging around, eating Greek food and having ill advised beers to stave off the nerves.

Mel is on the door with the tickets but no one is saying anything about how these bits of gold dust came to be there, ask no questions, keep your head down and get inside.

I’m actually inside Broadcasting House, this alone is overwhelming. We are herded in and I find that the others have saved me a seat on the front row. From here on everything takes on the texture of a weird dream.

On very little sleep, the added stress of an impending job interview (which turned out to be a total bust). Being so close to the stage in this setting was very weird. It wasn’t like a gig, but a polished performance for radio. Thom seemed tired from doing interviews all day and a gig in the afternoon. The band were very focused. Thom singing with his eyes closed and not making contact with the audience. No release. Thom needs a haircut. I need a proper live show.

Somewhere in all the acres of coverage, a large venue summer tour is announced. I hatch a plan…

 

 

90. Dublin, Malahide Castle, 6 June 2008

I have big plans. I will take a sabbatical from work and do this tour without flying – the band have been blogging on their new W.A.S.T.E. Central platform about how they’re trying to reduce the carbon footprint of touring. Encouraging people to use public transport to each the shows, offering incentives, publishing a report on the impact of their previous tour.

I will take my laptop and try to write a blog as I go, I will become one of those people who gets called up on the radio and get a book deal and cover all my expenses…

As it turns out, I become an expert in Eurorail-booking sites, Irish Sea ferry crossings and being desperate for a decent cup of tea.

It is entirely possible to follow a tour without flying if you have the time to spare. With foresight and my skills as an online booking ninja, it’s actually marginally cheaper as well. It turns out I’m the only person who is excited about this. Everyone else still has to squeeze the shows in at weekends but I turn my summer over to the Radiohead trail.

Anticipation is part of the adventure. Three months of planning and decision making – to me almost as enjoyable as the actual travel. I keep track of everything, becoming a train-bore. I keep waking up early in a panic. Doing this feels like a momentous decision (but it doesn’t really work out that way).

As always the uncertainties seem important at the time. Will all the tickets turn up in time? Will I be able to blag into the London shows? Will there always be somewhere to sleep? I should be more ready for spontaneity. The internet doesn’t quite work well enough yet. (In a couple more years these things will no longer be problems and I’ll have the internet in my pocket, a smart phone that actually works).

There are no real incidents on the way, apart from the odd missed connection and occasional unscheduled taxi rides (the world is still not designed for the solo non-driver).

In Ireland  wi-fi has yet to become as ubiquitous as it has in the UK and I find myself hunting out old PCs in internet cafes. It is harder than I anticipated to write about the shows coherently. I find myself writing about travel, which now seems mundane. Being a bit sleep deprived and taking a few trains doesn’t read like exploration and there is nothing luxurious or exciting about the Glasgow to Belfast ferry connection.

I have tiny photos from my phone (the main thing I notice looking at this stuff is how far the tech has moved on in a few short years, it would all be straight to social media now and nothing special.)

I rendezvous with Gabi at a B&B in a village near Malahide for the first gig at the Castle. It’s a long slow queue through the woods, we’re going on a Radiohead hunt. Familiar faces are spotted in the trees and eventually, we pour into the huge field where the show will take place as Bat for Lashes takes the stage. They are either going to grow on me or I’m going to be heartily sick of the Bjorkish mannerisms after a couple of shows.

The weather held until just before Radiohead came on stage then light showers split the sky. Time to pull out my rain hood (pocket size, like old ladies wear, given to me as a joke, but actually quite handy as it means I can keep relatively dry, yet still see the stage. And what would you know, a rainbow and then a double rainbow… if it had been planned it would have been cheesy.

For such a big show, it is a really polite crowd, everyone in a great mood, being considerate but also getting into it. I spend the whole show with an enormous grin on my face (apart from Pyramid Song which reduces me to tears). The band are in extremely good spirits, it doesn’t get dark until gone 10pm, so for most of the show the band were responding to waves from the crowd and it looked liked there were able to spot of lot of the familiar faces.

 

They play mostly In Rainbows stuff and a few oldies in the encores.. they barely touch OK Computer but still manage to play 29 songs.

I felt really connected in this show, it doesn’t always happen, but when it does I know this is the reason I keep on coming to see them. It was a joy pretty much all the way through, a great view. A couple of guys behind me had come all the way from Israel for their first show. I was surrounded by a plethora of different European accents.

When I finally give in and clamber out to go to the toilet in the encore break, the crowd let me back in and I join some friends a bit nearer the front.

There was a new song, a sketch at the moment called Super Collider (you might want to tweak that one Thom, I think to myself, it’s a bit Stereolab.)
A thoroughly satisfying experience and we get to do it all again tomorrow.

Getting back to the B&B was a bit of a challenge but we eventually got a cab and shared with a French couple who were going in vaguely the same direction.

The next morning the breakfast room is full of people sporting their new recycled Radiohead T shirts.

91. Dublin, Malahide Castle, 7 June 2008

Night two in Dublin is Keiko’s 100th Radiohead gig. The band play Lurgee (her favourite) for her during the show. To celebrate this auspicious moment, we’re allowed access to the sprawling aftershow. It’s a warm night and everyone is mulling about outside. Tonight is for Keiko and there is champagne, she’s known to all and they make it as special as she needs it to be.  We’re all sitting at a table, making a bit of a party of it. I realise Clara has been talking rather intensely to woman about state versus private schooling, it takes a while for the penny to drop but this woman turns out to be Thom’s Rachel…

Thom comes and goes, opens a Guinness and spills it on his trousers, he disappears fetching more Guinness, and possibly more trousers.

The booze flows, at Keiko’s table we’re more relaxed than usual, things are going our way. Like she says, she’s “the most fan” and I’m “the longest fan”. Clara is my plus one and she is a good person to lig with, maybe because she’s a bit of rock star in her own way…

*

I remember feeling very happy after these shows, something about the vibe was more positive than ever before. I had Europe waiting for me, a whole summer on the move, looking for adventures with friends waiting in every place. I’d been stuck in Scotland, hating my job for so long that to have a stretch of freedom, with gigs in some outstanding places to look forward to, was liberating in the extreme.

Writing about it as I went along gave me a sense of achievement. It didn’t matter that most of my blogs were about trains, that finding wi-fi was sometimes a complete pain the arse, that my laptop was heavy. Being able to write and having something to write about (after being stuck in a job where I could never quite become a “proper journalist”) was utterly freeing.

For a while that year I’d been hosting my own show on student radio, and I continued to harbour ambitions to break into BBC 6Music (the radio station I’d been waiting for all my life). I’d called in to the Steve Lamacq show about my Radiohead adventures and the producer had got back in touch to see if I could call in from one of these gigs… I tried not to be too excited about this, but the thought of being an honorary BBC correspondent filled me with a sense of purpose.  I spent the build up to the first show on tenterhooks in case they called… but nothing happened and once the show started, my phone was forgotten about…

92. Nîmes, Arènes de Nîmes, 14 June 2008

Rather than go straight to Paris for the indoor gigs, I spend a few days in London catching up with sleep and exploring. I take the Eurostar to Paris, a nicer experience than any airports I’ve been through recently.

In Paris I had a look around the Patti Smith exhibition at the Foundation Cartier. It was a mix of photos and objects that commemorate Rimbaud and Robert Mapplethorpe. Apparently she was here earlier in the week and played a small gig. For sale in the shop, she had selected books, films and music. French editions of the works of Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf, Rimbaud and her own CDs… The only remotely contemporary discs were Pablo Honey, The Bends and OK Computer… Wonder if she went to see Radiohead while she was here.

 

I stay a night with Naz then take the train to Nimes… here’s what I wrote the morning after the show:

Seriously, how? How do I write this? How do you write up something… I mean, I knew this would be a good one, with that venue… but… as soon as we got inside it was gonna be pretty special.

But.

When the Mexican Waves started and the guy throwing the nuts into the crowd and catching the money got cheers from the whole arena, you knew there was gonna be a bit of atmosphere.

After about the twentieth Mexican Wave my arms started to hurt.

We were in the best tier of seating (one up from the floor level, good view), right on the front row, so had a completely un-obscured view of the stage. Far enough back to see everything and really appreciate the lights for the first time. The beer kept coming – at one point, the guy selling the beer actually came up to the seats to sell us MORE beer, that did my head in! Just before they came on!?

After telling me there were only two starting songs for the setlist, they promptly played Reckoner and went on… well, I’ll put a picture of the setlist in there.

Safe to say they played all the good In Rainbows stuff, Where I End and You Begin, which for some reason sounded better – well, all the HTTT stuff sounds better live anyway. Everything In Its Right Place in the middle… which was so good Thom had to have a lie down in front of the monitors at the end. Is it 15 step where Thom goes mad dancing in the middle? or is that Bodysnatchers… nope, not Bodysnatchers… I think we MAY have mastered the 15 Step hand clap intro.

For the encore we were sitting taking bets as to what they would play next. Clara was praying for Planet Telex and got it… it really works with the rainbow lights. I mean, how do you do a set that good without playing Just? My Iron Lung? Fake Plastic Trees? But they managed it.

By the time the gig had finished, I just had to sit down and take it all in for a few minutes and put up with the usual glut of people asking me if I’m alright. Beer fuelled mayhem ensued later. It’s very strange emerging from an aftershow to a crowd of screaming French people who were all hoping you were going to be one of the band and that you’d come and sign their arms, or tickets, or something. It’s weird being on the other side, but good. Aftershows aren’t the glamorous things people think they’re going to be. There’s some beer in a bucket in a corridor and some very bad toilets. Immaculately drunk Japanese women, professional liggers, band members chilling out (with notable exceptions) Where did all these people come from? I wonder what they all do.

93. Nîmes, Arènes de Nîmes, 15 June 2008

What I wrote at the time: It’s Monday now and Nimes seems closed until this afternoon.. and now it’s started raining heavily. I’ve a while until my train so I’ve dashed into the first place with wi-fi and a very grumpy waiter. Might see if I can get something that isn’t Steak Tartare in a moment… but first, last night’s show. After Saturday I didn’t think they’d top it… but you know this band are full of surprises.

A completely different set list with some highlights including Dollars & Cents, Fake Plastic Trees (with the swooping vocal), Bangers & Mash and Paranoid Android. Then an encore of Thom on his own playing Cymbal Rush (followed by a hug from Colin, who must be putting something in his tea judging by some of his interpretive dance moves earlier on). Bloody great, I even forgave him those red trousers after a couple of songs.

We sat in the same place as last night, fantastic view as long as you don’t topple over into the tier below (which was a bit touch and go when I was shaking it to Bangers & Mash). The band were definitely really into it, Thom giving us his lesser spotted “warming his hands on the audience” gesture. And for You And Whose Army some great eyebrow action on the “nose cam” then straight into a manic version of Idioteque. I’ve got a little note pad I keep in my pocket and I’ve just written ‘Wow”.

I apologised to the security guy from the night before for freaking out on him and this time he let me keep my pass. And various crew members were modelling their fab rainbow coloured t shirts (they’re in colour coded teams). I also briefly met Hannah from Friends of the Earth who is blogging the tour too…

About 3am, I’m sitting with the London gang of boardies, eating merguez by the food vans at the far side of the square.(Merguez – Spicy local sausage and chips in a baguette and after nothing all day, the best food I’ve had in I don’t know how long). It hits me hard then that this band don’t need me anymore. I know how weird that sounds, but it used to be that there weren’t many friends around after shows, that there weren’t many people to talk to. These shows have hundreds of folk hanging around and I’m just another ligger. It’s late and I’m tired and emotional, bowled over by some of the best gig experiences of a long career…

94. Milan, Arena Civica, 17 June 2008

The journey from Nimes to Milan was complicated by a cancelled train, a diversion to Dijon and a sleeper into Italy. A few other fans were in the same compartment – Laurence, who being French, was able to translate all the instructions and Japanese fan “Curly” whose presence caused the border guard to wake us at an ungodly hour for a non-European Union passport check. I find myself in Milan very early in the morning and gratefully take refuge in the lobby of Laurence’s hotel.

My plans have been knocked a little off course. I reluctantly purchase an hour of wi-fi so I can look busy and wait for my B&B to open. I’m at a low ebb. A run of late nights spent outdoors have left me with a cold, I’m tired and in need of a hot meal.

I catch up on a little sleep and briefly explore central Milan and the spectacular Piazza del Duomo. I wander in a trance around an exhibition of photos of Italian film stars, dazed by the glamour of it all.

The following day, having discovered the venue is near the Castello, I do a little more wandering (but omit the main attraction of Da Vinci’s Last Supper) before I find the faithful already installed in a queue in the rain.

In an array of improvised waterproofs, I stand by the sound desk with some of the chaps. We go for sound quality over view, a vista of umbrellas before us. Nothing quite works tonight. It might have been the late night pizza, but here’s what I wrote when I got to bed afterwards:

This is the dip. The one in the middle after the ones at the fabulous venue. When you think you’ve had the best they can give you and it’s never going to be topped. This the one where you start to feel tired and wonder if you’ll hit the heights again, have they peaked? Have you? Are you just going through the motions? Does that set list bare any relation to the songs they actually played? Was that Ed reading the football results or Thom? Was it because it rained and you were at the back and you couldn’t see? Should you queue up tomorrow after everything you said about not queuing? Maybe it’s your last chance

Maybe it won’t rain tomorrow? Maybe it was all those people singing along to Karma Police yet again. Or the way those Italian guys behind you were humming the guitar parts off key. Shouldn’t you be asleep by now instead of staying out with your gig friends? Don’t worry. This is the dip.

95. Milan, Arena Civica, 18 June 2008

The first rule of Radiohead club is no one talks about Radiohead club… Edward Norton and Brad Pitt (wearing ostentatious sunglass and a hat respectively – so you know they must be conspicuously famous) were watching tonight’s show from behind the sound desk (which I was standing in front of).

Best sound of the tour so far (well best spot for it, directly in front of unsung genius Jim Warren and all his magical kit). This tour has had AMAZING sound so far – everything is really clear and even a cloth ears like me can almost detect the separate instruments.

I ended up not queuing. It was really, really hot and the thought of sun stroke rather put me off. I took myself off to have look around some of the galleries in the Castle, including an impressive collection of historic musical instruments. I ate some very good gelato and discovered the cooling effects of granita.

It was a varied set with Wolf At The Door and Go Slowly making an appearance. Much better conditions than last night. At the end of the show, a rope was dragged through the arena to keep the Italians calling out for “Brad! Brad!” away from the chosen few still allowed close to the stage. I lost sight of Keiko who somehow had a pass and spend the latter part of the evening wandering the area with Astral Chris, looking for food and taxis.

*

The following day I meet up with fellow tourist Ricci and we climb to the roof of the Duomo, Milan really knows how to do a cathedral. The sun is shining and being here makes sense again.In the FNAC record shop, there is a small exhibition of Radiohead photos – and the Italian edition of a book of “the stories behind the songs”.

Later I head to Saronno to stay with super-fan Georgia for a couple of nights, after a day sacked out in front of her TV, I take an excursion to Lake Como and get bitten by mosquitos.

Back to Milan to catch another train (sharing a compartment with a nun), this time to Turin, my detour while the band are in Spain playing festivals. Some of the others have gone to see all the shows, but this time I want to see something of Italy, spend some time by myself.  I have a hectic 48 hours in the city – I visit the Mole (for the view and for the cinema museum which I’d seen in a film called Doppo Mezzonotte), eat some Nutella-flavoured ice cream and frantically search for a pharmacy to get some hydrocortisone for unbearable mozzie bites – I feel like I should  do all the tourist stuff, but really what I’d like to do is sleep.

Another train back to Paris again, then a small panic attack negotiating the Metro. Heavily laden with luggage, I decide to visit the Louvre (cloakrooms! air con!). I wander the huge rooms, dodging tourists on the Da Vinci Code trail, enraged as they pop photos in front of the eternal masterpieces. I despaired as I came into a room to discover David’s magnificent Oath of the Horacii, in a room full of over blown history paintings to overhear a woman say “Oh it’s that David Jack Louie guy” and another points out the “people fighting naked,” in the Grecian scene hung on the opposite wall.

Tiring of the underground ambience of the gallery, I go out to the arcades. I spent a fantastic day here last year just wandering about, but it’s hard to be a flaneusse with a backpack and a wheelie suitcase weighing you down.

I need a proper cup of tea, a hot bath, some food that doesn’t have any cheese in it. I spend another night at Nazare’s then it’s back to London on the Eurostar. I drag myself to Hammersmith (to Clara’s) and feel my first cup of tea hit every nerve ending.

Thus refreshed, I meet up with the others at a pub near Liverpool Street and get ready to face the crush of people heading to Victoria Park…

96. London, Victoria Park, 24 June 2008

After fifteen minutes walk from Mile End tube station, we finally get onto the site. It was laid out like a mini-Glastonbury with more food stalls than you could shake a burger at (even in the middle behind the sound desk).

There were at least 40,000 people in the arena. We milled around near the back for a while then discovered that if you went down to the side near the bar you could at least get a view of the band on the stage.

The disadvantage of being near the bar (and it being still light) is the crowd all keep talking like they are in a pub watching the gig on TV. Even the hardcore fans have given up and started talking. I try going in a bit nearer the stage for a couple of songs but there wasn’t much improvement. Nights like this make me resigned to the fact that most people don’t experience these gigs in the same way I do. I remind myself that London crowds always SUCK.

At one point, when Bat for Lashes were on, we realised we were standing in front of Steve Lamacq. In a break between songs I introduced myself. Turns out the researcher who had been teasing me with the idea that I could send in something to his show about the tour had been away for the last week. My dreams of a radio career melt before my eyes.

Mr Lamacq did note that we were in the “Prawn Sandwich” section of the crowd, where people can afford to spend £50 on a ticket and then just socialise, drink and chat without being all that bothered about the gig. I drawn the line at a Radiohead gig becoming an exercise in corporate hospitality.

Once it got dark and the light show was in full effect, things improved. The band are enjoying Bangers & Mash and still doing the You And Whose Army/ Idioteque segue.

Thom came back on and played Cymbal Rush. They finished as a band with Planet Telex , which sounded a bit all over the place, the mix at the sides of the field wasn’t very balanced.

There was some ligging action to be had later. This being London, it was in a proper festival-style bar tent with picnic tables and bowls of sweets. (Parma Violets anyone?)

All a bit surreal. I’m introduced to an American called “Beetle” who has been to forty shows and compares the whole experience to following The Grateful Dead, only with less drugs and better music. I guess I’m part of that whole scene but it doesn’t feel like my experience.

People who know better than me reckoned the gig was pretty good (but they don’t have the problems us punters have to put up with).

97. London, Victoria Park, 25 June 2008

I get down a lot earlier today to meet my contact to get my ticket. The weather was pretty much perfect by the time I got to Victoria Park and there were some fairly relaxed queues at about 3pm. I casually joined the one that was due to open last and by the time the gates opened at 4pm it was relatively easy to find a good spot. I joined a couple of boardies just on the barrier at the front, far Jonny-side (as opposed to Ed-wards).

It would seem to be the rule that the second night in a venue is always better. The weather held. The crowd behaved. The band stormed it with a slightly more crowd friendly set than last night. From my point of view it couldn’t have been better, decent view, excellent sound, human security personnel and minimal pushing from behind. Even a light breeze to keep us cool. I go on about how I don’t like to queue and I can’t stand the tension, that I’m not that bothered about being at the front, but it all gets shown up as hubris when you get your ribs near the rail. It was just 100 times better than the night before.

Radiohead rip straight into Idioteque out of Everything In Its Right Place and encored with Karma Police, The Bends and 2+2=5. The crowd carried on singing Karma Police after the band had left the stage (after Thom had done an extra chorus on his own).

The band were FEELING it tonight. Thom even invited EVERYONE to the aftershow party (and judging by the amount of people trying to get in, some took him literally at his word).

Liggers included Jude Law and his kids, a skinny red haired model, various people with “I’m in a Band” haircuts (I stopped reading NME so I couldn’t identify them) and a few more likely celebs (blah blah blah).

We were too busy tearing a hole in the space-time continuum…(Clara’s b’f has more than a passing resemblance to Ed and having them in the same tent at the same time could cause a rift!)

That orange cider should have a health warning on it though, nothing that colour should be fit for human consumption. Apparently more than 90 shows is too many… I think that means I’ve been around so long I make certain people feel old!

We pile into a mini cab in the early hours and attempt to reach Hammersmith, getting pulled over by the police on a flyover (the cab driver’s fault not ours) turning the journey into a continuation of the unreality of the previous few hours.

98. Glasgow, Glasgow Green, 27 June 2008

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.

99. Latitude Festival, Suffolk, 19 July 2009

June 24 email from me to Yasuko:
I’m going to Latitude! (Gabi called me about 10 minutes after she found out about it to say she had bought me a ticket!) it’s a little crazy and we are just going for the one day… all a bit unreal really. Also despite me not having a job at the moment I’m making plans to go to Prague. I will do what I did last year and go by train (hopefully) I don’t think I will go to the other shows (Unless there are suddenly spare tickets). What were your plans? I can’t remember!
Prague will be gig 100.. so CHAMPAGNE (I hope – even if i have to provide it)
hope things are good with you.

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….

100. Prague, Vystaviste, 23rd August 2009. Part 2.

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.