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.