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.