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.