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…”