photo: David Baird
Tell us about your crazy obsession…
Less of the crazy, please. Some people go to football every week, some people do cosplay, some travel the world visiting DH Lawrence hotspots. The geeks have inherited the earth and the fans are in charge now, you know.
Fair point, let’s start again. How many Radiohead gigs have you been to?
Over a hundred. I started with little venues, then wrote for a fanzine and followed a couple of tours. As I met people and had sofas to sleep on, it became easier to travel around and go to more shows. I made friends with some Japanese fans and went to see them while the band were on tour there, which was great as I might not have gone to Japan otherwise.
I’ve seen Radiohead in some interesting venues – the Roman amphitheatre in Nimes was a highlight – as well as stadiums and festivals too. I prefer the small shows. There was a big group of us who made a holiday out of seeing the gigs, so I’ve had some great travels.
When was your first gig?
Nottingham Trent University, 15 February 1993. It was in the student union bar (now gone) and it was free to get in. It was the first gig I’d ever been to, and was just before their first album, Pablo Honey, was released. They are part of my life now, but when I was seventeen and fed up with living in a small town waiting for life to start, their music spoke to me. Music was the only thing I was interested in. I’ve been to a lot of other gigs, but they’re still the best live act I’ve seen. They never fail to surprise me. They always deliver.
Surely if you've been to one gig you've been to them all…
That sounds like a question asked by someone who doesn’t go to many gigs. People go and see the same football team week in, week out, or travel to fan conventions. I don’t see how this is very different. Radiohead gigs are always special occasions. I’ve been lucky enough to go to the first shows on a few tours and hear new songs for the first time – being there is better than a video on the internet, there’s no comparison. You should do what you enjoy doing, and if it doesn’t hurt anyone else, what’s the harm? I know plenty of people who go to as many shows as they can, I’m far from the only one.
How has gigging changed for you over the years?
When I was a student, I was able to go to a show, then drop everything and go again the following night if someone put me on the guestlist. Before Radiohead were a successful band that the whole world knew about, the music press were very dismissive of them. Some friends and I made our own fanzine and became friends with their PR person. We were lucky that the band liked it and made it possible for us to go to more gigs than we would have done otherwise. These days there are a lot of fans who queue up at shows, I don’t always, but the best gig is one where you can see what’s happening on stage.
You've met quite a few celebs as a result of cadging VIP tickets...
I wouldn’t say met, rather pushed out of the way to get to the bar. My friends and I ignored Jude Law at a big London show because we were eager to see if there were any free drinks left. We got to the bar and it was bright orange Bulmers cider. Yuck. Sorry, Jude. It’s usually London shows that have ‘celebs’ on the list, but we did stand in front of Brad Pitt and Edward Norton at an outdoor show in Milan once. That was weird. The first rule of Radiohead club…
Are you the biggest Radiohead fan?
There are loads of people who are bigger Radiohead fans than me, there are some Japanese fans that have seen them more times and English ones who were there earlier. There are people who travel from the USA to see them. I know people who went to see them when they played in Australia, who went to the Latin American dates. There’s a massive community of travelling fans. I’ve probably seen them most consistently across their career, but there are plenty of shows I’ve missed. I’ve never seen them play at Glastonbury, for example.
What problems have you experienced recording your Radiohead memories on your blog?
A few people don’t want to be identified, but mostly my friends have enjoyed remembering the good times we’ve had over the years. Any trouble is from random people downloading and reposting pictures I’ve scanned in. There is an insatiable appetite for old pictures of Thom Yorke in Russia.
Have you ever met Thom Yorke?
Yes. He’s funnier than people think.
Your blog is more than just a review of gigs…
There are thousands of Radiohead sites. I wanted to record my own unique experience of their gigs and my experience of growing up with them. Being a music fan has changed so much since the early nineties, everything’s different now apart from how it feels to see a great band play live. We started with music papers, photocopied fanzines and tapes traded in the post, and now you can watch a gig as it happens straight from someone’s phone live on Periscope. It’s beyond the wildest imagination of teenage-me in the nineties. Hopefully I’ve captured what it was like to be there, how much people love this band and all the changes that have taken places over the last twenty years or so.
It All Starts With A Song Called Creep.
It is October 22, 1992. I am seventeen years old and, to be honest, I’m not enjoying it very much.
I’m in the sixth form at a school in Mansfield. It’s a place whose cultural life currently consists of a bowling alley, a dilapidated cinema and the world’s ugliest bus station. I keep my head down and wait for the day when I can pass my exams and get a ticket out of there.
I also have pen pals. They provide my lifeline to the outside world. One of them 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 and Walters, but by the time I read her letter we’ve missed the gig.
After school I go to the local Andy’s Records, whose only attraction is their large bargain bin full of vinyl singles. 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, I sit on the floor, plug in my headphones, 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.
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 go to the bottom of my wardrobe where I keep a stack of music papers to see what I have missed about this band. 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”.
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 I finally get to go to my first gig, it’s in the Trent Poly Union, just a small bar with a space where a stage should be. We didn’t even have to buy tickets. I nervously approached the door holding out my NUS card to prove that I was indeed eighteen, but the chap on the door didn’t even look at it. I threw some change in the donation bucket and went in.
I was completely unprepared for how loud it was.
Radiohead finally came on at about 9.45pm, the place had filled up by now and there were people standing in front blocking the view. I couldn’t see much, but every so often I glimpsed 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.
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 recognised.
“That was our recent single that went into the charts at 32 and went straight out again because Radio 1 deemed it unsuitable to be played during the day,” he said after Anyone Can Play Guitar, which by now I’d heard on the 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.
They ended their set in a hail of noise and my ears were ringing by the time they’d finished. I bought a t-shirt with a surprised baby on the front.
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. The venue is in the same building as the last show, but this time it’s in the larger downstairs auditorium. Inside, we go straight to a spot in the middle at the front of the stage.
In the corner of my eye I keep seeing a very pale, smallish man at the side of the room near the bar. His hair is so blond I can’t help but notice, it’s Thom. The room is full by the time Radiohead take the stage.
“Wish it was the sixties,” sings Thom. This song is not on the first album and they’re starting the show with it. 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?
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.
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.