Funny how, funny how things happen… The blog I was planning to bring you today was going to be all about Essex’s second most famous band, Blur (Depeche Mode clearly being numero uno in that region). But I had a itch that needed scratching too. And that itch was Radiohead. Radiohead Blur, Radiohead Blur, Blur Radiohead, decisions, decisions, decisions..
It turns out that, as I begin this blog, the fickle finger of fate has intervened and decided for me: Radiohead live in Belgium is on the Sky Arts channel and is now blasting out of our speakers. The irony in this deepened by the fact that I don’t want to talk about Radiohead and their albums particularly, but how my perception of them changed completely once I had seen them live and now here they are on the television doing the live thing. That’s a weird one in itself, because I was into Radiohead from The Bends era- someone made me a tape, loved Paranoid Android enough to know there was no point in buying the single because the album to follow was sure to be brilliant (it was) and blown away by I Might Be Wrong: Live Recordings and yet, yet, yet… it was only in 2006 that I finally got around to seeing them live for the first time.
I could have seen them in 2003 as well, but Jo and I, well our relationship had got off to a very shaky start stop start. Despite being 11 when The Bends came out, she’s the big fan and had bought the tickets, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to go with her to Earl’s Court so I didn’t. Fast forward three years and Jo and I are on much firmer ground. We have tickets to see the band two days after Arsenal’s attempt to become the first London side to win the Champions League ends in gallant failure. Jo also has tickets to see them with her parents the day after that final. Unbelievably, a friend of a friend offers a last minute ticket to go to that gig as well. Hungover and absolutely devastated by Arsenal’s late defeat to Barcelona, I refuse it believing that a Radiohead gig might just tip me over the edge to who knows where.
Stupid me. One night later, we arrive at Hammersmith Apollo (I think it was still called that then) and we’re queueing at the bar. A song I hear is called Videotape is playing. It doesn’t sound that great (ha), but then a savage noise fills the bar and it doesn’t take us too long to realise that The National Anthem is demanding our attention. Drinks order forgotten, we rush to our seats and… We. Do. Not. Move. Not for the next two and a half hours. Our seats our way back and a pre glasses me can barely see anything, but I can hear it. I can hear it perfectly well and the songs they play from OK Computer become more than just songs that I have always admired; they become songs that I get, songs that I fall in love with. Lucky, in particular, sounds like one of the greatest songs I’ve ever heard in my life.
Just to be clear on what I have said above, which may appear to contradict something I said in the second paragraph. I’ve always thought OK Computer was a brilliant album, I just thought I preferred The Bends (like most of my friends). It took seeing them live to realise just how magnificent OK Computer really was, suffice to say that two and a half hours after that rush from the bar, I am standing outside the Apollo. I don’t feel depressed, or suicidal, or have any of those feelings Radiohead are said to evoke; I feel fucking magnificent, I feel like I could conquer the world.
Two years later, Jo and I went to two shows as Radiohead toured In Rainbows. The first of which was a gloomy evening in Hackney’s Victoria Park. I’d been at work, I was knackered and we’d suffered an hour and a half to travel 3 miles east from Islington. Not my favourite night ever but I still discovered a new found love for Hail To The Thief tracks Wolf At The Door and The Gloaming. Less than a week later, we stand in baking sunshine, in Amsterdam’s Westerpark. I am powered on Amsterdam’s finest and all I can think, all through 15 Step and the “Rainbow” tracks that follow it is “it’s a glorious day, they have to play Lucky, they have to play Lucky” and on and on and on until they do indeed, quite early on, play Lucky. I wanted to cry, let me tell you.
In this environment, hearing the European shout of “Dere Dere!” as Johnny and Ed kick that one in on their drums, feeling and I do mean feeling, not hearing, the way Climbing up The Walls and The National Anthem would take the paint off the walls, if only there were any walls, singing along with everyone else to Karma Police, Radiohead feel like the greatest band on the planet. Videotape again, by now I have realised that that song is an understated piece of Radiohead brilliance and I videotape the entire performance from our spot just in front of the railings behind the “moshpit”. Except there is no tape as it’s on my phone and my fucking memory card breaks before I can get the song uploaded anywhere. Gone, but not forgotten.
As night closes in around Amsterdam and they cool things off a notch with How To Disappear Completely during their encore, a guy walking at the back of the section in front of us grabs onto a girl. We sense danger and we are right. But what happens next is not what we expected, the guy spins around and collapses to the floor, smashing his teeth into the ground as he goes. Security arrive and bring him to his feet, there is blood around his mouth, on his t-shirt and on the floor where he fell.
On stage, Thom croons “I’m not here, this isn’t happening…”
But it is and it did.
The National Anthem