STREET SPIRIT (FANS OUT)
RADIOHEAD are playing Wembley, you say? OK, let’s blag a limousine, pick up five famous Radiohead fanatics, drink several bottles of booze and arrive in, er, style to witness one of the best bands in the world…
IT has to go down as one of the more inappropriate rock’n’roll entrances of recent times. Radiohead: perhaps the most graceful, important and intensely intense British band ever. Disaffection and disillusion are the two driving forces behind Thom Yorke’s emotionally shredded and tortured worldview, and the faithful are gathered in their droves at Wembley Arena to baste in the ugly/beautiful display. And The Maker? Well, we tumble out of a limousine, already pissed up, clutching bottles of champagne and Jack Daniels, laughing as our star guests pose around the car for some photographs. Good evening, Wembley!
THE plan was this. Blag a limousine, storm around London with several bottles of The Maker’s finest bubbly while picking up famous people along the way, go and see Teenage Fanclub, DJ Shadow and the mighty Radiohead, and have a chat about it. Top laugh, breezer feature. The first chinks in this finely wrought plan come about three hours before we’re due to hit the road, when one of our six planned stars, Mr Richard James, aka Aphex Twin, aka the twisted techno fruitcake who makes videos with scary mutant children in Aphex Twin heads going on the rampage around a “Clockwork Orange” style housing estate, calls in sick.
He’s actually being sick, we’re told. All in all, it’s decided, it would be for the best if he doesn’t come along, as a barfing Aphex Twin may put something of a dent in the evening. Shame, he was our wild card, the unpredictable joker in the pack who might have made the sparks fly. Still, if it was sparks we wanted, we needn’t have worried. There would be plenty to go around as it turned out, but more about that later.
Problem Number Two is that the limo won’t go to the area of north London where both Mathew Priest, Dodgy’s good-natured drummer/rising television star, and Kelli Dayton singer with bleak trip hoppers Sneaker Pimps, both live. They have to make their own ways to where the limo is waiting, which happens to be my gaff. Mathew, perhaps predictably, gets lost. The phone rings and Mathew is minutes away but nervous. “F*** me,” he shouts down the receiver. “Have you seen ‘Nil By Mouth? This is where it was f***ing filmed! Where the f*** am I? Help!” Still, once inside the relative safety of the limo, chatting happily with fellow brummie Kelli, he gradually relaxes.
Next stop is Zoe Ball’s house. She’s bang up for it and dead excited that we’ve invited her and her amour Louis, from the Warm Jets. She’s promised to bring some booze and, true to her word, she soon produces another bottle of champagne and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Here we go, here we go, and quite definitely, here we go. And finally, it’s over to the residence of Jamie Theakston, another Radiohead fan who is as pleased as punch to be arriving in style rather than schlepping to Wembley on the tube. And he gets to sit next to Charlie, our convivial driver.
Also lurking in the limo is what turns out to be one Maker scam too many. A bag of marker pens and several large sheets of card have been procured with the intention of scrawling messages to our Radiohead heroes. Stuff along the lines of “Cheer Up Thom!!” (two exclamation marts essential) and “I Love You Thom!!” (ditto). When we present this concept to Mathew, he stares back at us open-mouthed with genuine shock in his eyes.
“You are joking,” he admonishes us, a statement somewhere between an incredulous question and a bold statement of fact. Well, er, yeah, kinda. So you’re not up for it, then?
As we wend our way towards Wembley, we are in full effect. One bottle of champagne is emptied in under two minutes and the traffic jam we briefly find ourselves in is a great chance for lording it over the oiks. Yes! We have champagne! Yes! We’re in a limousine! And yes! There are famous people in here enthusiastically deconstructing Radiohead. Math and I have found traces of U2, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and the Beatles in there.
“Thom doesn’t use classic rock’n’roll imagery in his lyrics, which is a good thing,” reckons Mathew. “But you sometimes wonder what the f*** he’s on about. He is pretty weird sometimes…”
“No,” says Kelli. A flat denial, Kelli-style. Thom’s esoteric oddness obviously makes total sense to her.
“When he does get it with the lyrics, it’s perfect,” reckons Mathew. Stories are swapped about people trying to talk to Thom, just to tell him how much Radiohead’s records mean to them, and the fearsome and legendary Yorke blanking which inevitably follows.
“Excellent.” says Kelli. “I like him already.”
It’s a free wheeling, champagne-fuelled conversation about Marilyn Manson (“Needs a slap,” reckons Mat) and Primal Scream, with the eagerness for tonight’s main event building up space.
However, it’s around this time that our game stars discover that the limo is off to do another job and won’t be there to pick us up after the show. Kelli, who in the space of a 30-minute journey, has caned the champagne something wicked and is as pissed as humanely possible given the time scale, is having none of it. She cajoles the smiling Charlie with her most winning ways. It’s a sterling display, cheered on by all of us, but it ends in failure. It’s a situation which will cause much grief later on.
HUNGRY! Big arena gigs equals horrible hot dogs, so we hot foot it to the burger van doing a brisk trade outside the venue. Every 12 seconds, Mathew is greeted by ticket touts who act like they know him forever, while Zoe makes a young couple’s month by graciously giving them her two surplus tickets. They’re overjoyed, but Zoe and Louis are less so when they discover have standing tickets. Ah well, at least we’ll all be together, down with the kids where it all happens, in with the essential atmos.
As Zoe takes a cartoon chomp of her hot dog for the benefit of the camera, a passing tout shouts. “I could give you a better sausage than that, love,” much to the hilarity of the several hundred people nearby. She takes it in her stride and carries on posing unperturbed. Once the camera has finished clicking, the un-eaten dog is chucked in the dumper with a grimace. F*** it, let’s finish this bottle of champagne and get in there. Teenage Fanclub are on!
It’s around this point when Kelli starts to hit me. She has a large gold necklace on and hanging from it is an enormous gold Uzi. She bought it in America where she also went shooting. She’s only five feet one, but in a pair of red high heels and armed with a silver handbag, she’s a woman not to be f***ed with.
“You better get me a cab and some more champagne later,” she says. “Or I’ll kill you.” Ha ha ha. Kelli, you’re so funny, I laugh, indulgently. I didn’t actually think she meant it as this stage. Whack! The first blow lands on my chest, but she’s smiling. Ouch. Kelli. Er, ha ha ha.
It’s starting to turn into something of a school trip and our charges are getting unruly and boisterous. As more and more people come up to say hello and get autographs (wide-eyed teenage girls for Zoe and Jamie, garrulous lads for the incredibly popular Mat), it becomes more difficult trying to corral everyone into a cohesive group. I start to feel like a bad tour guide as we stagger around trying to find the right entrance. In fact, getting into the place proves more dicey than I’d bargained for. Our party breezes through, while security delve into my bag.
“This is alcohol,” says the guard, holding up Zoe’s bottle of Jack Daniels for my inspection.
“So it is,” I duly note.
“It’s not allowed. And neither are these glasses.” He’s referring to the eight champagne glasses stashed in the darkest recesses of my bag. The delight on Kelli’s face as I am frog-marched to a special room is undisguisable. They’re only joshing around, mugging it up for the camera, but one of the security guards is coming perilously close to actually breaking my wrist.
“You’re coming perilously close to actually breaking my wrist. Actually,” I whimper.
“Hur hur hur,” replies Big Daddy.
When I get back, Zoe has brought a box of popcorn and is getting a tad unsteady.
“F*** me, I’m pissed.” She confesses, before going to sit cross-legged on the floor and smoke a fag. We’ve lost Mathew, Kelli is rowing with a bloke at a bar who’s trying to charge her £6 for two drinks, while Jamie, Louis and I try suggesting that we make some attempt to watch Teenage Fanclub. It isn’t going to happen. Teenage Fanclub are well and truly missed, as is the highly marvelous DJ Shadow. We finally make it into the actual venue proper about 18 seconds before Radiohead take to the stage. Kelli is not happy.
“Is this it?” she demands. “Haven’t we got seats? I can’t see. This is absolute crap!” She then disappears into the throng to get a better view.
“Zoe,” asks Jamie Theakston innocently. “What time have you got to get up in the morning?” He then bursts into uncontrolled laughter.
WEMBLEY Arena is an ugly shed, about as suitable for staging emotionally draining rock shows as Chessington World Of Adventures. The band kick off with “Airbag”, but the dodgy acoustics and the usual first song teething trouble with the PA tender it limp. It improves as it goes on, but this really is The Wrong Place For Radiohead. Their magnificence is undoubted, but it’s dissipated and castrated by the venue.
“If this was somewhere warmer in Europe,” shouts Zoe, “this would be outside and it would be glorious.” She’s right. Radiohead need the vast expanse of a sultry sky to launch themselves into or the relative intimacy of a place like the Brixton Academy, where the visceral and human Radiohead storm can hit you right in the chest.
During “Creep”, I’m busted for smoking. The Wembley Smoking Monitor missed Louis who is craftily puffing away on a Camel Light. He gets his during “Lucky”, though. It’s around this time that I realise we haven’t seen Kelli for quite a while. Out in the charmless, white-washed corridors where you can buy vile food and expensive beer, I try to wolf down a quick bagel. Kelli is out here too and heads towards me.
“I’m f***ing bored, I’ve had enough and 1want to go home. Now.”
You don’t want to wait until the end when we’re going to sort all the taxis out, then?
“Get me a taxi, now.” Bash. She starts hitting me with her bag. And grabs my half-eaten bagel and throws it into a bin. I can hear the opening chords of “Paranoid Android” ringing around the place and I’m being duffed up by the singer of the Sneaker Pimps.
Would it be true to say, Kelli, that the Radiohead Factor has turned you from the fun-loving songstress of a mere 45 minutes ago, into the bolshy and violent tempest we now see before us? Has Radiohead’s flat-line misery made you glum?
“I want to go home.”
Snapper Piers, whom she has been calling Pierce all night, escorts her to a black cab and that is the last we see of her. We now have a star count of four.
THIS drama has slightly dampened the evening’s flow, but Radiohead quickly raise our spirits. They’re relaxing up there and by the time they reach the second round of encores, having fooled a sizable amount of punters into leaving, Thom Yorke is as close to jovial as I’ve ever seen him. The concert ends and despite having earlier been assured that there is no aftershow party (in fact, it transpires, there are two), we blag our way into one of them for a debriefing and a nice sit down.
Ensconced in the party, happily excited about the fact that Chesney Hawkes and Bernard Butler are present, I solicit reactions.
“I haven’t seen anyone do a good gig here,” says Mat. “But I was realty impressed with Radiohead, the lights were incredible, the musicianship was incredible. Also, I noticed a lot of people freaked out on acid in the corridors.”
“I think it was really good,” says Louis. “I was a bit concerned about how it would go in a big arena, but I think they did well. Jonny Greenwood is just brilliant.”
Jamie: “Did you know that Radiohead actually own 213 guitars?’“
“No. I’m just being silly. But they are the only band I’ve seen who change guitars not only at the end of every song, but also mid-song. “Dry impressive.”
“Great. I think they’re f***ing fantastic. They just blow me away. But there’s something about arenas, they’re so impersonal. You want to just let go, but you can’t really. It didn’t overwhelm me like the Astoria show did.”
A fairly thorough thumbs up from The Maker crew, then. We feel we weathered the storm of the sick Aphex Twin and the flouncing Kelli (“She’s probably gone round to the Aphex Twin’s for a party,” ventures Mathew), tested arena cuisine, been limousined, quaffed champagne and checked out Radiohead in style.
Right, who’s next?
DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME?
MATHEW PRIEST (Dodgy)
“I first saw Radiohead at the Powerhaus in Islington very early on. I thought ‘F***in’ hell, they’re quite good actually’, because of the three guitars and they had dynamics in the music. At that time, a lot of bands were just thrashing it out. They had bits like that and the noisy songs I didn’t actually like that much. I think they played ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’, which I really liked. Then we did a benefit gig with them, after ‘Creep’, in Abingdon. I wasn’t too impressed at that stage. They sounded a bit American, almost glammy, actually. But ‘The Bends’ came out and it was incredible. At the time, I remember shouting. ‘Does no one think that sounds like U2?’ No one agreed, but I think they’ve proved it now. The track ‘Lucky’ proved to me that they were a band to be reckoned with.”
KELLI DAYTON (Sneaker Pimps)
“Even Marilyn Manson’s into them. He said. ‘All I can see is the band’, really cryptically. That was his critical opinion. All the Sneaker Pimps love Radiohead. We had ‘OK Computer’ on our tour bus and played it all the time. We only had the one copy of it, so we’d be hassling each other to get it to listen to on our Discmans. It’s one of my favourite albums. That might sound stupid, but I cried the first time I heard ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’. I think Thom really captures the essence of tragedy and although a lot of it is so very bleak, he captures the beauty of it as well. I saw Thom in a hotel in New York and I really wanted to go and say. ‘You’re the tops, man’, but I couldn’t, because I knew I‘d feel really, really stupid.”
LOUIS JONES (Warm Jets)
“I guess my first encounter with Radiohead was ‘Creep’. I hadn’t really heard of them before. I don’t particularly like the first album but ‘The Bends’ is great, just acoustic songs. The new album is really brilliant, there’s about three or four songs which I love on it. I saw them for the first time at Brixton Academy this year. I can learn a lot from them, not having to be an extrovert, but still keep attention. We’ll be playing Wembley Arena with Blur soon, so it’ll be interesting to see what it’s like tonight.”
ZOE BALL (Radio 1 Breakfast Show)
“The first track I heard of theirs was ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’, which I didn’t think was hot, but then I heard ‘Creep’ and thought ‘Yay!’ I heard ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ the other day and I was going, ‘What the f***’s this?’, and someone said Radiohead, so I was like, ‘oh right…’ I remember buying the CD and never listening to it. My favourite was when they played the fan club gig at The Astoria this year and I cried my eyes out. I know it sounds stupid, but I really was moved. When everyone in the place started singing, it was just amazing. Thom started to play ‘Nobody Does It Better’, and he got all embarrassed and stopped, but the crowd realty wanted them to play it, so they did. And he was laughing and they we’re really enjoying themselves. Which was great because he never smiles. No, I wouldn’t like to interview Radiohead because I don’t like to interview my heroes. I’d be too nervous. I’d just say realty inane things.”
JAMIE THEAKSTON (“Live & Kicking”)
“I first heard them when I used to work for a plugging company and we worked on ‘Drill’, which was their first EP. I think there was about 2,000 of them and I thought it was pretty terrible, to be honest. We’re still good friends. I think that was the only bad record they ever made. When they first released ‘Creep’ and nothing happened, Parlophone had this crisis meeting about what they were going to do and they decided to give it another go. It sounds silly now, it’s one of the all-time greatest records.
“Did I do a good job promoting ‘Drill’? I can’t remember. I can’t actually remember how it goes now. I think it had ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ on it. I don’t think many people liked it. My most showbizzy moment was when I went to see them play in Malmo, Sweden. The gig was fantastic and the next morning, I got on their private plane to go the City Airport so they could play a big awards ceremony thing. There were five Daimlers waiting for them when we got to the airport. Full on. If they hadn’t have written ‘Creep’, I think my favourite track would have to be a toss up between ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘Karma Police’. Or ‘Exit Music…’”