The Creative Gentleman's Leisurely Tour
NME travels to Portugal, where Radiohead are bamboozling all comers, with up to 16 new ‘shagging’ songs, Ed and Jonny on drums, and a new moon promising great things on the horizon
(Presentation of the article in the NME Originals issue about Radiohead from 2003)
So what’s the new Radiohead album going to sound like? Tough call. At this stage in their twisty turny career, the only safe bet would be on expecting the unexpected. After all, where haven’t they gone before?
And yet... when Radiohead take to the stage to play a bunch of brand new songs, even ‘expecting the unexpected’ isn’t enough to prepare you for the sight of Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien ignoring their guitars for two giant tom tom drums and thumping out a glam Glitter Band beat while the rest of the group charge through a three-minute stomper. Amnesiac? A memory. Here’s the news: Radiohead have learned how to rock again. In their own special way, of course.
Radiohead have come to Lisbon to play some new songs. They like it abroad. If their 1998 film Meeting People Is Easy was an exercise in showing just how miserable flying around the world playing your favourite hits to thousands of adoring could possibly be for a rock star, maybe you caught them on a bad year.
Throughout their ten-year career, Radiohead have proved themselves to be one of the few truly international groups. ‘Creep’ was first a hit in, of all places, Israel. The early-‘90s saw America embracing them while Britain shrugged its shoulders. In 1997 they launched OK Computer with shows in Barcelona. More recently, while the caustic electronica of Kid A and Amnesiac caused ‘what the bloody hell are you up to now?’ consternation in the UK, around the rest of the world those albums stomped to the top of the charts. If Radiohead’s relationship with British life – politics, loyalty, media – has been antagonistic, abroad is where the group have often felt most at home, most free, and more able to do whatever they like.
For the next three weeks then, Radiohead will travel around Portugal and Spain playing live. The plan is to try out 16 new songs they’ve written, find out which ones they like best, find out which ones the audiences like best and then go and record them. Easy. You wonder why, through the famously torturous recording sessions for The Bends and OK Computer, they made life so difficult for themselves (and, ho ho, with Kid A and Amnesiac, so difficult for us). But, as we’ll see, this is a whole new Radiohead we’re dealing with.
“We’ve earned our right to do this,” Thom Yorke will say in the wee small hours of the morning, two days later, clutching a local beer to his half-beard. “With OK Computer they pushed and pushed us around the world – ‘One more gig here, one more gig there’. Now we get to play nice shows in nice places in Europe.”
“It’s the Creative Gentleman’s Leisurely Tour,” agrees bass player Colin Greenwood. “You know, Panama hat, diary, soaking up the culture as you go along.”
“Why Portugal?” snorts Thom. “Don’t ask me. It was Ed’s idea.” The Coliseu De Lisboa is the venue that guitarist Ed O’Brien chose to start this jaunt and, frankly, who can blame him? In the heart of Lisbon’s cobbled centre, it’s a beautiful, 12th century, five-tiered indoor amphitheatre. Colin is so enthusiastic about the venue’s history, he can barely contain himself. “It’s magnificent. They had elephants in here, you know.”
At 5pm on a muggy Monday afternoon, the elephants have long since packed their trunks. Instead, a mostly teenage crowd of fans start to gather outside. Although Radiohead won’t play for another five hours, the fans sit on the cobbled pavement, patiently smoking cigarettes and eating popcorn. Nobody gets horribly drunk, nobody starts chucking beer about and the toilets remain casualty-free. Oasis at Finsbury Park it’s not.
Having stretched the definition of rock to snapping point through OK Computer (‘Paranoid Android’ – six-and-a-half minutes long, no chorus, three unrelated musical sections) to Kid A (‘In Limbo’ – made-up chords, strange time signatures) to Amnesiac (‘Dollars And Cents’ – gibberish meltdown), in two interviews in 2001, Thom Yorke offered a few clues to Radiohead post-Amnesiac: that he “missed” the sound of guitars but that “so-called commercial melodies (were like) being besieged by a wasp; you just want (them) to go away”.
When the house lights go down and Ed and Jonny start banging their tom toms to first newie ‘There There’, it’s clear that it’s the simplest, most direct thing Radiohead have done in years. Propelled along by its voodoo beat, the chorus goes, “just ‘cos you feel it/ doesn’t mean it’s real". It’s great.
“We thought it should be, ‘They’re back!’” Colin Greenwood will say after the show. “We thought it might be a bit cheesy with two drummers, like (‘80s soul-punks) The Redskins... but it’s cool.”
If the song is instant sunshine itself, it’s nothing compared to the joy beaming out from the band. Colin pogos up and down, Ed and Thom grin daft ‘look at us!’ grins, Jonny dances about and Phil Selway makes up for having to sit behind the drums by wearing a shirt so loud its label should read ‘Stag Weekends Only’.
This, apparently, is the new, energised Radiohead. Radiohead Mk6 (at the very least). They’re fitter, happier, more reductive: the nine new songs they premiere on the opening night are way more stripped-back than what’s gone before. Played almost entirely on bass, guitars and drums, they lack the drum machine shenanigans of, say, ‘Idioteque’ or the Pink Floyd keyboard wash of ‘The Tourist’. All of them sound as out of place on Kid A as anything off Kid A would on The Bends.
Though Radiohead have 16 songs rehearsed and ready to play, they plan to perform just a handful each night. To keep things interesting, they’ll move them about as they see fit. Tonight they split the show into two. First, it’s eight new songs. Then there’s a 20-minute interval. Then it’s back on for 18 songs the audience know. By the second night it’s a plan that’s been scrapped. At two-and-a-half hours the show is too long, and Thom has lost patience with the interval idea.
“It’s like going to the fucking theatre, having an interval,” he says. “And it’s bloody weird going off after eight songs.”
But, back onstage on the first night, the mood remains insanely chipper. ‘Scatterbrain’ has a simple guitar coda reminiscent of The Smiths’ ‘Back To The Old House’: short, bitter and featuring Thom a-prancing and a-preening for the audience. Three-minute rocket ‘Up (On The Ladder)’ finds Thom revving up his Ian Curtis-goes-to-Trade dance, features a lovely up-and-down bass guitar wiggle and could be Britpop if they hadn’t stuck the whole thing through a funny filter.
The piano gets wheeled on for next song, ‘We Suck Young Blood’. Thom trips over it, goofs for the audience and asks the band “Who starts this? Oh, me.” It’s somewhere near Nick Cave’s ‘The Ship Song’ sung falsetto and featuring a 30-second jazz drum break near the end. While it could possibly be sent home from a funeral for being too gloomy – “Are you sick?/ Are you worried?/ Are you begging for a break?” – the gothic effect is undercut by Colin strutting up and down the stage, clearly having the time of his life.
Next, ‘I Will’ is the closest relation to The Bends-era Radiohead, most notably ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’. It’s two-and-a-half minutes long and showcases some wonderful vocal gymnastics from Thom. Shorter still is ‘Sail To The Moon’ which starts with a delayed riff played through from Ed’s pedals. Things go bananas for the best new song of the night, ‘Myxomatosis’. Built around a crunchy guitar riff, it’s a creepy pop thumper up there with R Dean Taylor’s ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’. Thom sings from a lyric sheet perched on a music stand and and plays a tiny, round-the-neck Yamaha keyboard.
‘A Punch Up At A Wedding’ is the last song in the first half. It combines a slow handclap drumbeat with Thom playing repeated house chords on the piano. At seven minutes, it’s their longest new tune and ends with Thom screaming his lungs out. The second ‘hits’ section includes ‘I Could Be Wrong’ [sic], ‘Karma Police’, ‘Morning Bell’, ‘Paranoid Android’, ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’, ‘The Bends’, plus legendary ‘lost’ single ‘Lift’. During ‘Everything In Its Right Place’, Thom climbs down from the stage and shakes hands with as many people in the front row as he can.
NME: How are you going to judge whether a new song is “working"?
Thom Yorke: "If a song works really well then we won’t play it the next night. If people respond well to it, then we’ve tried it out. We don’t want to get bored. That’s not such good news for the audience, but (filthy laugh)
The last time you tried out lots of new material live it was on Alanis Morissette fans, pre-OK Computer.
"That was great. We were supporting her in these sheds all over northwest America. We did a set of all new stuff. You had all these good ol’ boys in the audience thinking ‘(Crosses arms, looks suspicious)
Hmmmm...’ Then we’d go, ‘This is an old one’ and do ‘High And Dry’. That was the only old song."
Was it easy to get these new songs to this stage?
"Was it easy? No. The nine weeks’ rehearsal before these shows was not easy. It’s easy now. But we all had six months off (between touring Kid A/ Amnesiac) which is the longest we’ve ever had off. We were sending tapes to each other with ideas (for songs). Which is how we did OK Computer."
Are you optimistic about going back into the studio? It’s driven you to distraction before...
"Well, the idea is not to use any computers on this record. (Mirthless laugh)
Ha! We’ll see how long that lasts."
With Kid A and Amnesiac, you wouldn’t let the rest of the band see any of your lyrics. They said that made writing the music really hard. Did you let them see them this time?
Last year you said that your ambition was to make a record that “makes you want to have sex”. Is this it?
Yeah! Definitely. Too right we’re making a shagging record."
Are you sure? Some of these songs sound, um, a bit off-putting...
"I think so. Some of the rhythms are definitely for shagging. If you like to shag very, very slowly. At 80bpm."
After the show, Radiohead are triumphant. “I love everybody, you know?” beams Colin over his Caipirinha. “Thom just said, ‘If you fuck up, don’t worry. It’s not Madison Square Garden. We’re here to enjoy ourselves.’”
Colin talks of their plans for the new album. “We fly to LA at the end of August. (Long-time producer) Nigel Godrich rents a space there. We’re going to spend two weeks working. The plan is like with OK Computer – we’ll have loads of songs we know and it’ll just be (mimes dumping a pile of books on the table)... there!”
He thinks about this: “It means we’ll be in America for September 11. Which will be interesting.”
They hope to release the new LP, their sixth studio album, in March next year. There’s a discussion about the new songs. Since Thom didn’t introduce most of them onstage, people are curious about the titles. Have they really called a song ‘A Punch Up At A Wedding’? They have. Thom finds the fuss over the titles funny. “I should have handed out lyric sheets to the audience,” he says, which seems like such a terribly un-Radiohead thing to do (for a band who, as ‘artists’, hate the idea of giving anything away for fear it will spirit the ‘art’ itself into nothingness) that we assume it’s a joke. But the next afternoon, the previous night’s setlist, plus the lyrics to ‘Myxomatosis’ are posted under NME’s hotel door. These are the first two verses:
“The mongrel cat came home/ Holding half a head/ Proceeded to show it off/ To all his new-found friends/ He said I been where I liked/ I slept with who I liked/ She ate me up for breakfast/ And screwed me in a vice/ But now I don’t know why I feel so tongue tied
I sat in the cupboard/ And wrote it down neat/ They were cheering and waving/ Cheering and waving/ Twitching and salivating like with Myxomatosis/ But it got edited fucked up/ Strangled beaten up/ Used in a photo in Time magazine/ Buried in a burning black hole in Devon/ And I don’t know why I feel so tongue-tied/ I don’t know why I feel so skinned alive”
The following night – two of three at the Coliseu De Lisboa – sees Radiohead dispense with the interval, as promised. Instead of the clean break between material, the old and the new are mixed together. They do ‘There There’, ‘Scatterbrain’, ‘Sail To The Moon’, ‘A Punch Up At A Wedding’, ‘Myxomatosis’, ‘We Suck Young Blood’ plus three completely new songs: ‘Wolf From The Door’, ‘Sit Down, Stand Up’ and ‘Go To Sleep’. ‘Wolf From The Door’ features a spidery guitar line from Ed and has Thom struggling to cram all his words in. ‘Sit Down, Stand Up’ starts with a simple keyboard motif, before Jonny dumps a load of sampled noises over the top, slowly speeding the drums up on his bank of gizmos until the bpm is well over ‘slow shag’. It ends with Thom shouting “Raindrops!/ Raindrops!/ Raindrops!” over and over. It’s the fastest thing they’ve ever done and goes down so well, Thom deems it unnecessary for inclusion in any upcoming sets. By contrast, ‘Go To Sleep’ has Jonny, Thom and Ed chiming away on their guitars and is the sort of Rickenbacker loveliness epitomised by REM.
Thom Yorke thinks a full moon brings him luck. He slumps in an armchair on the 30th floor of his hotel, baggy CND-badged jacket hanging off his tiny limbs, and looks up at the sky.
“I’m not joking,” he says. “Every time there’s a full moon, something good happens. Not finding money, or anything like that. Creative things.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” he says. Then he realises what he’s saying. “What a wanker!”
Radiohead came offstage some hours ago, and they’re still trying to wind down. Colin searches his pocket for weed, to no avail. Phil Selway walks drunkenly into a chair and Ed is nowhere to be seen. Earlier, Thom was sat at the hotel’s baby grand piano, playing more to himself than anyone else. In a few minutes, a debate about the funding of the BBC will start. It will lead Thom to declare, “Radio 4: The Today Programme, World At One... John Humphrys. He’s a man you can trust. That’s all I listen to now. I haven’t listened to any techno for ages.”
Subterranean Homesick Aliens
How five bookish Middle Englanders became the world's most vital band.
They are the world's most unlikely rock megastars, small-town bookworms with a squirming revulsion for the mechanics of fame and the complacent careerism of their say-nothing peers. And yet, ten years after their first singles were slated and celebrated in the pages of NME, Radiohead remain one of the world’s most provocative, passionate and progressive bands. No other British group inspires such violent extremes of love and hatred, from NMEmail to the caustic comments of platinum-selling rivals.
Last week the Oxford quintet returned to the road in Europe, airing top-secret new songs from their sixth studio album. Until the band took the stage, nobody knew how they would sound. Would Radiohead 2002 be space jazz or avant-noise opera? Would Thom Yorke slash his wrists or launch a poisonous attack on the media, Tony Blair and global capitalism? Would Jonny Greenwood torch his guitar in a grand final ritual of post-rock subversion?
Only one thing is clear: Radiohead remain a hard act to top, a potent evolutionary force cleaning the scum from rock’s stagnant gene pool. And even a decade on, who among the current crop of retro-hipsters and brittle copycats has even a fraction of the guts and brains to knock Thom off his art-punk battlements? Even if you hate the ‘Head, can you actually deny that 21st century music urgently needs them? On these pages we retrace the long journey from provincial misfits to the world’s most vital band in 2002.
Oxford is not a rock’n’roll town. Leafy and literary, it is an island of history, heritage and highbrow culture. The sort of collegiate backwater that future rock gods escape from, change their accents, cover their tracks and never return. But not Radiohead – they stayed in Oxford, and used it as unlikely rocket fuel for their blowtorch anthems of small-town self-loathing, sexual nausea and cathartic rage.
It is perhaps significant that Radiohead still keep their permanent homes in Oxford, a short but symbolic distance from London and its media-saturated hotspots. This sedate Middle England city remains a living map of the band’s landmark early years, right back to the music room at posh Abingdon School where they met and shared their illicit passion for Joy Division, The Smiths and The Pixies. Then came the shared semi on Ridgefield Road where the unsigned quintet conducted their shambolic early rehearsals on Fridays – hence their early name, On A Friday.
A short walk away lies the Jericho Tavern, where On A Friday’s incendiary shows over the summer of 1991 helped secure a management contract and a record deal. And it was back to Oxford that the band returned to celebrate after signing with EMI in December that year. Alas, the heavens opened and the band managed to lose each other in town. “It was a typical Radiohead day,” says Colin Greenwood.
Just outside Oxford, in the sleepy hamlet of Sutton Courtenay, is the Courtyard studio complex run by the band’s managers Chris Hufford and Bryce Edge. It was here that most of their debut album, Pablo Honey, was recorded. Most significant was ‘Creep’, a lacerating anthem of self-loathing inspired by an untouchable beauty Thom knew on Oxford’s social scene, which went on to become a Top Ten UK single and a massive global hit. On its second release, in September 1993, NME hailed a landmark tune with “clout, class and truth proudly branded on its forearm”.
‘Creep’ made Radiohead into global rock icons, but also potential one-hit wonders. In early 1994, Thom Yorke and his girlfriend Rachel moved into a detached house in the Oxford suburb of Headington. The singer christened his new home “the house that ‘Creep’ built”.
Radiohead could still have been Oxford boys made good after ‘Creep’ and Pablo Honey. In September 1994, NME wondered: “Will Radiohead ever, ever, ever do anything one tenth as insanely wonderful as ‘Creep’ again?” Meanwhile, Thom grew to despise the song which had made him a Kurt-style icon of self-hatred, rechristening it ‘Crap’. Even today, he rarely discusses or performs it.
But he made an exception for the hometown crowd at Radiohead’s South Park mega-show last summer, just a stone’s throw away from the modest house he bought seven years before, fearing his rock career was over. As ever, Oxford showered hysterical applause on their unlikely local heroes.
Martyrdom and Madness
Melancholy and gloomy intensity have long been Radiohead hallmarks, but Thom Yorke was incensed when the band’s doom-laden second album saw him held up in some quarters as a potential rock’n’roll martyr to rival Kurt Cobain and Richey Manic. As Craig Nicholls is discovering, suicide is never really an attractive long-term career option.
Recorded in between bust-ups and breakdowns, with their American record label on the verge of dropping the band, The Bends was a monumental slab of modernist rock miles ahead of the gristly Brit-grunge of Pablo Honey. Released in March ’95, NME gave the album 9/10, branding it “the consummate, all-encompassing, continent-straddling ‘90s rock record”.
But, as with Cobain, Thom’s bilious lyrics became increasingly fixated on illness and nausea, and his onstage behaviour began to reflect his sickly state. Before playing London’s Astoria on May ’94, the singer told NME: “I’m fucking ill and physically fucked and mentally I’ve had enough.”
A prestigious summer tour in 1995 supporting REM showed Radiohead a more positive way to deal with fame. Meeting Michael Stipe, Yorke says, taught him that “it is possible to do more than two albums, and to like the idea of sticking around. Learning to forget how you did something and not trying to compete with yourself. It’s a cool thing, just learning to not have to fight and argue with yourself all the time.”
But, despite all of Thom’s coping mechanisms, depression continues to dog him today. “It’s not particularly destructive, it’s not particularly bad,” he told NME last year. “Lots of people are much worse – lots of people can’t leave the house. They’ve got no idea why, maybe they never will find out why. The drugs they get given don’t work, and all the therapy is completely pointless.”
Even the most recent Radiohead albums, Kid A and Amnesiac, were recorded between bouts of hallucination and paranoia. But don’t mistake Yorke for a sacrificial victim. “A lot of creative people hear voices, a lot of creative people have crazy thoughts, a lot of creative people want to jump off bridges,” he argues. “So fucking what...?”
Right from their beginning, Radiohead have enjoyed fractious relations with the music press. This type of on-off vendetta often comes about because most big bands are surrounded by salaried sycophants whose jobs depend on keeping their paymasters happy. The frank opinions of free-thinking journalists can come as a nasty shock.
In fairness, NME was sometimes mercilessly scathing of the band’s early efforts, labelling them a “pitiful, lily-livered excuse for a rock’n’roll group” in late-1992. But it was a December ’95 news report headlined “Thommy’s Temper Tantrum”, about the singer’s onstage breakdown in Munich, that finally sent Yorke over the edge. He refused to speak to the paper for over five years, protesting that “I’m sure the NME don’t give a fuck, but what they wrote in that piece hurt me more than anything else anyone has ever written about me.”
Ironically, this media freeze-out coincided with Radiohead’s most critically adored album to date, OK Computer. Recorded by Nigel Godrich over several painstaking months in various locations, this epochal work finally arrived in June 1997. Laying down a blueprint for 21st century rock, it saw the band transcend conventional pop forms to create a futuristic collage of textured breakbeats, techno-classical symphonies and pre-millennial tension.
After lauding the “ravishingly over-ambitious” six-minute single ‘Paranoid Android’, NME awarded the chart-topping OK Computer a rare-as-platinum 10/10 score, hailing “one of the greatest albums in living memory – and one that distances Radiohead from their peers by an interstellar mile”. But when the number four single ‘No Surprises’ arrived in January 1998, NME still called it the album’s “most self-pitying, miserablist low point” and printed the telephone number of the Samaritans. Cheeky.
OK Computer became a worldwide phenomenon, spawning a raft of hits and earning a Mercury Music Prize nomination. But by his own admission Thom, inundated with hysterical acclaim, became an unbearable control freak. “I created a climate of fear, the same way Stalin did,” he admitted last year. “I was very paranoid that things would get taken away from me. It was to do with being under massive amounts of pressure. I was so uptight about not getting my own way.”
But if OK Computer almost split Radiohead, it also closed their first chapter and allowed them to return to the musical drawing board. The foundations were laid for fresh sounds and more mellow, democratic working methods. By May 2001, Thom was even ready to bury the hatchet with NME. “I just got sick of holding grudges basically,” he shrugged after finally agreeing to an interview. “Enough’s enough.”
Post-rock Protest Songs
Since the new millennium dawned, Radiohead have tempered personal angst with social activism. Although some lyrics on OK Computer had a political dimension, it was not until the late-‘90s that Thom began to use his celebrity clout to help boost anti-poverty campaigns such as Drop The Debt and Jubilee 2000, picketing the G8 summit and attending May Day marches.
Tapping into a new wave of youthful activism celebrated in Naomi Klein’s provocative anti-globalisation handbook No Logo, Radiohead toured in 2000 under a big tent free from advertising logos. Klein has since become friendly with the band but says: “My personal influence on Radiohead has been greatly exaggerated. The band had these political ideas long before reading my book, but until a couple of years ago there was less going on politically to tap into.”
As their political message sharpened, however, Radiohead’s music turned even more cryptic. Their fourth album, Kid A, an artfully avant-garde collage of deconstructed post-rock and electro-ambient tone poems, arrived in October 2000 with no singles and minimal promotion. In a cautiously positive 7/10 review, NME noted: “In a desire to quash the rampant air of significance suffusing their every movement and utterance, they’ve rather sold short the essence of their art.”
And yet, despite being seen in some quarters as a self-defeating climbdown from the pressures of success, Kid A topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic. All of which could be dismissed as a freak act of mass brand loyalty, except that the record’s equally challenging sister album Amnesiac was launched to similar success in June 2001, incorporating jazz, machine noise and a wearily sarcastic attack on Tony Blair. Amnesiac was praised in an 8/10 NME review which for its “blinking circuitry and vocal distortions” and “bile that could burn through steel”.
Having proved that proven major label chart acts can be both politically outspoken and musically adventurous, Radiohead continue to improvise their own future. Just this year, the band donated a rare video for ‘Motion Picture Soundtrack’ to the Friends Of The Earth website. As Thom writes on the site: “It’s not good enough to preach about the trickle-down effect of economic growth if your house is being washed away, your child has skin cancer, you can’t get clean water and the weather is changing beyond recognition forever.” Imagine a fuzzy electronic pulse behind those cheery words and you have a fair approximation of Radiohead in the 21st century.
These days Radiohead are a uniquely unpredictable force. They release albums in clusters, record when the mood takes them and tour when they choose rather than chaining themselves to the mega-band treadmill. And for much of the next few weeks, they will be continuing to ‘road test’ new songs at low-key shows in Spain and Portugal. As ever, plotting their own path on their own terms. Which is why, even after a decade of making records, Radiohead probably matter more today than ever. Of all their peers, only they have consistently pushed the musical and political agenda, setting high standards for any serious young contenders.
Fellow veterans like Primal Scream may share a similar maverick spirit, while a new generation of post-‘Head rockers such as Muse and Coldplay occasionally summon up equally fiery demons. But only Radiohead seem to have developed the capacity for total, passionate, exhilarating self-reinvention. Have you the slightest idea what their next album will sound like? Us neither. Isn’t that fantastic?
Everything In Its Right Place
Ten key Radiohead gigs
1 The Venue, Oxford, February 1992
Performing as On A Friday in what would later become The Zodiac, they receive their first plaudits from NME, which declares that they display “astonishing intensity”.
Key song: ‘Stop Whispering”
2 Oxford South Park, July 7, 2001
The band host a festival in their own backyard. NME describes Radiohead as “godlike” despite the thrashing rain during an encore of ‘Creep’. Beck, Sigur Ros, Supergrass and Humphrey Lyttleton are also along for the brilliant ride.
Key song: ‘Pyramid Song’
3 Glastonbury, June 28, 1997
The moment that proves what NME has long suggested – that they are destined to be the biggest band in the world. Furthermore, they make 100,000 people forget they are in the most miserable, mud-sodden place on Earth.
Key song: ‘Paranoid Android’ (“rain down”, indeed)
4 Roseland Ballroom, New York, October 11, 2000
Inspiring the biggest ever influx of emails to NME, as ticketless fans gnash their teeth, this show fulfils all US fans’ expectations as Thom Yorke delivers one of the performances of his life.
Key song: ‘Morning Bell’
5 Riem Airport, Munich, November 25, 1995
A show which goes ahead despite Thom’s ill health; he blacks out during ‘Creep’. “I just got really fucking freaked out,” he says later. “I got tunnel vision, I threw stuff around and ended up with blood all over my face. I cried for two hours afterwards.”
Key song: ‘Creep’
6 Theatre Antique, Arles, June 13, 2000
From the site of an ancient Roman amphitheatre they unveil the songs that will become Kid A and Amnesiac. NME.COM says: “The new songs suggest that the forthcoming album will be nothing short of magnificent.”
Key song: ‘Knives Out’
7 Milton Keynes Bowl (supporting REM), July 30, 1995
Here, it could be argued, is where the baton of greatest rock band in the world is passed to Yorke by Stipe, who as early as 1993 had declared: “Radiohead are so good they scare me.”
Key song: ‘Just’
8 T In The Park, July 13, 1996
A faultless performance at their last UK show before they disappear to record OK Computer. Hinting at the greatness to follow, ‘Lucky’ reduces grown men to tears.
Key song: ‘Lucky’
9 The Astoria, London, September 3, 1997
A fan club-only show which serves to highlight the astonishing number of B-sides that should be on an album. From ‘Banana Co’ through to ‘Maquiladora’, it underlines that Radiohead are unrivalled in the quality of their single releases.
Key song: ‘Talk Show Host’
10 BBC Television Centre, London, June 9, 2001
The Later With Jools Holland special that launches Amnesiac and includes (sadly, never to be broadcast) a stunning interpretation of Neil Young’s ‘Cinnamon Girl’, so rocking that it underlines the new-found love of guitars.
Key song: ‘Cinnamon Girl’
Pablo Honey (1993)
Twenty years of pre-fame existence rush-recorded into an uneven grunge-rock debut with overly polished production. Plenty of pent-up potential but few real anthems besides ‘Creep'. (6/10)
The Bends (1995)
Radiohead find their voice on this slow-burning collections of doomy lullabies and heavily treated guitars, including complaint-rock classics ‘Fake Plastic Trees’ and ‘Street Spirit (Fade Out)’. Initially shunned by America but five Top 30 hits in Britain. (8/10)
OK Computer (1997)
A symphony of travel sickness and millennial nausea fusing trip-hop rhythms, Gregorian chants, processed guitar shimmers and barely a duff note. Showered with acclaim and awards, it contains shimmering cosmic beauties ‘Karma Police’ and ‘No Surprises’. (10/10)
Kid A (2000)
Moves beyond the architectural majesty of OK Computer into a sci-fi netherworld of Aphex-old drones, psychedelic textures and fractal rhythms. Baffles some old-school fans, but radically reinvents Radiohead for the new millennium. (7/10)
A companion piece to Kid A recorded over the same period. Amnesiac adds slightly more melodic elements to the hermetically sealed alienation of its predecessor. Spectral and unsettling, but incorporating Smiths-ian guitar ballads and even a dash of Dixieland jazz. (8/10)