New songs, obsessive fans and lots of guitars
As Radiohead kick off their first UK dates in three years, NME goes behind the scenes on the most eagerly-anticipated tour of the year
“Chill. The. Fuck. Out!”, screams Thom Yorke. He’s halfway singing “My Iron Lung” at the Wolverhampton Civic Hall, and it’s all kicking off. A huge moshpit has erupted and the crowdsurfers are streaming over the barriers. It’s easy to see why the 3,000 people are getting carried away. Radiohead are on their first UK tour in three years and are previewing their next album (not due until 2007) for the first time, alongside some of their biggest hits.
Yet there’s tension in the air. The dates were thrown into doubt hours before the tour started after a show in Amsterdam was pulled due to a family bereavement. Everyone here knows it could go either way.
Still, the fans needn’t have worried. On the opening nights at the Blackpool Empress Ballroom and in Wolverhampton, classics “Planet Telex”, “The Bends” and “No Surprises” are aired alongside new tracks “Bangers N Mash” and “Arpeggi”.
The most promising thing is that after years moving into the leftfield, Radiohead returned to guitar-driven rock’n’roll.
“There’s shows have been great, “ bassist Colin Greenwood tells NME backstage in Wolverhampton. “I’ve noticed lots of new fans in the audience, and it’s good to see. I think the whole band are keen to get more new songs out there. Of the UK shows, for me the second night in Blackpool was the best, that one in particular was amazing. “
By the second night of the tour, they’d scrapped the setlist, and were picking the songs they fancied playing.
“It’s been good playing some of the songs off “The Bends”, but I feel I’ve played those enough now, “ Greenwood adds. “I wouldn’t mind if I didn’t play “Paranoid Android” for a while now – maybe save that for V Festival. “
In total, the band have played almost an album’s worth of new songs. But there’s still more to come. The current plan is to work on the tracks during soundchecks, and if they get them right, have a crack that night. There’s at least half a dozen more new songs – the likes of “Videotape”, “Down is the new Up” and “Burning” – which are likely to be played on a summer tour of America.
The US dates start on June 1 and run for the month. These gigs will give an idea of what to expect in August for V Festrival.
But Colin says there’s a few other surprises planned. “We’re talking about doing some covers too, “ he teases, before disappearing off into the night.
Here’s our guide to the tour so far…
Jonny Greenwood: "I'm playing more guitar than I ever have."
The 'Head guitarist chats to NME
NME: How are the shows going?
“I’m really enjoying it. Playing live again is something I’ve been thinking about for a eyar and three quarters. I love it.”
Which shows have been the highlight?
“The second night in Blackpool has been the best and the second Copenhagen show. I’ve no idea why. Quite often we leave the stage and one of the band thinks it’s the best we’ve played, and another hated it.”
Which songs are going down best?
“The rehearsed ones! Like “Bodysnatchers” and “Nude”. The others, we’re still changing arrangements and moving around.”
How do you have the time to work on the songs?
“We’ve very long soundchecks which we use as rehearsals and we try different arrangements, It’s great ’cos it keeps us excited.”
Are there any more new songs that you’re yet to play?
“We’ve done about half of the new songs, so there’s lots more to come. We’re going to tour in America and that’s when we’re going to try out more of the new songs. At the minute we feel like we’re warming up and remembering how to play again.”
Have you been nervous about being back on the road?
“It’s only taken a short time, already I’m moaning about the fact we’re not doing enough new songs. We’re all feeling like that, so we’re about ready to start ratcheting up and changing the ratio between old and new songs.”
How do you pick the new songs?
“There’s a point when the new songs begin to sound a bit tired, like they’ve reached their best, so we give them a break. But then there’s really old songs that we bring back and they sound fresh again.”
Will you do a greatest hits set at V?
“We’ll do the setlist a couple of hours before we play! Not everyone will be singing every word like they are on this tour, so we’ll see which old songs are sounding good on the US tour, and which ones are tired. But I’ve no idea which ones.”
What’s the plan for going back into the studio?
“We are going to go back as soon as we get time. Our big headache is always that there’s these amazing songs that Thom’s written that we have to do well enough. Our morale is always at its highest when we feel we’re putting those songs across really well.”
“Nude” has taken 10 years. How did you finally get it right?
“We realised how much a lot of our early songs were quite sparse and we were happy just to let it be bass and drums. So we went back to the beginning of the song. It took us a while, but that’s the pressure we’re under. But it’s a nice kind of pressure.”
The new songs see a return to guitar-driven rock. Is that a conscious decision?
“I’ve been playing guitars an awful lot. It’s the easiest thing to play when at home. You don’t have to plug it in and it’s always there. I’m actually playing more guitar than I ever have.”
Why fans risk being kicked out...
Digital revolution sparks new wave of bootlegging among the devoted
Demand for new Radiohead songs couldn’t be higher – which is why some fans are risking everything to get the band’s music out there.
With no release planned this year, Radiohead fans are relying on bloggers and bootleggers to record the new songs and upload them, as audio or video files.
Mark, 22, is a blogger who records and uploads Radiohead’s new songs online.
“It’s a chance for other people to hear the new stuff who can’t get to the gigs,” he says. “The high-quality file sharing is where the line crosses between the illegal stuff. “
It’s a risky business - getting into the shows and uploading the tracks – not least because Mark has to smuggle his recorder in.
“I’m a bit nervous going in, in case I get chucked out or something.” He laughs. “My recorder looks like a phone, so I’ll blag that it’s my phone if anyone asks.”
’Head superfan Adriaan Pels, the founder of fan website www.ateaseweb.com, reckons the stakes are higher than ever.
“There are a lot of high-quality bootlegs around and a lot of people recording even though security’s been upgraded,” he told NME. “I’ve seen many people getting caught at gigs. However, many bootlegs surfaced anyway. Times have changed - everyone has their hands on reasonable quality video recording gear. “
If you are interested in hearing the bootlegs, the best quality ones can be found via www.ateaseweb.com’s messageboards, while video files are often hosted on www.youtube.com.
"Meeting Radiohead has been amazing"
Willy Mason on the life on the road
“What’s amazing about the tour is the amount of crew supporting them. It’s mind-blowing. There’s only four of us and Radiohead must have three buses worth of people. It is a bit intimidating walking into such a big production – I feel like a freshman at school, but everyone has been really nice and given us advice.
“Radiohead are cool. We both have our different arts, but we’re inspired by the same sparks. We’ve had a couple of chats. I’ve met a lot of people who are hige fans of my music, but I’ve never had the experience before of meeting people who I’m a fan of and have an image of what they should be like.
“I was nervous on the opening night in Copenhagen and it took me a couple of nights to settle in. The fans have been very good though, especially that first night in Denmark. They knew a bunch of my songs already, which was a big surprise. Blackpool was a crazy place, and the second night there was a big one. That was one of the best shows.
“Meeting Radiohead has been amazing for me. To be honest, this tour has been fucking awesome. They’re so fucking good. I try to get down into the crowd every night, into the heart of it, where the energy is up high. It’s a thrill.”