GO WIRED IN THE COUNTRY
So just how are RADIOHEAD going to transport that hi-tech album ‘OK Computer’ down to Worthy Farm? STUART BAILIE finds out.
“Duurn! Derr-derrr da-duur, da-duuurn!” goes Jonny Greenwood’s guitar line, lashing through the Barcelona air in late May 1997. The audience goes suitably barmy, pleased that Britain’s premier rock combo are launching a new show in such style. Possibly, they’re also glad that ‘Planet Telex’ has this extra line now, rifling over the normally spacious tune.
But is it a new Radiohead line or an outrageous steal from somebody else? Doesn’t it sound a lot like something from The Fall’s ‘Bend Sinister’ album? And why is Craig Scanlon from the aforementioned band sitting in the audience, with his mates Radcliffe and Lard, looking rather pleased with himself?
Basically, Jonny is playing a ‘homage’ to The Fall in front of thousands of Spaniards who have, poor souls, never heard of Mark E Smith. It’s a private thing between the two Greenwood brothers since Colin, the eldest, was once a huge Fall fan, and is thrilled that the longstanding Manc guitarist has come to see them play.
Colin met the guy earlier, and Craig had joked about his employment with the band. “Fourteen years in The Fall – people get less for murder these days.” Craig then asked Radiohead if they would play ‘Creep’ for him. Normally Radiohead avoid this song at all costs, but since it was requested by a bloke they respected, how could they refuse?
There are several reasons for mentioning this in the context of Radiohead’s headlining show at Glastonbury. To start with, the band have a sense of occasion which ensures us that something utterly remarkable will accompany their first English date since the head-bomb of their ‘OK Computer’ album arrived. Also, this is a famously unpredictable band, who will perform odd songs at a whim, who have a scary, chequered reputation as a live act.
Example one: back in 1993, Radiohead chose to encore with a terrible version of the Glen Campbell classic, ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’.
Apparently, they sympathised deeply with the lyric, “there’s a load of compromisin’ on the road to my horizon”. Hmmm.
Example two: at the end of the 1995 ‘Monster’ tour, supporting REM, Thom Yorke and his mates race onstage during the headliners’ set, surprising Michael Stipe by the fact that they were dressed up as red lanterns.
Example three: September 1996 and Radiohead are touring with Alanis Morissette, who likes the band plenty, and even performed ‘Creep’ live, before they joined the tour. The Oxford boys return the compliment by playing a ten-minute version of single, ‘Paranoid Android’, complete with a wiggy organ section, terrorising the young impressionable audiences, just because they could.
And the prospects for Glasto 1997? Don’t waste your time guessing.
SO WAS it hard getting into mental and physical shape for the 1997 onslaught?
Phil Selway: “It’s been a long time for us. It was the longest we haven’t played since we were signed.”
Ed O’Brien: “That was the weirdest, as we came into rehearsals two months ago and stood there, looking around. It was odd for the first hour and then there’s a wave of relief. You remember all that old stuff: jumpers for goalposts, tennis rackets for guitars and all that that’s why we started in the first place.”
Colin: “And if we couldn’t hold a tune together after touring ‘The Bends’ for two years, then I think we’d be a bunch of sad f---ers, really.”
Still, Radiohead and the British festival circuit have had a difficult relationship in the past. The band had to call off their ‘93 Reading show because Thom was unwell.
“The morning of the Reading gig,” he remembered afterwards, “I couldn’t say anything and Rachel, my girlfriend, was on the phone, ringing up our manager, saying, ‘He can’t speak!’. I’m fully aware that the reason a lot of people thought we didn’t do Reading was that I was too shit-scared. And I’m sure that part of it was that I was so scared that my voice just collapsed. I went to see a Harley Street specialist the next week and he felt my neck and it was just like concrete.
“My problem for a while was that I felt all the stuff that people were throwing at us too deeply, which is really crazy. If you believe all those things, you’re f---ing lost. The verse of ‘My Iron Lung’ was pretty much written on the day I couldn’t go to the gig.”
So were Radiohead able to shake off the jinx at the same festival in 1994? Well, no, actually. The next year, they confounded the Reading crowd by playing lots of songs off ‘The Bends’ – way before the record was released and people knew any of the songs!
Ed: “Our managers disowned us, that day, they were saying, ‘Radiohead? Never heard of them. We manage a band called Supergrass’. But that was part of it, we were allowed to make mistakes.”
Colin: “So Glastonbury (in 1995) was cool because our previous experience of festivals had not been good. We’d done Reading the year before and hated it.”
So what are the band’s fond memories of Glastonbury?
“I went there as a punter in 1990,” says Ed. “It was amazing. I was a huge Happy Mondays fan and they were headlining on the Friday night at the Pyramid Stage.
“I arrived on the Thursday night. It was two in the morning and all could see were all these campfires in the distance and choppers overhead – it was like something out of Apocalypse Now. Some f---ing drug-crazed guy came up and tried to peddle some acid to me, I wasn’t interested – I just wanted to put my f---ing tent up. It was a nightmare.
“I was gutted because Happy Mondays were atrocious. But the music on the Saturday was religious. Sinead O’Conner was just unbelievable. When she did ‘Nothing Compares 2 U’, it was glorious.
“I always go on to the rest of the band about The Cure headlining on the Saturday – they were phenomenal. When the band works there, it’s for an important reason. And the reason that Happy Mondays didn’t was that Manchester took over the place – all that ‘0161 in the area’ stuff. The Cure and Sinead were so amazing because they provided that soundtrack for your great experience. They weren’t imposing themselves on you saying, ‘This is our gig’ – which the Mondays did. It was so egotistical the way they presented themselves.”
Phil: “The only time I’ve ever been was the last time that we played. I have to admit. I’d never been to a festival until we played one. I like Glastonbury out of all the festivals, ‘cos there’s a sense of it being an event, and the music is secondary to that.”
Colin: “After the problems at Reading Festival, we’d arranged Glastonbury like a bank job, with a quick getaway, ‘cos we thought it was gonna suck. Although Ed was the dissenting voice ‘cos he’d had a good time there in the past. We turned up and we STAYED, because it was fantastic.”
Ed: “Actually, I had a terrible time as a punter. I took something that was very bad. It was awful.”
Jonny: “We’re kind of at the stage when we can pick and chose the festivals that we do. Which is horribly privileged. So we’re able to go, ‘Oh Pink Pop’s great, let’s do that one’. But Glastonbury’s the great British festival.
“As a punter, I’ve only ever been to Reading. But Glastonbury is unique in the sense that it’s the only festival where you meet people and say, ‘What bands have you seen?’. And they say, ‘None – I’m not here to see bands’. You’re just providing music for all the excesses of happiness and drugs and drunkenness that’s going on. Which is what it’s about, isn’t it?
“You get American bands coming over and doing 50 festivals; everywhere from Switzerland to Spain, and they just make a packet. They sound rubbish and it’s money-making, really. But at Glastonbury, you go over a hill and around a comer and you can’t even hear the music, let atone see the stage. That’s what it’s about.”
Despite the threats from Ocean Colour Scene, who reckon they may “blow Radiohead off” at Glastonbury, there’s a powerful chance that this occasion may be one of Thom Yorke’s defining moments.
You could feel the intent when he sang ‘Paranoid Android’ on Later With Jools Holland, causing the normally blasé presenter to shout, “bloody marvellous!” when it ended. That same promise was evident from the footage of the Barcelona shows, when the new songs rocked and the band were manifestly in charge of their rangy, vapourous music.
And there was a final tremor of this backstage at the New York Tibetan Freedom Concert, when everyone was congratulating the band for their great new songs and the way in which they’d captivated the crowd with so many slow, mesmeric tunes. The enthusiasm infected bassist, CoIin, who looked to the future for a moment, and realised that it was potentially ace.
“You know, when we play Glastonbury this year,” he enthused, “I think it’s going to be amazing.”