Mark Radcliffe

Radiohead, BBC Radio Theatre, London, 02-04-08

I consume music, every single day. It informs me and I feed from it. When a friend won Radiohead tickets and agreed to take me a sense of guilt set in. I didn't deserve this, there are real hardcore fans who have followed this band since day 1 who weren't able to go. I was a moderate fan, there was no embellishing that. I used to listen to the Mark Radcliffe show on Radio 1 in the early and mid 90s. He was a bit of a hero to me - a Mancunian DJ who refused to move to London, instead creating his magnificent 10pm show, with co-host Marc Riley (formerly of The Fall), from the BBC building on Oxford Road. Bands respected him and would happily travel up north to do sessions and interviews. He knew his stuff and he was a long-suffering City fan which only endeared me to him more. I saw him introduce Bowie on stage twice in 2002. Imagine my surprise when he appeared to introduce the band last night - I had to talk to him after the gig, tell him how I listened to him when I was younger. I had to shake his hand, which was the perfect ending to a rather unbelievable night.

As I've said, I felt some twinge of guilt that I had been allowed entry while some true fans had missed out - not that I haven't missed out on plenty of gigs I deserved to be at, most notably the recent Zeppelin reunion. Then I realised that my true love and appreciation of music, which cuts deep, meant I deserved my place at the BBC Radio Theatre. I knew exactly how lucky I was. We arrived and, as always with the BBC, spent an eternity getting through the door. I had thought the BBC had a certain system - as you entered your ticket was given a sticker with a number. This had happened at the Boosh filming the other week. They called out the numbers in groups, like when you board a plane - "People with tickets numbered 0-30 make your way forward". That kind of thing. It seems fairer. My ticket was 110, I was convinced the numbers would be called out in order, as had happened with the squealing Boosh fans who, I now realised, are harder to wrangle than a set of well behaved, but excited, Radiohead fans. After a quick trip to the loo we couldn't get back to our place in the overcrowded, tiny, waiting area so we just settled by the door. Some irate fans said they had been there for hours and were getting in first and I said I thought the BBC system was to call people in by the stickers - otherwise why put numbered stickers on there if you're not going to use the numbers?

I have a Bowie performance, his 2000 Glastonbury warm-up, recorded at the Radio Theatre. I don't know how they do it but the Beeb make their venues look huge even when, especially when, they are very small. The announcement to enter the theatre came and we walked calmly to the studio, round the brand new winding corridors. No-one was stopping us and arranging us by ticket order. As we walked into the tiny theatre I was struck by how much bigger it looked for the Bowie show. And then I realised that we were simply walking in, right to the front fucking row. Yes, one foot after the other and there we were - somehow, inexplicably, outrageously, front and centre. Two feet from the equipment filled stage. Three feet from the microphone. Was this real? Could I see one of the biggest bands on earth, a band who people stand in stadia to see, a band who headline Glastonbury with ease, as if they were playing a gig in my living room. Allison and I looked at each other openmouthed. How had this happened to us?! The gorgeous long haired indie kid to my left beamed at me and I beamed back at him. This was ridiculous, how could I have deserved this?

My eyes were wide open, taking in all the detail - the mountain of amps and effects racks, the row of guitars, the, smaller than I expected, drumkit and, soon enough, Radcliffe was on the one foot high stage introducing the band and out they walked, all boyish sneakers and tatty T shirts. Only Ed, handsome like a catalogue model, wore clothes that looked like they cost more than a tenner. The famed floppy Jonny fringe, the slightly hunched form of bassist Colin, the inscrutable visage of drummer Phil and finally, iconically, the awkward, twitchy, bedraggled Thom. They crashed into the first of seven tracks from In Rainbows, the fast and insistent Bodysnatchers. None of this felt real. I could hear the guitar coming out of the monitor within touching distance as the bass throbbed, with perfect clarity, through the room. My mind was racing - I must take this in, I was thinking. With no photos allowed the image of them in front of me was burning itself into my mind. This would never happen again to me. I have never been front row centre for a gig in my life, let alone one that was in the presence of one of the greatest bands on earth.

My eyes wandered all over the stage. They are about music, not drawing attention with daft outfits or mic-lead-twirling singers. This allows you to admire the sheer craft on show, the unspoken communication between these five men. It felt like I could not just hear them as a collective, hear the music as one entity, but see all of them at the same time. This is the 21st century, he sang. I was desperate to drink this in. As they started the achingly beautiful Nude I closed my eyes and allowed the song to travel around me, like sitting in my room between my big speakers. It sounded better than the record. I started to feel emotional, quite tearful, as Thom hits that big note near the end and I forgot where I was as I floated away. I opened my eyes to see this band standing in front of me playing the song in my head. All my life, I will never forget that moment.

I had come to hear In Rainbows but, in their matinee performance earlier that afternoon, they had played a couple from Kid A. To my delight, this evening show was getting something else - three songs from OK Computer. I gasped as they played Airbag back to back with The Tourist. Then caught my breath as we went back to In Rainbows before a double blast of Lucky and Kid A's Everything In Its Right Place. I'd been warned about this album, how experimental and inaccessible it was to to ear. It was one of the best songs on the night, I think the non-mainstream-rock-song side of this band is something I could easily fall for. I look forward to getting to know their more recent albums, I feel like I have great riches awaiting me. And then it was over, the live Radio 2 broadcast came to its end and the audience let loose, on their feet, howling approval as I caught my breath. I'd witnessed something so special I felt like never seeing the band live again because it could never match that - so many songs from such a masterpiece of an album, played within touching distance. Jonny, in his science lab corner, surrounded by effects racks, a keyboard and various mad professor looking contraptions, walls of sockets with plugged in leads by the dozen shooting off into every corner. His brother Colin, a fluid, expert bassist, always turned away from the crowd and towards metronomic drummer Phil. Ed holds it all together with sweeping tones of guitar, swirling towards the others, complementing the solid, but often spectacular playing and singing at the front. Thom's voice flawless, his charisma palpable and unusual; being so close to this mighty band was... there is no word that fits.

It had been a long day for them, as Thom had said, with a small sigh. But out he and Jonny came to perform Faust Arp, acoustic as on the album, before they made their exit. I took advantage of my proximity to ask a roadie for one of the neatly arranged guitar picks sticking up from Thom's pedals. "You don't want one of them, have this one that he actually used" he said as he picked up a discarded pick off the floor and handed it to me with a smile. Allison got one too. The people to my left and right got setlists. We filed out of the theatre feeling overwhelmed. An occasion like last night will never come again. Every time I close my eyes I am there.

All I Need
The Tourist
House Of Cards
Everything In Its Right Place

Faust Arp