Dreaming of the Starlight: 3

Tuesday 7 June 1994

Once again I found myself standing at the exit of a service station with my thumb out. Compared with the previous day's journey, today's was going to be a piece of piss. I'd got the bus from Manchester City Centre to just beyond the suburbs and made my way down country lanes to Knutsford Services where I'd sneaked in the back way and from where I was hoping to get a lift straight down the M6 to Birmingham.

It didn't take that long and I did it in one hit. Once in Birmingham I had ample time to find somewhere to freshen up, get something to eat and make myself feel slightly human again. After that I went in search of the venue. It was called Edwards and I eventually discovered it tucked away in a side street slap bank in the city centre. The entrance was tall and narrow, squeezed in between two other businesses; once inside there were a couple of flights of stairs leading up to a dark nightclub decorated in black, blue and mirrors. I arrived early, picked up my ticket and went into the bar for a drink. I sat in a corner of the (still largely deserted) club and sipped at my pint. I wasn't drinking alone for long though.

Miki appeared and came over to me.

"Hi! You've been hitching round to all the gigs haven't you?"

"Yes," I said.

We sat at the deserted bar for a while and chatted; I was oddly forthcoming and garrulous, most unlike me. For some reason Miki was able to draw me out of myself. I asked her about Lollapalooza; about a year and a half previously by this point but still one of the most recent bits of Lush news I could recall; it had stuck in my mind after I'd read reports of Lush joining Ministry on stage; surely a marriage made in incongruity... I realized I was waffling.

"I've got to go now," Miki stood up, "But come back afterwards for a beer."

The show itself just as enjoyable as the last three had been; I found it difficult to believe that this was only the fourth night on the trot that I'd had this experience. It was becoming so familiar, a habit. By now the shape of the set list had bedded in to my memory and I knew when I was going to experience the peaks and troughs of the musical rollercoaster that was Lush live in 1994. My brain resonated with the shape of the music. I couldn't imagine that there could possibly be anything better - years later when playing in a band myself I discovered that the only thing better than watching a band play live was being in a band playing live.

Afterwards I stood in the bar drinking for a while before the guy who'd been selling the t-shirts reappeared.

"Miki says come and have a drink."

I followed him across the bar and through a door into a smaller space, decorated in a similar manner to the rest of the club but more brightly lit and a little more run down.

"Hiya!" Miki handed me a can of lager and we resumed our conversation. This time I talked more about myself about how my life had become a bit repetitive in recent months and how I decided to shake things up a bit by going to all these gigs. I also waxed lyrical about how much I liked the music. Perhaps embarrassing in retrospect but I don't recall Miki expressing anything other than interest in what I was saying.

Eventually we said goodbye and I headed back out onto the streets of Birmingham. I had nowhere to sleep planned, so was intending to look for a quiet corner somewhere in which to secrete myself. Eventually I located a likely spot just inside the walls of St Martin in the Bullring, a dark Victorian gothic church that stuck out from the grey concrete underpasses of the city centre like an ambassador from a more attractive architectural age standing awkwardly in the corner at a party for brushed concrete edifices.

I found a corner of of the church yard which wasn't immediately visible from anywhere else and unrolled my sleeping bag. It wasn't long before I was dozing fitfully.
There is something strange and sinister about sleeping rough in the middle of the city. The dreams have a different quality and there's always the weird sensation of starting to wake up and realising that it's colder than you're used to, that there are strange outdoor noises and that there's no ceiling above you, only the infinite universe going on for ever. You never sleep as deeply as normal, on some level there's a mental hair-trigger waiting to awaken you in case of any danger. You realize that this is probably how our ancestors felt all the time.

An urban fox shrieks. Cats howl. A lone lorry swings across a roundabout. Someone shouts.

Eventually the sky starts getting light and bird song starts. You might have only had two or three hours, but you realise the night is over. Best to get going before anyone else wakes up. Despite the tiredness it's always a relief to pack up your sleeping gear. You're mobile again. Ready to fight or flee. You step from your hiding place into the still sleeping city...
Wednesday 8 June 1994

I went and had breakfast at a cafe somewhere in Digbeth. The streets were still largely deserted and what people there were around were going about their own business with grim determination, clearly too wrapped up in themselves to pay much mind to a scruffy figure with a rucksack and bright red hair.

I got the local bus out to a suburb from where I'd be able to hitch onto the M5 south west. The next show was in Bath. After a couple of lifts I ended up in Bristol.

I did worry that it was going to be a bit more difficult to hitch between the two, but then realised that as far as Bristol was concerned, Bath was local. There would be a bus going there. I turned up at Bath in plenty of time; the problem would be to find the venue. I'd never heard of The Hub before but eventually discovered it uphill and not that far from Moles Club (a venue I was familiar with). I had a couple of pints at a pub around the corner and then as soon as doors opened for want of anything better to do I went into the venue.

It felt odd that the rest of the band suddenly knew who I was now. No surprise really, people talk to each other - but Chris, Emma and Phil all said hi when they walked individually through the bar area, as did Miki.

I spent the show squashed up against the front of the stage amongst a frighteningly young looking crowd although thinking back on it I was frighteningly young as well at this point so the rest of the audience must have been babies. Aware that I was running out of time - I'd only get to experience this show, this total immersion live album, once more after tonight - I let myself go and danced as best I could despite the lack of space. I got some funny looks; despite how keen they were to surge to the front the concept of letting the music move them seemed to leave the rest of this audience cold. I was flabberghasted. How could they not dance to this beautiful noise?

Afterwards I found myself talking to the support group Blessed Ethel. They seemed impressed by the fact that I'd hitched round on the tour.

"You must really like Lush," the singer said. I could see his eyes flicking up to my hair. The misconception was following me, my choice of hair colour had nothing to do with my choice of gig. It was a happy coincidence.

It was true though. I did really like Lush.

Miki appeared and handed me a CD. It was the new album, Split. It wasn't out yet. My jaw hit the floor and I spluttered something incoherent about how pleased this made me. Miki seemed almost embarrassed, "Hey it's nothing!"

Little things like that were always capable of elevating my mood far more than they should have been able to. That night I started walking out of Bath on the A4 towards the motorway, my sign saying LONDON (M4) held out so the passing traffic could see it. It took a while for me to get picked up but this only bothered me in that it meant it would take far longer for me to get home and listen to my new CD.

I got back to London in the early hours and crashed out. I could sleep as long as I wanted; I was going to the next show by tube.

Next time...
From Astoria 2 to Raw

many thanks to Mick Mercer for permission to use his Lush photos


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