It was somewhere in 1982 when Thom Yorke, at the age of 14, asked Colin Greenwood to join him for a new band with Ed O’Brien. Thom and Colin were in a school punkband called TNT. Another friend from the Abingdom public school became the drummer of the band, Phil Selway. Jonny Greenwood – Colin’s brother – wanted in too.
Colin Charles Greenwood
The band made it’s debut at the Jericho’s Tavern in their hometown, Oxford a few years later, in 1987. They named themselves On A Friday. Their first demo was made in 1991. A classmate of Thom and Colin, John Butcher brought the tape to Courtyard Studios. The studio was run by two former musicians Bryce Edge and Chris Hufford. Chris Hufford: “The demo had some good tunes but ut was all obviously ripped off mercilessly.” He might have ignored it were it not for the 15th track. “It was a weird looped-up dance thing which was very different. I asked if they had anything else. After about six months John Butcher brought in a another tape with Stop Whispering and What’s that you say on it. These were great songs. Now they had an identity.”
Another tape later, the Manic Hedgehog Demo (named after an Oxford record shop) brought the band to another gig in the Jericho Tavern. In the meantime they’ve already been on the cover of “Curfew”, a magazine based in Oxford. Things went fast. On A Friday were booked for gigs frequently. Various record labels got interested and finally EMI signed the band.
After a show at The Venue they had their first review. Reviewer John Harris: “News of their signing had spread and there was a real sense of expectation.” In the set at the time were “Prove Yourself“, “Thinking About You” and “I Can’t“. Though he submitted a positive review, Harris wasn’t wholly impressed; “Musically they were all over the place. They started with something Rickenbackery that sounded like All Mod Cons-Period Jam, then tey’d flip it with something that sounded like the Pixies.”
The review prompted discussion in the band. On A Friday had been chosen when they were a weekend outfit of jamming schoolboys. Now they had to conceede that the critic had a point: their name was at best, mundane. They decided to swap it for the title of a cod-reggea tune on Talking Heads’ True Stories album, Radio Head.
Hufford and Edge had become their managers. Their relationship was immediately put under strain. The debut release was an EP produced by them. “Not a clever move” admits Chris Hufford. “A huge conflict of interests. I think Thom was very insecure of my involvement. I’d had that happen to me as an artist when one of our managers acted as producer. There was definately some friction on that front. Otherwise it was a treat, we fired out the songs. The 4-track Drill EP came out in March 1992 with Prove Yourself as the lead track. It reached 101 in the UK singles chart. It was time to find new producers.
Paul Q. Kolderie and Sean Slade, who produced Buffalo Tom’s “Let me come over”, were hired to produce the two songs for the next single, Inside My Head and Lurgee. Both the band and the producers weren’t too happy with the songs Parlophone had chosen. “Inside my Head wasn’t very melodic, didn’t have any of the stuff we thought the others had, so we were rather disappointed”, says Paul Kolderie. “And the one day in rehearsel, they burst into this other song, which I gues they’d just written. When they finished it, Thom mumbled something like, “That’s our Scott Walker song”…except I thought he said “That’s a Scott Walker song”. Now I was pretty familiar with Scott Walker, but Jeez, there’s a lot of albums and I could have missed something! We walked out of the rehearsal that night and Sean said, “Too bad their best song’s a cover”.
That song was Creep. Legend has it that the band weren’t unanimously keen on Creep. Jonny’s famous guitar crunches were supposedly an attempt to ruin a song he didn’t like. “Jonny played the piano at the en d of the song and it was gorgeous” notes Kolderie. “Everyone who heard Creep just started going insane.” So that’s what got us the job doing the album.”
Pablo Honey was completed in three weeks. Creep was released to coincide in September 1992, while Pablo Honey was scheduled for the new year. Creep came out to an audible shrug; one or two good reviews, almost no airplay and just enough sales (about 6,000) to get it to number 78 in the UK charts. Pablo Honey was released together with the third single Anyone Can Play Guitar.
Edward John O’Brien
Meanwhile, unbeknown to the band, a radio station in San Fransisco, “Live 105″ had just named Creep its favourite record of the year and quickly crossed over onto L.A.’s KROQ and other Westcoast stations. The single eventually peaked at a modest 34 in the US, but Pablo Honey went gold. Exactly a year after it’s original release, a reissued Creep finally hut the UK charts, peaking at number 7. Because the album kept on breaking around the world, the Pablo Honey Tour lumberd into its second year.
The tension lingered into the recording of the second album, produced by John Leckie. The edifice marked “follow-up to Creep” cast a long shadow over the sessions. “It was either going to be Sulk, The Bends, Nice Dream or Just,” Leckie remembers. “We had to give those absolute attention, make the amzing, instant smash hits number 1 in America. Everyone was pulling their hair and saying, ‘It’s not good eneough! We were trying too hard”
In the meantime, My Iron Lung was released in 1994. The 8-track EP showed the transistion between “Pablo Honey” and the upcoming album “The Bends”. My Iron Lung (taken from a live show recorded at London’s Astoria), was also released as a singl e, but peaked at a disappointing 23 in the charts.
The solution was a change of scenery. Radiohead quit the studio and toured Australasia and the Far East. “It made them re-evaluate what they were good at and enjoyed doing,” claimed Hufford. “Playing live again put the perspective back on what they’d lost in the studio.” Having worked the songs in on the road, they returned to Britain and completed the album in a fortnight.
“The Bends” was released in 1995. Radiohead were back and were no longer the one-hit-wonder band, but it wouldn’t be until the fifth single from the album, Street Spirit, 18 months later, that Radiohead would hit the top 10 again.
Philip James Selway
They liked the simple way they’d recorded Black Star (on the Bends) and Lucky (for the Bosnian charity album HELP) with engineer Nigel Godrich and asked him to build and man a mobile studio for them. Radiohead began writing OK Computer in early 1996 at their rehearsal studio, Canned Applause, a converted apple shed near their homes in Oxford, England. By July they had recorded four songs with producer Nigel Godrich. Having learnt from the Bends, they decided to break the songs in live before completing the record.
By July 1996, Canned Applause was set up for recording. It was the first time the band had attempted to cut album tracks outside of a conventional studio environment. Despite the experimental and unconventional setting, four songs from Canned Applause found their way onto the album. The songs were Subterranean Homesick alien, Electioneering, The Tourist and No Surprises. This last song was, in fact, the first day of the Canned Applause sessions.
In August 1996, Radiohead returned to America to tour, and again used it as an opportunity to play in new material. The band’s new material was premiered on a 13-date American tour supporting Alanis Morissette.
While on the road, they sampled some of their new material live, including an epic, expansive version of “Paranoid Android.” “If you think it’s a long song now, you should have heard it then,” boasts O’Brien. “It was eight to ten minutes longer, and when we started playing it live, it was completely hilarious. There was a rave down section and a Hammond organ outro, and we’d be pissing ourselves while we played. We’d bring out the glockenspiel and it would be really, really funny.”
September 1996, Radiohead moved their equipment from Canned Applause to St. Catherine’s Court, a mansion in Bath once owned by the actress Jane Seymour. There, they recorded the rest of Ok Computer away from the pressures and distractions of the big city. “We set up in the ballroom,” remembers bassist Colin Greenwood, “and the control room was set up in the library, which had these amazing views over the gardens. There were some magical evenings as we sat down with pieces of music with the windows open.”
Thomas Edward Yorke
They made much use of the various different rooms and atmosfheres throughout the house, and the isolation from the outside world encouraged time to run at a different pace, making working hours more flexible and spontaneus. Again, the set-up was unorthodox; the band played in the ballroom, with Nigel Godrich recording in the library. Thom sung Exit Music (for a film) in the chilly stone entrance hall; Let Down was recorded live at 3.00 am in the ballroom. This was starting in November, after spending October at home rehearsing.
By Christmas almost fourteen songs were completed. They were finished and mixed in London during January and February 1997. ”Obviously there was still pressure, but it was in an environment where we could cope with it,” says Yorke. “The biggest pressure was actually completing it,” adds O’Brien. “We weren’t given any deadlines and we had complete freedom to do what we wanted. We were delaying it because we were a bit frightened of actually finishing stuff.” OK Computer was released in June 1997. The album has received many awards including a Grammy for Best Alternative Album. The album was followed by their “Against Demons World Tour“. An intensive touring schedule and rave reviews for ’OK Computer’ and Radiohead’s live shows had it’s influence on the band. Grant Gee, director of the ‘No Surprises’ video accompanied the band on their tour and filmed the hectic life of the new rock stars, which resulted in the ‘on the fly’ documentary “Meeting People Is Easy”.High expectations remain while Radiohead took some time off before starting to work on ‘Kid A‘. The band only appeared at the Amnesty International Concert in Paris (Dec. 10th 1998) and Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood performed at the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Amsterdam, where a new song, ”Pyramid Song” made it’s live debut.
After Ed O’brien’s contribution to a soundtrack project for the BBC drama series “Eureka Street”, the band returned to the studios for the recordings of ‘Kid A‘. New material premiered during three internet webcasts. Radiohead broadcasted from a studio somewhere in England. ‘Knives Out’ was played in their December ’99 Webcast, while ‘Everything in it’s right place’ debuted in their second webcast in February 2000.
Ed O’Brien kept the fans up-to-date with his diary on the recording sessions. The band finished their album in April 2000, while a European Tour was scheduled for June and July 2000 in ancient theatres and special venues. The band also toured in a big tent in September and October 2000.
The fourth album, ‘Kid A’ was released on October 2nd 2000. The album was a big succes, although not promoted with any singles. Iblips with clips of the new songs were used to promote the album, mainly on the internet. ‘Kid A’ reached the number one position in the USA and received a Grammy Award for Best Alternative Album.
But Radiohead will be releasing more and more material. The band returned to the studio and finished their 5th album in November 2000. Thom Yorke said on January 11th:. “We need time to finish artwork and the film work that goes with it”, The comment demonstrates the bands remarkable volte face regarding matters of promotion. Yorke went on to say that the band are “really proud of Amnesiac and we want to give it a fair chance within the giant scary cogs of the bullshit machine”. “If ‘Kid A’ is difficult then God help us!”The new album, entitled “Amnesiac“, is due for release on June 4th 2001. “Amnesiac” includes tracks like ‘Dollars and Cents’, ‘I Might Be Wrong’ and ‘You and Whose Army?’. The final track, ‘Life in a Glass House‘, features jazz trumpeter and broadcaster Humphrey Lyttleton. “Pyramid Song” & “Knives Out” were released as singles, together with music videos. The band released an internet only video for ‘I might be wrong’ on their official site. ‘Amnesiac’ sells even more copies than ‘Kid A’. The album release was followed by a sold out tour through Europe, North America and Japan. Highlight of the tour is a show in their hometown Oxford on July 7th 2001, where the band headlines it’s own festival together with Sigur Ros, Beck and Supergrass.
The live recordings of the tour are compiled on an 8 track live album, ‘I might be wrong – live recordings‘. The mini-album features songs from ‘Kid A’ & ‘Amnesiac’, as well as an acoustic version of the previously unreleased ‘True Love Waits‘.
In the meantime Jonny Greenwood has also been recording some original music for a documentary about the human body, called ‘Bodysong’. Asian Dub Foundation released their new album featuring Ed O’Brien on guitar. Ed collaborated with the band on three tracks: ’1000 Mirrors’ (as well as Sinead O’Connor), ‘Blowback’ and ‘Enemy of the enemy’.
Radiohead begin recording the follow-up to ‘Amnesiac‘ in April 2002. Colin Greenwood said in March 2002: “We’re going to start work again in April. We’re going to give it a bit more of a break than the last time. We’re planning to play some shows in Europe in the summer and we’ll take it from there.”
The shows in Portugal and Spain are aimed at road-testing new material recorded in studio sessions booked to start April 2002. The intention is to play to hardcore fans, rather than what they see would be a larger, potentially more apathetic festival audience. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood previously said that the gigs are “to let [Radiohead] get their shit together” and allow the songs the chance to evolve, while fellow band member Ed O’Brien explained that they want to be “pretty self-indulgent”
The band record the songs played that debuted live in Los Angeles, Colin Greenwood: “We fly to LA at the end of august. (Longtime 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 that we’ll be in America for September 11. Which will be interesting” Jonny Greenwood said: “We’re going to LA to record to the new album. No, it’s not very ‘Radiohead’, but we recorded the last album in a cold northern Europe location because we thought it was us. It wasn’t. So we’ll try this.” Joking about it being a West Coast album in the style of The Eagles or Lynyrd Skynyrd Jonny said:”Well Phil’s singing, so it could work out that way,”
Thom: “Well, the idea is not to use any computers on this record. (Mirthless laugh) Ha!, we’ll see how long that lasts.” Thom Yorke did two solo perfomances for the Bridge School Benefit Concert in Mountain View in October 2002, where he played new songs ‘Sail to the moon‘ & ‘There there ‘.
Ed O’Brien in October 2002: “We’ve done about four weeks.” He explained, “Two weeks in Los Angeles and two in our own studio in Oxford. It’s sounding good. A lot of energy, really good. It just feels really good. As I always say it’s gonna be an album of three minute pop songs. That’s what they always say but that’s what it is this time.” When asked if he was joking, or whether he was serious about the sudden change of style for the band’s, O’Brien remained positive. “Yeah,” O’Brien laughed, “Guitars? Yup, there are a few. In fact there’s a bit of everything. It’s sounding really good. It’s like ‘We’ve honed our thing, we’ve done our thing’ so what we’re doing feels like the right thing to be doing now. As vague as I am.”
In January 2003 Ed says that the atmosphere in the band is “fucking brilliant” compared to the frosty recording sessions for their last two albums ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac, and that the new songs contain “space and sunshine and energy”. He commented: “You know that time when bands begin to swagger, like when the Stones got in a grove from ’68 to ’73? In the last two years, I think we’ve done that. To me, this record feels like the culmination of the best bits of ‘The Bends‘, ‘OK Computer‘, ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac‘. Speaking to Q, drummer Phil Selway added: “I don’t think we’ve ever felt so self assured in the studio. This time no shit hit the fan. And Thom’s voice has been incredible. That’s the stand out element for me. He’s reminded us that he’s in a league of his own.”
Recording is completed in January, although sessions on the record are expected to continue until at least mid-February. When talking about the working titles ’2+2=5′ & ‘Are you listening?’ Thom denied that they were going to be the actual titles (“K O R R e K T ! it isnt. it never was. HA!”).
The album title, ‘Hail to the thief‘, release date (June 9th 2003) and its tracklisting are announced on March 24th 2003. But, unfortunately for the band an early mix of the album leaks on the internet in full on March 30th. The unfinished recordings are all over the internet. Radio stations broadcast the new material as well.
Two days later producer Nigel Godrich confirms: “Its the rough mixes …. some tracks not even finished. aint that a bitch? Not really what I’d want the world to hear, frankly. boo.” Jonny Greenwood: “People will still download them and hear them, I can understand the temptation. It’s not the fans I’m pissed off about, it’s just the situation I guess. It’s stolen work, fer fuck’s sake.”
Colin Greenwood: “All the attention is gratifying, but we want it when all our hard work’s done and the best it can be. Until then, this is all just unhelpful noise. Wait until you see the final, real, finished album!!!!!” Probably not what Colin had in mind, but just 3 weeks before the release date, the finished album does leak on the web as well.
The albums first single ‘There There’ is released on May 26th. Radiohead’s own TV station at Radiohead.tv launches on June 9th.
Radiohead play a short tour throughout the UK and Ireland in small venues, kicking off in Dublin, Ireland on May 17th. The tour is more or less a testcase for a lengthy tour scheduled for the rest of the year. The band play European festivals in May and June including their first Glastonbury Festival appearance since their 1997 performance.
At the moment Radiohead continue their tour in July and August with dates in France, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Japan. The band will play in North America in August and September. Another tour in the UK and Ireland is set for November and December.