Radiohead drummer Philip Selway has spoken to NME about how the band’s early days in smaller venues helped shape the group, as well as what the future has in store.
Selway returns as an ambassador for Independent Venue Week 2023, which runs through to February 5 and will mark the initiative’s 10th anniversary. More than 300 UK venues will host hundreds of gigs and events this week to celebrate and support the country’s independent live music spaces, as well as the people that own, run and work in them.
“It’s important to me on quite a few levels,” Selway told NME of IVW. “I was lucky enough to go out and make a documentary with Independent Venue Week back in 2019, and I visited venues that Radiohead played in the early days and that I played in for my solo stuff. Being able to engage with it on a wider level and with the community that comes with these venues, what goes in to making everything happen behind the scenes, and that sense of incredible passion and hard work that comes with a venue was an amazing experience.”
He continued: “You don’t get into running a venue for the money – they are passion projects. At the heart of that are incredible cultural events every night of the year, all across the country. I looked back to our time in Radiohead, and reflecting on it made me realise how important they’d been to us in our development.”
Selway told NME that Radiohead had only played about seven shows before they were signed, and most of them were in their native Oxford. The drummer explained how their early gigs in more intimate spaces leading up to the release of their 1993 debut album ‘Pablo Honey’ helped shape the band they would become.
“To be able to go out and have this network of venues and be able to hone our performances and make a connection with people around the UK to allow us that immediate feedback, that all moved us along as a band in an incredible way,” he said. “You see that happen over and over again, but they’re also great places to play in and of themselves. They don’t need to be a stepping stone.
“There are so many vital ways in which they support the industry. They train up technical people who then go on to become road crew. There’s a wealth of knowledge built up over decades. When you’re heading out as a band, the people in these venues make the road feel like a less lonely place. You start to build up a network of familiar faces.”
Asked what he remembered about Radiohead’s first ever gig at Oxford’s Jericho Tavern back in 1987, when the band were still called On A Friday, Selway replied: “Oh my word! We were opening up for somebody. I think they were called Subways Of Jazoo? I just remember the excitement of being in this venue where established bands had played. Playing on that stage is an affirmation that legitimises what you do. It felt like the real deal.”
Paying tribute to the Jericho Tavern – which has also played host to early gigs from the likes of Supergrass, Ride, Foals, and Pulp – Selway continued: “It was a well-run venue with expertise. Coming into it wet behind the ears, you knew you were in good hands. It felt like a safe place to be as a band, but really exciting. This is where it happens, and that feeling has never gone away from me when walking into a venue. You feel very connected to all of the bands that played there before you and all of the audiences that have enjoyed those shows.
“Just having that consistency of playing night after night is really where you forge your identity as a band. That immediacy and proximity to the people who come to see you and to be able to talk to the audience after the show gives you some really valuable feedback. These businesses grew out of a love of music, and that’s a really healthy environment to learn your chops in. It establishes the right values in what you should do.”
The band’s last studio album came in 2016 with ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’, and their last tour was in 2018. In 2021, the band released ‘KID A MNESIA’, a triple album celebrating their ‘Kid A’ and ‘Amnesiac’ records, along with a third disc of rarities and B-sides called ‘Kid Amnesiae’.
Selway recently made headlines by confirming that Radiohead were “going to get together at the start of ” to “start looking at other ideas for what comes next” while also teasing a 20th anniversary reissue of 2003’s ‘Hail To The Thief’.
When NME asked for an update on the status of Radiohead, Selway said: “We have got together and we’re talking about future plans, but in the immediate future we’ve all got other projects which we’d all like to see through properly. There’s a collective desire to make music in some form or other amongst the five of us. We all really value that musical relationship, and that’s been there for 38 years. It remains really important to us.”
Does Selway have any ideas or desires on what direction Radiohead might take next?
“We wouldn’t know anything on that score until we’re all in a room together, and it probably doesn’t have any firm direction until we’re quite a way into it,” the drummer replied. “The short answer to that is: ‘to be confirmed’.
“It’s just about finding that scenario when a group of musicians are all of a mind and firing on all cylinders. That is my dream scenario – to be in that spot. That’s my only aspiration.”
Radiohead fans were also recently delighted by someone recreating the band’s seminal ‘In Rainbows’ with sounds from Super Mario 64. Has Selway heard it yet? “I’ve not listened to it, but I have heard about it!”
Meanwhile, Selway is currently gearing up to release his third solo album ‘Strange Dance’. The follow-up to 2014’s ‘Weatherhouse’ was produced by Marta Salogni, and also features cellist Laura Moody, composer Hannah Peel and multi-instrumentalist Quinta.
“I’ve always written songs and that’s always been important to me,” he told NME of the album. “Over the last decade I’ve built up these musical relationships, so to then have the opportunity to pull all of these elements together and stretch yourself musically while having all of these very developed musical voices coming into the project leads to a good quality of experience.
“It can be a very life-affirming process – and I certainly felt that on this record.”
Speaking of what sets his new album apart, Selway said: “Coming into it, I knew the soundscape I wanted in it. I wanted it to be tall, broad and able to contain all of these different musical elements. There’s a recognisable band at the core of everything, but we were able to fit a wider scope and choir arrangements in there.
“Within that, I knew I wanted there to be an intimacy to it too. I got that from the way I delivered the vocals and the lyrical content. It’s almost like pillow talk and very conversational. It feels up close in that respect. I wanted to make a record that people could lose themselves in and find their own stories and safe spaces.”
He added: “Hopefully there’s a warmth at the core of it.”
Selway releases ‘Strange Dance’ on February 24. His Radiohead bandmates Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood are still promoting their album ‘A Light For Attracting Attention’ with side-project The Smile, having just announced a new live EP and a string of US tour dates.
Baebadoobee, who is also an ambassador for IVW 2023, recently spoke to NME about what grassroots venues mean to her and her upcoming shows with Taylor Swift. You can find out more about this year’s Independent Venue Week here.
This comes after the Music Venue Trust released their annual report – revealing that gig attendance is lower than pre-pandemic levels, and calling for urgent government action and investment from large arenas to prevent them from “going over a cliff”.