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Thom Yorke plays new The Smile song at London’s Royal Albert Hall – watch

The Radiohead frontman unveiled 'Free in the Knowledge' at the 'Letters Llve' event in October

By Joe Goggins

Thom Yorke onstage at the 'Letters Live' event at London's Royal Albert Hall, October 30, 2021.
Studio output from The Smile is expected soon. (Photo: Letters Live/YouTube)

New footage has emerged from Thom Yorke’s only post-COVID solo show to date.

Pro-shot video from his appearance at the ‘Letters Live’ event at the Royal Albert Hall on October 30th captures the Radiohead frontman playing ‘Free in the Knowledge’, a track from his new band The Smile only previously aired during a rehearsal broadcast on Instagram earlier this month. You can watch the video below.

Studio output from The Smile, which comprises Yorke, Radiohead bandmate Jonny Greenwood and Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner, is expected soon. To date, their performance at the Live at Worthy Farm live-streamed event, later broadcast by the BBC, is the only document of the band’s work.

This haunting new solo take on ‘Free in the Knowledge’ suggests the newer material could be deviating from the taut guitar rock of their Worthy Farm set. The video captures Yorke on uncharacteristically talkative form; before the track, he dedicates it to fellow British musicians affected by the pandemic. He took aim at Rishi Sunak for his infamous suggestion that those in the arts should find different careers, as well as at the post-Brexit difficulties faced by British artists looking to tour on the continent.

“I’m a British musician and I was told during the pandemic, along with all British musicians, that we should consider retraining.” he said. “And then after, uh, when we actually finally left, they told us we didn’t really need to tour anymore anyway, did we? Around Europe.”

He went on: “So perhaps I’m one of a dying breed, who knows? I want to perform a song that I wrote with my new band the Smile during that period to all my fellow UK musicians. It’s called ‘Free in the Knowledge’.”

The Smile remain shrouded in mystery. In an interview with NME in September, Greenwood said: “The Smile came about from just wanting to work on music with Thom in lockdown. We didn’t have much time, but we just wanted to finish some songs together. It’s been very stop-start, but it’s felt a happy way to make music.” Reviewing their Worthy Farm performance, The i said the set “crackled with raw energy, hinting that Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood have rediscovered an instinctive rock-and-roll bite sorely lacking from the last decade of their day-job output.”

The Letters Live event, described as “a celebration of the enduring power of literary correspondence,” featured music from Yorke, Laura Mvula, Gabriels and Tom Odell, as well as a star-studded lineup of artists reading famous letters from history, including Brian Cox, Daisy Ridley and Benedict Cumberbatch. Yorke himself read ‘It’s a Virus’, a 2002 letter from Tom Waits to The Nation magazine in which he railed against musicians licensing their work for advertisements.