THE talk is of reviews. I've been ushered into the presence of Alex Lifeson, guitarist with Rush. Half an hour ago the band finished a two hour set in front of 8000 mesmerised punters at the cavernous Stafford Bingley Hall.
And now Lifeson has changed his clothes, doffed his red jacket and turned it in for a mud-coloured, baggy sweater.
His voice is quiet, tinged with an occasional burst of sibilance. He agrees that a bad review can cause palpitations in the victim.
"But," he smiles, almost nervously, "you kind of get used to it after the first 300."
Rush have been reviled by many critics during their decade-long history. They've been accused of being crypto-fascists, of being - in one memorable turn of phrase - "a pile of shit", of being a mindless cacophony.
The only people who've liked them consistently over the years appear to have been that often forgotten group, The Public.
The rise of Rush to their present status as one of the top four concerts draws in North America has been slow, sure and inexorable. In Lifeson's opinion they cracked Britain a tour or two ago and are now consolidating their status, enjoying the fruits of seemingly constant touring.
As a matter o fact, their gig at the Bingley Hall was their first live show since July 8 this year. Their success is such that they can now take the luxury of six weeks holiday. Previously they worked for 11 months a year, touring during nine of them.
It's probably not even necessary to say just how successful the gig was. The audience listened with rapt attention, breaking their almost religious silence with great roars of appreciation at the end of numbers. When it was all over, with "We'll Meet Again" being played over the PA, the crowd shambled out, more quiet than I've ever seen a rock audience.
It may have been they were overwhelmed by the sheer length of the set. More likely it was the momentum of the music that got to them. "We've taken a long hard look at our set", explained Lifeson, "and we felt that it needed a stronger pace. There were times when it seemed to be going kind of slow. I mean if you have half an hour of slow material in the middle of a two hour gig it's bound to have an effect."
There were, I murmured, times in the past when watching Rush felt they should get the hell on with it a bit more. "How do you think we felt?" asked Lifeson, grinning.
Also with some of their newer material, most notably the brand new "Sub Divisions" [sic] which is being given its first live airing on this British tour, the band is broadening its musical base - playing the odd bit of reggae and also betraying a certain degree of influence from the likes of, believe it or not, Orchestral Manoeuvres or Ultravox.
"Well that kind of music is staple Rush listening at the moment," explained Lifeson. "On the bus we tend to listen to a lot of Bob Marley, Ultravox, Police and the new bands coming out of Britain."
Lifeson intimates that he still finds the UK a far more fertile listening ground than the States. "What's happening in North America now appears to be that people are going more and more for safe music," he says. "Without wishing to sound rude, bands like REO Speedwagon."
Right now Phonogram have brought out the new Rush live double album "Exit. . . Stage Left" and they reckon that they've shipped 40,000 copies to dealers already.
The theory is that this will be the album to break Rush in Europe-surprisingly, given their stature in America and the UK, the only Continental country to have fallen under their sway is Holland. Germany has remained aloof.
"Of course we want to do well in those countries," says Lifeson earnestly. "The main problem is that we haven't really spent too much time over there.
"I mean the last time in Germany we found that we were playing mainly in cities that had GI bases nearby. So the audiences kind of consisted of kids who had already seen us in Kansas or Ohio.
"The only place that we seemed to get any Germans in to see us was a little place in Hamburg where we played to around 300, maybe 400 people." And this at a time - 1979 - when audiences of 8,000 in America and three nights at the Hammersmith Odeon were a staple diet to Rush.
"Obviously we want to play more in Europe but then there's America to look after and we're really keen to get into the Orient too. The problem really is that we have so much to do. I mean we have plans already set up covering the next year, and it looks as though we have around 16 months of work to fit into that."
RIGHT now, Rush appear to display a new confidence and satisfaction in their achievements thus far. They're even managing to pull the American media behind them in support - a distinct novelty for a band who through most of its career has been staunchly ignored by the radio stations. They even made it into the hallowed pages of Rolling Stone.
"Yeah, I know the feature you mean," says Lifeson. "Actually that was originally intended to be a major spread on the band but I think the guys up there suddenly thought 'Rush? In Rolling Stone? No way'. So they cranked it down to like a mini-feature.
"The guy who wrote it really didn't like anything about us at first but after a while he began to get into us - not so much the music, I guess, but more the kind of feeling within the band, the kind of spirit we have.
"But really the media isn't something that we tend to worry about in the band any more. It's more of a management or record company thing."
Back to the live album, and Alex explains it was completely different to making a studio album as far as Rush were concerned. "It was really Terry Brown's baby" - Brown is a long time production and engineering collaborator with the band - "and we would just kind of drop in now and again, make a few suggestions and then wander out.
"Of course there was quite a lot of thought put into the selection of tracks. There were some things there that we didn't really want to hear again and there were others that had already been included on 'All The World's A Stage'. But finally I think we came up with something pretty satisfying."
When the band's current touring stint is finished they'll be getting into writing new material for a studio album which will probably be coming out in around six months time.
A fine musicianly band, they are destined to remain major artists for a long long time. Check 'em out - provided you can get a ticket.