~ IT'S MIDDAY on Friday September, 14. Two black people- carriers have just pulled up outside the MTV studios in Camden, North london. One contains the six members of Linkin Park, who are in the country to play two headlining shows in Manchester and London; the other contains their manager, Bob Dallas, and assorted people from the band's record label, Warner Bros.

The door to the first people-carrier opens and Linkin Park exit one by one. It swiftly becomes clear that all isn't well right now. Handshakes are offered and introductions made, but it all seems strangely solemn, and there's a palpable sense of tension in the air.

Three days earlier, terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Centre and The Pentagon, plunging America - and the world - into shock. Understandably, Linkin Park have bigger things on their mind than today's upcoming promo duties - the safety of their friends and family, for one. Being 3,000 miles away from home and completely powerless to do anything probably isn't helping their mood. Neither is the fact that they've just spent 12 hours cooped up in their tour bus traveling from Berlin to London, after canceling their scheduled flight in the wake of the attacks.

Still, Linkin Park are professionals, and they're here to do a job. These two dates mark the end of a truly remarkable 12-month period that has seen the band shift over five million copies of their debut album 'Hybrid Theory'. The plan is to spend three days in their company - starting here at MTV - to see exactly what goes on behind the scenes with a band at the very top of their game.

"From a journalistic standpoint, there's not a lot of juicy stuff with a band like us," warns guitarist Brad Delson. "Even if you do find something relatively juicy, it's not anything compared to bands who are out of their minds, doing you know, crazy stuff. We're all about the music, and if you aren't interested in the music, what are you going to go on?"

MTV UK's headquarters looks like a building that has been turned inside out - its exterior is made up of sheets of iron and huge metallic pipes. Oddly, there are no hordes of screaming girls outside; instead, Linkin Park - completed by vocalists Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda, bassist Phoenix, drummer Rob Bourdon and turntablist Joseph Hahn - wander through a small car park to be greeted by a member of staff, who ushers them inside the building.

The plan for the day is straightforward. In a few hours time, the band will travel to leafy Maida Vale to record a special live set in front of an invited audience. The next couple of hours, however, will be spent here in Camden, recording segments for MTV2's forthcoming 'Linkin Park Night' - several hours worth of programming dedicated to the band and featuring interviews, live footage and a guided tour around Chester Bennington's house in LA.

Inside the open-plan building, Linkin Park's mood seems to be lightening a little. Chester and Phoenix - real name: David Farrell - are killing time before the day's work begins by playing table football. Judging by the score, the bassist is table football's equivalent to David Beckham. As the ball flies past Chester's frankly redundant goalkeeper for the umpteenth time, the singer mutters that his poor showing is down to the fact that he hasn't really played the game before. His opponent merely snorts in derision.

Thankfully, further blushes are saved when the band are called into the studio with VJ Zane Lowe. Slumped into a scuffed leather chair, the New Zealand-born Lowe spends the next 20 minutes quizzing the band about their meteoric year, occasionally punctuating their anecdotes with cries of 'Fresh!'.
Chester Bennington, for one, is more than a little bemused at the notion of a TV channel devoting a whole evening's programming to his band.

"Maybe they should give out little flags to wave," he jokes as the band prepare to board the people-carriers that will take them to their next appointment. "That'd be cool."

THE WOOD-paneled main room in the BBC's Maida Vale studio looks like nothing more than a high-tech school hall. At the back of the room, the equipment is set up as you'd expect to see it at a regular venue. Rob's drums are constructed to the right of the stage, while to the left are Joe's turntables and samplers. In three hours time, at 6:45pm, the doors will open and 120 fans will pour into the building for this ultra-exclusive show. For now, though, the band have to go through the arduous task of a soundcheck. Rob Bourdon clatters gleefully around his drums while Joe Hahn fiddles with the knobs on his decks.

Phoenix, on the other hand, wanders the maze of corridors in an attempt to find somewhere to chill out and grab forty winks after the exhausting overnight drive.

Soundchecks are notorious the world over for being lessons in tedium, and today's is no different. In fact, the only notable thing that happens is when a member of a BBC choir recording in the next studio pops his around the door to complain about the noise. The roadies, after a moment's deliberation, take his complaint on board and then turn everything up just that little bit louder. Maybe it's the sight of a roadie with a permed mullet and authentic Styx tour T-shirt that shakes him, but the man doesn't complain again.

After soundcheck is over, Brad repeatedly attempts to hurl his baseball cap onto a coat stand, James Bond-style. His efforts immediately become a major talking point for the next hour, which shows just how strange the day is.

Finally, the doors are opened. But before the fans are allowed into the studio-cum-venue, everyone is presented with a T-shirt and a 'Hybrid Theory' DJ slipmat.

As the 12-song set - including 'Papercut' and new single 'In The End' - is being recorded for a future broadcast, the band channel their energies into the recording, rather than leaping enthusiastically around the claustrophobic confines of the stage. After all, any bum notes will have been captured for posterity.

"I don't know why this is such a special moment," beams Bennington before 'A Place For My Head', "but I'm having the most fun I've had in long time."

As the final notes of 'One Step Closer' ring in our ears, the band try to take time to sign autographs and chat to everyone, before security man Jake starts making everyone's encounter uncomfortably brief and asks fans to leave as quickly as possible. Fifteen-year-old fan David can't quite get his head around this afternoon's events. "That was amazing," he beams, clutching his slipmat and newly- signed 'Hybrid Theory'. "I can't believe I've seen Linkin Park play in such a small room." "That was a cool thing to do," smiles Brad Delson, as the last few fans wander away. "I didn't want to jump around because I knew we were being recorded. Still, I think they were into it."

FAST-FORWARD 18 hours. Despite the inhospitable weather - it is, frankly, pissing it down - 500 fans have been queuing up outside the 3,OOO-capacity Manchester Apollo for a good few hours now, Even though most of them are now sporting soaking clothes, the anticipation of Linkin Park's first headlining date outside of London is at fever pitch, Ticket touts are doing a roaring trade: 14 tickets are currently selling for 40, That figure will later be bumped up to 60 - 1 for every minute Linkin Park are onstage, Inside the Apollo, the road crew set about erecting the impressive stage set for tonight's show - a giant 'Hybrid Theory' backdrop, cut- outs and chrome effect boxes. Meanwhile, Chester, Mike and Brad run through 'My December', an acoustic track which featured on the KROQ benefit album 'The Real Slim Santa', 'My December' hasn't been performed live since they played a show for the LA radio station at the end of last year,

Stripped free of studio trickery, Chester's voice is mightily impressive. Mike, on the other hand, seems to be having trouble simultaneously triggering drum loops, playing the piano and singing harmonics, much to his co-frontman's consternation, The clock is ticking, and a decision needs to be made whether to include the song in the set or not. Brad and Mike decide to rework the troublesome parts of the song. "We did 'My December' for a charity record and haven't played it since because we didn't want to lose the energy of our set," explains Chester after the musical wrinkles are ironed out, "Now we have the opportunity to do it, we'll take it,"

In the homely environs of the Apollo's dressing rooms, the band sift through a pile of fan mail, and come across a bag of gifts left by a female fan from the city, Among the treats is a tube of fake toothpaste, a carrot on a stick, a wind-up toy hedgehog and a bizarre vibrating animal that Chester will happily demonstrate to anyone who cares to see a bizarre vibrating animal, Another gift - a box, lovingly adorned with pictures of the band - offers momentary respite from the tedium of the afternoon. Tucked away among the myriad live shots and press images is an unusual portrait of a beaming youth in a crisp tuxedo, hair scraped into a parting for the camera. This, it turns out, is a young Michael 5hinoda, posing for his high school yearbook.

"I've seen it on the internet... he laughs with a trace of embarrassment. "Chester's is all over the internet too. It's hilarious. Joe has got some funny pictures too, as he did football and was trying to be all tough. He was trying to be the toughest kid, ever."

THE 'TOUGHEST kid ever' and his band mates are due to take the stage at 9:30, after opening acts Puddle Of Mudd, Adema, and hip-hop crew Dilated People. The buzz in the crowd is infectious, although some the of prices on the merchandise stall leave a lot to be desired - 35 for a hoodie anyone?

At the side of the stage the band are limbering up for their show. Bennington - subdued and sullen yesterday - has decided to come out of his shell with a vengeance. Firstly, he winds up his newly-acquired toy hedgehog and sets it down on the stage, before whispering, 'Hey, it's a puppet show: over his remote microphone. Ignoring the withering looks manager Bob Dallas is shooting in his direction, Chester proceeds, without warning, to start giving Mike a punishing series of thumps on his arm. "Cut it out," laughs Shinoda. "Okay," Chester agrees reluctantly, before delivering one more for luck, squarely on his shoulder blade.

The duo swiftly put and end to their shenanigans as they get ready to emerge from behind the backdrop and take their places at the lip of the stage. As the lights go up the reception afforded Linkin Park is nothing short of hysterical. A year's solid touring has honed the band into a formidable act, utilizing the chrome monitor covers as Brad, Mike and Chester leap from one to another, whipping the crowd up into a sweaty mass of arms and legs.

The reworked 'My December' seems to provide welcome relief for the people against the crush barriers who have been protecting their ribs from the sea of fans behind them. However, any momentary comfort is shattered as Puddle Of Mudd's Wes Scantlin and Adema's Mark 'Marky' Chavez join Chester and Mike for the anthemic 'Shut up when I'm talking to your refrain of the ultimate song 'One Step Closer', As the majority of the crowd are shooed from the venue, the band emerge, swathed in towels, to greet a handful of fans who have begged the security staff to get autographs.

The hysterical shrieks directed at them - notably Chester and Mike - suggest we're in an alternate reality and we're actually on the road with 'N Sync, only with guitars.

"Chest-ur! I fookin' love you!" one girl shrieks in a broad Mancunian accent. "Fookin' give us a kiss will yer?"

"No!" he replies in mock agitation, before bursting out laughing, "I'm a married man!"

"We try to meet the fans after every show," he smiles afterwards as he gets ready to board the bus for the three-hour drive back to London, "It's something we like doing, but some nights it's virtually impossible. I'm not sure if we'll be allowed to do this tomorrow,"

ELEVEN O'CLOCK, Sunday morning. Chester Bennington has just walked into the lobby of his West london hotel clutching a muffin and coffee purchased from a nearby Starbucks. The rest of his band are currently lounging around the foyer in various states of bored inactivity, waiting to be picked up and taken to the london Arena, over in the city's Docklands area, A couple of passing American tourists mention that they're still stranded in the UK until airlines resume normal service, and the band nod in agreement.

Eventually, two chauffeur-driven people- carriers pull up outside the hotel, The band divide themselves into two groups; we opt to travel with Phoenix and Joe, The next hour is spent weaving in and out of london traffic, chatting about Motley Crue's brutally frank journal of sleaze 'The Dirt' (Phoenix: "Read it? I don't need to read it. We live it, dude"), and recollecting the band's experiences in the English capital.

"Hey, kids, look. Big Ben," Phoenix pipes up with the enthusiasm of a man who has seen 'National lampoon's European Vacation', once too often. He does a lousy Chevy Chase impression, it must be said.

The last time Linkin Park played at the London Arena they were supporting the Deftones. Today, it's all their own, as the massive advertising board bolted to the side of the venue - which looks like a huge warehouse made out of corrugated steel - proves. The fact that they're headlining a place this size is yet another reminder of how staggeringly big they've grown in such a miniscule amount of time. p> Wandering through the multitude of backstage corridors, they eventually stumble upon their dressing room, where they dump their bags and personal effects in its spacious confines. Bennington mentions that he wants to shave his head, and pesters Jake to lend him his hair clippers. He drags the buzzing implement over his cranium, each stroke revealing more and more of his skull. Mike Shinoda wanders across to run his hand over the stubble, commenting on what a nice-shaped head he has.

"Thanks," Chester giggles. "I grew it myself."

For tonight's show, Bennington has opted for the military look: his khaki trousers, white vest and freshly-shaven bonce give the air of a skinny marine on leave. For possibly the first time in his life, he actually looks vaguely menacing. Thankfully, he soon shatters it by announcing a need to find some toilet paper for his "poopy ass". For some reason, the rest of the band reacts as if it's the funniest thing they've heard in their lives.

Chester's haircut seems to have caused a domino effect in the Linkin Park ranks. Phoenix begins to tug at the back of his hair, a worried look on his face, "I need to cut my hair. I'm getting a mullet," he remarks in mock horror. "It's serious."

"It's bad, dude," laughs Chester.

"Bad meaning bad, or bad meaning good?" says Phoenix.

"A little bit of both," he replies. "It's bad. Your mulletude alarms me."

It's strange that a group of young men - who undoubtedly have attained a lifetime of financial security through the sales of their first album - are keen on saving money on haircuts. Phoenix proudly recalls the time on last year's 'Master Bay Tour', with Papa Roach, when he learned the value of follicular self- maintenance.

"I learned how to cut my own hair and be as happy with it as you would if you paid someone 5 to do it," he beams. "I'm serious. Write that, people should be aware that you can cut your own hair and be happy with it.

You don't have to spend five quid or whatever you call it."

"What's a quid?" asks Joe. "Is that more than a pound?"

"It's like us saying bucks or cheese," says Chester.

"Oh, like dead presidents?" Joe replies. "Word."

THERE'S MORE to-ing and fro-ing in the venue and for good reason, as tonight's show is being recorded for a DVD, which is scheduled for a winter release. Fork lift trucks and cranes make the interior of the arena resemble a warehouse even more than usual. The director has requested that after the soundcheck the band rehearse with the cameras to help the film crew get the best idea of how to shoot the performance. Joe reveals that they have seven tapes of videotaped footage they'll sift through to include as additional features on the DVD, to give their fans a taste of their "goofball nature" behind the scenes.

One thing guaranteed to be absent from the DVD will be some of the more traditional staples of rock 'n' roll- namely drugs and groupies. There's a simple reason for this: there aren't any.

"We don't get high," explains Brad, before adding, "I get high on life though."

As the band play for the cameras, we wander into the backstage catering area.

Tables are strewn with empty plates, bowls and the remnants of roast chicken drumsticks. "They're very nice boys, very polite," confides one of the catering staff. "They can be a bit American at times, but they're very pleasant."

Considering that Linkin Park have spent most of the last 12 months together, the six of them still seem remarkably comfortable in each others' company.

"We're all best friends," shrugs Rob Bourdon, back in the dressing room after the soundcheck has ended. "We've started scheduling breaks recently. It makes ,h things much easier but we never fight."

"He's after the dirt, guys, so let's pretend we had a really heated argument," deadpans Brad. "Mike, I'm so sorry I punched you. I know I shouldn't have, but you know your hair suits that darker shade of blue."

"But I told you, the red brings out my eyes more," Shinoda contests. "Will that do?"
Personality-wise, linkin Park are to rock what The Partridge Family were to wholesome televisual entertainment. Sometimes you get the feeling they're just too damn nice. Still, as Chester Bennington attempts to sum up his feelings about a year in which their lives have been completely turned upside down, he can't help grinning.

"It's just been the most exciting year for all of us," he concedes. "It's been overwhelming from start to finish, and seeing our fans sing lyrics we only recorded about a year ago is beyond words. It makes all the waiting around totally worth it." .

LINKIN PARK's new single, 'In The End', is released on October 8.