4. A Fresh Start

With my father doing alright for himself wihin the banking industry, my mother doing secretarial work locally and both my sisters having moved away, the pressure was seriously on for me to do something.

Anything.

After the failure of my promising career as the second George Martin, the time to indulge myself on whimsical, idealistic shit was well and truly spent. So what did I do? Yes, that’s right, I found a job as a petroleum pump operator.

When I review this period of my life, I realise that I’d sunk to pretty much an all time low; I was working for hours on end for very little remuneration for people with whom I didn’t get on with, and to cap it all I was fired for allegedly nicking money from the till! Once again, my poor parents had little option but to dig me out of yet another hole, this time employing the services of a good solicitor to help me clear my name of this supposed crime. I felt like a wet blanket, a proper burden on everyone around me.

I’d always thought that the accountant who came in to tally up at the end of each day looked like a shifty bastard; after a police investigation, it turned out he was embezelling money on an almost daily basis from the company… I don’t recall even getting an apology from the garage owner for unfair dismissal, or more importantly the trauma that he put my folks through.

So, come the 2nd Summer of Love in 1988 I was pretty downtrodden, certainly not feeling the supposed feel-good vibes that were eminating from the rave culture that was sweeping the country at the time! I was drowning in my own shit; what the hell was I to do? I applied for art college in Harrogate in the September, that’s what.

I’d developed a real passion for photography and had found that I was amassing a nice portfolio of 35mm work, mainly on slide. I realised that I wasn’t the world’s greatest illustrator or fine artist, but I definitely knew how to frame a good picture. So, armed with my photography portfolio and some token pencil and ink drawings I’d knocked up, I went along for an interview for the General Art and Design BTEC Diploma at Harrogate College of Art. I was interviewed by a genial kind of guy called Pete Scarfe, who, after some umming and arring, offered me a place on the spot. To say I was relieved was probably the understatement of the year. I didn’t waste any time applying for my grant and come September 1988, I was what’s termed a ‘mature student’, even though I was only 20. I can recall the first day of the course as though it were yesterday. Everyone looked so young, even though I probably only had about 2 years seniority on the majority of the students.

At that time, not only did the local government pay for the education I received, but I also was eligible for a non-repayable grant, to cover ‘living expenses and materials’. This grant paid out approximately £3200 per academic year, which back then wasn’t to be sneezed at. I supplemented this with a cleaning job I picked up at ICI which had old offices adjacent to the college buildings, so it meant that I was comparatively flush, even being able to almost run my old car, a 1979 pageant blue Austin Allegro 1100. Whatever people might say about the Allegro, I always thought it was a pretty cool motor. Maybe I’m deluded, but I had some proper adventures behind the wheel of that thing. Man, I even saved enough money to install an Audioline stereo radio-cassette in there!

Suddenly, I was meeting people of my own age and hanging with folks who shared my interests, which if I’m honest was primarily listening to lots of music and getting stoned as often as possible. Of course, it wasn’t all about pissing it up the wall; I worked pretty hard and over the following two years I developed a healthy interest in graphic design and more specifically letterform, whilst pursuing my love of photography, where I learnt dark room technique and forged a unique photographic style, so I’m told.

One of my tutors was a rather vitriolic Northern Irish woman called Alice Morgan… Ah, Alice… I recall vividly getting cornered in a stockroom with her whilst she laid into me verbally, telling me that I didn’t have an ounce of artistic ability in me; everything that I did was shit… if she had things her way, I’d have been booted off the course years ago. I’d like to hope that I’ve proved her wrong.

I met some seriously good friends throughout the two years I was at Harrogate. I surprised myself by being a sociable and popular member of the year group and left the course with a merit in General Art and Design. I’m still in touch with a good few of the people on that course, including Ed Richardson, one of my best friends and occasional collaborators.

Come the conclusion of the course, it was time to apply for either an HND or a degree. I applied to two places – Bath University to study for a Graphic Design degree and the London College of Printing for an HND in Typography. I assembled what I believed was a strong portfolio of work and over the course of three days, drove from Yorkshire to Bath and then from Bath to London for the interviews. The Bath interview was very nerve wracking – I think I really wanted to get onto that course, and you know how it is – the more you want something, the more likely you are to fuck it up. With the LCP interview, it’s fair to say that I wasn’t really bothered whether I got onto the course or not. Either way, I was offered a place on the spot by the LCP, and Bath turned me down.

Funny old game, isn’t it. My girlfriend Jennifer Plews, who was the star pupil at Harrogate had landed a place at Liverpool Univeristy studying fine art, so we were keen to spend as much time together as was humanly possible. We rented a room in a house in Knaresborough during the Summer of 1990, sharing the house with a drummer and his girlfriend. I took a job working for an independent photo lab called Photo Rapido. This tied in completely with my love of picture taking – I could use the processing equipment to develop my own work, within reason of course.

It was a top, top Summer and Jennifer and I travelled to Scotland on a walking holiday around the Isle of Skye and the smaller Scottish Islands, carrying all our gear in two heavy rucksacks. The long hot days raced by and summer ‘90 was over far too quickly. Before we knew it, it was time to bid farewell to our little place in Knaresborough and move away to our respective new lives in different cities at either ends of the country.