As Mr Zimmerman once pointed out, the times they were a-changing. For the first time, it was James who pointed me in the direction of Green Day. Of course, I’d been aware of the group but had always thought of them as a band of punk-pop pretenders playing lightweight rock ‘n’ roll, wearing artfully ripped jeans and carefully cultivated, lip-curled sneers – much like Billy Idol. I’m still not really sure where James first heard of them, though I suspect it was probably his friend Jack Cooper that will have said they were good and Jack had probably heard them on some computer game. But that’s all guesswork. Either way, we bought the CD for him and I had it on in my car. On the first few listens, it seemed as I’d suspected: almost clinical in its production and all a bit too precise for my usual taste, with no real indication that anyone was actually playing any instruments. This is precisely why I’ve never been a big fan of typical American rock. However, I gradually became worn down by constantly playing it on the way to James’ child minder (my job every morning). He particularly liked the track ‘St Jimmy’, which lasts 2mins 54secs – exactly the length of time it took to get there. At first I would turn it off and put the radio on as soon as I’d dropped him off but I eventually decided to let the CD run whilst driving to work. I found that the more I did so, the more I began to quite enjoy it. I had to admit, there were some great tunes on the album and the words were pretty hard-hitting – not at all what I expected. They were obviously angry and that fitted in perfectly with how I was feeling at work.
The Junior school had recently amalgamated with the Infants to form Roughwood Primary School and was being run by a head teacher about whom the kindest thing I can possibly say is, she was, and probably still is, an idiot. I wouldn’t piss on her if she were on fire and I’m not going to waste any more effort in mentioning her again. Needless to say, I was angry every day, but what that did seem to do (as John Lydon has often alluded to) was fuel my creative energy. I bought myself a new Takamine acoustic guitar with a view to going busking again. I never actually got around to that, but I certainly spent much more time practicing than I had done for years, as it was a joy to play. I also decide to trade in my huge, 120 bass note piano accordion for a smaller, lighter one that didn’t give me hunched shoulders for the next three weeks every time I played it. I’m pretty sure I got stung by the shop; the one I traded in was given to me by a bloke called Malc Fox (an inspiration for me getting into “diddley-diddley music” as he called it) not long before he died and was probably, in hindsight, a top-of-the-range instrument for which I should have expected a better quality model in exchange. Oh well, you live and learn and I certainly played the new one far more so it was worth it I guess.
I was still using my camera regularly, looking to take that perfect shot. Tracey and I went on loads of what she called ‘hippy-trips’ to various ancient sites: Wales in April, Stanton Drew in June, which also included a visit to one of our favourite places – the burial chamber known as Hetty Pegler’s Tump (what a fabulous name!) and to Swinside stone circle up in the Lake District in January. That was a strange one; the path up the hillside was shrouded in mist and it was cold, damp and dull. Suddenly, a slightly bedraggled white horse appeared on the path up ahead, seemingly from out of nowhere. We decided the circle itself was quite ‘male’ – I felt perfectly calm and happy standing inside it, but it really freaked Tracey out and she didn’t feel comfortable at all. We left fairly quickly though I did get a few atmospheric shots. In August we managed to get a fairly cheap, but fantastic week in Corfu. We visited a few sites and hired a car for a few days but really loved spending time either having breakfast, a drink or just chatting to each other and the lovely owners at a cafe/bar called Evergreen. In the summer I went to Mexico with the family and was able to fulfil a long-held ambition of actually seeing and climbing up the extremely steep and somewhat lethal steps to get to the top of the great temple at Chichen-Itza. I went on a day trip (alone – no one else had the slightest interest in visiting the iconic place) and chatted to a few other people on the coach. However, I doubt that any of them went because it had been the central feature of the cover of one of their favourite albums of all time.
It was whilst walking along Filey beach, with a crocodile of children on a week’s residential visit, that I had the idea of photographing a series of images around a box theme: paint box, telephone box, lunch box etc. There would be six images for each theme that I would then put onto a cube. The cubes could be put into a display case and changed as and when. That formed the basis of yet another minor obsession for a few months.
James was very quickly becoming the player to watch at Wombwell and in January he was scouted by Rotherham United. It was only later that we found out the scouts had actually come to watch another lad from Barnsley called Reece, who was playing for Royston but they were equally impressed by James as well. As ever, James took it all in his stride, obviously thrilled and probably a little nervous, but approached it with his usual quiet confidence. The first training session was at Millmoor in the gym and was taken by a coach called Paul Toy but who in true football fashion had a nickname – Tonk. He was a large, balding bloke with a rough, barking voice who scared James to death! Coming home that night he laughed slightly nervously and said if Tonk was taking it every week, he wasn’t going again. But for as long as anyone could remember, James had wanted to be a footballer so we knew he’d keep going no matter what happened. Despite being a new lad to the squad, he fitted in perfectly and was not outclassed at all. When asked his name, he said, “My name is James but most people call me Jimmy” – so they did. At the meeting before the actual signing took place, we were told by Youth Team Leader, Tony Morton, that football could be and probably would be, brutal; players would be released and dreams would undoubtedly often be shattered but, “if you’re willing to go through that and put your son through that, these are the terms etc…” We asked James and there was no question. Of course he’d sign.
He was able to see the season out playing for Wombwell Warriors, his ‘huge engine’ frequently commented on, he could run and run. At the end of season awards, he was given Players’ Player and Player of the Year.
With James playing for Rotherham United, as well as being a Junior Miller with a season ticket (he went to all the home games with Auntie Mo and Oliver) you might have thought he was totally obsessed with football. I certainly spent hours with him down at Kilnhurst park, kicking a ball around, targeting crisp packets stuffed into crevices in a wall, but he also saw me playing the guitar and singing so, naturally, wanted to do that too. He for some reason came up with a simple rhyme about a pineapple (!) to which I suggested a simple tune and we recorded James singing ‘The Pineapple’ along with a full backing on my four track tape recorder. His older mate Jack was really impressed with the results. He was learning to play Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” so I was ‘commissioned’ to record the drums and bass tracks for him and James to do the guitar parts and singing. In fairness it was mainly Jack but they both had a whale of a time doing it and were really chuffed with the final product.
Tracey and I managed to get down to the Carling Academy in Birmingham to see The Libertines. I’ve obviously been to many gigs and there is always some inexplicable feeling in the air when you know you’re seeing something extraordinary; this was one of those occasions. The Cribs opened the evening, followed by The Ordinary Boys and both were good but from the minute they strolled onto the stage and began twiddling around on their guitars, gradually building up to launching into the first frenetic song, The Libertines gave off a chaotic, shambling brilliance. It couldn’t be any further from the tight, precise Green Day album but it was very, very special.