The college year at Ripon was divided into two semesters, something I’d never heard of before. Basically it meant that after the Christmas holidays, we went back for a few weeks then had exams to finish off the first courses. Because I was studying art, which was continuous assessment, I only had one exam in Professional Studies. I’d realised early on that if you learned stuff as you went along, revision wasn’t really necessary so the evening before, Robert and I sat down, got out our files, opened them, looked at each other, said,”pub?” closed the files and went off to The Black Bull in town.
What followed the exams, whilst no doubt well intended, struck us at the time as a bit silly. It was called the “Inter-Semester Break” and lasted for around three weeks in February. Another name was “Reading Weeks” and we were supposed to do all the preparatory work for the next semester’s courses. I’m sure there were those that did, but no one I knew ever read a thing, or at least never admitted to it! We spent the majority of the time in The Bull or down at The Mags (The Magdalens) an old man’s pub, well away from the places that the rest of the students frequented. It was there that during a conversation about where the cold, icy weather was coming from, one of the old men with particularly bushy eyebrows poking out from under his flat-cap remarked, “It’s that gap in t’Urals!”
Lock-ins at The Bull were pretty frequent and Robert and I joined Ken and Steve, two other likely lads from the Owen House halls of residence, on one particularly heavy binge. We were bored. And perhaps that was the real point because when the courses did eventually start, we threw ourselves into the work gladly, if only for want of stimulation and something to do!
John Merrylees had been back home to Hull for most of the break and brought back some great records. We listened a lot to the first Elvis Costello album – “My Aim is True” and, as with Talking Heads, I loved the tight, clean sounds and clever lyrics. “Watching The Detectives” had a particularly sparse arrangement, the spaces in the song sometimes speaking more than the music. “Alison” was simply beautiful.
However, a few weeks later, when John returned from another visit home (he had a long term girlfriend there) with Costello’s next album – “This Year’s Model” I knew I was listening to something special. It was faster, heavier and dirtier than his first, songs like “No Action” and “Pump It Up” thumping out of the speakers. The drums clattered, the bass was powerful and driving, underpinning the bright, rocky guitars, seedy fairground keyboards and sneering vocals. Even the “nicer” songs with clever harmonies had sexual undertones. It was modern Rock ‘n’ Roll at its best.