My first year at college was drawing to a close. Others had exams to revise for but my second semester courses were all continuous assessment so I just worked hard during the day time and went out every night. I was really enjoying my artwork having discovered I was quite good at block printing, probably because it didn’t rely on me actually being any good at detailed drawing. Instead I could go out and take photographs, go in the darkroom to develop and print them (another area I really loved) and then use the pictures as the basis of my final pieces. The physicality of using the huge old Albion printing press and the smell of the inks was exhilarating. I would often go into the art rooms on my own on a Saturday afternoon, listen to the Alan Freeman Rock Show on the transistor radio someone left in there and work on my prints. He didn’t really play punk or New Wave stuff but I still enjoyed a bit of prog-rock now and again!
Although hearing “Exodus” by Bob Marley some months earlier had opened up a whole new world of music, it was also oddly familiar. The bass line on the title track was, to me very reminiscent of Gong and the fact that the song meandered on for around seven minutes was something I was quite used to. Nobody else I knew was that keen on reggae and, apart from the odd time when someone played “Jamming” at the disco up in The Wilkie (Students Union Bar) to an empty dance floor, you just didn’t hear it much. I liked it, but it was the “Kaya” album that really got me. The songs were sunshine. I certainly didn’t use the phrase back then, but the album is the epitome of “chilled out” and the themes of love, peace and smoking dope were comfortable territory for any Gong fan. I bought the album on a rare trip to Harrogate market where I wandered around flicking through boxes on the record stalls and although I didn’t have a record player, I was able to borrow Robert’s when I wanted. I’d always been a bit precious about what I played my records on (I would never take them to parties!) and Robert’s wasn’t brilliant but it was better than nothing so I put up with it.
When college broke up and we all went home, the first thing I did was go up to West Street in Sheffield and sign on! You could do that then. In fact, everyone I knew did it. However, I only did it for a couple of weeks because my brother had got a job at Wards brewery and said they wanted holiday workers. It paid more than the dole, so I went with him to work there instead. Our first job was to paint the roofs of the old cellars. They were long, arched brick structures about head height so it was mucky, uncomfortable work but there were a few of us and there was always lots of banter. After that, we were told to go and clean out the huge vats in which the beer was brewed. We were supplied with scouring pads and climbed down on ladders into the stainless steel vats which were about two metres in diameter and four or five metres deep. It was a bit unnerving when they said we couldn’t go in straight after they’d been emptied because the residual fumes could probably kill you! We had to get the timing right!
At lunch times we went out into the yard and had our sandwiches, in between kicking a football around with the permanent workers. Maurice and Barry, though, never did that. They went across the road to drink in the pub. The thing was, their job was filling up the barrels and they always had a jug of beer by them from which they’d have a swig every ten or fifteen minutes. And I mean always had a jug. Every minute of every day, they were constantly drunk! Maurice particularly had the red nose and ruddy complexion of a man who drank. A lot. Great bloke though, very generous and always asked if you wanted a drink. If that wasn’t enough, at the end of each month we were given a beer allowance – twenty four cans of whichever beer you wanted. I certainly developed a taste for Wards Bitter, sadly not around anymore.