Perhaps it is better to quit whilst you’re ahead, but I was still pretty devastated when The Smiths split up in 1987. Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long before Morrissey burst back into the limelight in February 1988 with his first solo single. Vini Reilly’s guitar on “Suedehead” sparkles with a brilliance I’d previously thought only Johnny Marr capable of, though with Stephen Street producing and playing bass guitar, the song was always going to be good. When the “Viva Hate” album was released not long after, it sounded like the next logical step on from “Strangeways Here We Come” and was undoubtedly the best Smiths album they never recorded. Morrissey was evidently at a creative peak and cranked the bleak Northern humour up to maximum, singing about the “seaside town they forgot to bomb” on “Everyday is like Sunday” and then asking us to “share some greased tea” with him. “Late Night, Maudlin Street” may as well be called, “Being Miserable On Miserable Street” but is really a beautiful lament, remembering growing up, moving on and closing the door as you leave the family house for the last time. Even here he can’t resist the self-deprecating humour, “Me – without clothes? Well a nation turns its back and gags…” The album opens with a squalling guitar on “Alsatian Cousin” reminding us he’s a punk at heart but then has the Eleanor Rigby-style darkness of “Angel, Angel, Down We Go Together”. Any album that has a final song asking Margaret (Thatcher) to “please die” must be good. I wouldn’t generally wish that on anyone but at the time, in the north of England, she really was considered the embodiment of evil.
I was also having a pretty creative streak and had begun turning my attention to computer imaging and film-making. Mark, the deputy head teacher at Bramley Sunnyside, and I had been amazed at a computer programme that digitised a photo and reproduced it on a screen. In hindsight it was actually rubbish and the image was barely recognisable, but it was early days for digital imaging. Mark had also bought himself a video camera and suggested taking it with us on the next school residential visit to Habershon House in Filey to film the children whilst they were out and about working. However, I had other ideas. I’d recently watched “Ghostbusters” on video and thought it would be even better if we made a spoof horror film in the house – it’s certainly a spooky enough place! I’d been particularly taken with the scene where the camera films from the perspective of a ghost’s eyes, looking out from the fridge when someone opens it and I wanted to recreate that in some way. I set about writing and storyboarding the “Habershon House of Horror”.
When the time came for the visit, we hired a full-sized video camera to get the best picture we could. Rather than letting the children know the plan and getting too excited (never good when they’re sleeping in dormitories, with their mates, away from home for the first time!) we told them what we wanted them to do just a few minutes before we actually did a take – one quick rehearsal then film it. They were brilliant and really entered into the spirit of the thing, happily creeping stealthily down dark, spooky corridors, pretending to be asleep in bed at five o’clock in the afternoon and even going along with the ridiculous idea of killing an imaginary ghost by throwing their dirty socks into a fridge. By the end of the week they were talking about nothing else. For us, the hard work really started when we got back and it all had to be edited. I’d never done anything like it before so it was a very steep learning curve and Mark and I spent hours in front of two video recorders, copying from one to the other, pausing, rewinding, checking, rewinding, checking again and, often, redoing it when it had all gone wrong. At home, I used my new Tascam PortaOne four track tape recorder to put the soundtrack to the film. We were really pleased with how it all looked and everything was arranged for the special assembly for pupils and parents at school where we would unveil the finished product.
They loved it. In my preamble I explained how we were hoping to sell copies of the video to raise money so that we could buy a video camera to be able to develop film making across the whole school. Parents queued up afterwards to put their name down for a copy, one of them pledging that for every pound we raised, he would match it. Wow! The race was on. We went round all the local shops and sold advertising space on the video, we persuaded the local video rental shop to hire copies out and we contacted the Rotherham Advertiser newspaper to tell them what we were doing. And that was when things got a bit bonkers. I had a phone call from the Daily Express who wanted to put an article about the “horror” film in their national paper, Radio Sheffield rang and then came to do an interview about it and a few days later I had a phone call from the local Education Authority suggesting that we could be attracting adverse publicity because of the nature of the film (they’d never seen it) and we should stop promoting it. I argued that no publicity is bad publicity and no, we would not be stopping until we’d raised enough money. Eventually, with the match funding, we bought a camera for around £700. So there, Mr Authority!
Looking to build on the success of the “Sparks Will Fly” show, Wingfield School decided to stage a production of “Grease”. The school had decided to make it something special and, as well as getting a band together (I played guitar), hired a sound engineer to coordinate the technical side of things. Trevor worked at The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, so brought a really professional feel to things, but even he was surprised at the quality of the performance from the cast, many of whom hadn’t been in anything else before. A girl called Nicola played the part of Sandy whilst the parts of Danny and Kenickie were played by Scott and Justin respectively – that way round because from the auditions, the staff members thought Justin wouldn’t be strong enough to take the lead. It wasn’t until the first night (the dress rehearsals had been a bit shaky!) that everyone realised how wrong they’d been. He’d coasted his way adequately through the rehearsals but saved everything for the big night and was fantastic – singing and dancing with a previously unseen confidence and absolutely stealing the show. Before the shows, Justin would usually hang around with the band, talking mostly to me about music, desperate to find out more about the records I had – particularly The Smiths ones. He was massively into rap but I gave him a cassette of Viva Hate and from then on he wanted to be Morrissey.