To use the vernacular, the drums and bass are as tight as a duck’s arse. Which is good because everything else on “Up The Bracket” by The Libertines is so loose it’s constantly on the verge of falling apart. From the very first bars of opening song ‘Vertigo’, the guitars are trying desperately to go slightly faster than the rhythm section and often than each other. In the background there are clicks, pops and occasional chatter or shouts which makes the whole album at once full of energy and joyous abandon. The Strokes were cool, The Libertines sounded like they couldn’t give a shit about being cool, which of course is even cooler. It was the most exciting thing I’d heard for ages and wanted to tell everyone I met what they were missing. As was becoming the norm these days, I’d read about the band in NME and then managed to find a couple of demos on the internet – most notably the song “What a Waster” which was just full of clatter and swearing. With lyrics falling somewhere between Morrissey and Chas and Dave, they sang of ‘fucking wasters’ and ‘two-bob cunts’ whilst managing to mention The Beano and the unabridged version of Ulysses in the same breath. The military jackets and references to Albion served to emphasise the sense of Siegfried Sassoon passing poetry to a squaddie whilst calling into the gentleman’s club on the way to the boozer – so many contradictions. When the album came out, I played it almost non-stop. There wasn’t the bad language of ‘What a Waster’ but the feel was the same; clever wordplay and guitar work disguised as simple punk rock. My favourite lines are from ‘Time For Heroes’ – “there’s fewer more distressing sights than that of an English man in a baseball cap” and ‘I Get Along’ – “I get along just singing my song, people tell me I’m wrong…fuck ’em.” Exactly.
I was also feeling pretty energised with my own creativity, I think it was the result of both seeing things differently through the eyes of a little boy (James) and being inspired by Tracey, urging me to try out my ideas. I enrolled on a City & Guilds Photography course at Rotherham College of Arts and Technology so that I might have an ‘audience’ for my images. The module I really got into was the ‘Black and White Photography’ one, where every Tuesday night my colleagues and I were in the darkroom, up to our arms in developer and fixer; smells that always reminded me of our kitchen back at home when I was growing up. There is something magical about an image gradually appearing on the paper and knowing you’ve got a good one. For the final assessment piece of the module you had to say how you would exhibit your images and I hit upon the idea of building a miniature mock-up of the gallery. In the middle of the room would be a box with images of a woman on each side, giving the impression of someone laying inside it. Tracey, as ever, indulged me by being willing to pose for the photographs which were certainly original and I thought, pretty good. I achieved a Distinction too, so the assessor must have agreed with me and that was a great feeling of achievement.
Fuelling my desire to visit as many ancient stones and burial chambers as possible, Tracey and I also managed a week away in Cornwall, staying in a static caravan. We had a fabulously relaxing time, pottering around the countryside, photographing the sites and spending endless, lazy hours in small town coffee shops or drinking wine and eating Pringles in the van.
Of course, I missed being with James and, when we went to Majorca later in the summer, we played together for ages, making sand sculptures (a sphinx was the first one we did and the professional bloke making sculptures further up the beach, came and gave us some money – I think he was a bit miffed!) and throwing or kicking a ball about on the beach. We often took ourselves off to have a cold drink or an ice cream – he was such good company.
Back at home, James started going to another football school, this time down at Manvers sports centre with a bloke called Terry Simon. As well as being amazed at James’ flexibility, when he was asking everyone’s name at the first session he said to James, “Tha dunt ‘ave footballers called James, I’m gunna call thi Jimmy.” And he did. For the next ten years, his footballing name was always Jimmy. Terry used to play for Sheffield Wednesday and these sessions were used for him to signpost talented footballers to the club. James was obviously talented and was asked to go to the Hillsborough training ground once a week for an eight week period. At the end of it they told us that he was a good player but wasn’t really fast enough so they didn’t want him to go anymore. My response? Fuck ’em.