When I was at college, there used to be a butcher’s on North Street, just near the bottom of Coltsgate Hill. We never shopped there of course, because we were either in digs (for the second year) or college accommodation and had all our meals provided. But the butcher’s was particularly notable when, in 1979 it put up a handwritten sign saying: “You’ve read the book, you’ve heard the song, you’ve seen the film – now try the pie!” The film it was referring to was Watership Down and they were selling rabbit. The song was the undoubtedly beautiful, but somewhat saccharine-sweet ‘Bright Eyes’, sung by Art Garfunkel, which seemed to be at number one forever. It was also quite possibly (though probably not really) one of the reasons why I’d completely overlooked Bright Eyes the band, until 2005 when I heard one of the tracks from the “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” album played on the radio late one night whilst on my way back from a gig. The song was ‘We Are Nowhere and It’s Now’ and it struck me straight away because it started with a short mandolin instrumental. That was followed by the brilliant opening line of, “If you hate the taste of wine, why do you drink it ’til you’re blind?” The voice had a fragile strength that cracked in places either due to emotion or weakness (it didn’t matter which – it worked) and then I heard a voice that I recognised from somewhere, singing harmonies. I later found out that it was Emmylou Harris. The song was the perfect, gentle accompaniment to my late night drive home. I bought the album.
All the elements I had instantly loved in that one song, were spread across the whole album; some of the most beautiful, atmospheric songs I’d heard in a long time with lyrics that captured perfectly the romance of the ordinary. ‘Old Soul Song’ in particular with the lines, “Grey light, new day leaks through the window” and “all the way home you held your camera like a bible” is typical of how Conor Oberst (he is ‘Bright Eyes’) manages to sing about a violent demonstration with crowds, barricades and police in such a seemingly gentle way. ‘At The Bottom of Everything’ kicks the album off with a perfect acoustic ‘driving song’. Musically, the colour palette is huge, ranging from just guitar and voice to songs with brass and electric guitars – everything we were always trying to achieve with The Rogues. However, there wasn’t much light and shade in our playing on St Patrick’s night that year I’m afraid, more like fast and furious, but it was probably one of the best gigs we’ve ever played. It was at Snafu in Rotherham town centre, and people were actually queuing up to get in so it was absolutely packed all night with very drunken people and a fabulous party atmosphere.
James continued to dazzle us with his football skills. He had some great games, mostly for the Rotherham United under 9s, but sometimes playing for the under 10s, getting ‘Man of the Match’ a few times and scoring plenty of goals, but still getting it in the neck throughout almost every game from the coach for reasons we could never fathom out. We tried to console ourselves with the thought that it was perhaps because they expected him to be brilliant every second of every game and not make the mistakes that everyone else seemed to be allowed to make. I have to say, it never seemed to bother James at all; he just got on the pitch and did his best every time. Whilst football was obviously his first love, James was keen to involve himself in many other areas. He still went to gymnastics and was happy to run cross country for school. He also wanted a Les Paul guitar for his ninth birthday (he got the Epiphone version!) and played that through his first amplifier; occasionally putting it down to play with his Power Rangers figures. His birthday party was at the mini ice rink at the side of the bowling alley in Kimberworth, so he was into anything and everything really.
Tracey and I visited quite a few ancient sites over the year: Avebury again (a particularly note-worthy visit to the West Kennet Long Barrow; the burial chambers so often have a peace and tranquility to them but this time we were totally alone), a few days in Aberdeenshire scouring the landscape for stones and circles, a weekend in Hereford and an exciting week, tramping around the ancient sites in the heat of Malta. We had such a fabulous, timeless time wherever we went, talking constantly, getting into scrapes (the bulls at Drumtrodden in Scotland were particularly… interesting!) and drinking coffee in little, forgotten towns after numerous early starts where I would try and photographically capture the often magical atmosphere at the stones. Perhaps the words of Bright Eyes sum up our days, “All day it seems, we’ve been in between a past and present…we are nowhere and it’s now.”