For those young achievers who scaled the heights at Teenage Kicks, the rewards were truly glittering. The star-spangled first ever ‘Samuels’ awards ceremony took place on the night of 24th May 1985 at Coco’s Trattoria, just behind Albert Square, after about eight or nine pints in the Square Albert. If you collected a Samuel that night, trust me, you are in possession of something very precious.
It was Paul’s dream to build a team around his softlads – one that could hold its own against The Fine Art, Hotel and Catering and Business Studies elite, the superpowers of the mid-eighties student astroturf scene. It was all about balance, blending the youthful promise of David, Chris Vagg and Ronnie with the maturity and nous of Alan Robinson and Karl Bates, coaxing the very best out of gifted but wayward talents who had squandered their inheritance on late nights and lager. This team, formed from the ashes of Chorlton Cosmos, became known as Teenage Kicks, the Undertones anthem summed up their defiant spirit and from 1984 to 86 they were the most written about team in Manchester. When his vision temporarily floundered, he didn’t hesitate to reach for his chequebook, bringing in apprentices like Rob and Chopper and always a coach ahead of his time, he sought out overseas talent in the shape of the flamboyant Brazilian, Ricardo.
Of all the arty practices I experimented with on my foundation course, the one I really enjoyed was etching. The technique of scratching onto a copper plate, dipping it into acid then layering ink on it and creating fantastic blotchy prints was like a magical process to me. I adored the idea of learning an ancient craft, especially one which required such heavy-duty kit – great clanking iron printing presses straight out of the industrial revolution, baths of acid and huge pots of treacley ink. I was getting my hands dirty and loving it. Not only that but the idea of multiple reproduction was a new and exciting concept that just blew me away. I was churning out loads of copies. I did a couple of studies of the church across the road from where I lived and when an entrepreneurial housemate saw them he suggested some papal designs which we could sell during the Pope’s visit. I can still smell the chemicals and hear the sharp northern tones of Tony, the very patient ink-smeared technician who showed us the ropes. The scratching was great for a monotone effect but then we delved into something called colour aquatint and the results were astounding. I wouldn’t consider myself to be much cop at drawing and maybe it was simply being surrounded by all that acid but I really believed for a few months that I had a bit of artistic talent. Not only that, but I had a pile of etchings tucked away under my bed.
On my course there were twelve of us and three full-time tutors giving us their undivided care and attention. What a trio they were. If there are jobs like this still going, can I have one please? There was Dangerous Derek, about as dangerous as a comfy slipper. Perfectly genial and amiable, but prone to ramble on endlessly about his dog. Sid looked like the Ancient Mariner and couldn’t wait to get away from harassing students and off to his holiday home on Anglesey. Pam was the most dedicated, in terms of prodding, poking and probing a disparate bunch of individuals. We came from every corner of the country… there was Tony from Wigan, Dave from Birmingham, David from Galashiels, Alison from Bolton, Geoff from Barnet, Paul from Salisbury, Neil from Huddersfield, Karen from Sheffield, Alan from Chester, Paul from Cleethorpes, Nicole from Eastbourne and Geoff from Kilskeery. Some clearly had a calling and were destined for greatness, others were just a bit too easily distracted. Of course this was all a good few years before the advent of desk-top publishing which would turn our business upside down. If we wanted to see a bit of lettering we traced it out of a Letraset catalogue and if it wasn’t the right size we traced it out again on a piece of equipment called a Grant Enlarger. Hard to believe but this device was about the size of a small garden shed. Like drawing-boards, typescales and hot metal, it was all soon to be consigned to the dustbin of design history. I’m sorry I wasn’t more open to Pam’s well-intentioned attempts to kickstart my career but pot-collecting and Old Trafford took a lot out of me.
Didn’t the Stone Rose, Ian Brown once famously say that Manchester had everything except a beach? He was wrong. Many years before I discovered the joy of Lidos, Chorlton Water Park was our local summertime strip if things got a bit overheated in the concrete jungle and it was too much bother to organise a trip over to Blackpool. It was a product of the 1970s when gravel was dug up from this area to build the M60, and the area was flooded to form the lake. It was effectively a patch of green surrounded by motorways. On a hot weekend it was packed and there was a lot of strutting and posing, plus all the usual vices associated with urban youth with nothing to do on a hot afternoon. Walking for the joy of it, birdwatching or even recreational cycling were not on the agenda at that time but it was good for a dip and a bit of a cruise or maybe throwing a softlad in. There was a pub adjoining it called Jackson’s Boat which was as countrified and rustic as things got in those days.
Of all the dole offices I’ve ever frequented, the one held in fondest memory is that at Highfield Road, Stretford. Its appeal was not immediate – an ugly lump of flaky concrete located in an unsavoury part of south Manchester, on the edge of one of the main routes out of town, close to the Ship Canal and the decaying industrial wastelands of Urmston and Eccles. It had an outstanding view of the massive Flixton cooling towers on the horizon and with a fair headwind, there was the opportunity to sample the full-on sickly stench of Rice Krispie production eminating from the Kellogg’s factory. Its saving grace was its position on the edge of a vast swathe of Green Belt, stretching from Morrissey’s beloved Southern Cemetery to the decay of Trafford Park. Through this, the River Mersey, at this stage of its evolution, little more than a large stream, wends its merry way, dissecting a horrific urban mesh of motorways, playing fields, sewage plants and rotting sixties housing projects. Chorlton was about two miles walk from the Stretford DHSS, and this walk happened to be through a particularly appealing tract of what otherwise might have been a haven for all sorts of scarey and unappealing goings-on. Indeed, with a bit of imagination one could truly envisage oneself striding through the Cheshire countryside. On a midsummer’s day with the birdies twittering, the grasses high and a full set of greenery upon every bough, the walk across ‘the meadow’ was enough to put a spring into the stride of even the most jaundiced dolite – and believe me, in Manchester, in the summer of 1986, there were plenty of us around. But there I was, a happy-go-lucky post-graduate just back from a month’s inter-railing and without a care in the world. I might not have a job, but with a summer breeze making me feel fine and the air full of pollen and the aroma of toasted breakfast cereal, could life ever be better?
I hooked up with John Ferrari on my Foundation Course. A great friendly bear of a man, he worked nights as a croupier in a city casino. It was the early eighties and times were tough, he had two growing kids and lived in a small council flat in Crumpsall. He was studying Fine Art and there wasn’t much room for clutter, never mind all his canvases and painting paraphanalia – he needed a clear-out. And so it came to be that John presented me with an unusual gift which I still treasure. A commemorative rug, a souvenir of United’s European Cup win in 1968. He sought a new owner and perhaps Barry White had put in a good word for me but it seemed like my credentials were up to the mark. It brightened up my attic bedroom no end. It has a classic purity and simplicity a million miles away from any similar souvenir tat which would be churned out today. Since those days it has in truth been rolled away a few times but is now enjoying a renaissance. Perhaps though its finest hour came in 1999 when I wangled a ride on it all the way to Barcelona for the Bayern Munich Final.
In the summer of 1984 it was a brave student who was prepared to forsake the donkey-jacket and doc martin uniform so beloved by those of a more militant tendency. Ashley, who hailed from Uttoxeter in the heart of the Staffordshire coalfields, was actually on his way to support a picket and what turned into the Battle of Orgreave. Who could forget the pictures of what was described as ‘a medieval battlefield on a hot summer’s day’. Line upon line of police, menacingly thumping their truncheons on riot shields. Horses charging across fields into groups of bare-chested men. His slight look of agitation isn’t because of any premonition of the agro that was going to be unleashed that day, but because he’d forgotten his ‘Dig Deep for the Miners’ placard and was now running late for the coach from Aytoun Street. Some might say his get-up was more suited to Gary Davies’ wet t-shirt night at Placemate Seven but he assured me the pastel ensemble went down well on the picket line and was excellent for morale. My undying respect and admiration for Ashley is for an act he performed one evening shortly before his departure. Without making any noise or remembering a single thing about it the next morning, he singlehandedly manoeuvred a Safeway supermarket trolly up three flights of stairs and into his bedroom.
For a while, after we set up our business, the Poly Library at All Saints was a sort of office, a real home-from-home. It had an extensive selection of public payphones, an excellent photocopier, drawing boards and nice toilets – not to mention all the superb reference material. What’s not to love? It also meant I could continue observing student/academic life which was something that wasn’t going to happen working on the kitchen table in Laurel Avenue. One character we noticed at this time was a middle-aged and rather unkempt individual who sat in the same spot every day, furiously copying out cartoon strips from The Dandy comic. He always used a pencil and never seemed to develop his sketches into finished artwork or use any colour. What on earth was he up to? Eventually we got talking. His name was Bob and apparently he was in touch with the comic’s publishers in Dundee and had been commissioned to come up with new ideas for Desperate Dan and Bully Beef. Perhaps this was true, but he seemed to be working on the same one each time I examined the work closely, so his tale seemed slightly outlandish. We called him ‘The Fantasist’. Very soon he was regailing us with explicit accounts of his acrobatic sexual adventures with a gymnast from Salford. Another intruiging thing was that he called both of us ‘Dougie’. Maybe he thought we were running The Piccadilly Disco. He was in turn fascinated by what I was doing, hovering over the photocopier, fiddling around with letraset, scalpel and pritt stick. He was just happy with his pencil and rubber. A simpler world. He’s quite possibly still there right now, getting his cow pies just-so. I liked Fantasy Bob – he was lost on a planet of his own but the pleasure he was getting out of being there was plain for anyone to see – I think we could all learn from that.
Where I lived in Chorlton seemed to be at the epi-centre of a wonderful selection of characterful pubs and drinking dens in which for a couple of years in the eighties we seemed to spend an extraordinary amount of time. The closest to home was the rustic Horse and Jockey, all beams, low ceiling and open fire, with a good selection of benches outside. It was fine for a game of pool and a couple of pints before tea but it was too claustrophobic for a proper sesh in the evening. The Bowling Green was more like it – full of hardened drinkers who liked to cackle and recite dirty limericks into my tape recorder. It had a casual, homely feel and because it was the gateway to the meadows and the water park, a bit of a countryside vibe. The Beech was small, unpretentious, maybe not what we wanted most of the time, but good for a quiet drink to discuss serious matters – which meant we weren’t in there very often. The Trevor Arms opposite looked promising from the outside but was full of grumpy old codgers. The Royal Oak and The Feathers were two great pre-party pubs, five or six of us huddled in the corner, numbers increasing as the night wore on. Bang in the centre of Chorlton, The Royal Oak was the more studenty and likely to pack out – you never knew who might walk in. The Lloyd Hotel was ok for a quick one but never a big session, there was the feeling that nothing much was ever likely to happen there. Not so the neighbouring Lauriston, formerly Chorlton Liberal Club. It was actually a private members club and somewhere we were more likely to go to play snooker with Joe 90 rather than a proper quaff, though there was the odd memorable party there. Friendly Fred and Fozzie who managed it had Chorlton’s first waterbed. There were even a couple of wine-bars, Charlie Brown’s and Adam and Eve’s – they had a bit of music and were good for afterhours, though could my drink-befuddled memory be confusing things and were they one and the same? One thing I remember for sure was being punched and headbutted in one of them. There was an Irish Club on High Lane with lively Sunday nights and music sessions but I was too terrified to go there very often.