Our regular Friday night visits to ‘The Moonstone’ (a heavy rock pub in St John’s Precinct) inspired a song called ‘Shelly’. Shelly was a strikingly beautiful barmaid by whom Slug was besotted, but surprisingly this was not reciprocated. I wrote an unrequited love song:
“The first time I saw you standing there – Those eyes and that smile, that long brown hair. How could I begin to get to within a million miles of you? Shelly please stay with me, I want you stay and I wish you would say to me that you’ll be mine forever. I will be yours today – give all and more but That ain’t to say that I want you to stay for evermore.”
Twaddle, I know, but again I employed all the different chord types I’d learned. This song had a middle eight (a short section with a melody which differs from the verse and the chorus) and a guitar solo and a vocal harmony. I reasoned that by tuning down the E and A strings on my guitar by one octave, I might be able to replicate the sound of a bass guitar. I reasoned correctly. So, apart from there being no drums (just dad’s metronome), I managed to record, using only my two little cassette machines, a performance resembling a full band. Over the months I applied the same recording technique to a number of other songs and piano pieces. I also continued to bunk off school with Pete Cresswell to co-write more songs.
Everything other than music began to seem so unimportant to me, and my education suffered as a result. I had failed to attend a single General Studies lesson. Pete told me that the teacher taking the roll call cried out “Graham Trust? Does this person exist?” With one month to go before my ‘A’ levels John Ayres took me to one side and said there was no more he could do for me. I would either get a straight ‘A’ grade for English or I would fail – miserably. It all depended on which Graham turned up on the day. The penny finally dropped and, in a dreadful panic, I abandoned my guitar and spent every waking hour revising English and History. I began displaying signs of stress, and habitually scratched my head in the false belief I had nits. It was actually the roots of my hair that I was gouging out. I began to worry about going bald (that only makes things worse) and told my friend, Phil Williams, that if I failed these exams, I would kill myself. He defused my anxiety by replying, calmly “That’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?”… Though almost bereft of common sense myself, I was very receptive to those who spoke it, and Phil had buckets full of the stuff. He wasn’t introspective; he wasn’t a worrier; he wasn’t a misery; he enjoyed life, and people loved him for that. I tried hard to adopt Phil’s joviality and Slug’s strength of mind as a means of keeping my own meandering, depressive thoughts in check.
Another close friend of mine was Brian Steele, an anagram of whose name is “a silent beer”… Enough said.
The exam results came in July, and John Ayres’s prediction turned out to be remarkably accurate – I got a straight ‘A’ for English and, having also passed 3 other subjects, I qualified for a place at Lancaster University. The rest of the summer was a productive one, a lot of which was spent in Nic Corke’s basement performing our limited repertoire over and over. You would expect the clatter and thud of Nic’s drums to have disturbed the household, but it was my voice which caused most offence in the upstairs quarters. Nic’s dad stayed well out of the way but his mum Jan cursed me and mocked my warbling – and with total justification. In an effort to make myself heard above the general din I had to shout, and all I’d learned about singing at St Mary’s became irrelevant. If you can imagine a wailing, recently bereaved Kevin Rowland impersonating Paul Weller on a bumpy train journey then you have some idea what the Corke family had to endure. They wished away the days until October, when I would p**s off to Lancaster University and never again assault their ears.
Lancaster was a windswept, pollution blackened, shabby old place. The campus, which stood on a hill a mile or so south of the city, was an ugly 1960s architectural nightmare, further disfigured by the high rise Bowland Tower. It came as no surprise to me to learn that, over the years, and with unerring regularity, the more discerning students flung themselves from that tower to their deaths. But these were trifling issues, and I was going to give University my best shot. Within a fortnight, though, I was writing home, pathetically paraphrasing Hamlet – “To me Lancaster is a Prison.” I seldom played my guitar. A charming, drug-dealing Yorkshire man called Adam, once snarled from the cell next door, “If you play that guitar once more I’ll come in there and wrap it round your f**king neck.” I didn’t do much academically either. In the first week, at the end of an English seminar, the lecturer told me that the following week I would be required to talk about the works of W B Yeats…I did nothing. The night before the seminar, panic stricken, I scurried off to the University Library and plucked every Yeats book I could find from the shelves, and read and read and read without understanding a word of it. Where was John Ayres when you needed him? I didn’t attend that seminar or any other thereafter. My confidence was shot, and I began to think the unthinkable – I was going to leave University.
In November The Jam released their fourth album ‘Setting Sons’ and were booked to play the Great Hall which my room overlooked. In the late afternoon on the day of the gig I heard strains of ‘Private Hell’. “Wow – they’re doing a sound check!” I dashed down the stairs, through the open door of the Hall and upstairs to the balcony. The Jam all looked up at me and carried on playing. Other than their road crew I was the only person there. Feeling a little self conscious I left after a couple of numbers. That evening, in the bar, I accosted Colin the Mod and, with wild excitement, told him about my private audience with The Jam. He trumped me with “I’ve been sitting talking to Paul Weller for half an hour. He’s right behind you. Come over. I’ll introduce you to him.” I didn’t dare. I took my pint of bitter shandy off the bar, turned round and gave the merest glance to my left. “Alright” Weller called across to me. I waved and muttered back “Alright” then proceeded rapidly and red faced to the Space Invaders machine just outside his line of vision. I watched Weller perform that night from a far more comfortable distance. Needless to say, The Jam were great, and Weller went up even higher in my estimation. When a brawl broke out in the arena, he stopped the band mid song and yelled “Oi!You’re ruining this for everyone. If you want to fight why don’t you f**k off outside?” The combatants stopped – immediately. The orderly majority cheered and applauded. Now that’s magic.
One night, while I was wholly engrossed in Space Invaders, a student called Keith shouted “You looked like Sting then, you sexy bastard.” At that time The Police’s ‘Message in a Bottle’ was at number 1, and everyone knew Sting’s face. Many of my friends, and some strangers, reaffirmed (unprompted) that I did, indeed, look quite a bit like him. I began to model myself on him, but I drew the line at damaging my precious locks with peroxide. I read that Sting was a runner so I immediately took up jogging, gradually increasing the average length of my runs to 8 miles. I became fit and lean, and my cheeks began to hollow. As a consequence, even more flattering comparisons were made with the great man. Having said that, one woman did shout out in the street, “He looks as much like Sting as my pet goldfish.” Sting, it seemed, was in the eye of the beholder.
After 6 weeks at University, I returned to Liverpool – defeated. Dad tried to persuade me to go back and finish my education. “Have you thought about…What if you…How about…Maybe if you…” but to no avail. I wasn’t going back. Eventually he asked “So where do you belong, son?” Somehow, as I began to well up, I managed to utter “Nowhere.” There was a short pause. “No, son”, he replied, “You belong HERE.” Through watering eyes I caught his glance and we smiled at each other. That was the nicest thing anybody ever said to me, and it signalled the end of the debate. I could now move back into the box bedroom in my parents’ home – the workshop in which I fashioned, for the next 14 years, virtually every lyrical, and certainly every musical utterance I ever made.