and I'm now a student at Saint Martin's School of Art in London's West End where 'it's all happening'. Some of the students and visiting tutors here were, or would soon become famous - David Hockney Peter Blake, & Mary Quant, for instance. I don't think I gained anything from them being there, and the tuition was not as testing and eye-opening as had been the case back in Stoke.
But there were so many interesting places to see and draw in London, the sort of places that were not to be found in Stoke-on-Trent. So I spent much of my time out sketching.
Charing Cross Road tube station
Lock & Co. Hatters workshop, St James street
East End docks/ Canary wharf
I got the opportunity to practice drawing people too. In cafe's and on the tube, lost in their own thoughts or a newspaper they unknowingly posed for me, untroubled by the fact that I was staring at them biro-in-hand, unaware that the crossword puzzle magazine I was apparently thinking about concealed a sketchbook.
And the illustration tutors in college arranged for some interesting people to come and sit for us in the costume drawing class.
By this time I'd played and sung in a fair number of folk and blues clubs back home, and had become quite a confident performer. I thought that if I gave it a go in London I could perhaps earn myself a bit of money. There was a trendy coffee bar near to the art school, in Litchfield street. I went in with my guitar, played the owner a couple of songs and asked if he would be interested in having me entertain the customers. He said - Yes. How about a weekly folk session in the cellar? He introduced me to a singer named Leonore Drewery and suggested we form a duo. We did,
and this was the birth of -
which became the most famous folk cellar in London.
This was a turning point
I was now playing to a regular returning audience rather than just doing a ‘guest spot’. This meant I needed to enlarge my repertoire. It was this that lead me to start writing my own songs. I was tentative at first, but was bolstered by the thought that even if they were not very good at least the audience wouldn't have heard them before.
Up until that time pretty well all the creative writing I’d done had been judged by a teacher. Now I was writing for a paying audience. They didn’t award me marks out of ten, They simply reacted.
If I heard casual chatter during a song that was meant to be thought provoking. If nobody laughed at a line that was meant to be funny I knew without having the to be told that something was wrong - but what? A particular word, or line, or rhyme, the rhythm, the timing, the emphasis? I'd make changes and test the song out on the audience the following week. I stopped worrying about whether they thought it was 'a good song' or 'a clever introduction' I was to engaged in trying to make the words have the effect that I wanted them to have. It was this change of focus that set me off on the road to being a writer.
I left St Martins with a distinction and got a job working for an American publishers recently moved to Knightsbridge. I was an editorial designer working on the 'World Book Encylopedia'. I sourced photographs organised page layouts and illustrated subjects like
My job was was to present facts and in a way that could be easily understood, along with simple clear illustrations. Not creative challenge that working for Pictorial Knowledge would have been.
I spent nearly 4 years in London. It was interesting and occasionally exciting but I never felt at home.
My heart was up north, where it's boring and slow.