I didn't want to be part of the scene I'd helped to create

The time: 1963 The place: Bootle train station The man: Brian Patten, poet

I was brought up by my mother and grandmother in a terrace by the gasworks at Wavertree in Liverpool. There was only one book in the house; I found it on top of the cupboard. It had a green cover, it smelt of mothballs and it was about a fox. It was called Wild Alone. If anybody out there's got a copy, let us know. It had probably been up there for years.

It was an unhappy house. I remember thinking it was always dark, but I suppose the darkness was simply inside the people. They were very unhappy people, and I suppose I wrote to try and articulate things for myself, to try and make sense of it.

There was one good guy at school called Eric Sutcliffe; he was the sports teacher and he was obsessed with opera. He used to tell us the stories, then play some music. The music never impressed me, but the stories did. I remember The Flying Dutchman - doomed to sail the sea - it was a great story.

I was in the C stream until I was 14, when the headmaster plucked me out and put me in the A stream because of an essay he'd read. I hated things like cross-country running, which meant running round the school, the back streets, the gasworks, and I'd learnt to say "Please, sir, can I stay and write a poem instead?" They were so staggered that they let me. So that was a great scam.

I met Roger McGough and Adrian Henri when I was 15. I went into a basement club in Liverpool - I'd read in the local paper, the Liverpool Echo, this weird advertisement saying "Meet Pete the Beat at Streets". I was very interested in poetry then; I was devouring it - writing it as well, but bad, imitative stuff. I felt a lot of empathy for poets such as Rimbaud because he also wrote when he was very young, and Walt Whitman and Federico Garca Lorca. I read them in translation. I couldn't stomach Eliot; it was too dry for me.

Adrian and Roger were a bit older. Roger was nine years older. If a 15-year-old, burning with poetry, turns up somewhere, the older ones must find it pretty unusual and weird.

After school, I worked as a junior reporter on the Bootle Times. I was 17, and I was trussed up like a bloody turkey in this suit and tie. One beautiful, beautiful spring morning, I was waiting to get a train into town, into Liverpool proper, and there was nobody on the platform. It was very quiet, and I just sat there knowing I hated the job and looking at these railway lines. It was a bit like the poem "Addlestrop" - a very quiet station, a bird singing a very lush song, and I was watching the lines go off into the spring haze, and I just thought, I don't want to do this job any longer. I want to be free to follow those lines. So that afternoon I handed in my notice, and I haven't really worked since.

I had to wait maybe a month, and it was a great, great sense of liberation. I was very much committed to writing and poetry, it was a great relief not to be tied down any more. I was writing at that stage, and I was running a small poetry magazine. I published my contemporaries like McGough and Adrian, and myself, of course.

And then I went with a friend of mine to Paris, and we were sleeping under the bridges on the embankment of the Seine, kipping in semi-derelict houses. I was going to go back to England, but, again, it was the same railway lines. I thought, no, if I go back I might find another job, so I'll stay away a bit longer.

I earned bits of money. I'd met up in a cafe with a young poet, a girl, and she translated some short poems of mine into French for me. I also used to write them in coloured chalk on the pavements on the bridges. I hardly knew what the translations were but they were small, bad poems of mine and I wrote them in these really nice coloured chalks - and became the first pavement poet; in a way, quite an initiative for a 17-year-old.

So I was earning enough for a basic diet of French loaves stuffed with bananas and goats' milk, which I lived on, and I travelled around a bit in France and Morocco.

About six weeks later I went back to Liverpool and rented an attic room in Liverpool 8, a run-down area; they call it Toxteth now. I survived doing bits and pieces; I was on the dole for a few months. I was organising poetry readings in various clubs and bars that paid next to nothing, but somehow it seemed easier to live on air then.

At the time, a lot of poetry would be small readings in a university environment. What we were doing was, we'd mix poetry with music and comedy, and we'd get non-academic people coming. It wasn't necessarily students, it was the boys and girls working on the tills.

Because of the media attention attracted to Liverpool by the Beatles, people were sniffing around up there. One book came out called The Liverpool Scene, which included many poets, but the predominant work was Roger, Adrian and myself. I was interviewed on a radio programme and I read a poem. Down in London a publisher called Philip Unwin heard it and asked to do a book - Little Johnny's Confession. That was when I was 19. Now I realise how lucky I was, being able to publish a book by a large publisher at that age. When those books came out, in a flush in '67 (the last being Penguin's The Mersey Sound), it meant I could get more poetry readings and get paid for them.

By then Roger had become involved with the Scaffold, and Adrian had put a band together. I didn't really want any of that. So I decided to leave Liverpool before The Mersey Sound book came out. Having helped create a scene, I didn't want to be part of one. There was a lot of energy in the city; it was great, but I wanted to concentrate on the poems and the writing.

I went to live in Winchester - from a total city environment to this quiet existential existence in a Cathedral town, reading Steppenwolf and writing poems. I love the water meadows and the river Itchen - that wide, shallow water; it cleans out your head.

I never went back to Liverpool to live. I suppose, as far as labels go, it's a label I absolutely don't mind now. There was an article at the time, in 1967, that said, "this is a flash in the pan from a three-headed pantomime horse". We're doing a tour and Roger said we should call it `The Revenge of the Three-Headed Pantomime Horse'" The Mersey Sound 30th anniversary tour, with Brian Patten, Roger McGough and Adrian Henri, starts on 2 March at Bridgewater Hall, Manchester and includes the Royal Festival Hall on 10 March (details, 0171-960 4242).

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

Guru Careers: Business Analyst / Digital Business Analyst

£50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Analyst / Digital Bus...

Guru Careers: Business Development Manager / Sales

£30 - 40k (£65k Y1 OTE Uncapped): Guru Careers: We are seeking a Business Deve...

Guru Careers: Graduate Media Assistant

Competitive (DOE): Guru Careers: We are looking for an ambitious and adaptable...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power