I always wanted to be a drummer in a band, hitting things. At Markland Hill Primary School in Bolton I used to play the chime bars, which are like single keys in xylophones. I can get a tune out of most instruments, but was never much good.
Who's an 'orrible little boy then?
Bolton School Juniors was much more formal, very traditional, very cap- and-blazer. It was a direct grant school and I assume that the juniors' was seen as providing a safe passage to the grammar school. You felt dragooned. There were retired army sergeants - you called them "Sarge" - whose role seemed to be to shout at people in corridors; probably this was a care- in-the-community scheme for people who were used to having authority and couldn't survive without it.
Howzat? Not batted?
Bolton School was just across the road, a very imposing sandstone building. I remember not knowing what a free place was but that my parents were delighted. I was always a bit small for rugby so I played hockey with all the duffers, which was a bit like drumming: you hit things. I used to take my cricket kit home covered in green stains, which were not from diving for catches but from sliding down grass banks while waiting to bat at number 11.
Funeral march in Berlin?
I played trumpet in what was called a military band, although we didn't go marching about in uniform. I was also in a band doing covers of T-Rex, Black Sabbath and Slade. We called it The Berlin Airlift; we must have been doing that in history. I also played the Pied Piper in the school play.
Economics with the truth?
I got seven O-levels. It was always words, not numbers, I was better at and I think I failed physics. For A-levels I did English, geography and economics. Why economics? You couldn't do economics until A-levels and I thought it was a grown-up subject: I'd seen big lads doing economics. I got a B in geography. The D in economics was not a great surprise but the C in English made for hurried activity in the clearing system for university admissions.
Over a barrel?
I got a place at Manchester and had a brilliant time. I did English and American studies and classical civilisation; it was a new degree and they were desperate to get people on it. It was quite hard work, with bits of three degree courses, like doing one-and-a-half degrees.
I really enjoyed the American literature: JD Salinger, Nabokov, Melville and Fenimore Cooper. I'd done Latin at school and got interested in classical civilisation - arguing about Diogenes the Dog, who lived in a barrel, and other philosophers. I got a 2.1.
1976 was the advent of punk and it was a great time to be in a band, which we called She Cracked. We were really enthused with the punk ethos: get up and make a noise. Living in one room in halls, you couldn't take your drums with you, and I think I was the singer. I'm now in two bands. We sold 60,000 copies of The Shirehorses' album, and it has no musical merit at all.
Interview by Jonathan SaleReuse content