A rush of endorphins

Before music became his life, a university writing course provided Liam Fray with creative stimulation and excitement

May 20, 2010

My mum and dad are teachers, so it was always a given that I'd go to university. I got good grades at A level in business and economics, so I drifted into an economics course at the University of Salford.

But it was wrong for me - as soon as I started I thought: "Hang on, I don't want to spend three years of my life doing something I'm not in love with." So I left after one term, worked in retail for the rest of that year, then went back to Salford to do creative writing - and I loved it. I stayed for only a year - the band (the Courteeners) were starting to do well and I left to do music full time - but I'm really glad I did it.

I don't come from a wealthy background; my mum and dad were working class, and both were the first in their families to go to university. I felt quite bad about packing in the economics course, and I had a student loan, so it was a big decision to leave. I didn't tell my parents until after I'd left the course and had been working for six months.

I worked in management in a shop in Manchester and also did little acoustic gigs around town. I was at my friend Sean's one day and saw a prospectus on his bed for a creative writing course at Salford. I thought: "I'd love to do that." So I went in the next day and signed up. I was honest and told them why I'd left - that I hadn't been in love with economics and hadn't clicked with people on the course because they were so business oriented.

Some degrees are very specific whereas creative writing is open, which I enjoyed. I knew from the start that I wasn't going to be a writer, but I loved gaining skills and meeting like-minded people. I was surrounded by creativity - someone would have a poetry reading or something and I'd go along and feel I could contribute. It embellished the whole experience for me, and through it I met a lot of people who are still friends today. I enjoyed going in every day because I was getting so much more out of it, rather than feeling I had to go because my folks were paying for it.

One of the best things about being at university was that I was pushed into thinking differently. In college, it's very much teacher-talking-down-to-pupil, but at uni I didn't see the people down the front as teachers. I gained a different sort of respect for them because they made me expand my thinking and enticed ideas out of me. The social aspect was also very important: Salford is three minutes' walk from Manchester city centre, so you'd finish your lectures and it would be: "Anybody want to go for a drink, or go shopping?"

I intended to complete the course, but halfway through I was given a book to read in the middle of the week, on top of one I'd been given earlier in the week. I'm a particularly slow reader, and I also had all these gigs around town. I couldn't do both.

One night around Christmas in 2004, I did a pub gig that was the turning point. It was a freezing night, and the pub had Christmas cards all along the bar, and the atmosphere was so warm and happy. I thought: "This is what I want to do all the time." I went back and did the next six months of university, then left and formed the band.

I always think I could go back to university, and if I did I'd approach it differently. A lot of people go without knowing what to expect - they see it as an extension of college, or they go because of their parents' expectations. But it should be a whole new lease of life. At school, you're just sat there and fed information, but you come out of university feeling really fulfilled, with the endorphins pumping.

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