#loveHE: A palpable hit

Stuart Maconie found his voice at university and took his first (albeit faltering) steps towards music journalism

May 13, 2010

I went to Edge Hill University to study English at the start of the 1980s. I chose it for a variety of reasons, some intellectual and some social. I have to admit that when I applied I thought it was nearer to Liverpool than it actually is, although it is not too far away.

The music scene in Liverpool was very fertile at the time, with bands such as The Teardrop Explodes and Echo and the Bunnymen, and I was mad on music - I was even in a band.

That was part of the reason why Edge Hill appealed to me, but I was also very keen on literature, and poetry in particular. The first-year course was really my thing. It covered 20th-century literature and poetry: poets such as W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes, and novelists such as Kingsley Amis and Graham Greene.

I had always been a bright kid but at school I got bored easily and did most of my reading outside lessons. I was most interested in things such as 1930s poetry, and the stuff we did in class really didn't interest me. As a result I was a bit of an underachiever, and while it would be an exaggeration to say I was a troublemaker, I was by no means a model pupil.

After school, and having done less well in my exams than I should have, it was an absolute revelation to find myself at a place where you had to act on your own initiative, where people actually treated you like an adult.

I blossomed in that environment. I would say that my time in higher education was the most important of my life in terms of development, as I read voraciously and started to write for the first time. I really enjoyed the longer, more in-depth writing style that was demanded, as opposed to the fairly basic stuff at A level. It may have changed now, but certainly my A-level essays weren't models of erudition.

I went away and I read and read, and I think that was where I started to develop the prose style that I still have today. However, I've never been a good "joiner-in", especially then, at the age of 18, when I'm fairly sure I thought I was too cool for school. So although I enjoyed writing, I didn't get involved with any extracurricular writing activities. I thought that if other people did it, it was uncool. I thought to be a true artist you had to sit smoking and drinking in your garret.

The only thing I ever joined in with was a disaster. Towards the end of my degree, someone tried to launch a music fanzine at the university. I wanted to be a music journalist, although it was a pipe dream at the time, so I offered to interview a band who were playing at Edge Hill. They were called The Bluebells and they'd had a couple of hits. After the gig, I went to their dressing room to talk to them. After about 10 minutes, I said something like: "These are really good times for The Bluebells."

It was then that they said: "We're not The Bluebells." It turned out I had been talking to the support act and The Bluebells had gone; I'd interviewed the wrong band. I switched my tape recorder off and thought: "That's pretty much the beginning and end of my career as a journalist."

But weirdly enough, three or four years later, I got another bite at it and managed to do it right. Looking back, I was stupid not to get more involved, and I'd encourage anyone going to university not to make the mistakes I made.

The year I graduated was the worst year for unemployment in UK history, so I didn't leave Edge Hill in a blaze of glory. I wouldn't say I left under a cloud, but coming back years later to receive an honorary degree as an "old boy made good" was lovely and meant a lot.

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