Exams Special

How I got my A-levels

by Paul Morley

paul morley

It seems like only yesterday, when I was but a sprog, running around in my grubby shorts and getting a clip round the ear from our Mam for playing my collection of rare Big Bill Broonzy vinyls too loudly, that A-levels were something that only the upper classes got. At least that was how it were in the backstreets of Manchester.

I remember reading in a much-thumbed copy of Melody Maker, a hand me down from my older brothers, that Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones had been to LSE. 'How do you get to LSE then, our mam?'
'You 'ave to get your A-levels our kid'
'Whatīs A-levels?'
'Donīt be so bleeding cheeky.'

That was how it was in those days, for a knowledge thirsty youngster growing up in Manchester. They called me 'the seeker' because I was a really desperate guy.

When I was quite a bit older, I was hanging around the late great Tony Wilson, working as a tea boy at the Factory studio. I asked Wilson about A-levels, 'eh, do you have A-levels, our Tone?'
That took him completely by surprised. I have never seen Tony Wilson so flummoxed, even when the red tops reported Shaun Ryder and Juila Roberts were an item.
'So you havenīt got A-levels, Paul?' he asked me.
'No.' He gave a little laugh and adjusted his cravat. Then, with a flourish, he took out a quill pen and wrote in a very gentlemanly hand,

This is to Certify

Paul Morley

Has reached Advanced Level standard in Postmodern Music

Signed Tony Wilson

'There you are my boy. Now you need never be confounded by those who use knowledge as an acquisition and qualifications as chains to bind the working classes.'
'So does that mean I am equally as qualified as you?' I asked the great man.
'Of course not, I went to Cambridge. A twist of lemon and half a sugar in mine, thank-yoooo.'

And believe it or not, that little piece of paper was all the qualification I needed. Firstly, because it gave me all the confidence that a poor boy from Manchester who had nothing but this pure blinding passion for music needed. And secondly, because all I had to do was show that piece of paper to newspaper editors, and they were happy to let me write some anodyne filler piece about the Manchester music scene.

More articles from the special report on exams:

Should A-levels be awarded to scum?

Are exams getting easier to write about? Indepth analysis