his manhood, Xero Slingsby left Skipton, his home town in the foothills
of the Pennines and headed off to the rather more metropolitan life
of Leeds and Bradford. In these Siamese cities, joined at the hip,
there was a wonderful mix of people. There were Indians and Pakistanis
with their aromatic foods and bright silk clothes and their entrepreneurial
talents. There were West Indians with the thumping bass of their
sound systems and the sweet scent of sinsemilla at their blues dances.
Mixed in amongst them were the supposedly intellectual elite, students
by the suburb full. Last but not least, there still existed some
small pockets of the original Yorkshire folk who had in the past
few decades been overrun by these newcomers.
the students was a liberal sprinkling of teenagers from the surrounding
countryside - market towns such as Otley, Ilkley and Skipton - away
to the city to further their education, to make something of themselves.
almost pre-ordained that Xero would become a professional musician.
asked by a BBC journalist whether any other members of his family
were musical, he responded thus (while continuing to pull apart
the engine of his beloved Bedford van) :
All my family has always played - both sides. Me Dad played saxophone.
Both of me uncles sort of mess about. Their father was a professional
musician, playing piano and trombone. Me mother's dad played saxophone.
Both me grandpas played. One of them was a band leader and the other
one played double bass. Me great-grandpa played an' all. Eugh -
there's all bits falling off this engine!!"
eighteenth birthday his Dad bequeathed to him his own father's antique
double bass. He also passed on a knowledge of the basics of jazz
musicianship. He instilled in his son a tendency towards unpredictability.
advised Slingsby Senior "You must learn the rules first so that
in future you will know how to break them".
end Xero enrolled at Harrogate Music College. He learnt to read
and write music notation. He learnt the correct and incorrect ways
to do things with all sorts of instruments. But within such stuffy
confines, Xero could never have been at home. He felt as if he was
drowning and found himself rebelling against his teachers and his
peers, who all seemed so dull and downright bloody boring.
around this point in his trajectory that Xero was, early one bleary-eyed
morning, freewheeling his push bike down Manningley Road when a
dustbin wagon found itself blocked in a back street. The driver
reversed back into the main road thinking that the warning lights
and beeps were enough.
slammed straight into the side of the truck. It was not a pretty
sight. Somehow, the ambulance people managed to scrape him up, resuscitate
him and piece him back together. He was transported to Hospital
where the surgeons - and in the ensuing months, the nurses and physiotherapists
- worked wonders to get him back on his feet. Xero possessed an
iron will and the keenness of a cat to survive. Within a matter
of months, he had left his family home once again to head back to
the city. A long curving scar along the right side of his scalp
was the only apparent legacy.
to go another eighteen months before his next major contretemps.
In a thick November fog late on a Friday night (after chucking out
time at The Royal Park) the number 56 bus was slowly wending its
way along the side of Woodhouse Moor when two lights (one on top
of the other) came from nowhere, straight towards it. At first,
the bus driver thought it was a car on its side. Then, too late,
he realised it was a man on a unicycle. He had an illuminated Miners
Helmet on his head, a headlamp strapped to the unicycle - and he
was momentarily squashed up against the windscreen of the bus before
falling out of view. Thankfully, the bus had not yet picked up speed.
The helmet probably saved Xero that time.