Virgin Records, the label not the stores, were looking for a sales rep. to cover Scotland. Given that I was never going to be a professional footballer or the singer in the sort of band who changed lives, melted hearts and lifted souls this seemed like my dream job. I would get free records, maybe even tickets for concerts and, just possibly, the chance to meet famous people. The fact that I had no experience of working in the industry didn’t put me off, I knew exactly how to get the job…I would blag, lie and charm my way into it.
I sent off my C.V with a covering letter…and a mix-tape. They had asked candidates to put together a compilation album as part of the application…of course what they meant was write down a list of songs that wouldn’t look out of place on the latest instalment of “Now That’s What I Call Music…” but that wasn’t the way I rolled baby. Uh-uh. This hip cat was cut from a different sort of cloth. I made an actual mix-tape. I made a front cover and everything. I had the front cover printed off at one of those photocopy places that were all the rage in the 1990’s…I figured that good quality paper might just swing things for me.
What was on this compilation?
Don’t be impatient.
First things first.
It was called…
My Life Story.
How do you like those apples?
You see this compilation album was a journey through my life in 24 songs…a sonic portrait of the kind of man that Virgin Records, the label not the stores, just had to have on their payroll.
It sounds a bit what?
The whole thing was a glorious celebration of the music that mattered in my life…tracks that my parents played by The Kinks and The Small Faces, a bit of glam in the shape of Bowie and Bolan, UK punk from the Sex Pistols and Buzzcocks, 2-Tone, early 80’s indie, baggy, Britpop and all the rest. It was, to be quite frank with you, bloody fantastic.
Did it work?
Of course it worked.
I was invited to attend an interview at the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh.
The interview was to take place at 4:30 in the afternoon.
That my friends is the dead zone of interviews…you’re the last person in the door, the interviewers are tired, they’ve sat through hours of Apprentice style bullshit, you are the person least likely to progress any further in the process. I’m fairly sure I was only asked to come in because I had supplied a physical copy of my compilation with my application and they wanted to see what kind of sad sack would do something like that.
What followed was a rather wonderful 2 hour long “interview”.
They didn’t ask me about my experience or what I thought I could bring to the role…we just went through the tracks on the tape, listening to them on a tape player they had brought with them for that exact purpose and chatting about why I had selected them. It was great fun. The last track on my tape was of particular interest to them. They asked me why I had chosen that track…
“O.K, can I be honest with you?” I asked, they said “Of course” and I explained that I had chosen the track for two reasons. “First” I said “This band are on Hut records and that’s part of the Virgin stable so I wanted to make sure that I did a bit of sucking up.” They laughed at that and then said “You said there were two reasons, what’s the second one?” and so I told them “Ah, well, the second reason is the more important one and the more honest one…it’s brilliant. It’s sad, it’s beautiful, it’s warm, it’s tender. I love that it sounds like the band are sat just beside me. There’s an honesty about every part of it…it’s totally free of any pop star pretence. The moment I heard it I fell in love with it.”
“Fireworks” by Embrace.
I love it today as much as I did the first time I heard it.
In fact, every time I hear it sounds like the first time I’m hearing it.
Prior to the release of the “Fireworks” E.P in May of 1997 the band had released a 7″ single on Fierce Panda; “All You Good, Good People” with “My Weakness is None of Your Business” on the b-side. Both of those songs eventually became top ten hits in their own right. In total between 1997 and 2006 Embrace had 16 top 40 singles. Sixteen. Six of those were top ten hits. They also had seven top ten albums…three of them were number ones. That makes Embrace…a big deal.
Richard and Danny McNamara have been crafting the sort of anthems, pop songs, ballads, tear jerking, warm hearted nuggets that an army of Noel Gallagher’s would sell their thumbs to have written for over twenty years now. They are a band who have that wonderful knack of writing the sort of songs that render you incapable of hitting skip, lifting the needle or changing the station from the very first note.
It’s hard to imagine these two boys from Bailiff Bridge in West Yorkshire ever imagining that when they were in an outbuilding at the bottom of a garden with a tape recorder, a drum machine and an upturned broomstick as a mic stand that they ever really believed they would become one of the biggest bands in the country. Of course it shouldn’t have happened for them, they arrived in 1997 when the record companies had tired of Britpop and labels were dropping acts like Super Hans drops pills in “Peep Show”. It wasn’t a good time to be a young British guitar band. Fortunately somebody at Hut heard that Fierce Panda single and recognised that they were worth investing in.
Their time on Hut saw three albums released, their debut “The Good Will Out” went straight in at number one and featured the brass soaked, roaring, rollicking “All You Good Good People”, the more tender than “Tender” “My Weakness is None of Your Business”, “Come Back to What You Know” (which was the highest charting single from the album at number 6), the rock ‘n’ gospel soar of “One Big Family” and the track that started it all for me “Fireworks”. Really it’s a debut album that is so confident that it makes Damon Albarn seem like the poster child for self-deprecation.
The follow up to “The Good Will Out” was “Drawn From Memory” which also broke the top ten, reaching number 8 and spawning 4 top thirty singles. For fans it was another suite of corkers but for the type of people who judge success by chart positions and sales (people like Morrissey!) the spreadsheet showed a band who were marginally less successful than they had been two years ago. By the time the third album on Hut arrived, “If You’ve Never Been”, the writing was on the wall as far as the executives were concerned…Embrace were finished. Not even another top ten album chart spot and two more top forty singles could save them.
What doesn’t kill you serves only to make you stronger right?
For Embrace that was certainly true.
With everything to prove they were signed to Independiente Records in 2003 and set about delivering the sort of riposte to being dropped that makes the nightmare of the past the sweetest dream of the present. The debut album on Independiente was “Out of Nothing” and it hit the top of the pops. A number one album. More good news arrived in the form of lead single “Gravity” (written by someone called Chris Martin) which broke the top ten and then three more singles which all made it into the top thirty. Better was to come when their second album for Andy McDonald’s label arrived, “This New Day” and also went to number one in the charts as well as delivering their highest ever chart position for a single…”Nature’s Law” making it to number two.
In 2014 a new album arrived on Cooking Vinyl, “Embrace” which made it to number five in the charts. It’s not bad going this is it? You start off with that upturned broomstick as a make believe mic stand, get signed by a major label, deliver three big selling albums, get dropped, come back with even higher chart placings and then move labels before delivering another hit record. It’s almost as if the McNamara brothers are…good at this whole songwriting business? Actually, the truth is that Danny and Richard are deserving of a place alongside any of the big names in pop or rock of the last twenty five years.
Here we are in 2018 and they are back with a brand new album “Love is a Basic Need”…it’s also broken into the top ten…and it is, almost undeniably, their finest collection of songs. Ever? Maybe. Yes? I’m going to go out on a limb and say…absolutely. Songs like “The Finish Line” will break your heart, “Never” (with guest vocals from Kerri Watt) is a thing of beauty, “Wake Up Call” is simply classic Embrace…big and small at the same time, “Snake Oil” is, in the words of slightly tragic middle-aged people trying to be “down with the kids”, a tune, “Where You Sleeping” sounds like a good Kings of Leon, “All That Remains” washes over you like the tide coming in on a sun kissed beach, “Rabbit Hole” will have audiences belting every word back at the stage with as much verve and vim as the band can handle, “Horseshoe in my Glove” is sad and lovely, “My Luck Comes in Threes” includes the line “Take my heart, it’s broken in two, we got this far but now my soul is black and blue” and for that reason alone deserves to be played over and over again for the rest of my miserable life and “Love is a Basic Need” is the sort of epic, sweeping, soaring, bag of wonderful that only Embrace could really have recorded.
What more do you want?
The answer is nothing.
Oh…I didn’t get that job.