Virgin Records, the label not the store, are looking for a sales executive.
It is 1998.
I have been out of university for a little under a year.
I have tried to be a pop star…that didn’t end well.
I have flipped burgers in McDonald’s.
As I stare at the job advert for this role with Virgin I am employed by Coca-Cola…I drive a little white Vauxhall Combo van from Fife to Dundee every day and sell fizzy brown water.
Here though is a chance to work in the music business.
There is no internet so I have to type up a CV and a covering letter to submit to the company. I have no idea how to go about making a good impression on people in that world so my cover letter tells, in great detail, the story of one of the defining moments in my musical development. I figure that, if nothing else, they might like the story and that it will make their day a bit better. What can I tell you…I’m a people pleaser.
I don’t really think I’ve got any chance of landing this job.
A week later a letter arrives from Virgin thanking me for my application and inviting me to attend an interview at the Sheraton Hotel in Edinburgh. As part of that interview they would like me to give a short presentation on a compilation album.
I read and re-read the letter.
I cannot believe it.
I decide to do something I haven’t done before and try.
“I’m going to get this job.” I told myself.
But I was going to do it my way.
Rather than buy a copy of “Now…” and bore the interviewers to death with my thoughts on whatever was on that I decided to do something a little different…something that would set me apart from the crowd.
I made my own compilation album.
I mean actually made it.
A C90 tape with 24 songs.
I even had a front cover printed up for it.
I made two copies…one for each of the interviewers.
My interview was the last one they were conducting.
It was close to five and I was fairly sure this was not a good thing…they would have been meeting people all day, they would be tired, they would be exhausted from a near constant stream of “Apprentice” style bullshit and they would have planned it that the person they had the least interest in would arrive last so that they could dismiss them quickly and get to their rooms to unwind.
There was a woman and a man.
The woman was called Jill.
I don’t remember the man’s name.
As we introduced ourselves and prepared to get into interview mode Jill told me that they had asked me to come in last because they wanted to be able to spend as much time as was needed with me.
“Sorry” I said “But can I ask why?”
“It was your application. That story about buying a record with your friend “Spud” from Woolworth’s and your dad sending him home with it. Then you sat on his bed while he played an old Who record and windmilled around his bedroom. We loved that and we thought…we need to speak with someone who cares this passionately about music.”
This was the first, and possibly last, time that I had ever made a positive impression on someone.
I told them the story again and they laughed.
Then they asked if I had prepared a presentation.
I took out the two C90 tapes and handed them over.
“My Life Story” said the chap “What’s this?”
I explained that I wanted to let them see how important music was to me and so I had compiled a suite of songs that captured my history, my likes, my passions…that captured; me.
“Well” Jill said “Nobody else has done that today. OK, let’s hear it.”
I still have the piece of paper with the tracklisting for that compilation that I took into the interview.
It’s right here in front of me.
In 1998 these were the songs that I felt best expressed who I was and who the bands were that I loved the most.
Well…all except one of them, but we will get to that.
Now, in 2019, these songs still capture something of who I am.
Let’s get this party started with the first song that I selected to tell two strangers who I was.
“MY LIFE STORY”
1. Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks
My mum and dad were both Mods so there were never any records from that band from Liverpool in the house. It was either the sound of black America on Atlantic, Stax and Motown or it was the sounds of The Small Faces, The Who and The Kinks.
The Kinks always fascinated me more than any of the other groups in my dad’s record collection. They didn’t have the raw power of The Who, they didn’t seem quite as cool as the Small Faces but, more important than power and cool, they had songs that painted pictures in my mind and that lodged themselves in my brain…running over and over and over again.
I once saw Ray Davies playing in a theatre in the town next to mine in Fife. I went with my dad. It was just Ray and one other bloke. He told stories from his life. Sang the songs that defined him and the times they were recorded in. He told a great tale involving John Lennon that confirmed everything I ever thought about him. At the end of the show I made my way to the stage and had Ray sign his autobiography “X-Ray” for me. It was the first time I had ever “met” one of my heroes.
“Waterloo Sunset” may seem like an obvious choice but that is the sort of thing that the bloke in the Genesis t-shirt drinking real ale would say…he is not someone who actually cares about music, he cares about how he can use music to say something about himself; when you have no personality of your own you need to construct one from whatever is close at hand. “Waterloo Sunset” isn’t “obvious”…it is the perfect choice.
This was recorded at the start of 1973, just a few months before I was born. It is, I think, the best version of the song. I wish YouTube had been a thing when I was applying for the job…I would have ripped the audio and used it to show achingly cool I was.
Is there another song that is more romantic?
Is there another song that is more beautiful?
Is there another song that is more evocative?
Is there another song that makes you smile and hold back tears at the same time like this?
“Every day I look at the world from my window.”
That was me…maybe it was you?
Looking at a world that was within grasp but completely incapable of touching it.
A part of things.
Apart from things.
I wanted to be Terry, meeting Julie…in amongst the millions of people swarming like flies. I wanted to be like Terry and Julie…feeling unafraid. Gazing at the world with someone by my side.
I felt that way even when I had someone by my side.
For a long time.
Ever been there?
If you have then you understand.
If you haven’t then I am so happy for you.
Some of us don’t ever feel unafraid.
Some of us never find someone to cross over the river with.
I have now.
You know what kills me every time with this song?
“I am too lazy…don’t want to wander…but I don’t feel afraid.”
It’s not what Davies is singing…it is how he is singing it.
He’s not really talking about Terry and Julie.
He’s talking about feeling trapped…trapped inside his own self.
A half life, half lived.
You can hear it in every line that he sings…not just on this song…on every song. He is a man who is plagued by doubts, insecurities, troubles, trials and who is haunted by something he cannot explain.
Or at least, that’s how it sounds.
I probably didn’t talk about any of that in the interview.
I probably just talked about my mum and dad being Mods.
I don’t know if I felt the way I feel now about it then.
I doubt it.