Some albums are on this list because they play a big part in my musical upbringing, but this one is here because it marks a transition. Actually, thinking about it, it marks more than one transition.
As I suggested in the last post, the last year of the 1980s is not one I look back on with any kind of fondness. Zoë caught a flu which turned into a persistent illness which lasted more than five years, and – not long after we had moved to Perth and taken on our expensive mortgage – Bookwise ceased to exist, leaving us with essentially no income.
I had been with Bookwise for four years, and there was a reasonable redundancy payment, but it was something of a sobering few months, as we figured out just how we were going to move forward from this.
I spent the summer of 1989 alternately job hunting and watching Australia thrash England in the Ashes. I remember it being a long, hot summer, but I don’t know for sure if that’s true; it was certainly long, as I slogged through any number of interviews for jobs I had no enthusiasm for, assuming that the right thing would eventually come along.
This was still the era of hand-crafted presentations, and I spent hours painstakingly working with Letraset to make up a set of slides I would show to prospective employers, but the pack of Letraset letters were just about the only non-essential purchases I was making at the time. There certainly was no room for buying music to play on our newly (and perhaps, with hindsight, rashly) acquired CD player, although the stream of LPs borrowed from the library morphed into a stream of CDs borrowed from the library, with the ability to record those to tape in something approaching high fidelity an added bonus.
I must have borrowed this album just before the income stopped coming in, as I know I recorded it to tape. I know that, because it was my constant companion on my round of job interviews – I remember listening to it in hotel car parks all over Scotland waiting for my turn to go in and explain why I wanted to come and work for a company I’d never heard of selling watches, alcohol (I had an interview with whoever owned Guinness at the time, just as all the scandals surrounding Ernest Saunders and the share price fixing was going to trial), or fasteners and pins – that last one was in a hotel at Glasgow airport, but I couldn’t tell you anything more about it at all.
I like to think I persevered with calm determination, but the truth was that I was becoming a tiny bit desperate as summer shaded into autumn, and did wonder if perhaps I should be looking further afield than I had so far, when I happened upon the interview which changed everything.
I honestly hadn’t heard of Ferrero beyond a vague awareness of those chocolates with the strange advertising campaign. I had to do some research before meeting them, and was surprised to piece together from the pages of The Grocer that they were responsible for several well-known brands, and were looking to establish themselves in the UK, having spent the previous 20 years or so being represented by brokers.
I’m not sure if I put it all together in my slightly frantic state, but given how the next sixteen years turned out, perhaps something had chimed with me – this was a small company looking to grow bigger, and perhaps this would mean opportunities for someone who hadn’t quite figured out what he was going to do by way of a career, but was fairly sure there had to be more to it than what he’d seen so far.
The first interview was in a hotel on the Queensferry Road in Edinburgh – it seems to be a Holiday Inn now, but it was something else back then. Relatively easy to get to compared to some of the ones I’d been to, and I remember sitting in that car park, having driven down from Perth with a feeling that this one was going to be the one. On the tape player in Zoë’s car – my lovely company Ford Orion went along with the Bookwise job – I listened to North and South and hummed along to an album I’d got to know well, waiting for my chance to prove I had what it takes to get ahead in the world of chocolate.
Something clicked that day, and the following week I was flown down to Rickmansworth – a place I’d get to know extremely well over the next few years – to pick up my new, temporary, company car and drive back up to Perth, re-employed and with something of a new purpose in life.
There’s another album coming up which reminds me more strongly of those first few weeks working for the company which defined the next part of my life, but this one will forever be my ‘interview album’, the one I turned to for its calming influence before I went in to face anther grilling about how passionately I wanted to sell things for people I knew nothing about. I know I bought an actual CD copy as soon as I had some income again, but it didn’t get played all that much, perhaps because the associations weren’t all that comforting, and I can’t tell you how long it is since I listened to it all the way through, but I’m looking forward to it.
It’s the only Gerry Rafferty album I ever owned, although I think I had a taped copy of City to City at one time. I have no idea why I picked this one up in the library; I don’t remember hearing a single from it on the radio, and no contemporary review sticks in my mind. Perhaps there was an article in Q one month which piqued my interest; perhaps there was nothing else on offer in Perth library; perhaps I just felt I should be listening to more music by Scottish artists – who knows?
What I do know is that I liked it a lot more than its reputation suggests is reasonable, and that I don’t remember why. I do now, looking at the cover, enjoy that subtle Union Jack reference, and the fact that the title, and some of the songs seem to hint at a dichotomy between Scotland and England, a sense that perhaps there were other parts of the country to explore. Perhaps it subconsciously influenced the next steps in our lives, but equally, I’m probably ascribing something to it in hindsight which wasn’t there at the time.
I think, listening to the title track now, that any review of it surely contained the word ‘sophisticated’. This is grown-up pop music, well-produced with the many instruments each allocated a place, and there are a great many of them. Every Gerry Rafferty track after Baker Street seemingly had to feature a saxophone, but there are violins, brass and uilleann pipes in here too. I have no idea what exactly it’s supposed to be about – why the isolated reference to the Rock Island Line, for example, but it’s a warm bath of nostalgia, and I’m happy to let that slide by.
Moonlight and Gold has a string section in its introduction, or more likely a synthesised equivalent – I don’t have sleeve notes to hand to find out – and is otherwise a perfectly pleasant, laid-back love song. I can already tell that there won’t be a lot to say about some of these songs. The feel of them, the melody, and even some of the words, come back to me as I listen, but not much more – I’m not stirred by the music, just drifting along pleasantly here.
Perhaps this is the first time I can make the point that musicians brought up on the 40-minute album in the 1970s didn’t seem to have any clear idea what to do with the extra 20 minutes or so expected of them in the CD age. Both the first two tracks here are over six minutes long for no particular reason I can fathom – I don’t think they would lose much by being cut in half, and I’d contend that it took several more years before anyone really got to grips with how CDs worked.
The next song, Tired of Talking has a bit more bite to it; it’s more upbeat and seems to be going somewhere. Unfortunately, the place it’s going probably isn’t worth exploring, and boils down to “oh, do shut up”. But it’s more fun than the first two, and gives me hope that there will be more variety here than I remember.
Maybe not, though. Hearts Run Dry is a perfectly serviceable, slow, breakup song during which the instruments try their best to get old Gerry to pick up the pace, but he firmly resists and drifts along, wallowing in his melancholy for another whole six minutes.
I should point out that the playing on the album is uniformly excellent – everyone is giving their best, and there are some stellar names like Pete Zorn and Davy Spillane (and, I note now Ian, later Jennifer, Maidman from the Penguin Café Orchestra) on here, but the songs struggle at times to live up to the quality of the playing.
Actually, that’s not fair – the songs are perfectly fine, just too darn long.
For example, the extended introduction to A Dangerous Age serves to jumpstart it, and it rocks along splendidly (at least for some definition of ‘rocks along’), a chorusless road song, and then it keeps doing it just past the point where it stops being interesting instead of coming to some kind of climax, it just trundles on into the sunset via two pretty similar instrumental breaks where one would have done the job just as well.
Halfway, and I’m still hoping I can find just what it was that I enjoyed so much all those years ago. Not heard it yet, though.
Shipyard Town does the thing which would serve Deacon Blue so well over the next few years; that misty-eyed lyricism tied to a jaunty melody. Deacon Blue, however, had the knack of tying songs like this to a memorable chorus, but just as this song girds up its loins for some kind of giant singalong, it drops into a bridge to nowhere, another instrumental middle eight and then back we go to the beginning.
It’s actually a lot of fun, this song (although I’m slowly understanding that this whole album is about the breakup of Gerry’s marriage); I just wish it would kick on every time it threatens to.
OK, so if it’s a breakup album, there’s going to be the deeply mournful song where the singer finally comes to terms with what’s happening, isn’t there? And if the rest of this album is anything to go by, it’s going to be nearly seven minutes long, never quite get going, and feature some delightful atmospheric playing.
It’s called Winter’s Come, because of course it is.
And then… and then Rafferty manages to throw off the blanket of fog, crank up the tempo and while assuring us that Nothing Ever Happens Down Here gives us hope that something is happening somewhere. It’s a positive riot of a song compared to everything which has come before. Maybe this was the track I was listening to before that Ferrero interview….
I’m sure it’s a coincidence that it’s the one track which clocks in at under four minutes.
But it doesn’t last. Next up, On a Night Like This is another six minutes of mid-tempo reflection which does at least have a vaguely Latin beat to lighten the mood.
Dinner party music, that’s what it is. Inoffensive and perfectly pleasant. There’s nothing at all here you can object to or will make your guests uncomfortable. I genuinely have no idea why I loved it so much at the time. No doubt you had to be there.
There’s one last song, and it’s set to a cod-reggae beat for some reason. Unselfish Love, like all of the songs on here, is perfectly pleasant, but at least it has something approximating a chorus. It also seems to suggest a way froward from the mournful wallowing the previous hour has been indulging in, and for that we should be grateful.
Overall, I’m really glad to have been reacquainted with this album, as it’s allowed me to think about that strange, uncertain period in my life, but I’m afraid I won’t be rushing to replace the CD copy I sold a few years back.
Yes, I’ve sold my entire record collection more than once. We’ll get to that, I think.
Any other albums by this artist to consider?
Well, you’d have to say City to City, wouldn’t you?
Compilations to consider?
I’ve taken a look, and I think one called The Best of Gerry Rafferty might be your best bet. Doesn’t have any of these tracks on it, though.
There’s a biography called Stuck in the Middle with Gerry Rafferty, and I imagine it’s worth a read, although I can’t promise that.