Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Almost Famous, Part deux

Sorry to leave you hanging after the last episode. I am sure you were just dying to know what else went on....OK, maybe not so much. But I am back now.

Shortly after the Scottish part of the journey I headed to London. In 1983, the UK was not in a particularly good economic state. Come to think of it, I am trying to remember a time when it wasn't in a bad way...

Upon arriving in London, I went immediately to Abbey Road. This was not the first time I had been there.

I made an attempt a couple of years earlier- 1981, during my graduation trip to Europe. That attempt  was foiled  by a security guard who was wearing a uniform that said "EMI Security" across the lapel. Very impressive. I asked to see the studio, being a young engineer from Canada and all that.

"Nooo. Sorrry. All we get 'ere is people cryin' for 'Beeet-les, blouuudy Beet-les.'  Cawn't let you in. Not without an appointment. Sorry. Good offternoon." I tried my various charm methods.  And, damnit, I  was well-versed in charm; I had just crossed the English channel in the company of a delightful Swedish lady named Ingela. Or Angela. At that point names we not terribly important. I think that's whather name was. Ingela. Very blonde. And Swedish. I just lost my train of thought.

I'm back. Yes you'd think that after being up all night, traveling from France and honing my bullshit skills I'd be at the top of my game. But no. I met my match in a craggy Cockney fellow from EMI Security. It was clear that any more attempts at chatting him him would result in a physical removal: Mine.

Fast forward two years. I walk into Abbey Road as many famous people do. As if I belonged. The smell of the place (mostly old wood), the vibe... thinking John, Paul, George and Ringo had walked these steps many times and.

"Excuse me!...Excuse me! Do you have business here?"

I was so busted.

Undeterred, the next day I went to RAK to see Big Country again. I may have been a a tad skittish given my near brush with Death at Abbey Road just as I was nearing a state of bliss. With crossed fingers I told the girl at reception I was here to see Big Country. No problem. So in I went. It was like old home week. Each of them referred to me in turn as "The c**t from Canada". I was introduced to Steve Lillywhite- whose work I had admired not only with Big Country, but also with Peter Gabriel and Joan Armatrading...A very talented fellow. I was expecting some distinguished gentleman in his 40's, but he turned out to not be much older than I was (he was in fact 4 years older than I, and likely still is).

After much camaraderie and hanging out I announced that I was looking for work in London and where did he think I should go. I was expecting hilarity all around- but no. Lillywhite gave me his number and told me to call him because there maybe something available at the Townhouse. Excellent!

By now I was thinking I was on the road to becoming well-connected.The next day I called as instructed. I was living in a rather gloomy hotel in Earl's Court (yes, those of you who know London are thinking "Ewwwwww"...but it probably was not as bad back then) that had a phone box. The hotel had, unfortunately been missed by the Nazis during the Blitz. Pity. But there was a rather cute girl from Newcastle working there. I toyed with the idea of asking her out, but her accent was so thick I woudn't been sure if she'd said yes or not. It would have been quite the date:

"What would like for dinner?"
 "Foodgy poodgy meself a-poodly piddly"
" Ummm...I'll have what she's having"

I digressed again. Dammit. I hate when I do that.

So I set out to make the big call- to Steve Lillywhite, NOT the hotel girl from Newcastle. We're done with that. British phone boxes of the era required you to push coins in when you heard 'the pips' (no relation to Gladys Knight, sadly). While the pips were pipping the phone call was interrupted until the machine finished counting the money. I only had 10p and 5p coins- which didn't last long. You got maybe 15 seconds of talk time before the thing started pipping and wanted more.

So my job inquiry/interview with Steve Lillywhite went like this:

"Hi Steve it's Dave Findlay. How are you?
"Hi Dave I'm very well, thank you...I.."  PIP PIP PIP PIP PIP PIP...ka-chunk...
"Yes, Steve I'm calling from a phone box in my hotel. Sorry..."
"No worries, You can call the" PIP PIP PIP PIP PIP PIP PIP...ka-chunk...
"Yes, sorry....should I go to the Townhouse?"
"Yes, do that and make sure you ask for.." PIP PIP PIP PIP PIP PIP PIP...ka-chunk..

I didn't get the job.

I did get some larger coins though. And armed with about 20 quid in coins I called AIR Studios. I told them I was an engineer from Canada (I may have slipped in the Big Country thing and perhaps suggested Steve Lillywhite was a close personal friend of mine. I might have.) and wanted to see the studios. I was told to come in the next morning at 10. Bonus!

At the time they were in Oxford Circus, right above the tube station where about 50 lines of the London Underground intersected.

I was invited in as scheduled and treated very well, I must say. I was told to wait in the reception area- which I did gladly. I noticed that on that particular day, on the "board" they had:  in Studio 1, Madness; Studio 2 ("MPL COMMUNICATIONS" which I knew was McCartney Productions Limited); Studio 3, Dire Straits; Studio 4, The Pretenders. Not a bad lineup. I was told I'd see everything except Studio 2 ("McCartney's in there and he's funny about these things...")

As I waited, desperately pretending to look nonchalant, I heard a deep voice with an upper-class English accent. I looked up and saw a tall man with long gray-white hair chatting with the studio manager. It was George Martin. Himself. In the flesh. Had this been a Six Feet Under episode you'd have seen me run up to him and say "Please let me work for you I'll clean ashtrays I'll do your copying I'll extract parts for you I'll tune your piano I'll wash your car just let me work here for you please please PLEEEASE".

But I didn't. He looked at me. I looked at him. We both smiled politely and I managed to say, "Good morning".  To which he replied, "Yes, good morning!" That was that.

Well not quite. While I was there there was a stream of very young men looking rather awkward coming and going. I asked the studio manager and was told that they were looking to hire an assistant. feeling this was my chance to make my 'elevator speech', I did. And very well too, I might add.

However I was told that I was over-qualified, and a little old- I was 24. Still too young for prostate trouble. But they were looking for kids to live at home and be bottom dwellers to work their way up. Which I was willing to do. Ask the girl from Newcastle. or Ingela...er Angela.  Oh god was I willing! The pay was 25 Pounds a week (even in those days that was nothing) but I was going to call my dad and say "Daaaaaad! I need some supporting!!!!". However, the kicker was that, even though I had a work visa for the UK,,"we have 15% unemployment in this country...and we probably shouldn't hire a Canadian But DO let us know how you make out."

She could ask Ingela. Or Angela. Whatever her name is. She's probably back in Sweden feeding her yak, remembering me fondly.


  1. Hello. I saw you followed my blog, so I checked you out. You had me from the words "Big Country." Okay Beatles helped. And Joan Armatrading pushed me over the edge!

  2. Thanks Shayrul! Delighted you came along and had a read. I promise to put a new instalment up SOON!