Saturday, October 25, 2008

Living in a cardboard box…

A coupla weeks in and I’m still totally confused by this whole ‘blogging’ culture – it seems as if one simply talks (= writes) into a vacuum. So, with that in the back of my mind, I reckon I might as well carry on… would anyone mind? I hardly think so because, so far as I know, just the one person thus far has found my little blade of grass in amongst the millions of tufts that lay lady lay across the big brown bed of the great green prairie otherwise and better known as the world wide wait.

So… where was I? Oh yes… the mysterious affair of styles… contained in brown cardboard boxes.

These dirt-brown-cowboy boxes (remember, they’re the ones containing the badges and t-shirts) we’d load into our cars in the aftermath of those monthly Sales Meetings. They shared boot-space with other similarly-styled boxes that we’d all collect from our St Peters Square HQ; boxes full of pre- and new-release albums and white-label singles with which we would tempt record stores, radio library people, local disc jockeys and up and coming movers and shakers in local television.

This really was like being allowed into the sweet shop and un-pocketing the key to the safe where all of the truly sumptuous goodies resided; the Trufle-factory of music. Nirvana – oh yes, as near to earthly Heaven as its possible (in my mind) to get.

And, these aural delicacies offered up the possibility of… a bit of... trade; a little like Native North-American Indians meeting up with Settlers at recently established, improbably named far-flung frontier posts. Fort Baxter anyone? They’d exchange fur-pelts, beads and tobacco in exchange for land and Winchester repeating rifles; our currency was contained on 12 inches of jet-black vinyl. Were we meant to? Who knew, who cared? No one was watching. And, besides, it was what was in the grooves that counted - more GrooveMeister Colonel than Witchfinder General.

These white-label pre-releases were absolutely superb for bartering – shop owner X had an otherwise near-enough impossible to acquire import of artist Y’s new album that wouldn’t be out domestically for at least six months. No problem, here’s a copy of Z and, moments later, artist Y’s new record was in the boot of my car, eager to get acquainted with its owner’s turntable.

And, because we had the hottest pre- and new-releases on the block… it was like being in a Ferrari on pole position at any Grand Prix as the guys from (say) A&M’s or Transatlantic’s own salesforce looked on in envy from their rear-of-the-grid Torro Rosso equivalents.

This was also, of course, long before the days of cds; when 8-track tapes were de-rigueur. Looking back, a pretty useless invention actually since no-one seemed to have figured out how to avoid the really frustrating element when a track was broken in half because of the way that the 8-track tape was configured. Thus, there was that annoying wait until the 8-track clicked in again and then, resumption of tune A – always played at the setting marked unfeasibly loud.

Thank goodness 8-tracks are now more: they took up far too much space plus, more often than not, the tape itself ended up wound around the internal spools of the 8-track-player, resulting in long spaghetti reels of tape all over the front footwell of one’s car. One can find 8-tracks nowadays behind plate-glass windows in emporiums such as The Design Museum in London – worth a look but not much point in that last, nostalgic glance over one’s shoulder; that was a form of technology that’s now as extinct as a VelocirRaptor.

We were and yet weren’t (in the time honoured acceptable meaning of the phrase) traveling salesmen; more Magnificent Seven than Famous Five – though there were only the six of us covering the entire British Isles. Because, the only door to door that any of us did was bowling up unannounced at a compadre’s house and, doubtless, scaring the wits out of that person’s wife or live-in lover by walking in as if one owned the place and demanding gallons of tea, endless bacon sandwiches and, quite often, a bed for the night.

And, my position within the whole scheme of things..? While the others covered their own bits of the UK, I’d been given more of a roving role whereby I moved around the country upfront of all our touring bands – often dodging from one tour to another that also included forays onto mainland Europe. I blame CB (Chris Blackwell) for that - but thats another story... or blog.

My allotted task? Advancing all these tours / bands on the run on behalf of the record company; and that meant making certain that everyone who counted – from local radio people to store-owners and their staff; from the home-town press to tv folk were not just acquainted with band G’s imminent appearance but were also down at Ballroom Q to witness the performance and report on it and – with regard to the record store people – to push the accompanying record as much as they could to the local populace.

Hardly a hardship since, by and large, I was out with bands or acts that I’d have gone to see myself anyway; thus convincing all of the above was barely something one had to screw up one’s eyeballs and concentrate on – it was the exact opposite of thinking of tumble-dryers to halt premature ejaculation. Oh no, this was driven by outright passion and enthusiasm; like I said, we inhabited the best sweet shop in town.

This, in turn, quite often meant driving colossal distances; people who routed tours in those days weren’t quite as savvy as they’ve had to become in this Millennium and it wasn’t unusual to have a show in Bournemouth followed by another in Newcastle followed by the next day in Cardiff – sometimes by way of Bruxelles or Ghent.

And, as much as I should be ashamed to mention this, there was at least one occasion when I actually rang the reception desk at the hotel into which I’d checked in asking not only what the date was, but what day of the week it was and… in which city I had arrived in; the lady at the Holiday Inn in Newcastle was kindness and understanding personified when I explained that I’d prefer not to be disturbed for the next 24-hours – though doubtless laughing like a hysterical hyena when she’d replaced the receiver in its handset. Who, after all, arrives in the middle of a night at an urban hotel in a sprawling metropolis unable to remember where they are… maybe its because all Holiday Inns the world over look exactly the same. I put it down to tiredness and humping brown boxes.

My brown boxes lived in the boot and across the back seat of a vehicle began life as a Ford; variety, colour I recall not – but, I do know that it was none to clean a Ford – car-washes-are-not-us could well have been this itinerant Island salesforce’s motto. So, hardly a babe-magnet but, nonetheless, it got me from A to B generally via Tony the Greek’s house in Manchester. Which, quite often – possibly more often than his wife, Marie would have preferred – became home from home.

These, in turn, were more often than not, nights without end that inevitably involved strange goings on – a sort of penance undertaken in exchange for a modicum of sleep in a bed.

Otherwise - and during the middle of yet another re-run of Where Eagles Dare (Tony had a video-player, a rare luxury in those daze), how was it that one became embroiled in manhandling a cast-iron, full size bath-tub down a narrow flight of stairs in the middle of a power cut one particular night, egged on by the long-suffering Marie handing out a seemingly endless supply of sandwiches; she must have found it easier buying whole sides of bacon from the quantities we ate.

Ah well, it made a change from shifting all those bloody boxes around and kipping across the back-seat, rolled up in a duvet, parked up in a lay-by midway through another endless night journeying from one end of the country to another.

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