Way back in the olden days when you had to sell more than a hundred singles to get to number one, album sales were still in rude health and the internet was just a twinkle in most people’s eyes, I started work as a Sales Rep for PolyGram Records. Believe me, for someone who was (and still is) obsessed with music, this was nothing short of the dream ticket and to coin a phrase, I felt like the proverbial pig in shit. It was 1990, the year in which Thatcher resigned, Mandela was freed, West Germany won the World Cup and Bruce Forsyth was celebrating only his 62nd birthday. It was also the year that I had a surreal meeting with Mark Knopfler. At the time, he was one of the biggest rock stars in the world, largely due to the phenomenal success of Dire Straits’ previous 30 million selling release, “Brothers In Arms” which was, incidentally, the first album to sell a million copies on CD alone.
I had only been with the company a few weeks when the sales team was invited to the famous Metropolis Recording Studios in Chiswick, West London, for an advance playback of the upcoming Notting Hillbillies album, “Missing…Presumed Having A Good Time”
The Notting Hillbillies were, to all intents and purposes, Knopfler’s country-rock side project; a band also comprising accomplished musicians, Brendan Croker, Steve Phillips and Guy Fletcher – names I wasn’t even remotely familiar with. However, as a West Country soul-boy whose only previous claim to fame was meeting a man who once came third in the National Life Insurance Sales Awards, whilst working for my previous employer, The Prudential, these guys were obviously rock-gods and I didn’t much care that I’d not heard of them. I also didn’t much care that I’d recently referred to Dire Straits as Dire-reah or that “country-rock” was about as interesting to me as 18th-century Russian literature – I was getting paid to go to and meet a bona fide pop star and so suddenly I was a massive fan…..
What exactly is the protocol for meeting the rich and famous from the showbiz world? In the 15 years I worked in those circles, I never really found out, but as a general rule of thumb, I discovered that, although there were a handful of notable exceptions, the bigger the star the more charming and pleasant they were and at 6pm on this cold winter evening that premise was about to be tested for the very first time.
The beautiful, black, Porsche roared into the parking lot at a rate of knots, driven by someone who was obviously exhilarated by speed – I subsequently discovered that Knopfler has a collection of classic sports cars which he likes to race. Much to my surprise there was no advance party of make up girls, an entourage of heavily armed bodyguards or even a manager smoking a fat cigar, just a lone, slightly dishevelled, regular looking bloke speaking in a soft Mid-Atlantic Tyne & Wear accent – albeit emerging from the brand new, privately number-plated car of my dreams!
After some small talk about the weather, we were ushered inside to the warmth of the studio and formally introduced to my new friend, Mark, who had already taken the mickey out of my Somerset burr but self deprecatingly admitted that his own regionally accented speaking voice hadn’t stopped him singing like a native New Yorker! The new album was then presented by it’s leading performer and whilst listening, drinks and snacks were served as we got to spend a good hour or so with him discussing the making of the record and also some of the highlights of his Dire Straits’ career.
The evening sped by and it was after we had said our goodbyes that Knopfler turned to ME and asked where the loo was. I didn’t want to appear rude so pointed to a door on the lower level of the building that looked like it could be the toilet, although worryingly I wasn’t 100% sure. My eyes followed him down the stairs and then watched, mortified, as Mark Knopfler, world superstar and multi-million selling recording artist opened the door to the room I had decided “looked” like a toilet where was greeted by the clattering of brooms and buckets due to the fact that I had given him directions to a rather overfilled cleaning cupboard. I froze in horror as the room went quiet bar a few muffled sniggers. It was at this point that I expected to be looking for another job in the morning, but this engaging, witty man looked up to where I was stood and laughingly shouted the words that are indelibly imprinted in my brain:
“Nice one! If I’d known calling you a yokel was going to piss you off that much I’d have asked one of your mates where the crapper was”