The Apprentice (Remastered And Expanded)

John’s fifteenth studio album was released in March 1990, a year that saw the South African Government finally bow to world pressure and release Nelson Mandela after 27 years incarceration, John Major become Prime Minister and riots across Britain in protest against the poll tax.

The Apprentice was recorded in Glasgow although many of the songs had been completed by February 1988. John was signed to Island Records but they didn’t like the album and the two parted company. Although he was without a record contract John continued to tour, solo in late 1988 and then in the spring of 1989 this time accompanied by Foster Patterson on keyboards. Edinburgh born Patterson had worked extensively on John’s 1986 album Piece By Piece having written the title track and also Patterns in the Rain, the last song on The Apprentice. John gave a rat-pack performance of Patterns in the Rain accompanied by Patterson on a white grand piano at Island Records 25th Anniversary Party at Pinewood Studios on 4th July 1987.

John signed to Permanent Records and The Apprentice was released. A confident and fresh sounding album of varied material from the fierce funky disco beat in Deny This Love with crashing synthesizers and samples, to the more understated instrumentation on The River, Send Me One Line, Look At That Girl and the vastly underrated The Moment (only available on CD having been left off the vinyl release). Look At The Girl is written about John’s now grown up My Baby Girl Mhairi and Income Town, apparently live from the mythical The Green Banana in Toronto is in fact dubbed. Typical of the man’s sense of humour!

I asked John what had inspired the albums title song, “It’s a song about a man I met in a bar and he looked pretty ill. He was a very sick man, he was gaunt and his body was pained and withered. He worked at the nuclear plant at Sellafield and he had cancer, and he was convinced that working at Sellafield was causing his illness. He was only a young man but died. A terrible way to die. It took personal experience of something like that to make it hit home. To be involved and know someone who was dying like that. These things have to be brought into the open.“

Contrastingly the romantic ballad Send Me One Line was inspired by Helene Hanff’s book 84 Charing Cross Road, describing her twenty-year correspondence with Frank Doel of the antiquarian booksellers Marks & Company, of Charing Cross Road in London. Hanff lived in New York and was unable to find copies of some British literature and many of the classics. She saw an advertisement in the American magazine Saturday Review of Literature for out of print books.  Knowing nothing of Marks & Company she wrote to them for the first time in 1949 enclosing a list of her “most pressing problems”, copies of second hand books she could not find, and a request that they must be clean copies costing no more than $5.00 each. In London it fell to Frank Doel to fulfill her requests and she received the books safely. A friendship evolved, not only between Hanff and Doel, but between Hanff and other staff members as well. They exchanged Christmas and birthday gifts, and Hanff sent food parcels after she learnt about Britain’s post World War Two shortages and rationing. Their letters include discussions on diverse topics including Yorkshire Pudding and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and chronicle events such as Winston Churchill’s 1951 election at the age of 77 and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second. Sadly Hanff didn’t visit the shop until the early 1970s after it had closed and Frank Doel had died.

I feel that I have known you for a lifetime now
Though these eyes of mine have never touched your face
The distance between us seems so great sometimes
How I need your love to fill this empty space.

I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch, I keep waiting for some kind of sign
I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch, close watch on this heart of mine.

Send me one line tell me who you are
Send me one line tell me just what might have been
Send me one line tell me who you are
Send me one line.

I know we never meet, I know you understand
Every shade of love and every dream I have to hide
With every day that slips away, I read your name again
And I try to push away the pain inside.

I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch, I keep waiting for some kind of sign
I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch, close watch on this heart of mine.

Send me one line tell me who you are
Send me one line tell me just what might have been
Send me one line to tell me who you are
Send me one line.

I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch, I keep waiting for some kind of sign
I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch and I keep waiting
I keep a watch, a close watch on this heart of mine.

Send me one line tell me who you are
Send me one line tell me just what might have been
Send me one line tell me who you are
Send me one line.

The 1987 film adaptation starred Anne Bancroft as Helene Hanff, Anthony Hopkins as Frank Doel and Judi Dench as Nora Doel. John told me, “Joe Lustig rang me and asked me to write a song for the film so I read the book and wrote the song, I think it’s a nice little tune. I wrote the song and then forgot about it so it was too late to be used in the film!”

As if to continue the film theme John has long admired the American actor and bass baritone Paul Robeson and The River is inspired by Robeson’s acclaimed performance of Ol’ Man River in the 1936 film version of Show Boat.
Deny This Love was remixed and released as a single (the cappella introduction being lost) with a live version of The Apprentice on the B-side. Both songs are added as bonus songs to this expanded release as are three songs recorded during John’s extended 1990 Apprentice Tour with Alan Thomson on bass, Spencer Cozens on keyboards, Arran Ahmun on drums and Dave Lewis on saxophone. The highly regarded sound engineer, Dallas Simpson, has carefully and sympathetically remastered the original album and bonus songs.

A spellbinding album of love, hope and reflection, with a modest sprinkling of rage and disbelief at an inequitable world. More Sorcerer than Apprentice!

John Hillarby