Long post warning
(You might want to put the kettle on or pour yourself a drink, if you are contemplating reading/listening through this)
I love BBC’s radio show Desert Island Discs.
Using music to get people to reveal either how they see themselves, or in some cases would want others to see them, is genius. I’ve often thought about what music I will choose when I’m invited and the list is in constant flux.
For those unfamiliar with the program, guests are asked to choose eight tracks, a book, and a luxury item they would like to have, if stranded on a desert island.
The interviewer usually enquires about events in the person’s life around those choices in chronological order.
My first track would be
1. The Flesh Failures/Let the Sunshine, Hair (film)
I was about 9 or 10, living in Beirut with my three brothers and sister, when our world changed with my uncle John giving us Sgt. Peppers, which replaced The Monkees, The Partridge Family and Donny Osmond on Dad’s state of the art B&O stereo.
My older brother, Hans, had a friend in who lent us two double LP musicals: Jesus Christ Superstar and Hair, the Broadway musical. I was simultaneously fascinated, horrified and incredulous when said friend told me that the cast of Hair would appear naked on stage and take drugs in public. Little did I guess that a couple of decades later I would find myself in an Amsterdam theater, ‘mellowed out’, enjoying the spectacle live.
I first saw the movie in Madrid with my brother and mum. (We were all a bit embarrassed when one of the hippies started singing: “Sodomy, fellatio, cunnilingus, pederasty…”
This song is from the final scene, where the hippy Berger takes the place of his friend Claude to go to Vietnam.
To this day it still makes me feel like you can go out and change the world single-handedly.
It also contains one of the funkiest bass line grooves I know.
2. Brain Damage/Eclipse, Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd
When the civil war broke out in Lebanon in ‘74, Dad was posted to Bern, Switzerland. About two years later a friend lent us the recently released Wish You Were Here. I initially couldn’t believe how long they were taking to start playing properly on Shine on… but it was the beginning of a love affair with the band that provided the soundtrack for most of my life.
This is a bit of a cheat, because it’s really two songs rolled into one (although I always considered it one anyway).
The first time I heard it was on a class ski week in Adelboden. A couple of the ‘cooler guys’ had arranged to sneak into the girls’ dorm and have a party. They asked me if I could dance and I said of course, not having a clue.
That night, after playing cards, we bopped around awkwardly to some pop tunes until someone dimmed the lights and put on this album. We paired up and swayed real slow and close. My head filled up with whatever perfume the girl was wearing and I was transported to a different universe.
For months afterwards, I was convinced I would have been able to get a girlfriend, if only I knew the requisite words in Swiss German to ask.
3. When What You See, Mr. Uddich-Schmuddich Goes To Town, Laughing Clowns
My parents were posted to Madrid in ’78 and my three brothers and I ended up in a boarding school attached to a monastery run by Benedictine monks, not too far from Zurich. My brother Hans, played drums in a couple of bands during the six years we were there and music provided one of the main antidotes to a monotonous, studious existence. Some of his bandmates were into quite progressive music for the time, broadening my musical horizons.
If I’m on a desert island, I’d like at least one energetic song to dance to, should I ever get the urge.
This is only the last two and a half minutes (of the 11-minute song), which I uploaded to YT. I just love the way it builds up to a monumental release with staccatto guitars, bomastic horns and manic drums.
This is about as jazzy as I get.
4. Father’s Shout/Breast Milky/Mother Fore/Funky Dung, Atom Heart Mother, Pink Floyd
Haha, another value-for-money track from the same period. Over 20 minutes long, I’d be bringing it purely for a couple of the bomastic sections with choir, french horns amazing drums etc. (eg. around 14 min 30 sec in)
Every month or so, all the boarders would go home to visit their families. A small group of us without parents in the country would stay behind in the school. Rules were relaxed on these occasions and we were allowed make use of the older years’ recreation rooms, one of which was painted black with large bean bags and a decent stereo. I remember vividly being alone in the dark room, putting on a record with a cow on the cover and staring out over green hills and forests in the distance with the Floyd teaching me the meaning of life.
5. Triple Mantra, Nirinjan Kaur
Most folk on this blue ball have some sort of belief in a greater power/purpose.
I too am a spiritual person, although don’t have much truck with shoving my beliefs down others’ throats. I think if I was stuck by myself on a desert Island, I’d find myself naval-gazing and contemplating the reasons for existence even more than I already do. Ritual might play an even more important role.
I’m not a great fan of Russel Brand, but this was one of his Desert Island choices and I am grateful to him for bringing it to my attention. It is one of those rare songs that seem capable of going on forever, without ever becoming tiresome. In fact, repetition is it’s essence. I’d learn the words and could see myself chanting away ad nauseam till I was either rescued or went potty.
6. Michael Nyman Band, The Garden Is Becoming A Robe Room, The Draughtsman’s Contract
More musical bombast! Layer upon layer is built up in this sumptuous score by Michael Nyman for the film The Draughtsman’s Contract . Peter Greenaway is one of my favourite directors. He makes me feel like I’m watching a moving oil-painting. I had to watch the film a couple of times (Yay!) to understand the plot. Closing my eyes and listening to this would be a good substitute to visual entertainment.
I had the good fortune of watching the MNB perform this in the Liverpool Philharmonic a couple of years ago with my wife.
7. Suffice to Say, Henry Priestman & friends
Anyone who’s taken a peek at my growing up on 8mm thread knows I have a penchant for memories/nostalgia. I’ll have plenty of time for that on my island and this song kills many birds with one stone.
I first heard it as a teenager on Radio Luxembourg. I had no idea who the artist was for decades, but it made its way on to one of my many mixtapes. After moving to Merseyside, I became involved with a charity raising funds for mental health in Uganda. I organised a series of fundraising concerts with local bands, and later invited a couple of the musicians to perform ‘house-gigs’ for friends in our home. One of the performers recommended a chap called Henry Priestman who was supposedly very good. My wife didn’t fancy a 50th birthday party, but I reckoned it would be a good excuse to push the boat out and pay a heftier price for a ‘proper’ musician. I googled him, to discover that he had not only penned and performed this song I loved all those years ago with his band The Yachts (they played with the Sex Pistols and went on tour with the Who), but later joined the band It’s Immaterial, who had a quirky hit with Driving away from Home, which received a fair bit of play on MTV whist I was in college. He later joined and wrote the songs for the Liverpool band The Christians who went on to have a couple of international hits. I knew (and liked) some of their work but never got into them, as they sang about social justice and I presumed they were a ‘religious’ outfit. (They were in fact 3 brothers with the surname Christian, which also happens to be Henry Priestman’s middle name!)
Anyway, Henry and his compadre Les Glover played a stonking gig in our living room. It makes me smile that I introduced him to my good friend Dr. Nick Silver who plays violin on this version and also records and plays live with them whenever suitable. In fact everyone except the bass player in this video has played in our home at some stage over the last number of years, so it provides plenty of fond memories of family and good friends.
I even had a go at it myself, so that covers Justingguitar memories as well.
8. Erbarme dich, mein Gott (Have Mercy, My God), St. Matthew Passion, JE Gardiner, JS Bach
I’m a popular music guy but there are some Jazz and classical pieces that can really move me. I just don’t know enough of them and haven’t invested the time to explore properly.
Growing up, Good Friday was a day of self-denial. The piano lid was ceremoniously closed and locked (even though none of us played). No radio; no television but you were allowed to work/study. In boarding school: soup and bread for dinner. These days I like to carve a bit of quiet time for myself, sit in a comfy armchair and listen to one of JS Bach’s Passions. Apart from the achingly beautiful music (written specifically for Good Friday), familiarity with the subject matter and understanding the German lyrics turn what I used to see as negative experience into a highly enjoyable one. Epicure to the core!
Which one of the discs would I save, if the tide was coming in and I could only save one?
Hmm… it would have to be one that I would be least likely to tire of on heavy rotation, so either the Nirinjan Kaur or JS Bach spirituals.
I’d save the Triple Mantra.
What book would I take?
Everyone gets the Bible and complete works of Shakespeare, so I would choose The Art of Looking Sideways by Alan Fletcher
It’s a treasure trove of knowledge, observations, art and humour. Every toilet should have one.
My luxury item?
This might sound strange for a guitar enthusiast on a guitar forum, but I would ask for a piano or even better, a weighted electronic keyboard with all the electronic synthesizer gizmology on board, complete with amp. I half-heartedly took piano lessons for a year and a half in my early teens, but didn’t enjoy it. I’d be curious to try to transfer my basic guitar skills and music theory and have another bash.
Phew, that was longer than I expected!
If anyone has read this far and is so inclined, I’d be interested to see what your choices might be.
No need to include personal stuff if you don’t feel like it, although it’s always fun to get a deeper view.
Either add on to this thread or start a separate one.