Here in dear old Blighty, home of the brash, outrageous and “free”, we have a radio show where people of note (scientists, poets, politicians, celebrities, singers etc etc etc) discuss their lives, loves and achievements with the host while, at the same time, selecting 8 pieces of music that they would take with them to a desert island. At the end of the show only one piece of music can be selected from the list, they are given the complete works of Shakespeare as well as the Bible…they can choose another book and a luxury item.
It’s an institution.
I’m not important or interesting enough to ever be a guest but here are my selections.
“Age of Consent” by New Order
When Ian Curtis died it would have been the easiest thing in the world for the remaining members of Joy Division to recruit another singer and carry on or to simply disband, fade away and maybe, one day, grow fat on past glories. That, I think, is what most people expected…but they didn’t do either of those things, they did something much more spectacular.
They grieved the passing of their friend and then they set about creating something new from the destruction that his suicide had left behind. Something new…New Order. A new band and yet the same band. Stephen, Bernard and Peter joined by Gillian…Bernard took to the mic with a broken, gentle, plaintive, honest voice and it felt and sounded just right.
There are so many things I love about this song…the drums on the intro…the bass (oh Hooky) but most of all it’s Bernard singing, chanting, intoning…”I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you”. It makes me think about people I’ve lost…those who have slipped away in time and distance, those who have passed and those who I have hurt, repelled and insulted (a bigger list than I would like it to have be).
The best “pal” (not friend…my dad is my only, my best and my truest friend) I ever had was Chris…he was everything I wasn’t; good at sport, popular with the laydeez, artistic, just an all round “cool” chap. Quite often during our final year at school we wouldn’t be in class, we would be in the art department hunched over my fishtail parka with Chris painting a mod target on the back, or heading for the local shop to buy a fudge donut and a pint of milk, or in the common room watching “Vic Reeves Big Night Out” or “Quadrophenia”. At the weekend we would head into Edinburgh to The Egg…a too cool for school club at the Wee Red Bar. Suited and booted we had decided that we were Ace Faces and not just two spotty Herberts from Fife. The truth is that we were just two teenage boys in charity shop suits who none of the really cool kids even noticed…certainly none of the girls.
I loved Chris and then slowly and for reasons I still don’t really understand…he was gone. We lost each other. Life, work, girls and other stuff just started to press us further and further apart. He lives somewhere in Austria now. I found him on Facebook a while ago and we exchanged one or two messages but it was awkward and forced. He wasn’t dead but he was gone.
“I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you, I’ve lost you”.
That all sounds terribly maudlin but “Age of Consent” is also the song most likely to put a smile on my face, set my toes a-tapping and maybe, just maybe, see me dancing…not in public obviously, nobody needs to see that.
“Geno” by Dexys Midnight Runners
My love for this song is tied, forever, to my love for my dad.
Let me explain.
When I was a young man, a very young man my dad and I went second hand record shopping together. In a dusty corner of the store my dad found a copy of “Hand Clappin’, Foot Stompin’, Funky Butt…Live” by Geno Washington and the Ram Jam Band. It’s a rare record by a unique figure in British popular culture. Geno was an American GI who stayed after his tour of duty and became THE British soul act of the early 1960’s…mainly because he was one of the only authentic soul singers on the live circuit. Young mods loved him…my dad was a young mod and he loved him.
My dad didn’t get that record that day.
I wanted “Speak and Spell” by Depeche Mode. My dad loved me more than Geno and I loved myself more than anything or anyone else so I won. I have few regrets in life but that decision on that day haunts me. I’m not even close to exaggerating.
Fast forward a few months and my dad has come home with another record…a compilation of choice cuts by Dexys Midnight Runners. The first track was called “Geno” and it was a life changing experience when I heard it for the first time…a crowd are chanting “Geno, Geno, Geno, Geno” and then a voice, a voice like no other voice and a tale of a young man, the lowest head in the crowd that night, and his desire for something more than school, books and his small towns depressing anti-future.
That one moment was the start of a lifelong love affair.
The lead singer of Dexys Midnight Runners was Kevin Rowland and, make no bones about it, he is one of the few people in popular music to justify the title of “artist”. No argument. No other way of looking at it. The man is an artist. An authentic, honest and broken, unbreakable artist.
So thanks to an unusual combination of my dads desperate desire to instill a love of music into my bones, my selfishness, an American GI and a bona fide Artist we have a song in this list that speaks of the energy and passion of youth, the passing of the torch from one generation to the next and, most importantly, is the best gift my dad has ever given me.
“Into my Arms” by Nick Cave
Valentine’s day is only ever just around the corner.
“Love” is in the air.
Cards. Chocolates. Flowers. Romantic city breaks. Candlelit meals.
All this and more is yours from any one of a number of daily deal promotions websites.
The sad thing about this is that true love isn’t about any of that gubbins.
True love is about something else.
True love is about knowing that somebody else is more important than you.
True love is about being willing to put someone else first.
True love is free from self and full of other.
I could go on but you get the general idea.
At every supermarket checkout in every Western capitalist country in the world right now you can buy a compilation album of the greatest love songs of all time…ridiculous.
There is no need for a compilation of love songs.
There is only one love song.
That song is “Into My Arms” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. It is full of love…a love that is free from chocolates, flowers, teddy bears and lingerie…it is full of yearning, desire, passion and, most importantly, it is utterly selfless. It is a song that breaks your heart only after it has stopped your heart and then pieces it back together all within a single syllable.
So, as my pre-Valentines gift to you my darling reader(s) I give you the greatest love song of all time…listen to it, weep quietly, spend a moment regreting the energy and money you have wasted on “things” for people you love and then spend a moment longer considering how best to give this gift to the one you really love.
“It Can Be Done” by The Redskins
Once upon a time things were quite, quite different.
I had a full head of hair and was, improbable as it may sound, considered to be quite cool…whatever that may mean.
During the heady days of Britpop I was a bit of a face…and what a face I had…certainly here in the tiny Burgh of Edin. I was the singer in a band (I say singer but that really is stretching things unless by singer you mean “man mincing around on the stage of an empty venue hitting notes only dogs and the deaf could enjoy”) and I was a regular fixture at certain clubs and venues around the city.
I saw all of the big hitters of that now much derided scene live in concert and met more than a few of the major players…my mostest favouritest band of the time were Gene. Wrongly billed as a sort of Smiths lite by certain music press onanists they were, in fact, the best live act of the 1990’s. Frontman Martin Rossiter was a brilliant mixture of high camp and street toughs, lead guitarist Steve Mason was filled to the brim with Steve Marriottisms and the rhythm section were tighter than me on a night out.
Somehow I managed to wangle, mangle, my way into the life of the band…I followed them around a bit and eventually they took pity on me and I started to get backstage passes and invites to go bowling with Martin. There was a heady whiff of fame and stale beer in those backstage dressing rooms at glamorous venues like the Cockpit in Leeds and the Leadmill in Sheffield…a man could lose himself in the concoction. Lose himself I tells you.
Sitting backstage in Sheffield I was introduced to another friend of Martins…a sweet and tender hooligan of a geezer. Funny, warm and well dressed he was very much my type of person. His name, gloriously, was Trotsky. A magnificent blend of skinhead chic and raging Leftist politics…I fell in love almost immediately. Soon we were friends and now, many years and many more tragedies later, it is our friendship that has lasted.
Trotsky is one of the few people I feel comfortable in calling “good”.
He introduced me to a band that he loves and immediately I fell in love with them too.
They were everything that Trotsky was…skinheads, Leftists, charming and funny. A band who understood that having something to say only matters if you can say it well. A beautiful mix of soul, punk, funk and indie this was a band who demanded your attention…which is strange because they didn’t get it from many people. One album…scratch that, one PERFECT album and a clutch of singles and they were gone. It hardly seems fair…a band that well dressed should really have set the charts on fire and forged a career that stretched over decades winning new converts every day.
So…because of their role in converting me to the skinhead scene, for their part in my political education and for the fact that every time I listen to them I am side by side with one of lifes most beautiful creatures I give you The Redskins and “It Can Be Done”
“Now my Heart is Full” by Morrissey
Oh, it could have been any song, from any album and from any point in His career.
It’s a (dial-a…) cliche to pick a track from “Vauxhall and I” because it is the album that everyone hails as his finest…I don’t, I think all albums are created equal in the World of Morrissey. Today, this day, I have chosen this song for reasons that will be (all too) familiar to oh so many of those boxroom rebels, of all ages and all developmental stages, who still cannot escape the hold that He has over us…and, if we are being honest, we wouldn’t even if we could.
Morrissey arrives at a particular point in your life, if you are lucky, and he rescues you from the false feeling that you are, somehow, on a planet of so many lives alone. You have friends that you will hold on to, you have family (you may even be the end of that line) but you still feel so desperately alone.
Grotesque and lonely.
Then he arrives, trudging, slowly, over the wet sand of your rainy day in Bognor life and says…you are not alone.
The clouds part.
The rain stops.
The voices in your head quiet.
I was in my first year of university.
My parents had secured me “digs” with Edna and Danny (un)Stables.
I slept, ate, read and dreamt in their attic bedroom.
I bought “Vauxhall and I” from Stereo One and rushed home with it. There, in that narrow room, all alone and far away from the friends and family who stopped me feeling like there wasn’t any real point in anything I needed rescuing all over again. I placed the slab of black vinyl onto the turntable, lifted the needle and waited for Him to do what he had done so many, many times before…
He did but this time it was even more powerful.
“Tell all of my friends…I don’t have too many, just some raincoated lovers puny brother”
And then a procession of friends from another time and another place…Dallow, Spicer, Pinky and Cubitt.
Tbey beckoned me to rush to danger and I wound up nowhere.
This barely makes any sense to you now.
It hardly makes any to me…now.
But at the time, oh, it was the only thing that made sense.
I was so alone.
I was so unhappy…I expressed depression.
My heart was empty and then…my heart was full.
I don’t have the words to explain, so I won’t even try to.
Bless you Morrissey.
“Al Capone” by Prince Buster
The skinhead, despite the many negative representations of the group in the media (not always unjustified), is the look that means most to me. It is defiantly British, a glorious mash-up (yo kids) of original Mod and Jamaican style to create a hard, sharp look that celebrates pride in your appearance. Functional and utilitarian for sure but with more than a hint of the dandy.
My first exposure to skinhead culture came from my dad.
We were in the record section of John Menzies on the High Street in Kirkcaldy and my dad spied a 7″ single in a bargain bin.
He seemed really happy about finding it.
I wasn’t interested…it wasn’t Depeche Mode or Erasure.
When we got home we put it straight onto the record player…there was the hiss and the crackle of the needle on the vinyl and then, well then there was something that I had never heard before.
A voice…”Al Capone guns don’t h’argue”.
Piano and brass and “chick-a…hig-ee”.
“My name is Capone”.
This was ska.
This was Prince Buster and “Al Capone”.
I was captivated. I made my dad play it again. Then again. Then we played the b-side…so smooth, my foot stamped, my hands clapped…”ONE STEP BEYOND”.
From that moment on no matter what else happened in my life musically…the obsessions with Morrissey, the flirting with rock-a-billy, the Britpop years…always, always, lurking in the background was ska.
“Motorpsycho Nitemare” by Bob Dylan
When I got married the real time (the second time) I asked my friend Ben to give a reading. Ben chose something poetic. Ben chose something nobody else would have chosen. Ben read it beautifully. Ben is poetic. Ben is beautiful. As he stood in front of the assembled gang of family and gaggle of guests in St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh the history of our friendship flashed frantically through my mind.
I won’t bore you with the complete history but I’ll give you the important details, Ben is a loyal, funny, careful, carefree, witty, sharp, kind and erudite man and I’ll forever be grateful to him for all of those things.
I’m also grateful to Ben for his refusal to allow me to dismiss Bob Dylan as a songwriter I didn’t need. Bob wasn’t a mod, he wasn’t a soul man, he wasn’t an indie kid, he wasn’t a sharp dresser…He wasn’t any of the things that would usually drag me in. But Ben persevered. He insisted. He bullied me. He demanded I start paying attention. Eventually I listened to “Don’t think twice, it’s alright” and that was it, I was in.
I’m not going for that song here though. I’m going with “Motorpsycho Nitemare” because it’s the Bob Dylan song that my little girl of only five years old is fascinated by. She loves the story. She is fascinated by the farmers daughter wanting to usher the doctor to the shower in the middle of the night (I’ve explained that really she wants to kiss the doctor and my little one thinks that’s hilarious). She loves the “…no, no, no I’ve already been through this movie before”. She absolutely adores the power of the storytelling, the sstrange phrasing and the unusual words. Who would have thought that it would be a five year old who would be the one to finally convert me to the Gospel of Dyan.
Being a parent can be hard work in so many different ways. It demands the near absolute sacrifice of selfishness and the utter commitment to someone other than you. That’s very tiring. What makes it worthwhile is the smallest moments, the hugs, the silliness, the reliance on you for everything, the laughter and, on long “are we there yet?” car journeys songs you both like for the same reasons and that don’t feature on the soundtrack of an animated movie.
Thanks to Ben and Bob, me and she have got that in the form of a song that includes the line “I like Fidel Castro and his beard”…that’s a precious thing.
“Keep the Home Fires Burning” by The Bluetones
Britpop was, as regular visitors to this place will be all too aware, a period in British pop and popular culture that consumed me absolutely. I was the right age to be able to immerse myself in it entirely and thanks to my parents Modernist leanings I was all too aware of the touchstones for all the bands and already had the wardrobe ready to go.
Out of all of the records released during those glorious and gloriously bright years between 1992 (the real ground zero of Britpop) and 1998 the one that I listen to more than any other is “Keep the Home Fires Burning” by The Bluetones. It is a dark, harrowing and deeply personal song about the horrors of domestic violence and yet it manages to be anthemic thanks to the melodic brilliance of the band. Mark Morriss is the most overlooked of all the songwriters from that era, when he is, in fact, easily the match/better of his more celebrated peers. Certainly Damon Albarn doesn’t have anything in his back catalogue that comes close to this.
And that’s it.
8 moments in time.
Ska, indie, pop, politics, passion, heart and soul.
The soundtrack to my life.
The songs that saved my life.