Tuesday, 23 May 2017

A Love Letter to Music

A couple of months' back I went on Lauren Laverne's radio show on 6 Music, for the Desert Island Disco segment. As an avid listener of the show - particularly that slot (to say it's a bit of a highlight of my working week isn't an overstatement) this was quite a big deal. I was excited. I was bloody nervous; I'm the kind of person who gets anxious about making a call to the insurance company so you can imagine how apprehensive I felt about going on a live radio show...with however many million listeners...including pretty much everyone I know.

Thing is, though, I love music. I mentally compile desert island disc playlists in my mind all the time. Sometimes, when the mood takes me, I can spend a pleasing half hour or so pondering on the music I'd like to feature at my funeral. I know - this is a slightly morbid activity. But I simply can't imagine a life lived without music in the background. Every key event of my life so far - good and bad - is completely and intrinsically linked to a particular song or piece of music. 

I'm in no way unique - everyone has an aural soundtrack to their life, a patchwork of songs that trace our personal stories and experiences, from the music we grew up to to the song we chose for our first dance. 

Just as a whiff of Body Shop White Musk transports me back to the summer of 1989, so does hearing a snatch of Soul II Soul's Keep on Moving. I'm instantly transported to the afternoon I finished my GCSEs and the elation I felt at knowing I'd never have to do maths again. Soulful and uplifting, it's a track that reminds me of being young and optimistic, of feeling that real life was about to begin. Almost thirty years on, that youthful verve might have been replaced by middle aged fatigue, but I still get tingles of excitement when I hear that song played.

A cliched image it may be, but was there a child born in the '70s that didn't spend a boring Sunday afternoon prancing about to ABBA, hairbrush in hand, miming along to SOS as a means of cheap and pleasing entertainment? It's might not be cool but I have no shame in admitting that the first single I bought (in Boots! How strange to think that in the olden days you could buy a 7 inch at the same time as your plasters and Savlon) was either by ABBA or Bucks Fizz.

Like most children, my early musical education came via my parents' record collection, an eclectic mix that wasn't particularly cool (I can't claim to have grown up on Woodstock-era folk or genre-defining rock) but it did include some gems - I spent a lot of time in the family dining room playing the Beatles and The Mamas and The Papas on repeat. The poignancy of some of those Beatles song wasn't lost on me even then; I'd get a lump in my throat listening to She's Leaving Home at age 13 and I still do now. 

It's this music, mixed in with my own discoveries, that takes me right back to childhood and access to seemingly endless free time. As a time-pressured adult, it's lovely to recall those hours dedicated to the important task of recording the Top 40 (a highly stressful activity that - pre Hi-Fi systems - called for absolute silence and a lightening quick finger) or lovingly crafting a mix tape for a best friend. As the grateful recipient of such tapes myself, it felt truly special to have something tailor-made to your tastes.

My other musical memories are too many to list, and not all of them happy (The Miseducation of Lauren Hill will forever remind me of sad coach trips to visit my mum who was poorly with breast cancer at the time of its release). Then there's the sound of London and house music, of listening to Dave Rodigan in my university halls when Kiss FM was good and there was a whole raft of pirate radio stations to tune into (I even DJ-ed on a one such station once, transmitting out of a shed in Staines, a life event that still makes me chuckle to this day.) 

There are the cassettes my boyfriend - who later became my husband - filled with music heard on the decks of the Hacienda and the Ministry of Sound, tracks that encapsulate the euphoria of a night spent sweating it out next to a pounding speaker; play me Todd Terry's Weekend and I'm immediately back on that dance floor.

There's the music of first jobs and stuffy common rooms; Prince's Sign of the Times was played on repeat by the cool, older girl who I worked with in a shoe shop on Saturdays, while Raspberry Beret is the song I associate with hanging about round the jukebox (yes, the JUKEBOX) and drinking horrible coffee during free periods at sixth form. It reminds me of that wonderful sense of liberation that comes with teetering on the edge of adulthood, just before real life - with all its mess and responsibilities - really kicks in. 

And then, of course, there's the music of love, music that soundtracks a first kiss, a first dance, the birth of a child. One of the most joyous aspects of parenthood for me has been sharing my love of music with my children - I suspect when I think back to their childhoods in years to come, kitchen discos and car journey sing-a-longs will feature strongly in my recollections. Hearing my eldest play Hey Jude on the piano makes my heart sing, and whilst my youngest may currently favour music I can't abide, I love watching my boys embark on their own musical voyages of discovery. 

When I was choosing my tracks for the Desert Island Disco show, I realised how difficult it is to really pinpoint the music that encapsulates defining moments in your life. The list I created for the show - which you can take a look at here - is very much focused on the house and disco I love, but that's just one side of my personality. So I got to thinking about all the other stuff that makes up my musical DNA; here are just a few tracks that really mean something to me: 

Stevie Wonder: I don't Know Why I Love You

What an expression of unrequited love, filled with emotion. It's an impossible task to choose just one Stevie Wonder track, but the way his voice cracks with such genuine feeling on this song breaks my heart.

New Order: Thieves Like Us

This one encapsulates my love of everything Manchester. Discovered before The Smiths or Stone Roses, New Order were my first introduction to a city with an amazing musical scene. 

Prince: Raspberry Beret

One of my favourite lyric writers, though this isn't my favourite Prince song. But it reminds me so much of being 16 and indulging in fantasies of being the kind of cool person who would 'walk in through the out door'.

The Beatles: Here Comes the Sun

A song that encapsulates the summers of my childhood - sunshine, paddling pools and melting ice lollies.

Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy

I literally stopped in my tracks when I first heard this on the radio. Realising there was a 'scene' in my very own home town takes me back to a very exciting period of musical discovery.

Madonna: Borderline

Nothing beats early era Madonna for pure pop joyousness - this song reminds me of a time when the most pressing thing on my to do list was purchasing the latest edition of Smash Hits.  

Joe Smooth: Promised Land

A perfect encapsulation of everything I love about house - anthemic, inclusive and soul-lifting. This song reminds me of dancing in crap clubs in Bristol and hoping that one day I might make it to Shoom. 

The Stone Roses: I Wanna Be Adored

Menacing yet danceable, there is something so stirring about the opening of this track. It makes me think of the North and my special connection to Manchester. But most of all it makes me think of my other half, singing his heart out and dancing with abandon in a rain soaked Heaton Park, and just forgetting, for a few moments, everything else but the music. 

Which tracks make up your musical DNA? I'd love to know - please share a comment below...


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