I’ve been listening to a lot of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs recently. I’ve often fantasised as to what songs and items I would choose to be stranded with. I mean, how do you even begin to choose what songs to take with you when there’s a lifetime’s supply, and new ones being added as the soundtrack to new memories? Tough work. There are so many songs that mean so much to me, to all of us: shared memories; thinking time in private; a moment in time; a great night or a beautiful day; the best view you’ve ever seen – where you are and where you’ve been; a great summer drive; your earliest memories of music; the people who mean the most to you; friends who are not in your life anymore; new friends introducing you to new music. So where do you start? You make a list, a very long list, and then get brain-ache whilst choosing. Because even when you can begin to make a shortlist of your favourite artists it can be hard to choose the songs to take.
Kirsty hasn’t called – I’ve been waiting. So instead I’m going to share my thoughts on the songs that mean the most to me here. I couldn’t help but dramatise it a bit. Well hell, each of my choices mean a great deal to me for not much of a variety of reasons. I’m sharing my island with the thought of someone on my mind. (You’ll be there with me all of the time, every moment. You always are.) So, here they are.
Le Onde (click for link to the song)
So I’ve arrived on the island. What do I do? I sit down, look out at the ocean and think about the situation that I’m in. Emotions are downbeat at first – I’m stranded, for goodness sake – and my thoughts are running wild. But I can’t just sit and wallow; that would be to just waste until impending death. This song would be perfect to carry me through those feelings.
My first introduction to this song was when my sister used to play it, beautifully, on the piano. I always loved it and it’s always stayed with me. It is so full of emotion, lifting, rising, returning to introspection. It’s so simple but so beautiful. It really does conjure the perfect image of looking out at this endless wilderness. I can hear birdcall around me, the palms rattling above me on the breeze. And the title? It means ‘The Waves’, the blanket of sound that I can hear above the surrounding noises.
So, I’ve had a good think about things. The realisation that I’m stranded here is sinking in. What do I do next? Release energy and frustration, of course, and this is the song that is playing when I do it. I throw my shoes in the sea and run around the island, kicking up the sand and screaming. But I no longer care. The Pixies are probably the best driving music, for me, for that release, that shambolic, raw energy that transmits, stimulates, and recharges dull energy. I often end up at my destination a little hoarse after to singing along to them in the car.
They are one of the most original bands that I have ever heard. I can’t remember when I first heard them, but I love the chaos of listening to them. Their song Gigantic is my funeral song. But I’m not ready to die here yet. In fact, since that release I don’t really care that, by the time that I think that I might need them at some point, my shoes have floated too far away to retrieve. Everything’s that bit easier to deal with now after this song.
Tell Tale Signs
This is one of those rare songs that I can listen to on repeat for hours. It’s simply perfect in the way that it reassures the listener that he’s getting on with life just fine by himself, but has those human lapses back into thought: what might have happened, where the girl has gone and what she’s up to – that it bites at the quiet times. He’s moved on . . . but not quite. The surety and the doubt on the same page, in the same breath. So on the island I’m getting used to being by myself, that it’s alright, that I can “survive and I can endure”. But Bob’s with me to reassure me that if it’s okay to be happy alone, it’s also alright to grieve when you need to. It’s another song that’s like a wave. Rise, rise, rise . . . and then a slow ebb. This is one of those private songs. I couldn’t live without it.
Out of Time
Like with Bob, when you have so many incredible tunes by one band, why this one? Have you ever heard it? It’s a singalong, dance-along, few minutes of unadulterated pop fun. And I love it. It’s another song that I can listen to back-to-back for hours – anywhere I am. Bob’s reassured me that it’s okay to feel isolated, but now I just want to let loose again. I’m happy and wild. And this song also probably has the best video of all time – I’ll be thinking of it when I’m doing Michael Stipe’s dance moves (please watch it, if you don’t know it . . . and grin). His dance moves are great, but Michael Stipe’s voice is one of my all time favourites. Like Freddie Mercury, he was born to be a singer.
When I was about 16 I wrote a poem entitled There’s Something About Michael Stipe’s Voice That Makes Me Want To Cry. I think that the sentiment remains. I remember watching him being interviewed by Jo Whiley and was captivated by the depth of his charisma, his emotional and measured reflections, and his sheer likeability. The anti-star pop star who doesn’t make it seem like a cliché. You can see by his lyrics just how deep a thinker he is. At My Most Beautiful is one of my other favourite songs, which includes the beautifully simple but most romantic lyrics, as his lover sleeps, “I count your eyelashes secretly / With every one I whisper I love you / I know your closed eye is watching me, listening / I thought I saw a smile.” And like most of the songs in this compilation, it’s the words that come first. But for my time on the island (Forever? What are the rules on that?) I want this song.
Okay, so this a tropical island. On tropical islands storms come in pretty quickly. The wind is picking up and I can feel one brewing. This song is the accompaniment. A lot of Angus’s songs – and Angus and Julia as a group – seem quite perfunctory, but it’s in the simplicity of the melodies that the songs just work. I adore just about all of his / their music. It’s dreamy yet heartfelt. And as the chaos ensues towards the end of the song is when I open my arms to the storm. And what do you know? One of my shoes has just washed up on the shore. It was a tough choice, but it’s a song I love to sing along to. It makes me smile. Even in the face of a tropical storm.
I’m cold now, though. It’s got me thinking about people back home. The ones that I miss. The one that missing, so much. The sky after the storm, as the evening draws in, is red, orange and pink, lighting on the underside of the passing clouds. And this is the song that I want to listen to. I do miss people when I’m not close to them, and never more than now. John Martyn doesn’t really do fragile and vulnerable. He does passion. That’s the reason that I had to cut out John Lennon’s Oh My Love – I’d miscounted – in favour of this. John Martyn had such a fire in his belly. A drinking, drug-taking, sweaty, swearing Scotsman with a cockney accent. But it all came out with such honesty. He is confident about his love. In this landscape, this song is just how I feel. I insist that you watch the video that I chose to accompany this. He introduces it as “I’d Like to Give You One Under The Station Clock”. And then he plays the most romantic love song ever written – my favourite, anyway. The tone and growl of the voice. The guitar. The song. I love you just for who you are. Ever since I first found his music I have been besotted. Dangerous and beautiful, I can listen to John Martyn anywhere, any time. I’ll listen to this song again just to listen to the music in the background. Even that is enough to make me picture the face from back home that I’m missing in such clarity.
I consider Damon Albarn to be one of the greatest of modern songwriters. His music, varied and original, will endure. He does all styles. Everything. He’s a creative force without parallel. If something new comes out then I have to hear it. His album Everyday Robots was playing every day after it was released, and I just kept finding new parts of it to become addicted to. The sign of a truly great album is when you keep changing your favourite song on it. I’ve loved all of his outputs since I was about thirteen, and I still do. So it might seem strange that, of all the Blur songs that I could have chosen, this one only features Graham. It’s everything that Couldn’t Love You More isn’t. It’s vulnerable and insecure, raw and twitchy. It sounds like it’s recorded on the floor of a dark room whilst hungover – it might have been. But the atmosphere of the song really captures my imagination. The guitar solo speaks. If Damon is one of my favourite songwriters, Graham is my absolute favourite guitarist. So why this song on the island? Listen to it and make up your own solution. I have mine. Maybe it matches with yours.
The Sky At Night
This song completes this deliberate triumvirate at the end of my choices. I would go anywhere to see this band live. I rediscovered them about six years ago, and wish I hadn’t lapsed in my adoration. As a songwriter, John Bramwell stands for me between Dylan and Lennon. I know that’s high praise but I shall not ever err in my judgement. Another part of his genius is his use of jazz and blues chords in alternative indie music. They’re little short stories, all of his songs. I can never tire of them.
I went through a lonely phase when I had to listen to this album every night. It ‘s full of poetic imagery and expansive thought. And this song, jeez, it just makes me tingle, picks me up. Is he declaring his love for someone he’s with, or is he missing the girl? Who’s he drinking with, or not with anyone? Is it a reparation or a break up – imagining the girl? This is one of those songs that I walk around singing all the time – most of these are; most of The Sky At Night is. I’m not going to sleep anyway, so I’m going to sing this out across the ocean until you can hear me. It’s a weird song, quite economical with words that repeat. Perhaps a little chaotic too. I’ve just calculated that I can listen to it about 24 times in an hour. So that’s what I’m going to do.
Here Kirsty would offer me the ‘Castaway’s Choice’ – the one song that you would rescue if a waves swept all of the other choices away. This is it. And I’d never regret it for a minute, if I was stuck here for years. And then I can listen to it 576 times a day!
Book: I really wanted to take The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas as my book. But now, before I say my choice, please don’t think it self-indulgent. I would choose my own book The Reputation of Booya Carthy (the title being five words is even inspired by Dumas’ book). The reason is because I still want to edit and refine it. I know that I shouldn’t admit that, but I do. Inside it, though, I’ve secreted my copy of Pablo Neruda’s Selected Poems.
Luxury item: I’m going to steal this idea from Keith Richards: he chose a machete and I’d do the same. If you’re going to be the stranded island man then you have to embrace it. I’d be singing along to Proof as I built shelters and cut wood for fires. I think that I’d quite like it, this island life, after a while. I wish that you could be here . . .
*I’m certain that what I’ve done here is break a bunch of copyright laws. All I can say is that, Kirsty, you should have called.