Category Archives: Music

I don’t want to change the world – Spring Playlist

It’s still February, and Winter may strike back, but today Spring has launched an opportunistic grab for London.

And, walking around in the sunshine, here is what I’m listening to:

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Kirsty McColl RIP

A New England – Kirsty McColl (forgive the snow in Kirsty’s video – spring hadn’t reached her yet)

I Wanna be your Boyfriend – Ramones

Jah Love – Culture (you’ve got to live right, my brothers…)

(I love the sound of) Breaking Glass – Nick Lowe

Marlene – Kevin Coyne

Come Back Darling – UB40 (gotta love that bass)

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Music and Words: 2013 – Ten Things, numbers 5, 6 and 7

Continuing reflections on what I learned from 2013….

5. Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth

…is one of numerous lapidary phrases that spring from the best song on my favourite record of the year: Modern Vampires of the City, by Vampire Weekend.

Vampire Weekend - StepUntil now, I haven’t really got Vampire Weekend. I could tell they were talented. But they sounded just a bit too cluttered to me, a little too pleased with their own eclecticism and proficiency. But on this, their third album, they sound like they have clicked into the zone, relaxed a bit.

The song, Step, also demonstrates yet again that iron law of pop – that if you get the drums and the voice (including the words) right, you’ve pretty much cracked it.

Discovering a new favourite band also leads me on to my next lesson. It’s good to…

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Bruce Springsteen. Approximately.

Bruce Springsteen can, in my eyes, do no wrong. Let me make that plain right off the bat. (Anyone in any doubt of his genius, please watch – plucked from hundreds of examples I could have offered you – this heartbreaking kitchen performance of his break-up song ‘Brilliant Disguise‘.)

No one comes close to pulling off – as Springsteen has – the combination of consummate songwriting craft, consistently thrilling live performance, and a heart-on-sleeve integrity that persists over decades of success, fame and wealth.

I appreciate that some people don’t get Springsteen, perhaps misled by the way Reaganite America misinterpreted ‘Born in the USA’ as a headbanging jingoistic anthem when it was something altogether darker and more complex. Or maybe he really does come across as bit too serious for some.

But as far as I’m concerned, if you have a problem with Bruce it’s your problem. He’s never let me down, across a succession of unparalleled records and occasional live shows that leave every other act I can think of gasping for breath in their energy, variety and emotional intensity. I saw him twice when he toured in 1981 and nothing has ever come close. I’ve seen him play in the years since, and he was still miles ahead of the rest. So, for me he’s infallible.

At least until now.

This week I saw him play at Wembley, the first UK date of his ‘Wrecking Ball’ tour. No one else would even get me to Wembley for a rock concert. It isn’t, to my mind, a suitable venue – too big, too ugly, too far gone in its rampant corporatism (you want beer – it has to be only one brand of generic lager, and it will cost you). But this was Bruce, and if anyone can get hold of a stadium and make it rock, he can.

He did everything right. Starting at a level most bands would hope to reach by the encores, with a rousing, gospel-inflected version of ‘Land of Hope and Dreams’, Springsteen and the E Street Band played a three-hour set that was impressive in its power, poise and showmanship. Springsteen hollered out the hits, prowled the stage working the crowd, and danced and threw himself around in a way that would be impressive in a man half his 63 years of age. He plucked requests on placards from the people at the front of the stage and led the band through a thrillingly varied and immaculately-played set.

He also, having consulted the crowd first, included in the set a complete performance – first song to last, in order – of the album ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town, the 1978 classic that first drew me into his music, and which remains my favourite.

So what’s not to like? Reviews in the Press are claiming it as a triumph. But there is a tiny clue to what went wrong for me in Michael Hann’s piece in the Guardian, which referred to only one song suffering ‘a little with stadium sound’. Michael also admits that he was in the ‘pit’, with a few thousand privileged fans in front of the stage.

Unfortunately, I was up in the seats to the side and the sound was dire for most of the gig; subject to massive echoes from the delay towers, muddy and lacking in definition, with drums louder than anything else.

And this was the view:

Bruce Springsteen. Allegedly.

Bruce Springsteen. Allegedly.

So, hard as Bruce worked, and frenzied as the crowd down by the stage became, I spent most of the night watching the big screen and feeling disconnected. (And I wasn’t alone in this: at one point the person to our left, the one to our right and the man directly in front were all absorbed in looking at their smartphones rather than watching the stage. When people are more interested in following a concert on Twitter than watching the performance take place in front of them, you have to think something’s going wrong.)

Of course, great art makes its own rules (and ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town is great art, trust me). And no one could fault the effort, commitment and skill that Springsteen and the band displayed. He came closer than anyone else could to making a stadium rock like a sweaty club. But I fear Wembley remains no place to watch a rock concert.

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Tracey Thorn: “I fell in love with Christmas once again”

In 1991, on the ‘Worldwide’ album, Tracey Thorn sang: ‘I’ve never been skating on a frozen river, Joni and Jane make it sound so cool’.

With those words, Thorn tipped the wink that she knew and loved the Joni Mitchell song ‘River’ (from the album ‘Blue’). Tipped a wink and hinted at a pledge that she has now delivered, with her own sublime brass band version of ‘River’ on her new Christmas album, ‘Tinsel and Lights’.

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Track One, Side One

On a walking trip in the Ardennes with two of my oldest and best friends, it was that point on the second morning when you start looking forward to finding somewhere that might serve you coffee. And wondering whether there’ll be time when you reach the station for a beer or two before the train.

We were walking on a path through some woodland, and the day was warming up, requiring the shedding of coats and jumpers. To pass the time I asked Paul and Jerry to name their favourite five tracks from the traditional prime spot (in old vinyl parlance) of ‘track one, side one’. It kept us amused for most of the morning.

Of course, the concept of even the first track on an ‘album’ is something that for many younger people has little meaning. But it always meant something to me, and for some strange reason, the task of thinking of the best list exercised and interested me a whole lot more than it seemed to engage Jerry and Paul. I could never whittle it down to just five of course (fifty is hard enough). But I did over the coming weeks settle on a list that I thought would fill a decent CD.

And here it is, with reasons (and in most cases clicking on the title will play you the song, through the magic of YouTube).

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And Finally…Songs To Play At My Funeral – Part 3

IT’S TAKEN ME A WHILE to conclude my list of funeral songs (see 14 and 23 June). I fear it risks becoming a bit self-indulgent. And it’s emotional. So let’s wrap it up here.

Last time, I wrote about last times, specifically the difficulty of knowing when something actually is the last time. I suppose, in the scheme of things, when I come to meet my maker it won’t matter too much whether I listened to “You Can’t Always get What You Want” a month before, a year before or that very morning. Maybe I could even play it as I go (you could do a lot worse). I don’t suppose it would make a difference.

It isn’t so much that I may not listen to some of my favourite music many more times in my life, though that of course is bad enough. It is more that I will never know the last time that I hear some of my most treasured musical moments. That makes me sad. It’s hard enough facing up to the idea of your own mortality. But if you have to face going, you want to say goodbye to the people and things you loved.

If I was dying, I’m sure I’d want some extra time in order to play all my favourites again, and to seek out those potentially great albums I never got round to hearing. Life seems unlikely to grant such a neat ending. But the alternative would involve playing “Desolation Row” every day, along with hundreds of other classics. That doesn’t seem terribly practical either.

And obviously, if all I cared about was the music, that would make me a bit of a saddo. Even more so than I actually am. Of course, what makes the music special is often its association with the memories of people you love. Here then, to end, are some songs that get on my list because of the people they make me think about.

10. Smile – The Jayhawks

For my son, who heard this while still in the womb, as a heavily pregnant Laura came with me to see the Jayhawks in London. And who as a baby would fall asleep instantly if you played this, however fractious he was.

And because it was the song Laura was listening to on headphones in her hospital bed when I brought Sam from the special care unit, and she saw her baby properly for the first time (having been away on wings of sedation when he was delivered by caesarian section).

11. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cyndi Lauper

For my older daughter, Kate, who sang this with me at a karaoke session on a caravan park in Scotland when she was six years old. (We also did Puff the Magic Dragon, but that has less appeal. Although there is that charming reggae version by Gregory Isaacs…)

It’s another song like Madonna’s Holiday or Bunny Wailer’s Dreamland. On the surface full of hope and optimism but some quality of dread or desperation in the singer’s voice undercuts that feeling.

I smile at the line: “Oh Daddy dear you know you’re still number one.” which is nice for a father to hear. But the zest with which Cyndi follows it up with “but girls just wanna have fun”, suggests there are plenty of other numbers on her phone. An impression reinforced as she repeats the line, but just can’t wait to complete it, interrupting herself as she sings: “they just wanna have – that’s all they really want – some fun”.

Which is all a dad wants for his girl really.

12. Don’t Stop – Fleetwood Mac

Oddly, it was hardest to choose a song for my younger daughter. Which surprised me because she’s probably the one most like me in magpie attraction to variety of music.

In the end I chose the relentless positivism of this song. There are two reasons for that.

The first is because I did another play list once, for Nicola’s 21st birthday. I intended to burn it on a CD and make it part of her present, but never completed the job. This song was on it, and I found it intriguing that many of the songs on the birthday list were the same ones as on my funeral list. I don‘t know what to make of that.

But the main reason for choosing this is because it is so genuinely optimistic, and it will always remind me of speeding down the motorway, in a rented white van with Nicola and Sam, bringing her home from three years at university, playing Fleetwood Mac and the Ramones at high volume.

13. Shadow on a Harvest Moon – Everything But the Girl

I’m not superstitious. I can have thirteen songs in my list if I want to.

In some ways this is just a straightforward sad ballad. I’m not even sure that it is my favourite Everything But the Girl song. But it has a place in my memory of how I fell in love with Laura and my life changed. (And, I have to be honest, how I changed the lives of other people around me.)

We used to play EBTG a lot together, early on. We didn’t know how serious this was, but we knew we had to see each other. The problem was that we were both married to other people. Neither of us planned for that to happen, to fall so inconveniently in love. If we had known it was likely, I suspect we would have found ways to avoid it. But by the time we realised, it was too late.

We were stuck for some months in this limbo world where on the surface our normal lives carried on unchanged. Most people we knew had no idea that anything was wrong. But in our hearts and minds everything was transformed and I found myself an actor playing a part in my own life. Pretending to be the person I was before it all changed. Somehow the longing I felt for Laura – the desire to be with her that started when I woke up and kept me lying awake when my wife and children were asleep – somehow that passion stayed off my face when it felt as if it must have changed my features forever. We knew we had to be together, but it felt impossible and we felt so guilty, because in order for us to be together it would cause other people we loved a lot of pain. All at once our lives were asking us a question that had no right answer. It isn’t a place I would wish on anyone.

I remember listening to this song repeatedly one night while my wife was out with a friend and my two young daughters were asleep. At some point that evening I remember I spoke to Laura on the phone. Our desire to be together – our frustration that we were each alone in our homes but out of reach of the other – made the telephone line hum in the silences between our words. I told her about this song, which is basically about one person missing another, and how much it made me want to be with her.

After we hung up I went upstairs to check on the children. I stood in each of their bedroom doorways to listen. Their breathing was quiet and regular. My older daughter had my old teddy bear beside her bed, cast carelessly on the floor in that way children do with things they love. She lay on her back, arms spread out as if she had been dropped asleep into the bed. It was a pose that advertised innocence and complete trust that her world was benign. The sun would come up every day as normal and nothing would disturb the loving home she had lived in all her life. Her younger sister lay curled up with her thumb in her mouth. As I watched her, she stirred slightly and a small frown momentarily crossed her brow, before she settled again.

As I stood there I felt I hung above a dark precipice. My children were here, innocent and asleep, knowing nothing in the world as strongly as they knew that their daddy would be there for them when they woke in the morning. But forty miles away, alone in her house, was a woman I missed so hard it was a physical pain. I couldn’t balance forever on this cliff edge. But it was so dark that I didn’t know which way to fall, which way was safe. I knew that either way it was a long way down, and I couldn’t see the ground.

“Put away that torch you carry”, sings Tracey Thorn, her voice breathy and forlorn. “It’s doing you no good.”

I think I knew that night that I would in the end have to do as the song said. Lay to rest the ghost of my unhappiness. I didn’t yet know which way I would jump, but jump I must. Maybe I could be with Laura for good, with all the pain and upheaval that entailed. Or else I had to end it with her, drown the torch I carried. I didn’t know which it would be. But I knew that before long I would have to close my eyes and leap one way or the other.

********************

It has become a bit of a trend for people to choose their own music for funerals. And why not? If you want to go out to the sound of a few of your favourite album tracks, that is fine by me. Especially if the alternative is the vicar’s selection from “Crematorium Classical Greats” or “20 Favourite Committal Hymns”. It’s a pity that the alternative for many funerals appears to be nothing more than endless replays of “I will Always Love You”, or the “Wind beneath My Wings”. I don’t want to have any of these on my conscience. And I don’t expect that my friends and family want to hear them. Especially on a day when I hope they will already have quite enough to be miserable about.

No, the music to be played at my funeral needs to be a last slice of the music that moved me while I was alive. The songs that made me happy or sad or just made me laugh. I don’t care whether they conform to some kind of funeral etiquette. They don’t have to be about loss or sorrow. I just want the people I love and leave behind to come along to say goodbye. And while they are there I want them to smile a bit as they remember the music I played. They can shed a tear too, of course. But after that, take the rest of my record collection and have a bloody good party, and comfort yourselves with this thought.

You may miss me when I‘m gone. But I’ll miss you more.

**************************************

Postscript

A short while after writing my list of songs for my funeral I went out for a run. I ran down the hill, past Lewisham station and up onto Blackheath. The weather was warm and bands of pale cloud were pasted loosely across a china blue sky above the green grass of the heath. I did what I usually did when I ran alone: I listened to music. I held my iPod in my hand and put on a thick headband to hold the earphones in place.

It can be tricky deciding exactly what to play when you go out for a run. You can never be entirely sure what your mood will be once you’ve been running for ten minutes. But you can bet it will be quite different to the mood you were in before you set out. This time I picked out an old play list I had made months before. I couldn’t remember the details of what was on there.

Fifteen minutes later I was running through Greenwich Park and it felt like my feet were barely touching the ground. I was running on a carpet of exhilarating music, song after beautiful song.  I remembered now that I had made the playlist the last time I got to thinking about songs for my funeral. On that occasion I didn’t just write a list. I got as far as digging the songs out and deciding on a running order. So “Constant Craving” by kd lang gave me wings of song across the open heath and “Fisherman’s Blues” by the Waterboys lifted me up a steep hill, my lips echoing in breathless whisper its small whoops of joy. I ran beneath chestnut trees as Ken Boothe crooned “Everything I Own” in a voice as clear and pure as the crystalline bowl of the sky which hung above me.

And the strange thing was, almost none of the dozen or so songs in that playlist was in the list I’ve set out here. Each time a new song started I cursed myself. Of course, I thought, how could I forget this one? How could I leave this off my list? Surely I have to have that track, “Two Hearts” by the Jayhawks, in my list? How could I not include Nick Cave’s echoingly gloomy and lovelorn “Lime Tree Arbor”?

I found it all oddly reassuring. It made me smile as I ran, in a way that people I ran past may have found even more unsettling than the sight of my deeply unfashionable headband. Of course I could compile two such different lists of favourite songs. Music is just like that isn’t it? One day a particular song is absolutely the best thing I have ever heard. A week later, I will have remembered that something else is actually the best. A week after that, it may be something else again.

A three minute pop song, at its best, is a time capsule of deep emotion, frozen forever at its feverish height. In a way, the very disposability of pop music adds to its emotional impact. A fragment of a lyric, a sigh in the singer’s voice, the way the drummer hits the snare just so on one beat but not on the next. All these things may mean nothing in isolation. But in the tornado of a song that just has to say something, and it just has to say it NOW, they can pack a punch. And of course the punch can be weaker or stronger depending on the mood of the listener.

So none of us should be surprised that last week the hollow weariness with which Ian Maculloch sings Echo and the Bunnymen’s achingly beautiful “Rust” was the perfect song for me to contemplate the end of my time. But today it feels like the ideal farewell would be something less defeated, more defiant like the Four Tops.

Music’s like that. A thing of beauty is indeed a joy forever. But sometimes one thing feels more of a joy than another. And other times the joy may rest elsewhere. To a great extent you get out of music what you put in, and the pleasure it gives can depend on what you bring with you, the angle you approach it from, and the way you look at it.

Life’s like that too. Isn’t it?

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Songs To Play At My Funeral – Part Two

LISTEN TO THIS and tell me if it makes me a sad person.

Something I love doing  – which Laura tolerates – is when we’re together of an evening I’ll play a piece of music that just seems right for the mood of the moment. And then I’ll think of another that has some connection with it. It might be the title, or some phrase in the song links to another. Possibly the same person played guitar on both, or maybe there is a similarity of tone or melody, or maybe it’s some emotion in the song that prompts me to reach for another song which seems to carry the same feeling. Once I get going I can spend an hour or two playing one song after another, all connected in some way, at least in my mind. It’s a form of word association but with music.

Here’s an example. I could play “Youngstown” by Bruce Springsteen. For some reason, while its playing, I remember that another of my favourite Springsteen songs – “Tougher than the Rest” – was covered by Everything But the Girl on their acoustic album. So I play that. Tracey Thorn’s voice reminds me of the gorgeous vocal she did on the title track of Massive Attack’s Protection album, so that comes next. While that’s playing, I remember another Indie chanteuse, Elizabeth Fraser of the Cocteau Twins sang sweetly and memorably on “Teardrop”, another Massive Attack song. As it happens, I choose not to play that. Not because I don’t want to hear it. (Because I do, oh I do.) But because I remember my favourite Elizabeth Fraser vocal; the version of “Song for the Siren” (which was in Part One of this funeral list – see June 14th). So I play that. The song was written by Tim Buckley, so next up is another of his songs, “Dolphins”, as played by Billy Bragg on 1991’s Don’t Try this at Home.

That Billy Bragg album is rich in possibilities. Johnny Marr plays guitar on it, so it opens up the way to any number of gorgeous Smiths songs (and normally – trust me – I need no excuse to go in that direction). But for some reason I also play the track “Cindy of a Thousand Lives”. The first line of this strange and unsettling song refers to “Blue Velvet America”. Think about David Lynch, who made the film Blue Velvet and I‘m on to the TV series Twin Peaks. So the next song I play is “Floating”, co-written by David Lynch as the theme tune to Twin Peaks and performed by Julie Cruise.

In a few songs I have made my way from the bitterness of Springsteen’s declining steel community in Pennsylvania to the scary dreamscapes of the theme music to a bizarre soap-cum-horror series set in a weird community in Washington State. Meanwhile, Laura lies on the sofa and sips her wine. Occasionally she greets the first notes of a song by saying something like, “I love this track.” But mostly she is happy to let it wash over her, just to take each piece of music as it comes and enjoy it for what it is.

Unlike me. As I listen to each song start, the links with other songs are already starting to run through my mind, as if each song is a piece of a much larger jigsaw and when I hear it I can see where the edges of one piece match with other pieces. As Billy Bragg sings “Dolphins”, it offers a lot of edges with other songs of his. I could go for Kirsty McColl’s version of his song “A New England”, or Paul Young singing “Man in the Iron Mask”. Or try this: Billy Bragg wrote the song “Levi Stubbs’ Tears” and Levi Stubbs was one of the singers in the Four Tops. This opens up the whole Four Tops catalogue. Or beyond that – given the way Tamla Motown used different writers on different artists’ records – there are edges which link up with hundreds of great Motown songs.

And all of this goes through my head for each song. Pity me. How do I ever get anything else done?

Anyway, mentioning the Four Tops takes me back to that list of songs to play at my funeral.

5. “Reach out I’ll be there” – Four Tops

I’m sure a lot of people would have this on their list of songs to leave behind, to say goodbye to their loved ones on their behalf. Mainly because of the words (”If you feel that you can’t go on…I’ll be there, with a love that will shelter you”, and so on.)

The song is so well known it barely needs describing. But the power of the obvious should never be underestimated in pop music. Nor should the power of emotion expressed without words.  What makes this song for me is the raw edge of desperation in singer Levi Stubbs’ voice, and – best of all – the guttural “Ugh!” yelled by the backing singers at the start of the very first line, and again at the start of other verses, matched by the “hah!” that Stubbs lets out before the second chorus.

These guys didn’t write this song, but they sure meant it. And so do I. Those people who love me can hear this at my funeral and know that if I still had the power, every line would come from me.

“Just look over your shoulder…”

6. Blue – Lucinda Williams

This is basically just a couple of guitars, gently strummed and picked, with Williams’ aching and gentle singing over the top of them. Some people don’t like her singing. At times –and especially in this song – her voice seems to fall short of the note she was aiming for, and comes close to cracking. But if ever someone turned an apparent flaw to their advantage, this is it. You hardly need the words to know what she’s feeling. She could be singing this song in Polish and you would still know exactly what she meant. The shaky-sounding voice expresses perfectly the longing and loneliness at the heart of the song.  “Go find a jukebox,” she sings, “and see what a quarter will do.” In her hands, it does a lot.

Mostly, I don’t want sad songs at my funeral. But somebody’s got to shed a tear or two. This is the song that will do it.

7. Dreamland – Bunny Wailer

From the marvellous Blackheart Man album, on the surface this song glows with simple optimism, as Bunny Livingstone sings of a land ‘like heaven’, ‘across the sea’, where he can get breakfast from the trees and honey from bees and live happily with his loved one.

But an apparently straightforward song is for me given immense power by two things. The first is the unusual dynamic of the song. The verses are very simple, loping along on a relaxed backing of drums, bass and a child-like electric piano. But each line is sung twice, the first time slowly and gently, and then repeated at a higher pitch, with a hint of Wailer’s voice straining, despite the happiness of the lyrics. Then, just when you expect a shift back down, the song goes up a key and into a chorus that is really just another verse, but sung in that emotional falsetto, twisted up a further notch. The effect is similar to the Madonna song I listed last time (see 14 June). What lyrically might seem wide-eyed and soft-centred acquires an edge of desperation and sadness from the tone of Wailer’s voice.

That impression is strengthened as the next verse lurches into the second chorus, which is really just a fourth verse but one that spirals upwards on a circular synthesiser riff as the unease in Wailer’s voice leaks into the lyrics themselves. ’Oh what a time that will be,’ he sings, with all the joy of a man who has just realised that the only way he will reach his dreamland is by dying first. ‘We’ll count the stars up in the sky,’ he says, before finally, over the fade out, voicing the fear that has shadowed the song all the way through: ‘surely, we’ll never die.’

Where exactly does it lead, all this time and effort spent thinking about music? What is the point I‘m trying to make here? I guess it’s this. I constantly marvel at just how much there is to listen to, how much great and interesting music there is in the world. Sometimes the beauty of it all is a little too much. I listen to a song and find myself wanting to play all the other great songs which have a connection to it. But each one I choose suggests another bunch of links to another crowd of great songs. And each of those connects to many more. So many more that you just couldn’t keep track, you couldn’t sit down and play them all. You couldn’t possibly listen to all the songs you’d want to listen to if you started following the links between them.

That seems a little depressing sometimes. I wonder if there is time enough left in life to listen to all the music that ideally I’d like to listen to. There probably isn’t.

All of which leads on to other gloomy thoughts. I get to thinking about last times. It must be sad to know that you are doing something you love, or seeing or hearing something you love, for the very last time. But maybe it’s even sadder not to know, to have that final taste but not realise it is the last. That way the thing you love could slip away unnoticed.

It is usually easy enough to know that you are doing something for the first time. There are some first times that we all remember: the first time you kiss a girl or touch a teenage breast inside a teenage bra; the first time you have sex. You may not remember clearly the first time you rode a bike or heard the Sex Pistols. But at the time you would have known that you hadn’t done this before.

Maybe you don’t know what exactly was the first time you ate artichoke (as it happens, I do, but that’s another story). However, when you faced that globe, and cagily watched people around you peeling off the leaves but only eating a small part of them, you probably knew very well that this was a new experience.

It isn’t guaranteed to be that easy with the last time. The last time I ate artichoke was about two weeks ago. I have no specific plans to buy any but I expect I’ll eat one again within the next few months. Or maybe I won’t. What if I don’t get around to it over the next year? What if I didn’t eat artichoke at all now until I die unexpectedly (and tragically young, of course) in a year or so?  True, if I died in a year’s time I would probably have more to regret than failing to eat artichoke recently. Even so, the point is that I would never know as I ate my last artichoke that it was in fact the last.

The same thing applies to music. (To be honest, the music worries me more than the artichokes.) There are so many fantastic songs around that you can’t listen to them as much as you want to. I look at my shelves of CDs and tapes and vinyl albums and catch sight of a Rolling Stones album cover. When was the last time I played Let It Bleed? Not in the last year or two. But just thinking about it now reminds me of that exhilarating choir which spirals up into the heavens on “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”. Suddenly I want to hear that soaring vocal chorus and the way the drums start hitting in front of the beat to speed the song on towards its end. I hardly ever play it these days. Maybe the last time I played that song was two or three years ago. What if I die before I play it again?

8. Because The Night – Patti Smith

This in the list because the night belongs to lovers. Because it’s one of the few cases of Patti Smith getting it precisely right in the balance of drama and emotion, and of sadness and defiant lyricism. And because it’s also one of the even fewer examples of anyone improving a Bruce Springsteen song.

And finally because it makes me think of a time when music mattered so much to me, and buying a new single was an exciting event. When I bought this I was a student in Cambridge. One evening I was just finishing an essay assignment when my friends Paul and Jerry came round to drag me out to the pub. I had to deliver my essay to another college, across the city centre. I left Paul and Jerry in my room playing this single. I was away nearly half an hour and when I got back they were still playing it.

Because as Patti sings with that desperate urgency that drives this song, the night belongs to us. Once it did.

9. From Clare to Here – Nanci Griffith

This is the unashamedly sentimental one. I’m not sure why a version of a Ralph McTell song by a woman from Texas should work so well, but it does.

I bought Nanci Griffith’s Other Voices, Other Rooms years ago in a second-hand shop in York. It has some strong memories associated with it. None of them features York.

The record became a favourite for me and Laura in our early days together. We were playing it a lot when we went away to Ireland for a few days. Laura was speaking at a conference in Dublin. Towards the end of the conference, there was an evening out in a pub on the outskirts of Dublin. A lot of beer was drunk, dinner was served and then there was music and dancing. The band offered to do requests and I went up to the stage and asked them to play “From Clare to Here”. It was the only song I liked that I thought they might play. The guitar player nodded appreciatively when I made the request, as though I‘d made a well-argued point in a debate. The band played the song, and for Laura and me it crystallised a perfect evening, always remembered for this song.

One of the functions of funerals must be to open the floodgates of grief, to help people break through that numbing shock and start to feel the pain. Only by feeling it can you start to deal with it. If I heard this song at Laura’s funeral I know what it would do to me. Assuming it would do the same to her, I leave it in this list as a last gift to her. Hear this and weep. Because no one could have loved you more than I did.

(To be concluded next week.)

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