I wonder if Roy Plomley could have possibly imagined, when he devised his radio programme in 1942, that it would continue for 70 plus years and become a British institution. While LPs replaced gramophone records which, in turn, were replaced with CDs and MP3s the format of the programme has remained unchanged with an endless list of musicians, artist, writers, politicians, comedians and celebrities, all willing to share their life story in the context of a selection of music. I will never be a guest, so leaving out the life story and the potted psychology; this is my fantasy list of records, but, with a twist. When I land on this desert Island I have been able to salvage a pen drive with 8 YouTube videos and a solar operated device to play them on. This is my selection:
1 The Kinks “You really got me” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2GmzyeeXnQ As a young teenager I missed out on Elvis, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley, Jelly Lee Lewis and all the other early rockers. I couldn’t get fired up by Cliff Richard and even the early Beatles passed me bye. I hated the adulation they received and when I was asked to give a talk in 2nd year English class, chose my dislike for the Beatles as the subject, explaining how I found their music simple, their words childish and how I much preferred to listen to Beethoven and Brahms on the radio. The teacher humorously offered me armed protection so that I could leave the room without being molested. But it was the Kinks who really got me. I remember that lunchtime in the school gym where the prefects were allowed a record player and one of the singles, that the boys produced, touched a rhythmical nerve. It was that da-di-di-da-di—– da and the vocal a split second ahead of the riff. I remember walking down the long corridor to class afterwards with the beat still thumbing away in my head, never to be forgotten.
2 Joe Cocker “Summer in the City” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Hxz6qJi-9kWhen the Loving Spoonful first came on the scene it was summer. It always seemed to be summer. There was something magically light and funny and joyful about their songs. It fitted with the long summer days outside on the grass, during exam breaks, or wrapped around the sports ground as other strained every muscle on the field. It was the expectation of a long holiday and the songs fitted the mood perfectly. None more so that ”Daydream” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9afV7h-XkU&list=RDBU8COHUrGi0&index=0 which John Sebastian could play solo without losing much from the sound of the full band. Summer in the city had an altogether different feel. The summer had moved from suburbia to the heart of the city, sticky and hot with the promise of the cool evening and endless parties. John Sebastian was interested in how Aaron Copeland used the orchestra to create city sounds and he decided to use real recordings of street traffic. This was taken one step further in the video made for Joe cocker’s version.
3 Bob Dylan “Knocking on heaven’s door” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jPg2M1UYgUDespite its popularity with every strumming busker and street musician, for me “Knocking on heaven’s door” has never been one of Bob Dylan’s greatest songs, by a long shot, but this performance with Tom Petty is very special. The whole sense of the live sound is captured with a magnificent harmonica introduction almost interrupted with Stan lynch premature roll on the drums which Dylan stays with an outstretched hand. Benmont Tench does some fine work on the piano, but it is a whole.
4 Peter Paul and Mary Early Morning Rain” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0OCnHNk2Hac Mary Travis, who like so many gifted singers, has sadly gone from us, provided the spark and tension to an otherwise plain Peter and Paul. While Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey provide the solid base of the songs with tight clinical guitar work, flawless vocals and harmonies, it is Mary Travis who is the wild card. Standing often on the edge, to the side, she creeps into stir the song and creates an unnerving tension that is riveting. She moves dances and sings like an exotic bird with harmonies that makes your hair stand on end. This comes over so well in the video recordings of a “Tonight in person”. These include the republican “Rising of the moon” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Q_xacXFwq0 (long before the troubles) and the light hearted gospel Jane Jane https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgPjgQBHEeA. But it is Gordon Lightfoot’s “early morning rain” which for me is the pinnacle. The song, itself, meant a lot to me, reminding me, as it did, of the time I missed the plane home from Glasgow Airport in the summer of 1967. The line “she’ll be flying o’er my home in about three hours’ time” makes me choke a little. Listening to how these three played together, recently, made me aware that our set up with “The Weather’s Hand” was much like this and perhaps there was something subconsciously going on there.
5 Bert Jansch “Blues run the Game” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4MO_Xxq3LVw&list=RDtpBxDDwbzBk The first LP I purchased was Bert Jansh’s debut album recorded in 1965, on a reel to reel tape recorder with a borrowed guitar for which he was paid £100. I had to borrow a record player to listen to it. I could not believe that what I was hearing came from a single guitar, there seemed to be so much going on at the same time and I have spent a good part of 40+years trying to emulate the style. I saw Bert once live at a concert at the Lemon Tree and he was his characteristically unassuming self, on a simple stage, plugging in his guitar and fixing the microphone like he was a complete novice. Yet most guitarists will say that they owe most to him. He was shy about the limelight and said that he would rather be propping up some bar somewhere. Sadly he got that wish, drink all but destroyed him and possibly led to his premature death. This is just one example of many.
6 Karen Matheson and Paul Brady “Ae Fond Kiss” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bWzXTebD5X0 The transatlantic sessions produced some wonderful collaborations from musicians across the world and the filming of these, catches that wonderful sense of the players simply getting together in someone’s living room playing so beautifully and sensitively. To my mind some of these are almost perfect: Mary Black on Richard Thompson’s “farwell farewell” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-tiGvMqpU8, with Michelle Wright, Iris DeMent and Mairead Ni Mhaonaigh on “Will the circle be unbroken”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KB1-1zuDGJ0, but my favourite highlight is Karen Matheson and Paul Brady on Burn’s “Aye fond Kiss”. I was never a fan of Burns and hated this song as I associated it with the stilted formalised style of Kenneth McKellar and more recently Fiona Kennedy and Susan Boyle. The Corries tried to make it more folky, but that was less than convincing. Micheal Marra, Dougie MacLean and Eddi Reader have added their own twist to it, to lots of acclaim, but they come nowhere near the authenticity of what Karen Matehson and Paul Brady’s do with the song. The balance and restraint of Donald Shaw’s piano, Aly Bain’s fiddle pulling it away and just a touch on Gerry Douglas steel guitar. The way the key descends and ascends to suit the voices matches the theme perfectly especially when they come together in harmony for the last two verses. When Paul Brady comes in with the whistle, behind the line, you know you are in on something special. It all sounds like it has just fallen together which belies the mastery of the musicians. The singing is so convincing you would think they were the lovers who the song was about.
7 Nanci Griffith “If these old walls could speak” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x44bwDKn0sg A friend introduced me to Nanci Griffith as the face of new country and her album “little love affairs”. I was immediately a fan. It was the combination of her song writing craft and her singing, in the way that she could caress the words as well as deliver them with a snarl that caught me. I have had most of her albums and watched her in concert a number of times. She has the great gift of inhabiting a song, often material by others. Her versions of Julie Gold’s “From a distance”, which she made her own, and Stephen Foster’s “Hard times” are among some of the finest. But the song which haunts me is Amy Grants’ “If these walls could speak” (if you can ignore the strange and untypical fashion statement)
8 Marilyn Marshall “ Front Line Believer” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dmuLFfNLeHs Marilyn recorded this, possibly one of her finest songs, in the last album by The Weavers Hand in1999. She had been moved by the stories she was reading of the Andean Christians who were caught in the crossfire during the civil war in Peru during the time of the “Shining Path” in the 80s and 90s. In this time pastors were specifically targeted and many were murdered. Sometime whole church congregations were massacred in the course of the revolutionary’s brutal aims. Christians in the Ayacucho province lived in constant fear, waiting on a knock on the door, in the dark of the night and this song captures this grim reality and the futility of the movement which was unable to see “The light of true salvation”