It’s ten years since I last compiled my desert island discs. It began as a dinner party game and then some close friends created a CD for my birthday. A thoughtful gift. I would happily listen to them all on my desert island but, after a decade, I thought it was time to review my choices. I think you are only allowed eight, although I chose ten last time. The choice is going to be tough.
David Bowie has to be on my list. He performed at two of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, at Preston Guild Hall and Newcastle. Although this was mainly because he is an incredible, charismatic performer, it was also because I was actually close to him. This was in the days before stadium gigs and video screens, when you could run to the front of the hall and kid yourself he was looking at you.It was going to be Drive in Saturday off the Aladdin Sane album but a last minute change of heart means my first choice is Life on Mars. It reminds me of sixth form college and the years just before we all left for various universities and colleges around the country. There’s always a frisson of excitement when I hear it. Pity all those years can’t come back.
Pharrell Williams is the most contemporary artist on my list, although the track I’ve chosen is from the nineties when he was with N.E.R.D. I think his video with Robin Thicke for Blurred Lines became as notorious as The Stranglers’ performance with strippers in the seventies. I seem to recall being conflicted, then. I was annoyed that the Students’ Union had banned The Stranglers from playing Langwith, although at the same time outraged by the band’s attitude to women. I saw Hugh Cornwell at Glastonbury a few years ago playing with an excellent young female guitarist. There were just the two of them. How things change. I think student unions banned Blurred Lines from being played on campuses but it hasn’t harmed Pharrell’s success. It was a good strategy to write a child-friendly feel-good song by way of redemption, I guess. Last time I chose White Lines and Rapper’s delight, this time I’ve chosen Rock Star, as my hip hop track of choice. He did a great version with Shay Haley of N.E.R.D at the Manchester Arena last year.
I had to reject Start Me Up because I have heard it played at Trump rallies and I really do not want to have any memories stirred of that vile man while I am on my island. I’m sure it’s no more The Stones’ fault than it is Mick Jagger’s responsibility that his ex-wife has married Rupert Murdoch, but I just don’t want to be reminded. Tumbling Dice reminds me of many Langwith discos but it is going to be passed over in favour of fellow Londoners, The Kinks, and You Really Got Me. I remember this from the first time round and still have the album ‘The Well Respected Kinks” although it jumps along now. It has travelled well in time and still excites in Davies’ musical Sunny Afternoon.
I have seen the tribute band Doors Alive many times over the last eight years (fourteen to be precise). Their front man Willy Scott, whose impression of Jim Morrison was so mesmerising, has now left. I guess it’s hard to keep a tribute band going when you are older than the lead singer was when he died. I think my enthusiasm for the band has waned too. So I think I will leave The Doors out this time. Instead there’s a band that represents all things Mancunian to me. Oasis’ music is played at every Manchester City home match. It’s a difficult choice to make when there are so many good songs which stir up some great memories, but I think it will be Don’t Look Back In Anger as my fourth record. Noel Gallagher wrote it in just 15 minutes.
I still love the Marvyn Gaye and Tammy Terrell song, You’re All I Need To Get By. They really sound like they mean it, but I’m going to replace this track with a Beatles’ song. I remember being in Cuba sometime during the 90s. Paul McCartney had been there a month before on holiday. Unfortunately this meant some of the musicians in Santiago de Cuba had to be cajoled into playing traditional Cuban music instead of Yesterday. In Camagüey I remember watching a local guy playing a copy of the White Album on the roof terrace of a café. He was holding the record cover as if it was sacred. He had a look of rapture on his face, and he kept looking at me as if to say, ‘Isn’t this just amazing?’ I guess Cuba got Beatlemania 30 years after most of the world. In My Life, sung by John Lennon is my fifth choice. It seems to sum up my life up as well. Probably everyone’s.
I like to listen to local music when I travel. Unfortunately my visit to Ali Farque Toure’s café on the banks of the River Niger in Mali took place some months after he died. I don’t actually remember hearing much music being played in Mali so I discovered most of it in Manchester. I saw an amazing concert by electronic Kora players, Ba Cissiko. Africa Express, a tour of artists from the continent put together my Daman Albarne, a few years ago was an incredible night. The album Mali Music, which he collaborated on, is magical. My sixth choice, however, is from East Africa. Teddy Afro singing Menelik from the album Tikur Sew. It is about King Menelik who fought and beat the Italians in the nineteenth century. Ethiopia is the only African state that has not been colonised, a fascinating place. I came across this song when I was putting together a slide show of my Ethiopian holiday photographs and was searching for atmospheric music. I also came across a video with a Teddy Afro sound track commemorating 28 Ethiopians who had been brutally executed on a beach in Libya by ISIS/Daeesh. It was incredibly moving, but not something I can ever watch again. I don’t think Facebook ever offered the option of uploading an Ethiopian flag in solidarity, but then I don’t think there was much coverage of the atrocity in the European press at all.
I’m conscious there are no women on my new list. It’s as masculine as the Labour Party nominations for city mayors. I do like lots of women singers but they just have not made my short list…and I cannot leave the next guy out. I’ve always liked The Jam, Style Council and Paul Weller. You Do Something To Me always does. I never tire of it. Like Bowie, he has my respect for turning down any honours from our corrupt system. Come to think of it, that’s another reason for rejecting The Stones. His music has echoed in my life ever since I took my first job teaching French. That’s something my recent friends might not know about me – there’s a small group of people in Essex who know me as Mademoiselle.
My last choice is another Manchester band and I am torn between Joy Division’s Love Will Tear us Apart and New Order’s Blue Monday. I tingle each time I hear their opening bars. My favourite film is 24 Hour Party People about Tony Wilson and Factory records starring Steve Coogan. You can sit in a booth in Manchester Library and watch it for free with a cup of coffee and a cake. Now that’s my kind of city! I have been lucky enough to see both New Order and Peter Hook’s The Light this year. What a revelation Hook’s voice is. Very powerful. I like all versions of the records but, as I have to choose, my eighth and final record will be Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart.
I’ve turned down Bob Marley, Dolly Parton, Mavis Staples, The Temptations, Beyonce, James Taylor, Ricky Lee Jones, R.E.M, Lou Reed, Astrud Gilberto, Labi Siffre, Idris Elba, Frank Sinatra, Buena Vista Social Club and The Specials to name but a few. Music has been in my life since I remember listening to the Light Service on the wireless and, later, Radio Caroline on my transistor radio. I can’t imagine life without the thrill of a familiar record, the anticipation of a concert. I’ve been very lucky to have had the chance to enjoy so much live music. I remember in the early nineties spending New Year’s Eve on a boat in San Fransisco Bay. Every song they played seemed to be by a Manchester band. It made me realise how much this part of the UK, with Liverpool, has influenced modern music.
Although I have shelves of novels I always enjoy a good biography or diaries. My favourite book used to be The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov but I would always relish an autobiography more than magical realism these days. Oloadah Equiano, Chris Mullin and Alistair Darling spring to mind. I suspect I’m intrigued about people’s lives and what makes people tick. However, I am going to choose a text book. I wondered if solitude on a desert island might motivate me to read and master Das Kapital, but I suspect it would not have been finished (or maybe started) by the time I was rescued. My book would be another memory of York University, Erving Goffman’s The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, on which most of Laurie Taylor’s lectures seemed to be based.
I had wondered about having a supply of Beech’s rose and violet creams as my luxury item, but they might melt in the sun. I wonder if I would be allowed a language course? It would seem a useful thing to do. If so I would probably choose German, as I always regretted not studying it at school. And the record I would choose if I could only take one? David Bowie of course.