Six Books for a Desert Island Library

Coming out of Waitrose supermarket, I pick up an edition of their paper, Weekend: it’s free, usually contains one or two interesting meal ideas and, if nothing else, makes a good liner for the food scraps recycling caddy.

The paper has Mariella Frostrup writing a regular column. In this edition, she suggests we consider six books which may give insights into our character. I think this is an easier task than choosing eight songs for a desert island. What would those six books be?

The Autobiography of a Supertramp (WH Davies)

My copy of this book bears the ink stamp of my old school library. There was a time when it was thought the pupils weren’t making enough use of the room, other than to use it as an impromptu common room. It had a long south facing fa├žade and it a great place to chill out and chat in the Autumn or Spring sunshine. A decree was set that each pupil had to borrow three books from the library. So, when it was my turn, I picked this one, a John Wyndham omnibus, and a Twentieth Century Book of Verse. By the time I left school for good, I still hadn’t read either, nor had I remembered to take them back.

Some years after, being by then more interested in books, I decided to read them. It surprised me how good this book is, an account of Davies’ preference for life on the road. A Welshman, he begins tramping around Britain but is soon working his passage to the States where bumming about is a whole new ball game, one in which jumping freight trains without being caught is an essential life skill. In time, he makes it to Canada where he is hospitalised after a serious accident, then returns to England and throws himself at the mercy of the establishment charities.

But Davies was also a poet. Probably the most famous of his works is Leisure, the one with the opening lines,

“What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?”

It’s a good sentiment if not a great poem; even if we’re not brave enough to be a tramp, a “king, or queen, of the road”, we should, at least, spare time just to stand and stare.

As a poet, Davies was taken under the wing of fellow poet, Edward Thomas, and I was interested to discover that he helped settle him in a cottage in Nailsworth, not a million miles from where I live now. It’s a small world.

excellent related reads:

A Poet’s Pilgrimage also by WH Davies – a brief return to tramping through England

The Road, by Jack London – alternative tramping experiences and freight train jumping in the USA

In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas – a bicycle ride from London, westwards.

Music: De Gustibus Non Est Disputandum

I was reading an article last week about different country’s attitudes to social media interaction, which must include blogging, and those “taboo” controversial subjects – religion, politics, sport, and music/movies.

Not being religious, I don’t want to be one of those aggressive, brute, atheists I often read in the comments section of national newspapers. I don’t wish to pour scorn on people’s personal faith. Politics, I just don’t understand enough about to argue. As for sport, it’s games – fun to play and all that, but what’s with the tribalism? I never got it.

I was surprised to see “music/movies” included. What can be controversial about those? Surely, both are fair game for social topics. I know there are significant numbers of people who still hold faith in power of The Beatles, and others who feel the same about Led Zeppelin, but generally I’ve found people to be open-minded and curious towards music.

I’ve probably written before that my first foray into blogging was themed around music. It was simply something to write about; I wanted to try blogging and couldn’t think of anything else to write about. It’s often tempting to go back to that theme and write around music till the cows come home but I’m mindful to avoid it. Mainly, I’ve found music to be a personal journey, one not easily put into words. I could do a mix-tape – been there, done that, on a blog, weekly – but who’s interested?

But as it’s Christmas, and I seem to have had a bit of time on my hands this morning, I’ll let the guard down slightly and offer a glimpse of my musical tastes. Bandcamp, whose blog I follow on WP, have posted their top 100 albums of the year and I’ve listened and selected three of those which I quite like (I was happy to hear all of them though some of them once only),

It’s annoying that I can’t get an audio clip to stop playing once another clip is selected. I did try some code – it didn’t work – sorry but life is too short.

Immediately this felt like familiar turf. It’s what I’ve concentrated on for the past decade. I started exploring bebop, and jazz in general, just to get away from pop and the dull, time-worn ubiquity of electric guitar bands. I’ve always had an ear out for jazz, or at least jazziness, but it got serious when I gave Miles Davis a chance. Not being a musician, I wouldn’t say I get the theory involved, but I love the instrumentation, and the sense that they are virtuoso players, not people making sound with the minimum of education.

There’s a whole wide world of music out there though most are content with what’s in their own back yard. It’s a shame, I think. I didn’t know this performer. Though the style is pretty familiar, the vocal is in Korean. I find electronic music – synths and stuff – can go one of two ways, but carefully composed, it’s delightful. I love to get my ears inside those layers of simple, repetitive beats and rhythms. I like mesmeric sounds too, though not necessarily electronic.

I like folk, and I like country. And I like to hear an acoustic guitar being picked, and I like meaningful words. This is a proper ballad, it tells a story, it draws you in, it’s interesting. A ballad isn’t just any old quiet number in the repertoire of a hard rock band. Do me a favour! It’s quite dark this one, isn’t it? I like the ‘cellos too.

What people around the world do and do not talk about on social media.

Bandcamp’s Top 100 2018

The Impossibility of Selecting Just Seven Other Significant Songs

I had to drive to Cheltenham today, for a meeting. I say, had to, but I suppose I didn’t; I could have simply not gone, but I did go and there’s the end to it.

It’s a twenty minute drive and I spent that time considering the impossibility of choosing seven other songs or pieces of music to go with The Lark Ascending (see previous post), in the unlikely event that someone asks me. I mean, supposing they did, I could simply refuse. How would a list of eight songs say more about me than a blank refusal to play ball?

But we do these things, because it’s not human not to.

I thought it best to begin with the genres I like, keeping song choosing at bay for a while. The Lark Ascending would be Classical so that’s that box ticked. It would be unthinkable not to have a Soul record on my list, and I listen to a lot of Jazz now, and I’ve always enjoyed the Blues. I then thought it wise to park Pop until I was sure there was room for frivolity. Then there was that long period in my youth when I listened to a lot of Rock and Prog. Rock – I thought I’d better combine those – and some Folk, and “Acoustic” music which a lot of people refer to as Folk – I better combine those two too.

So, I have Soul, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Folk.

Ah, Reggae and Ska! I love those too – group them together. And what about World music? Strictly speaking, most of the World music I have is African. Though this is a huge and diverse continent, I think to stand any chance of success, I must squeeze it all into one genre.

And sorry Country music but you’ll have to keep Pop company on the benches. So, the seven are,

Soul, Jazz, Blues, Rock, Folk, Reggae, African.

Now you can see the enormity of the problem in selecting just one song or tune to represent how I feel about any of those genres. It’s just impossible!

Islands & Larks

Desert Island Discs (BBC Radio 4) is a nice concept but I don’t listen. The concept is this: a celebrity is invited to choose eight significant pieces of music, a favourite book and a luxury item. All these would be the only cultural things allowed them on a desert island. (I think there was also The Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare at one time, just to eliminate those from the lists of less imaginative guests, but I’m not sure if either is still included. Never mind.)

The reason I don’t listen is simply because I don’t like celebrity interviews; I prefer musicians to play, actors to perform and politicians to talk politics. But I do have a curiosity about what these people listen to and what it says about their knowledge and tastes in music. So the good thing about the Beeb and this show is they bung up their guests’ music choices on the website so you can find out their musical tastes without having to endure twenty minutes or more of them babbling about themselves.

I’m telling you this because the Beeb has sent me an email notification about their current programming and it included a link for Desert Island Discs – and I had almost forgotten about it.

Anyway, I clicked on the emailed link out of curiosity and soon found out that the listeners’ most popular piece of music is Ralph Vaughan-Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Brilliant!

I think in the unlikely event of being invited on DID myself, one of my choices would be The Lark Ascending. (I haven’t a Scooby what my other seven choices would be – far too difficult, far too many contenders.)

I read a biography on the late BBC disc jockey, John Peel, and he claims to have first heard Teenage Kicks, by The Undertones, whilst driving. So overcome with emotion was he that he stopped the car and wept. Well, I didn’t weep when I heard The Lark Ascending in my car one time, but I did have an urge to pull over.

Hmm, now what about those other seven pieces? It’s bad enough shortlisting seven artists’ or composers’ names without going further and selecting individual songs!

Thinking about island castaways reminded me of a book I read years ago – An Island To Oneself, by Tom Neale, a survivalist. I must have been still in school and the book came into my possession through my mum who found it at work. It was a real, life Robinson Crusoe tale although Neale chose to live alone on his island. It fascinated me at the time and now I feel like reading it again.

But it’s a book which is out of print and Amazon marketplace are offering copies for over thirty quid! I think I must have given mine to a charity shop. There isn’t even an ebook option. Hopefully, in time, in this century, all books, whether in or out of print, will have an ebook option, inexpensive and accessible.

In the meantime, I’ll have to keep my peepers open around the charity shops.

The People’s DID – The Lark Ascending (BBC)

Wheat Field With A Lark by Vincent van Gogh, 1887