Desert Island Discs
In last Thursday’s start of term assembly, I encouraged the boys to search for the silver lining to the cloud of lockdown. In this week’s assembly I spoke about the joy and value of reading.
The extra time in the evenings and weekends to try and work my way through the pile of unread books that sit on a couple of shelves in my study was undoubtedly one of my silver linings.
I have a kindle and I take it on holiday especially when I’m flying on a budget airline and trying not pay the supplement for additional baggage! but I would much rather read a book, I am a firm believer that books do furnish a room, I love them as objects. There is an Oxfam bookshop on Regent Street in Leamington Spa, many of you will know it, I struggle to walk past without popping in and buying something. In normal circumstances my ability to purchase books far outstrips the time I have to read them. But at the moment the pile of unread books is diminishing rather than growing. I am currently reading Unaccustomed Earth -
a collection of short stories written by Pullitzer Prize winning American author of Bengali descent Jhumpa Lahiri. These stories explore the heart of family life and the immigrant experience and as well as being beautifully written and a pleasure to read they have given me an appreciation of the sense of loss and dislocation experienced by many immigrants. Perhaps even more powerful is the sense of a common humanity shared by people from all cultures that these stories communicate.
Many of you will have heard of Desert Island Discs. The long running BBC Radio 4 programme first broadcast in 1942. Every week a public figure or celebrity is asked to choose eight recordings, a book and a luxury item that they would take if they were castaway on a Desert Island whilst discussing their lives and the reasons for their choices. Whilst I have come to accept that I will never be a guest, I do have an audience and I thought it might be fun to think about my choices and share them with you. I have always enjoyed listening to Desert Island Discs because it frequently alerts me to something new, a book or piece of music, and I hope that my Desert Island Discs have the same impact on at least a few of you.
Since I have already spoken about my love of fiction I thought I’d start with the book. My choice is the ‘novel’ Shantaram.
Written by an Australian author Gregory David Roberts, reputedly influenced by real life events, it tells the story of a convicted bank robber who escapes from prison and flees to India to live in the Bombay slums. It is a vivid portrayal of tumultuous life in Bombay and wonderful evocation of life in this incredible country. This book was a gift from my father in law, until his death, every year at Christmas he would give me a book. The book would always be accompanied by an explanation of his choice and he would go to considerable effort to find something that he thought I would enjoy and might have missed. I love this story, but it is more than a book it reminds of this generous man and the fact that when comes to act of giving it truly is the thought that counts, this was always the present I looked forward to most every year.
The book was relatively straight forward but narrowing my selection down to a mere eight recordings was extremely challenging. Music has the power to transform human experience, change moods and evoke memories. I decided to focus on this last quality and choose eight albums that have sound tracked my life.
I started in my childhood.
The album Graceland by Paul Simon immediately brings back powerful memories of family holidays to the South of France or Spain, when we would set off from Leamington Spa, drive down to Dover and then onwards from Calais down through France listening to this album on the car stereo. Long hot days in the car but wonderful memories and this album is the soundtrack of those memories. Having become fascinated by a bootleg cassette of South African township music Paul Simon visited South Africa and spent two weeks recording with South African musicians. On his return to America he created new compositions inspired by the recordings he made on this trip and the finished product became Graceland an eclectic mix of pop, rock and a cappella richly infused with the sounds of traditional Zulu tribal music.
I have also chosen a second album form my early childhood. Led Zepplin’s fourth studio album. When still at primary school in the late eighties and early nineties the charts were dominated by electronic music. I decided that I only liked ‘proper music’, music made with ‘real’ instruments and to my ten-year-old mind that meant guitars, which in turn meant heavy metal! Every couple of weeks my mum would take me to Leamington Library. I used to love these trips. I would come home with a selection of books. I was also allowed 50p to rent a cassette which I would take home, copy on to a blank tape and listen to on my ‘ghetto blaster’! Since the death of the C90 I have found no need to upgrade most of these recordings to CD or MP3. A couple though have survived the advancing years. Guns and Roses Appetite for Destruction and Led Zepplin IV an album which fuses folk, the blues and rock ‘n’roll and has been described as defining hard rock and heavy metal and this is my second choice.
One of the tracks from the album, Stairway to Heaven has made the list of records most frequently chosen by Castaways but it is the album’s opener Black Dog that remains my favourite.
The next three albums come from my secondary school days. I always tell people that Oasis’ Definitely Maybe was the first CD I brought. It wasn’t, that was God Shuffled His Feet by the Crash Test Dummies but of the two Definitely Maybe is the one has endured the test of time and it makes me sound a whole lot cooler. Oasis burst onto a barren musical landscape and their unpretentious rock ‘n’ roll has come to define a period sometimes referred to as ‘Cool Britania’, even today listening to album opener Rock ‘n’ Roll star makes me smile at the memories of my early teenage years.
During my Sixth Form years I decided I was a Marxist and far too intellectual for music as superficial as Oasis. Music also needed to be a form of social commentary. OK Computer by Radiohead was on almost permanent loop as we debated politics in what is now the Gibson Building and the kitchens and sitting rooms of Warwickshire.
The third album I have chosen from this period is Massive Attack’s debut album Blue Lines which gave birth to entire genre of music, a fusion of hip hop and coffee table down tempo known as trip hop. The highlight of this fantastic album is undoubtedly Unfinished Sympathy.
I went to university in Cardiff and in late nineties Wales you simply could not escape from the Stereophonics. Their debut album Word Gets Around could be heard blasting out of dorm room windows throughout my first year.
The other album that brings back memories of my time at university is Daft Punk’s Discovery. The very embodiment of the artificial electronic music my ten-year-old self claimed to despise, none the less this album never fails to fill me with joy and memories of happy days with very good friends.
My favourite current album, if you can describe something released in 2007 as current, is The National’s Boxer. I stumbled across the American indie band reading the Culture section of the Sunday Times. I had never heard of them before and immediately ordered the album on the strength of the written review alone, without having heard a note. It was an impulsive decision that I have never regretted. Matt Berninger’s deep emotive baritone is a wonderful vehicle for a lyrically insightful series of songs about surviving domestic life. It always strikes a chord, never fails to get me thinking and is something that I have revisited time and time again.
It is a strict rule that the luxury item must be an inanimate object and of no practical use. I found this perhaps the most difficult selection of all. After considerable angst I decided on a guitar and a guide to playing it. But that’s two items I hear you say. I checked, and this selection has been accepted on at least one show. One of my few regrets is that I have never taken the opportunity to learn a musical instrument. I have always wanted to learn the guitar but somehow something else has always taken priority. A few years ago, I went as far as borrowing Mr Pierce’s guitar and attempting to teach myself over the course of a summer holiday, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t get very far! Marooned on a desert Island, time is unlikely to be an issue and I’ll struggle to find any other excuses not to put in the hard work! Maybe I’ll have another go this summer!
I hope you have enjoyed hearing about my Desert Island Discs, I have certainly enjoyed the process of thinking about my choices, listening to some old CDs and reflecting on the memories they evoke, and I have certainly enjoyed the opportunity to share them with you all, thank you for indulging me. Perhaps some of you might enjoy selecting your own Desert Island Discs and sharing them with your friends and family. The later part is extremely important. Back in June myself and Mr Jefferies were discussing the positives of lockdown and we both agreed that the time to read was one of those positives, but that the absence of the opportunity to discuss the things we’ve been reading with others was one of the biggest losses. As well as inspiring a few of you to select your own desert island discs hopefully I’ve introduced a few of you to something new which you’ll go away and check out for yourselves.
Led Zepplin – ‘IV’ (Black Dog)
Paul Simon – Graceland (I Know What I Know)
Oasis – Definitely Maybe (Rock ‘N’ Roll Star)
Radio Head – OK Computer (Karma Police)
Massive Attack - Blue Lines(Unfinished Sympathy)
Daft Punk – Discovery
Stereophonics – Word Gets Around
The National – Boxer