FIVE OF THE BEST|
from Bath and West Life, ed. Robin Seavill
Bath & West Life was the name of a glossy lifestyle magazine that used to be published from Bristol, PA's current base. In the late summer of 1998, Pete contributed the following list of his all-time top five pieces of music to the magazine's own 'desert island discs' feature, Striking Chords. -- Robin Seavill
Think It Over - Buddy Holly
For a lot of people music takes on special significance because of the events it's associated with. For me it's the other way around: moments of uniquely musical revelation have always created vivid snapshots of where I was at that often otherwise insignificant instant. For instance, in the 1950s, I was hardly aware of gramophone records at all; songs were seeping into my brain via the BBC, mostly in studio performances. Gramophone records then commanded roughly the same proportion of airtime as is occupied nowadays by poetry or angling programmes. But then one shiny Cambridge afternoon I was cycling home from school past a terrace of small grey-brick houses near the railway, and I heard what had to have been a record being played through an open window. I had no idea who or what it was, and I didn't even stop to listen, but the sound of it lodged in my brain - I'd never heard anything like that odd style of singing and that jangling kind of guitar or that tune that didn't end 'properly'. It instantly activated my musical taste buds and moved all of my listening up a gear - for ever. I didn't find out what it was until much later, when my friend Colin (who had a record player) bought an LP called The Buddy Holly Story. The instant this track began, I knew that it was the song I'd been waiting to hear again. I can still point out the window.
Preachin' Blues - Robert Johnson
As a student in the mid-1960s, the college record library made a major contribution to my education in the (mostly black) origins of the music which British beat groups (the word 'band' was still only attached to the words 'dance' and 'brass') were then playing. I borrowed an imported American LP called The Country Blues, a sampler of tracks mostly from the 1930s. It was yet another revelation, another drawing aside of a curtain I hadn't even known was there. And then, next to last on the second side, came this track. It was about the strangest, most compelling music I'd ever heard. Every single thing Robert Johnson recorded in his short life now fits on two CDs, but his influence has been incalculable. It's not the music I listen to most often, but it's some of the music I'd least want to be without. Every time I hear it I can feel the texture of that extra-thick cardboard album sleeve and the precise weight of that record player pickup on my finger as I put the needle back in amazement to the beginning of the track.
String Quartets - Bartok (played by the Emerson Quartet, Deutsche Grammophon)
Again in the '60s, I was given a free ticket for the London Contemporary Dance Theatre, not something I'd normally have thought once about going to. I'd never seen any kind of dance before, so the evening's learning curve was more like a vertical ascent. Among the many beneficial shocks I received was my introduction to this beautiful, jagged, woody, crunchy, passionate string music. Up to that point my idea of string quartets was defined by the record of Boccherini that Alec Guinness played to fool Mrs Lopsided in The Lady Killers. Not any more. Among other things, this music now incidentally enables me mentally to locate precisely the seat I was sitting in.
The Real American Folk Song - Ella Fitzgerald, from The George & Ira Gershwin Songbook
I'm married to an American, so I've been to the States many times now, but I often wish I could go again for the very first time. Fortunately, there's always this record to help revive that energizing buzz. It was 1969 and I was part of a university theatre production tour with the likes of Diana Quick, Julie Covington, Russell Davies, Rob Buckman and Michael Wood. We were subsisting in New York on five dollars a day, so finding this 5-LP box set remaindered for almost nothing (it's now on a 3-CD set) was a major excitement. Gershwin is as New York as it gets anyway, of course (not that I realised that at the time), and this is arguably the musical peak of Ella's whole songbook series, making you hear familiar songs as if for the first time, and stunning you with unfamiliar masterpieces like this one.
Basin Street Blues - Ruby Braff & Roger Kellaway, from Inside and Out (Concord)
A couple of years ago I went to Los Angeles for the first time. Bizarrely, it was just for a weekend, to record some programmes for Radio 4 with an actor who couldn't get back to England as planned because he was filming in Titanic and the schedule had been changed yet again. (Oh, all right, it was Martin Jarvis - and, yes, you are forgiven if you sneezed and missed his one surviving line in the movie.) I've loved Ruby Braff's cornet playing since I saw him with the Alex Welsh band in the '60s, and Roger Kellaway is probably my desert island piano player, so I was thrilled to come upon this CD of the two of them together in the course of a speedy trawl through Tower Records on Sunset Strip. There's not a single cliche on the whole disc, and even repeated listening hasn't dulled its inventive edge. I laughed out loud with delight as I sat listening on headphones at the departure gate at L.A. airport that evening. I used up two sets of batteries on the plane back playing it over and over again.
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