Tuesday, 12 March 2013

from a kitchen table

Upend the stick again. What happens next
Is undiminished for having happened once,
Twice, ten, a thousand times before.
Who cares if all the music that transpires
Is the fall of grit or dry seeds through a cactus?
You are like a rich man entering heaven
Through the ear of a raindrop. Listen now again.

I wrote my first decent song when I was about fifteen. By decent, I mean that it was considered good enough by some friends in a band to perform it live. That particular band continued to perform songs that I had written. I later formed a brief but productive partnership with another friend. I played acoustic guitar mostly then and he was a bassist. For the major few months we wrote together, he insisted on playing a double bass, which was great for writing around his house but a bit crap for trying to play them anywhere else. We actually went busking outside the Tower of London but we won't go into that here.

ancient and modern: the guitar is MUCH
older than the didgeridoo
I've had songs performed by other bands too. The first decent song I wrote mentioned above was called Painting in the Rain and was strong enough that many years later as an adult I could still remember parts of it - the first verse and the refrain (no chorus involved, as such). I had to remember it because the lyrics were lost in Time - scraps of paper borrowed, never returned. Still, I sat in an exam room a few years after qualifying as a teacher and re-wrote it. Now it became a song of an older, middle-aged man looking back at his life rather than that of a gloomy teenager looking ahead. In the years since, I've recorded it and on occasions written other songs mostly not as good.

Over the weekend I watched the Mark Lawson interview with Mark Knopfler and listened with interest (more about the way the article was presented than the content) to Broadcasting House* on Sunday morning as they tried to explore the music of Justin Bieber - someone whose celebrity seems to have completely passed me by, I must admit. Still, listening to the presenter trying to coax the female Musicologist into singing live on air with him was amusing. I'm obviously not the only person who finds songwriting a fascinating subject. I haven't even mentioned Desert Island Discs and how popular it is.

I've written elsewhere about early gigs and music that I have found important to me. Sometimes those posts have led to meaningful comments and points raised because the music has meant something to others. Last Friday evening whilst watching the BBC4 programme about 1970s music (mostly gleaned from old Whistle Tests and TOTPs) my phone lit up with comments from several friends and throughout the programme comments were made and passed amongst us. Okay, it may have been a bit of a nostalgic rush but the comments weren't always complimentary - sorry Babe Ruth - but there were pleasant memories invoked too - well done Maggie Bell, Scotland's answer to Janis Joplin, indeed.

This morning at work several members of staff were discussing Bowie's "best decade" in view of the fact that his new album was released this week, and prompted by an article in a newspaper, I believe. So, if this is all true, which it is, why the comment from Phillip Stone in today's Independent that ". . . books, like music, have almost no value." Now, I find that a very worrying comment. I get the point that's being made and I don't want to worry too much about books here. What I'm concerned about is the idea that's coming across that music has (okay, almost) no value. And not just for me. All the above and the preamble to this point seems to suggest to me that actually, music has a lot of value. Alright, I guess they're talking about monetary value but the term 'value' seems quite loaded. Just because many people - particularly youngsters - don't pay for music nowadays, does that mean they don't put any 'value' on it? I know many youngsters that DO put 'value' (whatever that is) on music. There's plenty of them playing guitars, bass, drums and even some writing songs. I've put on plenty of songwriting sessions over recent years (with others) and been into recording studios with various groups of youngsters who have certainly put plenty of value on the joy of the outcomes.

What I'm saying is that music is essential to many of us. As an exercise, I deliberately set my iPod to shuffle whilst writing this and in the last few minutes have been entertained by One Night One Time in America by Los Lobos, I Got The Blues by the Stones, Jackie Leven's setting of Robert Frost's Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening and now, as I type, Johnny's Far Away by Richard Thompson. It doesn't prove anything except my poor taste**, possibly, but it would be interesting to know what you are listening to at this moment in time, ie what's actually playing right now in your background. And I don't mean what you choose to tell me, I mean what is actually on now. Take a note of it and let me know, I'm fascinated, honestly.

Anyway, I remain devoted to listening to music and put enormous value on it. I will, I guess, also continue to pay for most of the music I listen to. Oh, and if anyone thinks music isn't important to people try reading The Train in the Night, A Story of Music and Loss by Nick Coleman to discover about the absence of music in a person's life.

There, I wrote about music without mentioning 'emotion' once.

*It's about 30 minutes in if you're impatient, or interested.
** Obviously I prefer the term 'eclectic'.


Mike C. said...

Right now, silence. Ten minutes ago, John Adams "Shaker Loops". Twenty minutes before that, Bill Frisell, Blues Dream.


Dave Leeke said...

Thanks for that - were they random or actual choices?

Mike C. said...

Choices (always is -- I don't listen to music on the radio).

I'd watched the channel 4 programme about John Adams the other night, and remembered how much I enjoy his work. For some reason, I reach for Bill Frisell CDs quite often -- if I could play (I mean, *really* play) that's who I'd like to be. He's an understated genius of the guitar.


Zouk Delors said...

Actually, Dave, I didn't have any music on when I first read this (lunchtime) - I was sitting chatting to your old pal Jym (or Jim as he prefers it nowadays). He remembered what a great laugh you, him, Mick and Mark(?) had at college. Don't think he does blogs, though.

PS Those your lyrics at the top?

Dave Leeke said...

Well send my love to Jim/Jym (my mother thought he was wonderful, by the way).

I'm upset that you had no music on (you could have lied!)- what are you listening to NOW? What do you WANT to be listening to?

No, I'm afraid the lead-in is from 'The Rain Stick' by Seamus Heaney - I just couldn't be bothered to go and find the rain stick, so a didgeridoo had to suffice for the photo. There's a subtle connection with Mark Knopfler here as the poem is in 'The Spirit Level' and Heaney sent a copy to Knopfler after hearing one of his albums.

Kate the State said...

"Motorcycle Emptiness" by the Manics, on Radcliffe and Maconie's Radio 6 show, prompting nostalgia for a time when I wouldn't step out of the house without full eyeliner and a leopard-print coat, which just goes to show that I valued music so much that I dressed like a pillock in order to emulate my favourite bands.

The '70s is obviously Bowie's best decade, but I am enjoying the new album. Have you listened to it? I bought it from itunes. Have you seen Amanda Palmer's TED talk about not making people pay for music, but letting them? It gives a fresh perspective on what was become a tedious debate. I imagine you would hate her music, but she makes a strong case:


Dave Leeke said...

Well, the leopard skin comment made us smile - I'll check out the Palmer stuff, I've got a TED app on my iPhone - ooh! So modern.

I have a great admiration for R&M. Radcliffe is doing well as the new Harding but Mr M is an excellent writer on all things walking. A very funny guy.

I must listen to the Bowie album but am concerned about the hype.

Dave Leeke said...

Well done with the new job too, Katie! Excellent.

Kate the State said...

Thanks Dad - now I have to be grown up and responsible! I know what you mean about the hype. I think people are so excited that Bowie is back that they are willing it to be better than it is. But I like it regardless of all that, although I doubt I will be playing it as often as I play "Station to Station". And I don't think I'll ever quite get over my penchant for leopard print! x

Zouk Delors said...

I'm embarrassed to tell you that this time what I was (not really) listening to was whatever Steve Wright was playing at the time.

Being a bit lazy, I tend to let some radio DJ decide what to play a lot of the time. That's Ken Bruce pretty much every morning from whatever time I wake up (I'll be listening out for Dave in Suffolk on Popmaster next half-term!), and also pretty regularly includes Paul Jones' R&B show, Mark Radcliffe's Music Club and the Folk Show and Jools Holland (all R2). I also like to broaden my outlook with Late Junction on R3 sometimes. I notice Nitin Sawney's got a World Music show on R2 now, so I might be tuning into that too.

R&M were also a big regular for me before they moved time and transmission medium. I was on their Chain feature a couple of times.

Being a bit cash-poor, I haven't really bought anything for a long time, but I've saved quite a few (old) tunes from the Earthy Pit.

Also, a friend is, or has been, a big downloader and when I visit him he is usually listening to a randomised selection from his eclectic terabyte collection, where I hear plenty that's not on the radio (and if some of it has found its way on to my phone, I'm sure I don't know how that happened! Most recently Bananamour seems to have turned up there).

Then there's my vinyl..

Jim's fine and wishes you well.

PS Time to introduce Kate to Bob Dylan's Leopardskin Pillbox Hat (Blonde on Blonde)? Hey! Maybe that's what Mike could give big-time donors to Idiotic Hat?

Dave Leeke said...

Why embarrassed, Zouk?

The radio is there to inform us - I even occasionally listen to it myself, although I'm mostly a R4 man these days.

Most people who know me know that I'm an arrogant git when it comes to music - a "musical fascist" is the oft-heard remark - but I have no problem with any of the shows you mention. Well, except Ken Bruce who seems to have based his whole persona on being Terry Wogan.

Must admit that I took a double take on the "Bananamour" comment because I thought you meant that awful 80s blonde girl pop group but realised that you meant KA. Is your listening to that as a result of his recent departure?

I'm not sure Katie knows that particular Dylan song as there's a long-running gag in our household about everyone's favourite Dylan album being "Blood on the Tracks". Just don't mention it to Trevor.

Well, you must tell me baby,
How your head feels under somethin' like that . . .

Zouk Delors said...

Why embarrassed, Zouk? 

Because Steve Wright's an embarrassment - all that singing and that. I'm usually out doing my bits n bobs while he's on.

The radio is there to inform us.

"Inform, educate, and entertain" is, I believe, the Reithian mission statement of the BBC.

Ken Bruce is the most entertaining presenter on R2, sharp as a Glasgae razzer, with a great sense of humour, an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music, and a manner which charms some of the biggest stars. The best feature on the show is Tracks of my Years, where a slice of interview is sandwiched between two influential track selections by the interviewee each day, a total of ten, with a plug thrown in on the Friday. It comes on every day about 11.40, but you can take your pick from (currently) 84 past editions at


Why not try Steve Miller's selections first?


Yes, that's right. He won't need the money now, and apologies to his estate's debtors, if any.

Blood on the Tracks

Yes, probably my favourite, too (though Dylan's done a lot I haven't heard). I think the equivalent on there of Leopardskin Pillbox Hat is Idiot Wind, isn't it?

"It's a wonder that you still know how to breathe"

Well, mentioning Late Junction earlier reminded me to tune into the mellifluous tones and all-encompassing musical knowledge of the delightful Verity Sharp again tonight and I've chosen you a track from her playlist:

Sarah Matthews' My Name is Kathy Shaw

Dave Leeke said...

Blimey, a very full response there, Zouk. Thanks for that - I'll check some of those out.

I'll have to check out Mr Bruce, too. Perhaps it's not him I was thinking of!

Apologies for the late response - all hell's breaking loose at work as they seem to think OFSTED are in next week.

Brendini said...

Only just read this today. No music on at the moment, but a couple of weeks ago, while sitting at the kitchen table and listening to 6Music, I heard a track that made me sit up and listen. I would be interested in your reaction.
The track is All Returns by Wolf People.

Dave Leeke said...

Okay, I'll have to check them out.

Look, I'm a musical fascist, I should be telling everyone else what to listen to.

I've just watched England lose at Rugby ignominiously so I need a few moments to gather my thoughts.

Currently listening to Shelby Lynn myself - randomly chosen by my iTunes.

Anonymous said...

Can't listen to music while doing other things, except something utterly tedious like the ironing. Not being snobbish, but I zone out, and the music disappears - so there's no point in having it on. Last two things I listened to, though, were a Paul Simon double live CD of a concert from 2011 (he's definitely losing it, but the guy's 72 this year ... and a fascinating set list, definitely NOT Greatest Hits) and the new one from Richard Thompson, still wrestling with that one, though "Good Things Happen to Bad People" stands out.

Martyn Cornell

Dave Leeke said...


My current favourite is "Salford Sunday" - beautifully performed the other week at Cambridge. Great guitar sound on the album - working with Buddy Miller was a brilliant idea.

Zouk Delors said...


While I agree background music can often be at best a distraction when you're trying to concentrate on something else, I once attended a seminar on time-management where it was asserted that playing Pacobel's Canon while thinking can actually help. Something to do with the counterpoint opening different parts of the mind. Or summink.