Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

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Leg of lamb
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Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Leg of lamb » 08 Jan 2012, 12:31

I was born in Cardiff on September 3, 1986, the first child of three. At the time, Dad was finding his feet as a producer for BBC Radio Wales, having switched career in 1981: till then he’d been an English teacher. Mam had a job at the Welsh Literature Council but soon gave it up to stay at home with me. Being a full-time mum was still a common enough choice, even for a lefty family such as ours, but I don’t think Mam bargained for the 12-year career break that she ended up taking in order to look after my two sisters and me (we all came at four-year intervals: 1986, 1990 and 1994). Unlike Dad, who studied at Oxford, she’s never lived outside Wales and she’s always felt a bit cooped up as result. With a first-class degree and a PhD, she could have achieved a lot professionally but she set it to one side. These days she works for the council in youth services, and has to face down redundancies, reduced pay scales and a vile manager about two decades her junior. She’s such a compassionate and competent woman, and it breaks my heart to see her stoop like this when her career should be at its peak. As she’ll tell you herself, family means everything to her, and by any standard she leads a comfortable life filled with friendship and love. But I know she has regrets.

Dad did well, making the switch from radio to TV in the late 80s. By the time I was in juniors, he headed the department of arts, music and features at BBC Wales, which he continued to run until 2000 when he lost his job amid a reshuffle at the top of the local Beeb. He started up his own company, Green Bay, and continues to make programmes – mainly arts and history docs for BBC Wales, S4C and BBC4. (Shameless plug: they have an eight-part history of Wales, presented by Huw Edwards, coming out this year.)

Anyway, that’s my parents. In many ways, though, it’s my grandparents that really hold the key to who I am. Dad comes from Treorchy in the Rhondda Valley, and his father was a miner, amateur boxer and chapel deacon; his mother worked on shop and factory floors when she wasn’t at home with Dad and my Auntie Susan. Dad still reveres the mid-century world of the Rhondda: the humour, the solidarity, the drive towards betterment for your family and the community. Get him started on it and he’ll never shut up. If you ever do meet Dad, I’d recommend you ask him about Norman. Norman worked with my grandfather, but he was also an autodidact who went down Treorchy library to bone up on Plato, the science of mining and everything else in between. One day, at home for the Easter holidays of his second year in Oxford, Dad was writing an essay on Andrew Marvell in the library. He ran into Norman, and the conversation (as legend has it) went something like this:

Norman: Hello Philip. Glad to see you’re not too good for us these days. How’s university going?

Dad: Oh, you know Norm. It’s tricky. I’m writing an essay right now.

Norman: Ah. What’s it on?

Dad: Andrew Marvell.

Norman: And what’s it about?

Dad: Well, Marvell was born in 1621 –

Norman: Yes, Philip, I know who Andrew Marvell was. I asked you what the essay is about.

Dad: I’m writing about how his poetry relates to the Civil War, Norm.

Norman: Ah. And what are you saying about the Garden?

Dad: The Garden?

Norman: Yes, I assume that you won’t get more than a bloody third for this without mentioning the Garden.

Dad: Oh, you mean the poem – the industrious bees, ‘a green thought in a green shade’, all of that?

Norman: Well, I suppose I do mean the poem, yes. But really I mean the idea of the Garden.

Dad: What do you mean, Norm?

Norman: You’re meant to be a bright boy, Philip, but I’d have never let you out of Porth County. Right: why do you think Marvell wrote ‘The Garden’?

Dad: To promote an idea of the perfect human society.

Norman: Ah, maybe they are teaching you something in Christchurch. But still, we’re some way off the right answer here. Why did Marvell write ‘The Garden’ at that particular point in time?

Dad: Because it was a time of civil war?

Norman: That’s right. And during a civil war there is no garden.

*

Dad got a first for that essay and he still gives Norman all the credit. All of this, believe it or not, is a roundabout way of coming onto my first selection, ‘Never Any Good’ by Martin Simpson.

Although Dad continues to feel very strongly about the ethics – and the success – of that twentieth-century south Walian worldview, he knows that it wasn’t all sunshine in the garden. His parents and Norman grew up between catastrophic wars, in a world of heavy industry and limited choices. With the creation of the welfare state, things would start slowly to change – but Dad is acutely aware of how he had opportunities that his mam and dad would never have dreamed of. Martin Simpson may come from Yorkshire but this beautiful paean to his father could have been written for my dad and his in the Rhondda. My granddad was apparently the gentlest short-arse of a man that ever lived – a boxer, but a point-scorer who would jab away with the radio while listening to a fight and switch it off if it sounded like there might be a knockout blow. He was also a fiercely bright man, a great preacher and no slouch in a theological debate. He’d go walking up on the Rhigos Mountain and pick flowers. Put simply, he wasn’t made for a life spent breaking his back in pitch darkness. Simpson sings about his own father, a man who’d rather go out fishing, wandering and daydreaming than working down the pit; a man who ‘needed the light and the air’. So this song is for my grandfather, who died in 1991 when I was five. It’s also for the world he represented, which still haunts my thinking and shapes my values.



The musical memories of my childhood centre on the Beatles. Born in 1950, Dad grew up with them and passed on that love. I have a very vague memory of us driving through Canton (the part of Cardiff that I’m from) when I was about seven, listening to the Red album. For some reason I asked Dad if the Beatles were still alive. He said they were – apart from John. I can’t remember the exact content of the lecture that followed, but I know that it set me off on a bout of Fab-mania that lasted – bitter irony! – until I picked up a cassette copy of What’s the Story Morning Glory when I was ten. I eventually came back to the Beatles and went through a giddy period of rediscovery when I was about 16 or 17. They’re a massive part of me. Weirdly, though, I haven’t found a place for them on my desert island – possibly because they represent so much. There isn’t a particular track I could isolate. Like many other people, I will content myself with a fail-safe mental jukebox.

It took the Manic Street Preachers to turn me into a free and autonomous pop fan: someone who was on their own voyage of discovery. I had to latch onto something. Despite growing up in the 60s, both my parents have a limited interest in pop music. It’s scandalous. Dad saw The Who and Dylan (on his 1966 tour!!) and recalls these seismic, amazing gig experiences with the sort of fondness that I reserve for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Truth be told, he was never up for the sex and drugs part of the rock and roll equation. He was involved in the CND and local Labour politics, but he dobbed someone in at uni for dealing acid. He just saw it as destructive and senseless. At the same time he found JS Bach and, well, pop music receded in his rear view mirror – turned to juvenilia, almost overnight. He bought Paul Simon and Bruce Springsteen records in years to come, and enjoyed getting back into rock a bit when my interest came about (he really took to the Stereophonics debut), but his personal passion trickled off. The less said about Mam’s pop taste the better. She’s eight years younger than Dad and owned John Denver records.

So I needed a surrogate big brother, and the Manics delivered. If there was any justice, I would put a Manics track here because they opened up worlds. We sneer at them on BCB but it was due to the Manics that I read Orwell, Camus, JD Salinger, Larkin – all by the age of, like, 15. They also functioned as a recommendation service, and for two years or so I only listened to the Manics and those endorsed by the Manics: The Clash, Public Enemy, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Nirvana. All rather youthful and angry, but it put clear blue water between my parents and me. More importantly, the Manics set me off on my own bumbling, informal education in literature, politics and music. This would start to dovetail with my formal education around A-level, but Planet Manics (and its surrounding moons) kept me in touch with the world of ideas at a time when I found school a pretty dull experience. I went to Bishop of Llandaff, a Church in Wales high school that was bland and tidy, in a stultifying way. Most of my mates grew up on the Danescourt estate near Llandaff; they were good guys but we had nothing in common, really. We rubbed along until I found out that I couldn’t study what I wanted to at Bishop in sixth form. Without any great sadness I upped and left for Whitchurch up the road.

No Manics on my desert island, then, and no room either for all of the ‘favourite bands’ that I went through at a rate of about one per year: Nirvana, followed by Radiohead, followed by REM. Looking at that sequence of bands, I see a trend towards evermore ‘adult’ types of angst. By the time I was in sixth form and listening to Reckoning on minidisc, I thought I was a very mature and artfully maladjusted young man. Some great music can be found in the catalogues of all those bands, but very little of it has worn that well for me. Most likely it reminds me too much of a particular moment of being young. It was around this time that I started contributing to the Q boards and then BCB, and weaned myself off melodramatic indie and rock. NME and the music press played a part: I recently cleaned out my old bedroom and found boxes full of music magazines – NME, Q, Mojo, Uncut, the short-lived and unlamented Bang. I must have been buying about half a dozen a month at one point. After getting my first pay cheque for my first summer job (helping the caretaker at a girl’s school up the road from me), I bought The Notorious Byrd Brothers: a sign of me saying farewell to the Manics and hello to a world of premature old fartery that I treasure to this day.

No one represents this transition better than Dylan. At first, it seemed like my love for Dylan was a station on that journey from Manics to Nirvana to Radiohead to REM – I pranced around Whitchurch with him playing in my ears, wearing exactly the same duffel coat and scarf that I wore while listening to ‘Pretty Persuasion’. Nowadays, though, I see him as a much broader gateway. Too much has been written about Dylan, so I’ll just put up a track: ‘Queen Jane Approximately’.



(Bizarrely good cover version from a group of teenagers but, please, do yourselves a favour and seek out the original. Bob Dylan and youtube may not get on, but I'm damned if I'm going to let that stop me from picking it! Has no one else picked a Bob song yet?)

Sometime around this point, and thanks in large part to the generosity of BCBers like Owen and Griff, I started getting into soul, reggae, rap and black music in general. Given the whiter-than-white diet that I’d subsisted on till now, I hope you can see why I have to make a point of this. Another big influence was a BBC series on Jamaica that was made to coincide (I believe) with the 40th anniversary of Windrush – might’ve been 2003? Anyway, I remember watching a documentary on reggae around then, but feeling like I didn’t know where to turn in terms of actually buying the music. I got some Bob Marley, the Harder They Come soundtrack and a few more eclectic CD-Rs from Owen – but beyond that it seemed tricky. Then I got Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King, a phenomenally good book by Lloyd Bradley that went beyond whetting my appetite and turned me into a permanent fan of JA music. Above all, it gave me the confidence to go exploring without the canonical assurances that had underpinned my rock education.

Sixth form at Whitchurch was a revelation. I teamed up with my best old mate, Gareth: we’d drifted apart from the age of 11, when he went to Whitchurch and I went to Bishop. He’d gone on a pretty different path – a big Cardiff City fan, which I used to be (and am now again), Ga flirted with the Soul Crew, our horrible hooligan firm. Anyway, we needed a bit of space, and I was delighted to find that he’d mellowed when I hooked up with him to ask about Whitchurch. We slipped right back into being best mates, and with great generosity he opened up his friendship circle to me. Ah sixth form was great: free periods, people learning to drive, pegging it up Bristol to watch The Streets and Roots Manuva, girls. Unfortunately, the girls also presented a problem, as I was shit with them.

A bit of Nick Hornby-esque reverie, if you’ll allow me (I promise it will resolve in an amazing tune)…

There were three main girls at sixth form: Rachel, Rachel and Alison. Only one of these would ever officially know that I fancied her. The first Rachel was the daughter of our family doctor, pretty and bookish in a combination I’d never really come across before. She had a boyfriend when I met her, and I have a hunch that I split them up; we were spending so much time together. Unfortunately, the break-up seemed to snuff out any possibility for us at the same time. No matter, though, because I’d already transferred my affections to the other Rachel in our friendship group, a really stunning red-haired girl, gentle, intelligent and fiendishly elusive. I’d invite her to do something and there was about a 1 in 3 chance that she’d respond, and then a 1 in 2 chance that she’d say yes. Whenever she did, I went giddy and we seemed to get on well, but even I worked out that maybe she wasn’t into kissing me at the end of the night – so I hedged my bets by also fancying one of her best friends, Alison. It may not be irrelevant to note that I discovered Elvis Costello at this point. It was a perfect hurricane of sexual frustration.

Everything came to a point in the summer of 2005. I keep turning over a sequence of events that began with the end of school and came to a close, roughly, when I went to Bristol for uni. First there was the high of my sixth form prom: I just remember a really good night, getting pissed with teachers in the Cardiff Hilton, followed by an after-party at the house of one of my best mates, Eddy. I hung out with Alison almost the entire time, and it ended with four of us – Alison, Rachel 2, me and a good mate, Les – staggering back to Les’s house at five in the morning, just as the sun was coming up. We watched films, drank and fell asleep. I had a job lined up and a holiday in Copenhagen booked with friends for a few weeks’ time. It was looking good for summer.

The next day I walked three miles home in my tux and found out that my gran had suffered a stroke. The following week turned into a bedside vigil at Llwynypia Hospital. It felt like a sort of emotional whiplash; I know bad events will always shock you, but this came so quickly on the heels of a really happy moment. Towards the end I was given five minutes on my own to say so long to Gran. She was filled with tubes and probably unconscious, but I got chatting and spent the whole time talking about – of all things – Alison. It seems almost indecent in hindsight, but that was the confusion going on in my head at the time.

That confusion continued over the summer. Gran’s death was a major event in the family; for Dad it was especially bad because, beyond his mam dying, it severed his last concrete tie to Treorchy. The mood around the house was black, with Dad bursting into tears at random intervals, then being very affectionate, and then telling us off – which he never really did otherwise – for being ungrateful and blasé, not like the people that he’d grown up with in the Rhondda, who understood the opportunities they had. In fairness he had a point, because I hardly stopped my social calendar for that month after Gran died. The day after her death, my friends and I bombed up the M4 to see Kings of Leon at a leisure centre in Reading on their Aha Shake Heartbreak tour (a big album for us in sixth form). I remember texting Alison on the way up, asking if she fancied going to the cinema sometime, and getting no reply. The night before Gran’s funeral I had tickets with a few friends, my dad and my sister to see REM play the Millennium Stadium. Dad and Catrin cancelled and offered up their tickets to any friends of mine that might want to go. I offered them to Rachel 2 (the red-haired one) and she accepted, being very kind and solicitous about my bereavement at the same time.

She bought along her girlfriend. So that explained a lot, but also wound me up ahead of the funeral. I put on the same suit that I’d worn for the prom and my family drove up to Treorchy. I bawled all through the ceremony, which took place in Gran’s church, one of those nonconformist tin shacks that the Rhondda holds up as religious architecture. We decamped to Gran’s house – empty now, and soon to be on the market for the first time since being built in the late-nineteenth century – and had an awful buffet. I broke down again when I saw Ga, who had come along with his mam and sat at the back of the church. We talked about Copenhagen in Gran’s garden; about how many Kroner we were going to take, how wicked a time we were going to have.

The next day I started the job, working in the kitchen at a café in Cardiff town centre. I was in a daze but working turned out to be a comfort. I spunked my first week’s wages on a pile of CDs, reggae mostly – some Soul Jazz Studio One albums, King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown, Super Ape, Heart of the Congos. It was a muggy summer and I listened to them in my bedroom, on the humid top floor of the house, with my shirt off and a floor-fan on max. Next week we went to Copenhagen (a bizarre destination for a post-A-level lad’s holiday, I grant you, but that’s a story for another time). For me, the trip was a mixed bag. Still grieving, I joined in as best I could but was never really in the mood. I loved the city, with its pretty harbour, beautiful people and friendly atmosphere (less so the ludicrously priced beer). I could even join in with some of the banter – the five of us pretended to be a band on tour and one night, somehow, managed to get two good-looking Danish women back to our flat for a ‘party’ (we were all too young for this to turn into anything less innocent). The next day, though, I got up early, went out to buy a six-pack of Tuborg, and spent the rest of the day crying and drinking on my own. The soundtrack was Phyllis Dillon, the great and sorely underrated Jamaican Dusty; for some reason she seemed to capture the mood. My mates didn’t really know what to do with me – they tried taking the piss, then just let me get on with it.

On our last day in Copenhagen, we went swimming in an outdoor pool that was basically a hundred square metres of North Sea. Throughout the holiday I’d been lagging a step behind the group, shuffling, moping, listening to my iPod. That day was no exception, and it was all made worse by my fear of dark and deep water – a recurring dream has me drowning in a freezing lake. I didn’t really want to go for a dip, so I stayed on the top ledge listening to Heart of the Congos while my friends splashed about below and froze their bollocks off. Eventually, I realised that I had to jump in and rejoin the human race. I dove off the top, performed an inelegant somersault into the sea, and felt a jolt of adrenaline as electric-cold water foamed over my head. The song still going in my mind was the last on the Congos album, ‘Nicodemus’. It’s a song based on the New Testament story of a sinner who would only come to see Christ by night. It’s a song about rebirth, about passing from darkness into light, and at that moment in time it was a song about facing down the seagulls, jumping into the Scandinavian sea and not giving a shit about death or Alisons and Rachels (Alison would email in the next few weeks to let me down gently). It felt a little bit like the end of childhood.



Uni started in the October of that year and I hated it at first. I couldn’t get over how confident everyone seemed. In my naïveté, I didn’t realise that an actual majority of people in my hall (Goldney, in the posh neighbourhood of Clifton) had been to private school – nor that most of them were snorting enough cocaine to fell a herd of llamas throughout fresher’s week. All I saw was a bunch of wankers who would be very friendly in the hall bar one night and not remember you the next. I got very lonely and pined after Rachel 2, who was also in Bristol, in a hall on the other side of town.

I did grow into it, though, and I have a close-knit group of friends to thank for that. Tim, Simon and Luke are some of the loveliest people I’ve ever met and two of them (Tim and Simon) shared my flat in Goldney. Sometimes life throws you a bone like that. Interestingly, all three of them are into very square music – not music that would endear them to BCB, put it that way. Luke is a massive – and I mean owns-every-single-live-album massive – Dave Matthews fan. For that reason, I’ve never really connected with that BCB thing of sneering at ‘music for assholes’, or people with crap taste in general. It’s not that I’m a puritan who disapproves of being judgemental about these matters (I give Luke all sorts of shit) – it’s just never rung true. The coolest people I know listen to music that makes me retch.

Still, I became something of a music guru in uni. It was pretty gratifying – all those years spent stockpiling CDs and knowledge when I should have been getting laid, finally giving me some payback! OK, so my knowledge of rocksteady obscurities never once did get me laid, but I was thought of as someone who knew their stuff. I was allowed to soundtrack a few cool parties, and people admired my choice of club nights. My signature tune during this time was ‘Bam Bam’ by Sister Nancy. Bristol nightlife still has a huge reggae backbeat, so there were decent odds of this dropping at some point on any given night. Hearing the opening bars, my friends would hustle me onto the dancefloor and skank around me. Very good times.



So I had the mates, I was going out a few times a week, getting firsts in English and philosophy (my joint honours), even starting to write ropey poetry myself and getting it published in the Bristol arts mag, Helicon – and yet I wasn’t happy, not really, because I came to uni a virgin and a virgin I remained. It seemed to get harder to break this duck the older I got. Unlike at sixth form, where my attractions were concentrated on a handful of girls in my immediate circle, at uni my fancies scattered everywhere – on Holly, the beautiful theology student I’d see outside the philosophy department on Fridays; on Sophie, the plummy National Trust devotee with whom I shared a strange opposites-attract friendship (she’s now parliamentary assistant to one of the new Tory MPs that swept in at the last election); on Helen, the superhumanly confident German and Drama student who lived above me in Goldney, with a filthy, mirthful Brummie accent that lit up the corridors; on Harriet, the prettiest and poshest of them all, who wrote cinema reviews when I was film editor at the uni paper and took me out for a drink to butter me up and ask advice when she wanted to take over my job in third year. None of it ever went anywhere, apart from once, in a club, when Helen grabbed my hand and snogged me in order to shake off the attentions of some lecherous dweeb on the prowl.

I dwell on the failed romances because it links to the music. I think music, at this time, provided a reciprocal relationship that never seemed to materialise with girls (I should start saying women, shouldn’t I?) in real life. Not for nothing was I in love with classic girl groups, Edith Piaf, Phyllis Dillon, Carla Thomas – usually female singers, with a strong line in unrequited balladry, who seemed just as lost and rubbish in love as I did. It was never clear to me whether I wanted to meet my very own Dusty, or whether I felt that I was Dusty. Probably a bit of both.

At the start of third year I had to resort to harder music after the one genuine fuck-up of my uni love life. I’ll spare you the story, but the heartbreaker was a woman – definitely: she was Swedish and 24 – called Sofia. After reaching out to Sofia as I had to Alison, and being rebuffed in much the same way, I sank into a real funk. That was a happy 21st birthday, let me tell you. With previous heartbreaks, I’d have reached for the REM or some Dave Godin albums – generous, balmy music that would indulge my sadness. This time I reached for Enter the 36 Chambers. For a whole autumn and winter I skulked around Bristol, putting my hood up as I tried to avoid bumping into Sofia en route between our rickety student house in Redland and Woodland Road, Bristol University’s main thoroughfare. Inside the hood would be a set of headphones mainlining the Wu Tang Clan, Super Chron Flight Brothers, El-P, Outkast, Jay-Z and – in particular – Labor Days by Aesop Rock. Where my chanteuses had given me softness and understanding, these invariably male rappers spat my disappointment back in my face. They made my disappointment seem less like a lame dose of lovesickness and more like a vital, angry, intractable outlook on the world. Here’s ‘Daylight’ by Aesop Rock, the song that most sums up these horrible months. I think it’s a brilliant track, no matter how much it sends me back to a bad time.



Houston, we have a problem. This wasn’t about any particular heartbreak; it was a song about a world gone wrong. Surprisingly, its lyric contained the seeds of recovery, the slap in the face I needed to get back on track:

Life’s not a bitch, life is a beautiful woman
You only call her a bitch because she won’t let you get that pussy
Maybe she felt y’all didn’t share any similar interests
Maybe you’re just an asshole who couldn’t sweet talk a princess


I needed to hear that, at a time when I was probably skirting dangerously close to letting a spoonful of misogyny mix with my misanthropy. However, no amount of salutary bitch-slapping from Aesop Rock could’ve worked on me if I hadn’t also, at the most unlikely moment, found love.

I met Jasmin through Helicon, the aforementioned uni arts mag, where I was poetry editor and she was the treasurer-cum-PR-person. From the first time I saw her, I knew I liked her – I just never thought it would ever come to anything. I felt motion sick from years of latching on to different girls, getting close, getting too close, hesitating, prevaricating, losing them, turning to the next. I was listening to too much Aesop Rock. And yet… we became friends; we started walking home together when we could; we stayed for a drink or two on our own after the rest of the Helicon staff had gone home (most of our meetings were in the pub). One night, to my shock and continuing joy, it happened: we took it in a beyond-friendly direction. How’s that for a euphemism?

It’s not been plain sailing since then by any means. For a start, there was the small problem of me going to America in September. At the peak of my rap period, I’d applied to study poetry at Columbia University in New York. I have my dad to thank: he’d been reading some of my poetry and encouraging me, alongside BCB’s own Roddy, to take it more seriously. He sensed that I needed an adventure, a change of scene, and he just said, well, why not? Columbia’s good. We went into it on blind and foolish terms, really, with scant consideration of the cost. I applied, and found out I was successful on the night of one of my first proper dates with Jasmin. I told my dad, and there was never any doubt that I should go, even when we looked closer into the price; I told Jasmin, and she bought us a bottle of champagne in the bar where we’d met. We continued seeing each other until a painful and ambivalent farewell as I was about to fly out to New York in the August of 2008. We agreed to break it off, at least to begin with, but stayed in touch throughout my first year away; in the summer between my first and second year in NYC, we decided to give it a proper go. We’ve been together ever since.

Picking a song to represent Jasmin is difficult for a couple of reasons. First, finding a happy relationship has dampened a lot of my need for music. For a few years, I was consuming music in a slightly manic way, and I definitely used it to channel a lot of passion and high feeling that should have gone into other people – into at least one Alison or Rachel along the way. I can’t tell you how much happier and more settled I am nowadays. I can focus more on my reading and writing, and what I do write is far less likely to be an outpouring or a glorified love letter than it used to be. I can concentrate on what Geoffrey Hill is saying and write criticism about it. It’s great – but it has altered my interest in music. These days, I get my kicks from literature more than I do from music. I sometimes wonder if I’ve had an experience similar to my dad with Bach – but then I put on a Bill Withers, Ronettes or Nas album, and the blood will start pumping again. I’m not quite a boring old cunt. I just appreciate music more for the form, the sound of it, than I do the sentiment it carries. So in many ways the most honest ‘song’ to dedicate to Jasmin would be a blank entry; she is the end of pop music as a proxy for love, and the start of the real thing.

The other reason music doesn’t quite work with Jasmin is funnier and more prosaic: she doesn’t really like it. She finds singing ‘awkward’. If I want to annoy her, the quickest and most effective thing to do would be to break into a chorus of ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry’. The music she does like is typically instrumental or vocally abstract – funky house and turn-of-the-century UK Garage. She’s all but stopped listening to music, actually. Her CD rack sits in her bedroom, abandoned, and she hasn’t made up for it with an online substitute.

But there is one song, and it comes from her best friend, Talia, as much as it does from Jasmin. I heard Talia sing ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ on my first trip to Harrow to meet Jasmin’s parents. I knew that I was America-bound, and even though we were all pissed at the time – well, especially because we were all pissed at the time – I got totally choked up by this amateur, karaoke version. The story the song tells wasn’t an exact mirror to what was happening with Jasmin and me: indeed, I was just heading out to my version of ‘LA’, rather than on my way back. But the emotion of the song rang so true – this sincere love being compromised by circumstance and distance. It’s buoyant and sad, and has the best backing vocals anywhere, on any record, pop, soul or otherwise. Whenever I hear it, I see Jasmin swaying and smiling, enjoying her best friend even though she can’t stand singing.



Two to wrap up, then. First, I need something to represent New York. Again, this is trickier than it ought to be, since it wasn’t a very musical time for me – I was reading three books a week, going to readings, writing like a maniac, drinking with other writers. Writey writey writey write! There are two pretty major candidates, though. First – and the one that, regretfully, I haven’t chosen – is ‘September Gurls’. I can still remember the look on Matty and Guy E’s face when I told them I’d never heard Big Star before. Blasting ‘September Gurls’ at very loud volume from Matty’s rooftop in Brooklyn, on a blazing hot summer’s day, with an ice-cold Dogfish IPA in hand, was a pretty good remedy to that sorry state of affairs. It showed me that there was still a lot of brilliant music to discover, and a lot to thank BCB for – not least the readymade circle of friends that I had out in New York. Quite staggering, really. (On similar lines, I could nominate whatever Madonna song was playing on loop when Baron recovered consciousness in my fleapit Williamsburg apartment after an epic night out in the neighbourhood.)

The New York song I’m going for, then, is ‘That’s Us / Wild Combination’ by Arthur Russell. I heard this for the first time during my first month in New York, at a screening of Wild Combination, the Arthur Russell biopic, at IFC on the Lower East Side. It was as important a moment as any in settling me down in New York. I was still homesick and uncertain, excited but overwhelmed, missing Jasmin and not sure of where that was going – and suddenly I realised: I’m on the Lower East Side, watching a great film about Arthur Russell, and the world is my everything bagel with lox. I love New York more than anywhere else in the world (apart from Trebannog on a crisp winter’s day), and hope to spend plenty more time there in future.



I will finish, roughly, where I began, with a song that reminds me of my parents. If the Martin Simpson song represents the secular, political values that they’ve instilled in me, then JS Bach is a symbol for the religious side of my upbringing. Scratch that: Bach is religion – or at least a theology – in himself. His is the sound of the holy ghost, as I understand it: thoughtful, light, serious, compassionate, constantly surprising, full of human and divine goodness. Put me on that island and I could happily listen to nothing but Bach. If I have to take one piece, then it’s ‘Wachet Auf: Zion Hort die Wachter Singen’, part of a cantata for Advent.



(Not my favourite version - for that try John Eliot Gardiner's version from his series of the cantatas - but it does the trick.)

Luxury: I think what I’d most miss on the island, apart from human contact – which we can’t really do anything about – is laughter. So I’ll take a DVD player / telly with a big DVD-R of TV comedy shows jammed in the drive: Alan Partridge, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Fawlty Towers, Blackadder, Seinfeld, 30 Rock – I have quite mainstream but enthusiastic taste.

Book: Tricky, because I have to decide between poetry and fiction. Do I take the Norton anthology of English literature and gradually work my way through? Do I take a collected works of Donne, Milton, Hopkins, Eliot or Larkin? Do I take Nil Nil by Don Paterson, Mercian Hymns by Geoffrey Hill, The Cloud Corporation by my old teacher Tim Donnelly? Do I finally try and make it through the Canterbury Tales?

No. I’m taking Bleak House. Because a world without Dickens would be worse than a world without music.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby johnnydefault » 08 Jan 2012, 12:41

Tremendous read

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Owen » 08 Jan 2012, 13:05

Bravo mate, it's been fun popping up every now and again along the way to see how you're doing.

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Moleskin » 08 Jan 2012, 13:27

Fantastic! A really enjoyable read.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Belle Lettre » 08 Jan 2012, 23:01

That was really marvellous,Dai. And thanks for mentioning that When Reggae Was King book, definitely one I'd like to read.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Minnie Cheddars » 08 Jan 2012, 23:15

Make no mistake, Dai, you are a brilliant,brilliant writer, and I enjoyed reading every single word of that. Thank you!
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Copehead » 08 Jan 2012, 23:57

Fantastic read and the Manics Tidy.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby fange » 09 Jan 2012, 01:22

A tremendous read and great selection of songs - cheers!
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Leg of lamb » 09 Jan 2012, 17:43

Thanks all!











Bump.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby savoirefaire » 10 Jan 2012, 16:39

Great read. Mind you, it took me a few days to read in bits, but I have the attention-span of a peanut when it comes to long posts. And what a broad list of music.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Corporate whore » 10 Jan 2012, 17:11

Fantastic writing.

I'm a big fan of the Martin Simpson song as well, it always reminds me of my uncle Charlie who spent his youth running away from home and living off the country.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Count Machuki » 10 Jan 2012, 17:14

Nice one, man.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Thesiger » 10 Jan 2012, 19:50

A fine read. And it's great to see the love for that Martin Simpson song here (even if he's not from Yorkshire). It's also interesting to read of your parents as individuals who probably come from the same generation as many of the older board members here. We can forgive the lapse of taste that led you to champion the Manics on the way towards the good stuff. And that Gladys Knight track is one of my favourites too (as is the Dylan song cited).
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Corporate whore » 10 Jan 2012, 19:51

Forgot to mention - I was at that REM gig as well!

Don't recall seeing you though ;-)
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Minnie Cheddars » 10 Jan 2012, 20:17

Corporate whore wrote:Forgot to mention - I was at that REM gig as well!

Don't recall seeing you though ;-)


If he was in the state he was in at our wedding, I'm not bloody surprised.
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Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Molony » 10 Jan 2012, 21:11

Best read yet. Nice one.

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Six String » 11 Jan 2012, 18:54

I expect greatness from this thread but I don't have time at the moment to read it with complete concentration. I'll have to wait a couple of days most likely as we're having some work done on the inside of the house which won't allow us to stay in it for a couple of days. I'll be back when I can give it the time it needs and deserves.

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby BlueMeanie » 11 Jan 2012, 20:31

Fabulous read. One of the best.
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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby kath » 12 Jan 2012, 00:17

if you ask me, folk haven't been complimenting yer stylistic ass enough.

yesterday, after i read yer entry, i was hit with the urgent need to go off on one of my bungle-in-the-word-jungle rants, on my ma's definition of style (my ma, the one who was a lit freak and a lit prof, until my dad told her to give it all up after her fourth brat and "rest.") just in the nick of time, i found an ounce of restraint. no, i will not hijack and derail yer incredible entry. not that much, anyway. i will post it elsewhere. after all, it does apply to the hordes of varied, primo stylists on this board, even though quite frankly, the whole thing is yer fucquin fault, dude.

instead, just one bit:

when i was an undergrad, i won an essay award at my uni. a small, departmentally inbred kinda deal. the essay was on andrew marvell. it sported one of the barfiest titles ever spat out in titular history. .... marvell's unresolved tension. (christ, i think i just got a zit on my ass. in my defense, i was gettin the paper in two seconds from the deadline. i doubt the ink had time to dry. besides, i had another essay submitted by another prof for that same award, and it had a groovy title on coleridge's lil exploding pants problem.)

anyway, i don't recall specifics, but i know i was trying to say the same thing norman was saying. just in my very young, very naive, very amateurish way. (damn, don't we all learn what war wounds are soon enough?)

the important part: i got a tiny lil plaque with my name on it and a hundred bucks. i took that money, grabbed some mutant friends and went to pat o's in the quarter. sitting in that beautiful garden courtyard section out back, the lush greenery, the landscaped old cobbled bricks, the gorgeous wrought iron... we all got trashed beyond human reckoning.

there's some resolved tension for ya.

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Re: Desert Island Discs - Leg of lamb - Jan 8 2012

Postby Magilla » 16 Jan 2012, 00:57

An outstanding read, Dai. I love the details you throw in. I was especially impressed at how you portrayed important personal events and people, but never got merely mawkish.
Bloody fantastic read man, well done.
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