In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
And the Winner Is ……..
Between 2002 and 2007, I owned a house in Western France, and spent perhaps a quarter of each year living there. I love France and even quite like the French, but the English language is my mother tongue and the one I prefer. Accordingly, I installed two radios dans la maison. The first was tuned to a French easy listening station, where half the music played was in English, the maximum output allowed by French law. The second was firmly fixed on BBC Radio Four. It was the only BBC station I could receive clearly, but it was the only one I wanted.
The primary reason was to commune with Aggers, Blowers, CMJ and the other strange creatures who inhabit the often surreal world of Test Match Special, a required summer ‘fix’ for all cricket addicts, such as myself.
I had been an aficionado of Radio Four in the 1981 to 1991 period, when, as Mobil’s UK security manager, I spent many hours on the highways and byways of our noble land. Between ’91 and 2000, I struggled to pick up the World Service, mostly in dreadful African stations. Now I became reacquainted with old friends; Today; the World at One; The Archers, Front row; PM and so on. I cheerfully admit to switching off the Morning Service and Woman’s Hour, which has, in my humble masculine view, become a sexist, feminist rant.
Desert Island Discs was an unexpected pleasure. I listened to the castaways’, frequently eclectic, choice of eight discs, and often thought, “What a load of tosh”. But that is, quite clearly, the whole essence of music. It expresses itself in diverse ways to different persons at different times. Learning to appreciate music is like learning to eat and drink; our tastes expand, develop and mature with the years.
The first record I bought was ‘Learnin’ the blues’ by a certain Mr Sinatra, as a 45 single, recorded 13th March 1955. He has been a major influence on my life ever since. I had often listened to Frank on AFN, a crackling island of joy in a BBC ocean of mediocrity. My first album was Songs for Swinging Lovers, and to this day, I know the lyrics and nuance of every song.
At about the same time I went to see The Blackboard Jungle with Glenn Ford, an under rated and almost forgotten actor. Over the opening credits Bill Haley played Rock Around the Clock. It was electrifying and made the hair on my neck stand up. Hound Dog, Don’t be Cruel and Heartbreak Hotel wove the Presley magic for a while, but not like Frank. Today I have only half a dozen songs by Elvis, but all 1450 odd tracks laid down by Francis.
I joined the Police in 1956 and for the next two years was immersed in a kaleidoscope of new experiences. I played bass, badly and briefly, in a skiffle group and saw Kismet at the Stoll theatre. I listened in awe to Jack Teagarden and lower down the food chain, Chris Barber at the Royal Festival Hall. I met Chris in Epsom in 2007 and reminded him of the 1957 concert. I had bought a CD and he signed it, ‘Thanks for coming to see us in 1957’. When I got married in November 1958, I had Tschaikovsky’s Piano Concerto number 1, in B flat minor played on the organ.
And so, by the time I was twenty, the overture was finished and the great tide of music swept forward, occasionally drifting into little creeks and coves, but generally being faithful to pop. Along the way, I refined, subconsciously, what I require from music; intelligent lyrics which spoke to me, and they were there in abundance. Not only in the words of the great lyricists of the past, but in contemporary song writers. There was John Denver with his moving ‘Leaving on a jet plane’, something I did many times, and the timeless ‘Annie’s Song’, written for his wife. John’s unhappy life and premature death add poignancy to his music.
Neil Diamond, thankfully still with us, has written dozens, perhaps hundreds of intelligent lyrics. ‘I am, I said’, ‘Hello again’, ‘September Morn’, ‘Cracklin’ Rosie’, ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘You don’t bring me Flowers’, were all written by him. The latter, memorably recorded with the breath takingly excellent Barbara Streisand, must have trebled the bunches of flowers bought in the late 1970’s. It is my belief that song writers are the poets of our time.
As I got older, I found the tide of my tastes flowing increasingly towards classical music. I am no expert, but as with wine, I know what I like. I think the classics speak to my imagination and popular music to my emotions. In between the two, somewhere lies musical theatre. The uplifting themes in Les Miserables will always remind me on being with Kathy in New York and walking back from Broadway to our hotel about three feet above the ground.
At the time of choice for number one, it boils down to where I was, who I was with and my feelings then, and more importantly, my feelings now. The words sung by Roberta Flack in ‘The first time ever I saw your face’; ‘I thought the sun rose in your eyes and the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave to the dark and empty skies, my love.’ They didn’t merely touch me, they overwhelmed me.
‘Lady in Red’, ‘Have I told you lately that I love you’, ‘You were wonderful tonight’, are all contenders.
However, my favourite piece of music speaks to me of Jeanne, who was, is and always will be the love of my life. She came from Savoie in Eastern France, high up in the Alps, and has Italian and French blood. And so, the winner is, the exquisite Katherine Jenkins and ‘I will always love you’, in Italian.
Written by my Father B.M