Meandering through the undergrowth of the internet recently I was reminded by a randomly encountered posting of the BBC’s Desert Island Discs radio programme of long ago and the perennial pub question – what (and why) would be your eight records of choice if that was all you could have with you while cast away? If you are under forty and wonder what a ‘disc’ might be, think of it as a sort of flat and easily scratched, analogue iPod that you can play Frisbee with when you bore of the contents. Being a chap with only six months – to the day – until retirement I am a repository for this sort of arcane stuff and happy to share it with whippersnappers, should they be interested.
Anyway, everyone on the planet probably has a list in the back of their mind. Constantly revised, of course, as new stuff comes along … but at the moment mine would probably contain the following in no particular order. All very accessible and nothing at all heavy and obscure, but you will note, and appreciate the fact I trust, that electrical guitars and mindless dum-chukka percussion do not feature on this list.
- Vaughan-William’s “The Lark Ascending” – wonderfully evocative music for an ex-pat Englishman who is a deep birder and once tried, badly, to learn the violin. I never get nostalgic about England apart from pubs and real ale; Canada works fine for me (bigger forests and more bears), but if anything can do it, then this is the sort of thing that will.
- Sydney Carter’s “George Fox” – I was once a morris dancer (that’s for the source of the tune – played by John Kirkpatrick in the version I want). I think I am still philosophically, if not spiritually, somewhat of a Quaker (that’s for the words of the song) and have always had a liking for people like George who can upset the status quo and make people think – to say nothing of the fact that when they eventually rescue me they will find my customary smart and dapper style has undoubtedly descended from necessity to “old leather breeches and shaggy, shaggy locks”.
- “Bourée” – I don’t know where this originated but I have heard several recordings over the years and it always has a cheering effect. It’s a terrific piece for brass band and I would like the version by the Canadian Brass on their ‘Fireworks’ record for my island. Also, being a Yorkshireman, I like brass bands. A lot.
- “Tarleton’s Resurrection” is a splendid lute tune by John Dowland written to celebrate the life of a famous actor/comedian of Shakespeare’s time. Some tunes you get bored of, but this always is worth pausing to listen to.
- Handel’s “Acis & Galatea”. We saw this opera at Covent Garden a few years ago. Handel could write a good tune and the Royal Opera and Ballet people (it was a joint production) can certainly put it out there better than most. Full of very jolly stuff.
- Bach’s “Brandenburg #1” I think, though it’s a hard choice between that and #3. Have to have something by Mr Bach and this is stellar stuff indeed. Tafelmusik’s recording for preference – my favourite band. Then again, Bach’s English keyboard suites are remarkable and full of “dancy” bits. I don’t really think of myself as a keyboard sort of person – a little percussive for my taste, even the harpsichord which these were composed for, albeit the recording I like is played on the piano. Which to choose? Too much choice!
- A bit of jazz perhaps? Brubeck’s “Take Five” of course. It might be a piece of musical cliché these days that has been done to death but that’s because it is just really, really good and it bears repetition. Bloody clever too.
- Number eight. If there’s only me and a monkey named Tonto (see below) on this island I will want something “big” from time to time and there is nothing bigger than Charpentier’s “Te deum” so let’s go out with that. Anything that starts as that piece does has got to have staying power. For playing at sunset with a half coconut shell full of whatever interesting alcoholic brew I have managed to create on the island.
- I need a ninth – justified by not being part of the every-day eight but rather one to reserve, unscratched, for a single performance to welcome the row-boat full of matelots approaching the shore to convey me back to their ship and civilisation. The hardest of the lot to choose but I think the William Tell overture, played ironically and at maximum volume while thinking of the Lone Ranger (another sign of my advancing years – google it, you younger people). I can then cry “Hi-ho Silver. Away!!” as I climb into the skiff in expectation of a stiff G&T within the hour and a fat publishing contract to ease my declining years.
Then again – tomorrow the list might be quite different.