Life, and its vicissitudes have threatened to overwhelm me of late.
And it is summer, which I’ve always believed is for summering in.
But a new friend recently lent me such support and uttered such lovely words of encouragement in my ear, that I am inspired once more…so grazie mille Antonella.
This post is a not -so – little journey through my musical past and present, because I am rarely happier than when listening , singing or dancing to music.
In fact, sometimes it feels so good it seems almost illegal.
And previous readers of my posts may have noticed that most of my Blog titles are also song titles.
As the song says : ‘ Music was my first love, and it will be my last. Music of the future, music of the past’.
‘I hope you don’t mind, that I put down in words’ …now where have I heard that line before?
The first poster on my bedroom wall was of The Jackson Five.
I had seen them on Top Of The Pops and been captivated.
A very young Michael spun on his Cuban heels, smiled and fizzed for the camera and seemed to me to be possessed of something that very very few people ever are.
I was only about 6 or 7 myself, but those beats permeated my soul.
My love of music was born.
This was the era of the house party, and my parents were in the vanguard.
Saturday nights in summer were spent hanging over the bannisters with my brothers, listening to the chaotic- and sometimes bewildering- din of grown-ups at play, all set to the most fantastic soundtrack.
The Beatles and Dusty Springfield, ( to whom my aunt paid weekly homage with an enormous beehive ) The Rolling Stones and Donovan. Fleetwood Mac and Marianne Faithfull.
My parents were somewhat divided on the merits of The Beatles versus The Stones, with my mother preferring the former and my father the latter, although both were played at full volume in our house, and on repeat, if there was a new favourite, such as ‘Hey Jude’.
I come from a very musical family by any reckoning.
My maternal grandfather played the cornet and trained at The Military School of Music at Kneller Hall.
My father was in a band for my entire childhood and an amp and guitar stood permanently at the ready in the sitting room.
My mum sang like a nightingale, all the time, all around the house and both my father’s sisters played every musical instrument under the sun between them, including the accordion, the piano and the harmonica.
Both aunts were church organists too, one of them always in residence whenever we went to church, so there was never a time that my life did not seem set to music of one kind or another.
Aged 8, I remember one of my aunts asking me to sing some notes for her while she sat at the piano one day.
Having been able, without any training or thought, to give her the required ‘ A’ and then ‘D’ when asked, I was informed I had ‘ perfect pitch’ -whatever that meant.
This isn’t something that I can be particularly proud of, since at least 1 in 3 of us have it, we have just forgotten that we have, or don’t remember unless tested!
I like to think that this lovely gift comes to us from where we were before we arrived here; a simpler and purer place where music is given the highest value and honour, and where we all sing in celestial choirs.
For I know of no greater pleasure than catching hold of a new tune and starting to sing along to it, quite instinctively. It lifts the soul like nothing else.
So I absorbed all of this musical influence, even having some guitar lessons myself and having a go at The Faces ‘Maggie May’ on my dad’s electric guitar – although I wasn’t very good, my talents lying elsewhere!
The first single I ever bought was Nilsson”s ‘ Without You’.
Wildly popular, breaking records for the weeks spent at Number One, I played it to death in my bedroom, though it hasn’t stood the test of time for me and I wouldn’t choose to listen to it now.
My dad, never one to mince his words, referred to him as : ‘that whining moaner’.
Worse was to come.
For at 12, I fell for my life-long passion- David Bowie.
I remember the night I first beheld him.
Top Of The Pops again, on a school night.
In an extraordinarily tight multi -coloured jumpsuit, his carrot hair coaxed on end, his arm slung around Mick Ronson as he sang ‘ Starman’ , he was launched on the nation.
I was, and remain, transfixed.
He caused quite the stir at school the next day, with the classroom divided into those who thought he was the second coming ( me ) and those who just couldn’t see the point of him at all.
My dad belonged in the second camp, although came around circa ‘ Space Oddity’ with the admission that it was ‘ not a bad song’.
Possibly the only cool thing I’ve ever done in my life, was to buy ‘ Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars’ as my first album.
And so it stays, played by me still, in my car and at home. In several formats, from vinyl to download, my favourite album of all time.
And I only have to hear those sweet opening riffs to be turning it up and singing every word.
For I know them all.
. ‘ Ziggy played guitar, jamming good with Weird and Gilly…’
And this will be played at my funeral ( sorry kids! )
So these were ‘ The Bedroom Years’.
Driving my parents crazy, though my mother showed great taste in not minding Randy Crawford’s ‘ Street Life’ belting out of my window daily. She still says it reminds her of me.
And I discovered George Benson too. My dad didn’t like him much either, complaining that he just doodly – da da da-ed up,and down the chords. He did like the fact that I had followed in his footsteps with a great liking for Rod Stewart and The Faces. ‘ Every Picture Tells A Story’ still being one of my favourite albums.
Luckily for his ear drums, I then went to boarding school, where the sounds of Mike Oldfield’s ‘ Tubular Bells’ sent us to sleep each night, though I couldn’t stand them!
I was too busy honing my early love of Motown and Soul music through the wondrous tones of The Isley Brothers, whose ‘ Summer Breeze’ was an anthem that year, and which will forever remind me of long lazy days spent by the river Wey with my best friend and bunk mate, Lesley.
Like all true loves, soul music is forever for me.
I played this just yesterday, and it is as fresh and clean as the day I first heard it, with lyrics so evocative and tender that if you haven’t got a ‘ smile waiting in the kitchen’ or ‘ curtains hanging in the window, in the evening, on a Friday night’ or ‘ cooking, on a plate for two’ you are apt to feel quite bereft.
In fact, on a Friday night in July, this song can still make me cry. And that is the mark of a truly great song.
So I turned 16 and discovered Funk.
There was a great little club in our tiny home town by the name of Frenchies.
It became so popular, that its fame spread nationally, attracting a very cool and diverse crowd.
They had fabulous visiting DJ’s, including the legendary Greg Edwards ( now a Facebook Friend, funny how life goes…I used to listen to his radio show as a teenager, whilst in the bath ahead of a night out! )
Specialising in Funk, Soul and Jazz, with a little Northern Soul thrown in, I had found a new home.
Every Sunday night we were there, and I became part of a little travelling group of Soul revellers known as ‘ Frenchies Funkfinders’.
We were on a mission to spread ‘The Funk’ via the likes of George Clinton and his ‘ Funkadelic’ Parliament, alongside Randy, Joe Sample, Maze, The Olympic Runners and of course, George Benson, whose version of ‘ Nature Boy’ remains as another anthem of my youth ( and is mentioned in my Blog: ‘ All You Need Is Love’ ) .
I have already written in a previous post about my discovery of The New Romantics and The Blitz Club, so I won’t repeat, but will refer the keen reader back to said post : ‘ London Calling’, for details of that era!
Some of this back catalogue I find dated now, although I do still like a bit of Spandau Ballet when the mood is right. I’ve always liked Tony Hadley’s voice.
Following on from this era, I entered what I can only refer to as an ‘ existential ‘ phase.
Coinciding with my first flat-share, I was introduced, by people much more avant garde than I will ever be, to Joy Division, Nick Cave and their ilk.
Not being one to usually enjoy wallowing in the darker side of life, this phase didn’t last very long, and on days when nothing but the sounds of nihilistic depressives filled the flat, I found comfort – as I always have – in my beloved Tamla Motown.
When it became time for me to have my own family, I never let a day go by that was not filled with music in some way, even if that music was sometimes ‘ the wheels on the bus’.
I like to think – and indeed, I hope- that as my parents did with me, that I may have helped to influence and shape my children’s musical tastes.
From putting on their own little singing shows ( East 17 being an early favourite with my eldest ) to trotting into Woolies to purchase their first records and CD’s, my three have always demonstrated as strong a love of music as I do.
All of them are involved in music and one is a professional drummer.
I like everything – as long as it is the best of its kind and it gets to my feet, heart or soul ( and even, more rarely, all three.)
My Spotify playlists demonstrate my eclectic tastes, and I love a mixture of the old and the brand new.
I never make any excuses or offer any defences for the music I love and choose to listen to, and I refuse to be defined by my generation, or what ‘ people like me’ SHOULD listen to.
I am a creature of instinct and go by my mood – or the mood I would like to be in – and if want to listen to Gangsta Rap, Hip Hop, a boy-band ( and yes I do ) or Opera- I will.
The beauty of Spotify ( which I believe To be one of THE best innovations for musical enjoyment ) is that I can listen to these one after the other if I so choose.
But most of all, I go back time and again to my very first loves…
Just this morning I played an old Bowie track, ‘ China Girl’ followed by some Bob Marley, Diana Ross, Van Morrison, Prince ( ‘Raspberry Beret’, a summer favourite ) and, of course, Ella, whose voice is my idea of feminine perfection.
And then, because I had some mundane little domestics to do, but fancied a dance around first ( and my love of dancing is very well known, as described in my Post: ‘Shall We Dance’ ) I put on Michael Jackson’s ‘ Smooth Criminal ‘ which to me, is still dance-floor heaven.
Genius in any art form is timeless.
Music to make us happy, music for when we are sad.
I shall end on the wise words of The O’ Jays ( and actually, this is a great track, might play it in a minute! )
‘ I love music, any kind of music
I love music, just as long as it’s groovin’.
I love music, Sweet, sweet music
Long as it’s swingin’
All the joy that it’s bringing.’
Go put a record on.
Copyright Amanda Hills 2015, All Rights Reserved.
‘ Maggie May ‘ Music & Lyrics by Martin Quittenton & Rod Stewart, performed by The Faces
‘China Girl ‘ Music & Lyrics by David Bowie & Iggy Pop
‘Starman’ by David Bowie
‘ Summer Breeze’ Music & Lyrics by Seals & Crofts, performed by The Isley Brothers
‘ Music Was My First Love’ by John Miles
‘ I Love Music’ performed by The O’Jays, Music & Lyrics by Gamble & Huff
‘ My Song’ by Elton John & Bernie Taupin
‘ Without You’ by Harry Nilsson
‘Smooth Criminal ‘ by Michael Jackson
‘ Street Life ‘ Music & Lyrics by Will Jennings & Joe Sample, performed by Randy Crawford
‘ Nature Boy ‘ by Eden Ahbez, performed by George Benson
Having written about Love the last time round-the biggest topic in the world in my opinion-I needed a break!
And my last post caused me to think afresh, in a rather deep way, on that subject.
In fact, pondering on love sent me back to my bookshelves, re-reading the words other more exalted writers had written.
As always, in matters of the heart, I turned first to Shakespeare and his Sonnets, Sonnet 116 in particular :
‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.’
Very well-known and popular, but no less profound for that.
From there, I took down my anthology of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and turned to Sonnet 43, to gather solace from her beautiful and timeless words :
‘ I love thee to the level of every day’s most quiet need
By sun and candle- light.’
Still with poetry as my theme ( for it is the language of love and expresses tenderness and the heart’s longings better than any other form ) I opened my treasured book of the verses of WB Yeats.
Never far from my side, this is my favourite book of poetry, by my favourite Irish poet.
What had William Butler to say about love, oh so many years ago?
Many of his love poems were written to, and for, Maud Gonne, his Muse and the great love of his life.
Yeats adored her for her beauty, sweetness of nature and outspoken manner.
This is one of my favourite lines from his poem, ‘ When You Are Old’ :
‘ How many loved your moments of glad grace
And loved your beauty with love false or true.
But one man loved the Pilgrim soul in you
And loved the sorrows of your changing face.’
It doesn’t get better than that, you can feel his love for her all down the centuries.
The point I’m making, is that books have been my comfort and my release, as well as my main source of inspiration since I first learnt to read.
And so, with that in mind, my post today is about my journey through literature and my love of reading.
When I was 5 years old, I made up my mind to be a writer one day.
I didn’t think exactly how that might come about, I just knew in my very soul that reading and words were able to transport me to a quiet place of my own, where no-one could reach me and where nothing was able to intrude. In Yoga, we recognise this as being in ‘ flow’.
My mother realised this, and encouraged it, buying me little books to read alongside the regulation ‘Janet and John ‘.
My paternal grandmother, a devoted church- goer all her life, gave me The Children’s Bible for my 7th birthday. Her writing is still on the fly-leaf, another thing I love about books.
This is the very first book I remember as being my favourite. I was obsessed with it, and would avidly read as much as I could each night before I was made to turn out my bedroom light.
It was beautifully illustrated with pictures that completely captured my imagination and I had a particular fascination for the story of Bathsheba.
The coloured plate at the bottom of the page depicted a beautiful temptress in a white robe, immersed in an outdoor pool.
It was obviously on a roof, as there were high trees behind her, as well as a bearded man who appeared to be spying on her.
I don’t know what it says about my seven year old self that I couldn’t get enough of this chapter!
All I remember are the words : ‘ He saw a very beautiful woman and sent to ask who she was. She was Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam .’
These wonderful and exotic stories bewitched me far more than the standard texts set in primary school. I longed to be called Bathsheba!
My first big leap into what could be termed grown -up fiction, came at the age of 12.
By then, I was in Secondary school and studying English Literature.
The riches of F. Scott Fitzgerald unfolded before me- I couldn’t get enough.
I even read the biographies of Zelda Fitzgerald, his wife, and the famous autobiography ‘ Beloved Infidel’ by Sheilah Graham, which chronicled her affair with Fitzgerald and the Golden Era of Hollywood.
I lapped up all the American authors at this point- everyone from Gore Vidal to John Updike and, of course, Norman Mailer, who like me, had a complete fixation on Marilyn Monroe.
As an antidote to all this Americana, and influenced heavily by my maternal grandmother, I also made it my business to read all I could about the Tudors, Medicis and Borgias.
The more grisly and gory the facts, the better I liked it!
Again, my fascination was mainly for a very strong and vivid female character, Lucrezia Borgia.
With her waist- length golden tresses, she seemed to have every man in Rome in love with her- including her own brother.
It was always these less wholesome heroines that I liked the best.
Scarlett O’ Hara, Lucrezia, Lolita and Anne Boleyn won out over Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna every time- although I did have a fondness for Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers boarding school series, which featured a roguish, prank-loving tomboy called Darrell Rivers and her escapades with the brilliant and mischievous Alicia.
Later on, and perhaps influenced by these tales, I was to attend a boarding school myself, complete with midnight feasts in the boot room!
Growing up in a male dominated household with brothers, my forays into magazines began with those august publications ‘ Match’ and ‘ Shoot’.
Along with The Beano, they were sometimes all I could find to read while in the bath.
Then, at the age of 12, I began my life-long love affair with Vogue.
These were the 70’s, and glamazons such as Jerry Hall and Bianca Jagger adorned the pages.
I still like that look almost better than anything- flowing wavy hair, tanned skin and a red lip.
I would save up all my pocket money to buy it, going without school lunches sometimes in order to do so, and I am still a subscriber, finding joy and beauty in its pages, and a different kind of escapism.
Around this time also, I published my own amateur magazine- complete with a Problem Page…a taste of my psychology training to come?
My late teens were the study years- my deep love of classic literature seriously challenged as I spent far too long closeted with Laurie Lee, Dickens and Austen. But I sought relief in song lyrics, particularly those of Bowie and Lou Reed, whose Perfect Day was my favourite to have a good sing to when fed up with studying.
It was the literary critic Cyril Connolly who said that the enemy of good art is ‘ the pram in the hall’.
Once I became a mother, raising my family, my writing and reading for pleasure took a serious nose-dive due to lack of time and sheer exhaustion.
To compensate, I could not believe the joy I took in reading to my own three children.
Tucked up in bed in their pyjamas, rosy-cheeked and adorable from their baths, the light on low to encourage sleep, I was the book Nazi to end them all.
Refusing to read anything that was not beautifully written, my children were brought up on Peter Rabbit and C S Lewis, Janet and Allan Ahlberg and Roald Dahl. Although I did ( and still do ) have a weakness for nonsense rhymes, such as those by Edward Lear and Spike Milligan.
As the children grew, I returned to my studies.
This time, Psychology and Philosophy, as well as spiritual texts such as The Bible ( yes, a return and a staple of my life ) The Quran and the wonderful Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, along with The Bhagavad Gita.
Greek Mythology too.
Immersing myself in philosophical and academic texts was my escape from discussions on who had started which fight amongst my children and the sheer daily labours- and pleasures- of being a mother of three.
I felt that if I could understand how our long- term memory works, and the theories of Aristotle, that I was somehow staving off the numbing of the mind that can occasionally happen as you care for young people.
I hope it has worked, for I’m now a Freelance writer as well as a Psychologist, and in the fortunate postion of being paid for doing something I love.
On a personal reading note, I belong to a fabulous book club, and my enduring love of the classics, as well as an epic love story are well -known.
Only yesterday, a few of us went to see the latest film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s ‘ Far From The Madding Crowd’, one of my favourites of both genres, featuring, funnily enough, another Bathsheba.
Due to a very great friend, I’ve re- discovered poetry too, and even written some of my own.
Yet, as Picasso so wisely said : ‘ Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working’.
Luckily for me, and as regular readers will know, I live on a beautiful island on The Thames, where the Muse is often able to strike due to the complete peace and tranquility.
If I leave any kind of a legacy for my children, I hope it is my love of words, books and ideas, along with kindness and an appreciation for all living creatures.
My bookshelves remain over-flowing, and apart from Brenda, our beloved cat, my books would be the first things I saved in fire or flood ( well, maybe some of my clothes too, since I’m rather fond of those, hence my love of Vogue ! )
For what could be better, in any weather, or any mood, winter spring summer or fall, than curling up with a good book, losing yourself and escaping into somebody else’s imagination for a while.
Copyright, Amanda Hills 2015, All Rights Reserved
SOME OF THE BOOKS MENTIONED: ( In case you feel inspired ! )
The Oxford Shakespeare, Complete Sonnets & Poems
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Selected Poems
The Complete Poems Of WB Yeats
The Children’s Bible, Hamlyn
Zelda Fitzgerald by Nancy Milford
The Great Gatsby and Tender Is The Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
Beloved Infidel, Sheilah Graham Westbrook
Myra Breckinridge by Gore Vidal
Blood & Beauty: The Borgias, by Sarah Dunant
Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
Cider With Rosie by Laurie Lee
The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe, CS Lewis
A Book Of Nonsense, Edward Lear
The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali
The Greek Myths, Robert Graves
Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy