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