Music – my top 15 tracks and what they mean to me.
Music has always been a massive part of my life. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always had an urge to listen to music. You’ll never find me sat in silence. Maybe it drowns out the thoughts in my brain (or the white noise that normally goes on in there). As with many things, and for most people, music is a huge trigger for me, to remember both the good and the not so good times. Me and Ashleigh have made it a regular trip now to get to a festival once a year, and as many live bands as we can squeeze in.
A few years (blimey, 4 years) ago, I wrote a blog post about, what I thought, was something no one else would appreciate, the Shipping Forecast, on BBC Radio 4. I won’t bore you with it again, you can read it here, but basically, I talked about how the Shipping forecast brings back memories for me, and how it’s influenced many musicians with their lyrics.
That post turned out to be one of the most popular things I’ve written, and parts of it also got published in a book, which proudly sits on my bookshelf, somewhere.
I thought I’d write a post about some of the most influential songs that have cropped up in my life over the years – you may find it interesting, you probably won’t, but you might learn about some artists that you hadn’t heard of before, or it might just make you think about the music you listen to, and why it makes you feel a certain way.
So I’ll do this in some kind of chronological order in terms of what the songs mean (to me). It’s been a struggle, but I’ve kept it to 15 (a nice Spotify playlist size, should you wish to listen)
1: Dire Straits – Sultans of Swing
You can blame my parents for this. One of the most vivid memories I have (and this is where I find that it never happened), was being on holiday when I was younger, driving through the Welsh Mountains (we used to holiday in Wales, a lot.
Part of the reason why I later went to live there for a large part of my younger adult life, I think). Dire Straits have a totally unique sound – not only from Mark Knopflers voice, but the unmistakable uniqueness of Knopflers guitar playing. You could have picked any track off “Brothers in arms”, but this track from their self titled album is the true sweet spot for me:
2: Nick Drake – One of these things first
I’m a sucker for a singer-song writer. From Jeff Buckley to Nick Mulvey, there’s something so heartfelt about songs that are written with a true meaning and purpose, and not just for the sake of sales.
I don’t think Nick Drake entered my musical mind until I was at University, I can’t remember why exactly. I later went on to read a book about his life. He was such a troubled soul, suffering from depression, something so clear in many of his songs. He took his own life at the age of 26.
His music now features in many TV adverts, and mostly, movies, where I reference this song in my life. If you’ve never watched “Garden State”, then give it a watch. Twice, though, at least. The first time I watched it, I got to the end and thought “Geez, what a load of tosh, it can’t be so bad” so I made myself watch it again. Second time around, at the end (I won’t ruin it), I could feel the emotion. Anyway, this song is on the soundtrack, along with many, many other amazing tracks (Imogen Heap / Frou Frou, Carey Brothers, The Shins, I could go on)
I really suggest you listen to “Pink Moon” – one of his finest albums
3: Maximo Park – Acrobat
Where to begin with Maximo! I remember stumbling across them whilst at University, when “A Certain Trigger” was released. I had no idea what to expect, but I somehow got a copy (yes, probably Napster, sorry Maximo!), and that was it. It was on repeat, non stop. I remember sitting in a lecture, and this song came on – Acrobat. It just made me think, about everything.
I soon became a huge Maximo Fanboi. I’ve seen them live many many times, but nothing will beat them performing at the Royal Albert Hall – when Paul Smith (lead singer) performed “Acrobat” with Lucas (Keyboards) using the Royal Albert Hall organ. Honestly I’ve never had a “shiver down the spine” moment like it.
You’ll be pleased to know, I made up for my illegal download of their album – I now own them all on Vinyl, many signed by Paul. I once passed him when I was in Cambridge to see them perform – he was coming out of the toilet, and I was too embarrassed to say hello in that situation.
I could blabber on about Maximo Park for hours, trust me. So I’ll stop now:
4: Josh Radin – Winter
Yes yes, another singer songwriter – very much one man and his guitar kind of thing. I first heard about Josh Radin whilst watching Scrubs – there’s an episode where a character dies from Leukemia (something that is very close to my family, with my brother suffering at a young age, and thankfully beating it).
The song “Winter” plays at the funeral, and you really have to watch the episode to get the true emotion from the scene – but without fail, it brings me to tears each time I watch it (“My Screwup”, Series 3, episode 14)
I’ve been lucky enough to meet Josh after one of his gigs, probably the only artist who hands out his own branded rizla papers to his fans
5: Scott Matthews – Eyes wider than before
This is the last singer – songwriter in the list, I promise! Scott Matthews was introduced to me whilst I was living in Cardiff – he was performing at a local comedy club (as you do), and I was invited to go. Just him, his guitar, and a room full of people in absolute awe and amazement at what followed.
The lyrics to this song have been appropriate in many life-situations since I first heard it – I won’t bore you with that, though. And even now, when Grayson is struggling to sleep, I’ll sing him some of Scotts songs whilst they play in the background. Another artist that I’ve seen a few times, if you get the chance, go.
6: Trentemøller – Miss you
I was introduced to Trentemøller whilst living in Cardiff by a good friend – with whom I shared a very close music taste. During this time, I’ll be honest, I hit some really low points. Some people say that listening to slow, mellow music, is depressing (also see: Damien Rice, aka “depressing music”, something I totally disagree with).
For me, music like “Miss you” is relaxing, something to help me zone out of whatever is going on around me. This track helped, and it brings back memories of the good things that happened during that time too, of which there were many. It’s not all doom-and-gloom 😉
7: Portishead – Roads
On a similar note to Trentemøller, Portishead are a band that can really trigger both good and bad memories for me. It’s no reason not to listen to them though – this track, “Roads”, is both heartwarming and bittersweet. There’s something about the voice of Beth Gibbons that just makes the songs so poignant.
I’ve linked in the live version of “Roads” – you just get a real sense of passion and such a heartfelt performance from Beth, it’s a must see (with over 47 million views, you’ll see why)
8: Röyksopp – Remind Me
Something more upbeat, hurrah! Röyksopp released this song back in 2001, and I remember seeing the video on MTV and just thinking “Wow, what’s this all about”. I don’t think I even liked the song that much, but time and time again I found myself glued to the TV watching the video. I later went on to realise that they are just damn awesome.
Their songs have a habit of cropping up when you least expect them – I remember my first trip to a new micro-brewery (which, considering how much I went on to drink, is pretty amazing), and “Vision One” by Röyksopp came on, and I just won’t ever forget that exact moment.
They’ve had many albums out, one of which is a collaboration with Robyn. Well worth the listening time, I promise.
9: La Roux – In for the Kill
No no, not the standard version! I went through a big dubstep phase a few years ago, and Skreams “Let’s get ravey” remix of this song is just an absolute tune. I remember driving around in my Mini Cooper S with this blasting out thinking I was some kind of dubstep legend (I was, right?). The Bass! THE BASS!!
Coupled with Kid Sister, Magnetic Man, A-Track and anything that had Annie Mac presenting it, this was quite an enjoyable time for music! If you ever need to just forget about stuff and let it go, then this is well worth a blast
10: Flyleaf – Arise
It’s another band that was introduced to me by a good friend – we’d always share new music with each other when we worked together. At first, I wasn’t sure about Flyleaf, but then I heard their song “Cassie”, and I just fell in love with them (them being, probably, at the time, if I’m honest, Lacey Sturm, circa 2008).
Anyway, that aside, the song “Cassie” was written about Cassie Bernall and the Columbine High School shooting. I’ve blogged about that elsewhere, so please do have a read. It’s heartbreaking, and tragic, and Flyleaf managed to perfectly sum it up in a song.
Arise is a stand out song for me – “Hold on to the world we remember fighting for – there’s some strength left in us yet“.
I’d say listen to the whole album (Memento Mori), if you can, but if not, just enjoy this:
11: Bears Den – Auld Wives
Another band that I’ve been lucky enough to see live, I only first heard of Bears Den about 3 years ago. I was going through a breakup, and had recently moved in to my own flat. Work was shit, and life just wasn’t that straight forward for me back then. I was in quite a dark place (Ashleigh calls it my depression era, with full on “depression beard”). It was also at this time when I realised just how good my friends were, all living a fair distance away, I got a parcel each day for three days with a gift in, saying “Cheers to the good times”. Top friends right there.
As I was trying to work a path through the shit storm, Bears Den released “Red Earth & Pouring Rain”, and were due to perform in Norwich soon. So I killed two birds, and went to see them, and got the vinyl signed whilst there.
EVERY. SINGLE. SONG is epic.
However, one song just got me, from the moment I heard it. Auld Wives.
The song was written about the singers (Andrew Davie) granddad who developed Alzheimer’s. Obviously at the time, I didn’t know, but only a few months after this song was released, my Gran sadly passed away (even writing this makes me quite tearful).
Whilst my Gran didn’t have a diagnosis of Alzheimers, she had certainly lost her memory of many things, and in her last weeks, had little idea of what was going on. I remember the last time I saw her, me and Ashleigh went to visit and she started talking about the long trip back up to Liverpool (where we were living at the time), and she asked if they still put sawdust down on the roads (for the horses). I could have burst in to tears there and then, but as we left, I heard her say to the other people in the room “It’s lovely when the grandchildren come to see you”. She knew who I was. I’ll never forget that.
Anyway, I thought I was ok with Gran passing – we knew it was coming, and you never like to see people suffering like that. However, Auld Wives came on whilst I was cooking tea one night, and that was it.
So it’s on my list, not just for Auld Wives – every song on the album is immense. Even some of their older stuff too, “Agape”, for example, is a tune. I remember playing it to Ashleigh before we officially got together (during the aforementioned depression era), mainly the lyrics “I don’t want to know who I am without you“.
And now look, she married me, so there’s a happy reason to listen to Bears Den.
Ahh here’s Agape too, just because:
12: Passenger – I’ll be your man
Here’s another one with great memories – Ashleigh introduced me to this song when we were just randomly chatting (I don’t think we’d even met by this stage). There was just something about it that really got me, I think it was the whole “show me one shining star I’ll show you the sky
bring all your old scars and I’ll kiss them goodbye“.
I remember driving to work one day, before we were even engaged, and having the most vivid thoughts of Ashleigh walking down the Aisle to this song. She didn’t, in the end, but that’s ok, I preferred the songs we had!
13: Paper Kites / Mama LongLegs Cover – Bloom
….and on a similar note, this song needs no real introduction as to why it’s on my list – this was our first dance song.
Yes the DJ messed it up, but that didn’t bother us, the most important thing is that we were there, together, having that dance with friends and family.
Thankfully me and Ashleigh both have a very varied, but similar music taste, so picking songs for the wedding was quite straight forward (primary requirement was simple: Avoid all mainstream Clichés!)
14: Public Service Broadcasting – Turn no more
This is a fairly new song (2017, I think) from Public Service Broadcasting. They mainly produce instrumental tracks, and sample in old Public information films and other sound samples to produce their music.
Their album, “Every Valley”, is all about Wales and the Coal / Slate / Steel industries and the demise over the recent decades. The album itself was produced in an old Steel factory in Ebbw Vale.
My love of this song / album, stems back to my holidaying / living in Wales (see track 1 on this list). It’s a place that will always have a special meaning for me. Whether it’s the mountains, or the beaches, the mines, I don’t know. This album simply encapsulates the feeling you get when you visit these old industrial towns, that are now merely broken shells of the communities they once used to be. Blaenau Ffestiniog, Nantgarw, Llangollen and so on.
And of course, with the voice of James Dean Bradfield (Manic Street Preachers), I don’t think you could get a better combination to hit the point.
15: Ian Brown – F.E.A.R
I’m not a huge Ian Brown fan. I think the only affiliation I can really make, other than kind of liking The Stone Roses, is that I was obsessed with The Seahorses when they released “Do it yourself” (The Seahorses were formed by ex Stone Roses guitarist John Squire, the band name being an anagram “He hates roses”, by chance, so he says). Not a direct link to Ian Brown, I know, but close enough, maybe.
Anyway, I used to listen to Jazz FM (bear with me), back when I was younger. They used to have a show called “The Late Lounge”, which was presented by Rosie Kendrick, and was one of the best chill out shows of its time. Less Jazz, but more mellow music, so bands like Air, Massive Attack and so on. And of course, this from Ian Brown.
If you haven’t twigged (duh), each verse is four words, each word starting with the next letter to spell out FEAR.
and so on. Anyway, I like it, it’s catchy, and it reminds me of those hours listening to the late lounge. They should bring that back, really.
So that’s 15 tracks. I’m not going to lie, I could go on for another 100 tracks, but I don’t want to bore you any more than I already have. I’m sure I’ll read this back in 3 years time and think “man’s gone nuts, what are those songs” – but hopefully not.
I’m always wanting to hear new music, too, so please feel free to share anything you think I should stick on my playlist in the comments. Thanking you.