Desert Island Discs

Yes, that is blue gravy

The Book Club that I’m part of which is now a broader Culture Club did a Desert Island Discs theme in its latest meeting. Each of the six of us had to choose three pieces of music to take with us and this was then used to make a final selection of eight tracks along the lines of the long-running BBC Radio 4 programme.

The task of trying to boil down 25 years of music buying and hundreds of CDs to pick out just three tracks that had any meaning or rationale for being chosen to take away was a tough one. There was also a time constraint – both in terms of what would be realistic for the six of us to listen to in an evening and what would fit onto a CD for those who didn’t routinely listen to music on an MP3 player. So, out went some initial choices like The Diamond Sea by Sonic Youth, Cop Shoot Cop by Spiritualized, Gravitational Arch of 10 by Vapourspace or Echoes by Pink Floyd. Even though the exercise is a self-indulgent one, there have to be limits. Then, how could I not have something by The Fall, but what single track would make sense of the maddening genius of Mark E Smith to a group of people who didn’t already love his semi-coherent Mancunian curmudgeonliness?
The process reminded me of an evening some 15 years ago when, to resolve a ferociously drunken pub argument about the best music, my friends Jeremy, Martin, Kev, Rich, Scottish John and I foolishly agreed to put together a C90 tape of our definitive choice of the best music we knew. That really was a gargantuan effort where for a month or so each of us retreated to our rooms to thumb through racks of CDs and Vinyl records, picking out and discarding songs, fiddling with the recording levels and running orders, mentally preparing ourselves to defend our choices (I remember that I had Menswear’s Daydreamer on my tape so I wasn’t making it easy for myself). In the end, I think we did just about manage to listen all the way through everyone’s tapes, but apart from picking up some ideas for new things to listen to I don’t think we really nailed the answer to the question that started things off. Or expected to do so.
It was just six boys listening to and discussing music in the intense way that it seemed to merit at the time. We’d grown up with sitting by the radio on Sunday evenings perfecting the art of taping compilations off the Radio 1 Chart Show while expertly excising any of the inane DJ chatter with quick fingers on the pause buttons. I remembered Jeremy positioning himself amongst the competing groups in the basement Common Room at Sixth Form College to get to play his beloved The Who over the late 80s pop trash (the latter now spawning the careers of retro acts like White Lies and The Horrors who, worryingly, were no more than toddlers at the time). Driving to London from our universities to see the Rollercoaster tour (Blur before they were famous, Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain – I still have the T-shirt) at Brixton or the last gig at the old Town & Country in Kentish Town (Julian Cope) with Martin, the token Londoner of that party directing me back to the M40 via his house in the suburbs as it was the only way he knew. Going to the Phoenix festival when Rich had to leave late because he was sitting his final ACA exam and so ended up listening to most of the first evening’s acts on his car radio stuck in a traffic jam in rural Warwickshire. Marvelling at Kev’s ability to fall asleep on the floor of a Megadog all-nighter.
I asked four of the others from that infamous night whether they still had their tapes or could remember what they had chosen (sadly, Scottish John has rather gone off my radar since he emigrated to Australia ten years ago). Unsurprisingly, all the tapes had gone in clear-outs over the intervening years, four marriages, six children and moves to other towns and cities after our early London years of living in walking distance from each other in South West London. However, everyone remembered at least some of the songs they had chosen – Jeremy started his tape with AC/DC’s For Those About to Rock, Martin started side A with Fred Frith’s Hello Music and Side B with The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s The Intro and the Outro, Kev managed to recreate most of the track listing for both sides (although I remember from sharing a flat with him all those years back that he affixed sticky labels on all his CDs with star ratings when iTunes and Spotify were the entertainment options for the jetpacks that Tomorrow’s World predicted for the future).
The 2011 version was fun and had a more varied set of choices – there was no room for classical, contemporary jazz or Mariah Carey in Tape Night. But the process of choosing just three tracks each meant that it was too difficult to try to be definitive or even representative. Sitting in front of iTunes and scrolling through the thousands of tracks on my laptop was far removed from the scholarly intensity of compiling my Tape Night offering. But, Jen’s amazing Desert Island themed dinner and Jem’s always great wines (  were a definite step up from the takeaway pizza and bottles of ale of Tape Night.
Dessert Island Discs

A postscript

In the email nostalgia correspondence about Tape Night there was a suggestion of recreating the evening remotely using Spotify playlists and sitting in the comfort of our own homes.
The horror! The horror!

3 thoughts on “Desert Island Discs

  1. A shame we couldn’t remember the contents of Tape Night’s C90s after 15 years, thus enabling you to add some gentle ribbing to a most pleasantly nostalgic piece. I suggest you don’t make the same mistake with the playlist of Leeds’ finest Culture Club … i.e. which 18 tracks were chosen?

    • You’re The First, The Last, My Everything Barry White
      Nantes Beirut
      Maurizius Eberhard Weber
      Balcony Scene (Romeo and Juliet) Craig Armstrong
      Lullaby The Cure
      True Colours Cyndi Lauper
      9 Crimes Damien Rice
      Man Who Sold The World David Bowie
      Pergolesi: Stabat Mater – 1. Duett: Stabat Mater Dolorosa Emma Kirkby, James Bowman; Christopher Hogwood: Academy Of Ancient Music
      Over the Rainbow Eva Cassidy
      God Is a DJ Faithless
      Golden Sun Fenech-Soler
      All i want for Christmas Mariah Carey
      Halcyon and On and On Orbital
      The Island, Pt. I (Dawn) Pendulum
      The Island, Pt. II (Dusk) Pendulum

      Loaded Primal Scream
      Shine A Light The Rolling Stones
      The Story Of Light William Orbit

      That’s the full listing. Bold for the 8 that got on the Island (we each chose one of our own then voted amongst the remainder for the final two). Italics for my choices.

  2. Pingback: Review of 2011 – 3. My Cultural Year | botzarelli

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