The Desert Island Discs list: plenty of us have one, ready to go, just in case the call arrives, “We’ve run out of celebrities, and famous scientists, and diplomats, and broadcasters, and authors, and artists, and musicians, and most of the nonentities have had a go already, and following the introduction of a lottery system based on close scrutiny of the electoral roll we’re delighted to say that you [insert name here], yes you have been selected as the next castaway on desert island discs.” And so lots of us have a list, a putative list, comprising records we love or that remind us of certain things and certain people and certain events.
And then you start thinking about it, about trying to explain the choices and suddenly feelings kick in other than sheer enjoyment – sentiment, love even.
I started writing a variant on this some time ago, my list a series of audio dramas and comedies with a couple of pieces of music primarily because that’s what I listen to, and yet trying to explain I found other pieces shifting to the front of the list – pieces with stories, pieces accompanied by the gentle melody of memories. And so this list, the list that follows, is no longer the eight favourite pieces it was originally intended to be. It’s more and it’s longer than it was meant to be – so it’ll be a bit spread out over a few posts.
“…and your first record please?”
Well Kirsty, we didn’t have many records in my house when I was growing up. My mum and dad had a collection of Christmas albums – Andy Williams, Perry Como, Mario Lanza – and an eclectic range of other records. There were the soundtracks for various musicals (South Pacific and the King and I) and some Scottish ceilidh music (light on the fiddles, they weren’t keen on fiddles). But they weren’t played, at least not as I remember it. Perhaps when we children went to bed the strains of “Shall we dance?” reverberated around the living room. But the only records that I recall being played in the house were the Christmas records for a period of a few weeks annually, coming to an end on twelfth night.
So music was not something that I heard much in the house, and when I remember growing up I don’t remember music. But what I do remember is listening to comedy shows. The local library in my home town had various cassettes from comedies. There was a Yes Minister cassette, both series of the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Not the Nine O’clock News, Hancock, The Goons. As time went on I bought each of these, but in those teenage days I recorded them – a bulky tape to tape radio cassette recorder sat fat and squat on my window ledge. I played some of them so much the tape was chewed up by the cassette player, a pencil of just the right diameter sat on the window ledge in an Argentina World Cup 1978 pink glass ready for recovery procedures.
I’d remembered my mum and dad watching Not the Nine O’clock News when I was in bed in primary school – laughter coming from the room beneath my bedroom. I am not sure on first listening whether I understood the political content, but the National Wealth Service bidding for the hospital bed, the General Synod’s Life of Monty Python, Gerald the gorilla, the trucking song, the Moseley song these things made me laugh – even when I had no idea what was being satirised, what songs or song styles were being parodied. And I learned the scripts, practised them, tried to get the voices right, tried – most important – to understand the spaces, the beat in the delivery that converted a line that made you smile into a line that made you laugh. The first choice then takes me back to those years: the Not the Nine o’clock News album, Kirsty. And I’d like to hear Gerald the Gorilla from that.
“..and your second record?”
Another time, Kirsty. Soon, but another time.