A few weeks ago, Cherry Red Promotions very kindly asked me to play my Desert Island Discs at their monthly Desert Island Disco at The Shakespeare in Sheffield. Here are the tracks I picked, in the order in which I played ‘em. Lizzie also produced a little booklet, handed out on the night, and the following descriptions appeared in it:
1: The Lake of Puppies – Largelife
I got married to this song! “To have and to hold, the stuff in my hands, and if my hands are small, all that I hold must be even smaller…. Be it a large or a small world, nothing is larger than life.”
2: Cardiacs – Manhoo
Cardiacs are the one constant in my life: I could have filled this entire list with their songs. Manhoo is perfect pop, something the Beatles would have written if they’d still been on-form in the mid-90s. I like to think of it as the final word on all the Blur/Oasis nonsense going on at the time.
3: Material – Disappearing
As a student bass player, I had four heroes: first Lemmy, then JJ Burnel, Chris Squire, and finally Bill Laswell. Laswell introduced me to a world of music I had no idea existed (after 20 consecutive listens to Last Exit’s Noise of Trouble, I suddenly “got” free noise). He made me realise I didn’t need heroes any more. This is one of his funkiest tracks, which also introduced me to the sax of Henry Threadgill and guitar of Sonny Sharrock, both of whom also deserve to be on my desert island.
4: The Fuzztones – 1-2-5
Makes me feel like a teenager again.
5: Ronald Shannon Jackson & The Decoding Society – When We Return
A beautiful, mysterious beginning and ending, joined by the most insane-yet-somehow-logical magical manic middle mess. The world’s greatest drummer keeps time while Vernon Reid rocks his fucking socks off. If I could just keep one of the eight, it would be this.
6: Claude Debussy – Claire de Lune
It feels like these five minutes describe an entire lifetime: from the first tentative movements of a baby, through increasing confidence and experience, to a noble, wise and peaceful death. When you bury me, please do it to this piano piece.
7: Caspar Brötzmann Massaker – Tribe
…and when I come back as a zombie, I’d like to hear this pumping out at a few hundred decibels. Immense! Terrifying! German!
8: Ooberman – Blossoms Falling (accoustic version)
Sunday morning lie-ins. True love. Warm, fuzzy perfection. Love you Gill!
Book:Viriconium Nights by M John Harrison
Reading this, during a lost-weekend in Amsterdam, changed my life. Made me realise stories don’t need endings, fantasies aren’t real, and some people waste a lifetime trying to get to the other side of the looking-glass. I think I grew up that weekend. This book contains nothing but language and imagery; but I could lose myself forever in it.
Buy Viriconium by M John Harrison on Amazon
Luxury: an oojamaflip
One thing I’m forever searching for, so I probably ought to have one handy on my desert island.
Of course, eight records is never enough. I brought a few extra, in the hope that there’d be some spare time at the end, and indeed there was – I managed to slip in a whole side of the Cramps’ Off The Bone. But what really limited me was not being able to play many very long tracks. Here’s a couple which have just as much right to be included as the other eight:
9: Henry Threadgill’s Very Very Circus – Hope A Hope A
One of the most sublime orchestrations ever created – who else but Henry Threadgill would replace the bass with two tubas, and back up battling electric guitars with a trombone and a french horn. I saw this live at the Queen Elizabeth Hall with my friend Ed: probably the best gig I’ve ever been to.
10: Igor Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring
When I was around 19, I decided to “get into” classical music. So I picked a CD at random from my Dad’s collection. Boy, was I surprised. It knocked me off my feet, punkier than the punkiest punk I’d ever heard. It was The Rite of Spring, performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra (still the most violent version of this music I’ve ever heard – and I’ve heard many). However, for my desert island I think I’d pick Fazil Say’s four-handed piano version: surprisingly, just as rich and dischordant as the orchestral version, at times more so.
Finally, one of the other desert islanders picked a Blur track for his list, and explained that he’d listened almost exclusively to classical music until Blur awakened him to the possibilities of popular music. I hadn’t though about this beforehand, but Blur did something very similar for me: from around 1990 to 1995, I listened only to jazz, improvised music and other forms of avant-garde noiseism. I considered myself above crass pop songs. Then by chance I saw a Blur video, Sunday Sunday, on a late night TV show, and I was surprised by the intelligence and beauty of it. From then on, I never looked down on pop music, and my tasted expanded to include a bit of everything. So I really owe a place in this list to Blur, and of all their tracks I think the one I’d pick is the oh-so-beautiful Tender.
Postscript: I’m loving the SEO Smart Links WordPress plugin, if only because its automatically-generated links remind me of stuff I wrote ages ago and have forgotten. Case in point: Check out the “Henry Threadgill” and “When We Return” links above.