Desert Island Discs

Before I even arrived here in Saltash I was invited to take part in a part-social, part-getting-to-know-the-new-minister event at one of the chapels in my charge, based on the Desert Island Discs format. It happened last night and, out of all the wide variety of music I listen to in the soundtrack to my life, these were my choices:

Johann Sebastian Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor (BWV 565)

I was introduced to this piece through my dad buying and playing the Jacques Loussier Trio’s Plays Bach album. The Trio were (are) a famous jazz combo so it was not a traditional intro, but as I listened to it, and then really listened to Bach’s original, I realised Loussier was paying great honour to the original. I have come to love Bach’s music far more than I have ever liked jazz, but that is in part because I see Bach as the original jazz musician, a master at playing with forms and riffs, especially on the organ. So this is one of two classical pieces I choose for my limited Desert Island music collection, the only organ piece, and also the one jazz piece!

U2: “Mysterious Ways” from Achtung Baby! *

I have liked U2 for a long time. This is, I happily admit, not their greatest work. Like many others I would happily accept that in many ways the album Joshua Tree represents the band’s finest moment, but I first got into U2 just after that moment. Achtung Baby! was the first album of theirs I really got to know and love, and “Mysterious Ways” has always spoken to me at a very deep level  – and given the acknowledged faith of three of the band’s members I doubt it’s illegitimate to think the “she” of the track’s lyrics can be thought of as referring to the Holy Spirit. It was especially moving when this song was included on the set-list of their performance at the Glastonbury Festival – a truly special moment in my life!

Reef: “Place Your Hands” from Glow

The ultimate West Country musical success. Reef are proper West Country lads, from the same part of Somerset that I call home – I know folk who went to school with them. This is their most famous hit. It’s a worldwide phenomenon that will get crowds waving their hands along from Acapulco to Zanzibar, from Oslo to Dunedin, from New York to Phuket. If I need a track on my desert island to remind me of pints of cider and ale down the village pub which also connect me with music listeners around the globe this really is the only choice!

Massive Attack: “Teardrop” from Mezzanine

As far from the stadium rock of early 90s U2 and growling pub rock of mid-90s Reef as you can get. I have listened to the godfathers of the “trip hop” genre since their first album, Blue Lines, in 1991, but it was moving to the West Country and getting to know folk who were very much into the sound-system style of music that got me really into them. I chose this track for two particular memories: it was a major hit while I was at uni the first time, so I have strong memories of lounging around the Union bar, drinking Guinness and playing pool while the famous video for this track was showing on MTV; I have preached on the repeating line “Love, love is a verb” a few times, and it was the track I chose to play before and after silent prayers at Wesley House when the full Fruitful Field recommendations were released just before Conference this year and which recommended stopping sending student ministers to Cambridge.

Led Zeppelin: “When the Levee Breaks” from Led Zeppelin IV

It’s said, though I can’t find the evidence, that at the turn of the millennium ‘Q’, the music magazine, did a survey to find the greatest super-band of the past century. In other words they gave 4 categories (vocalist, lead guitarist, bassist, drummer) and asked people to vote on who they thought was the best ever individual in each category, irrespective of the overall quality of the band they were part of (if they weren’t an individual). The results for each category, in the order I gave them, were apparently: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and the late John “Bonzo” Bonham. In other words, ‘Q’s readers thought Led Zeppelin were the greatest super-band ever. I can’t disagree, and this track, the last track on the technically untitled album usually referred to as Led Zeppelin IV, represents to me their ultimate track. It’s a cover version of a blues song (a musical form all 4 band members have (had) great affinity for – and which speaks to me of my time in Mississippi), and for me sees each individual at the top of their game – blues is a very simple music form yet the musical and engineering wizardry on this track is amazing (especially the reverse echo recording of the harmonica), and Bonzo’s opening drum beat (also cleverly yet simply engineered) is legendary!

Pet Shop Boys: “West End Girls” from Please

You know, I have no rational idea why I chose this one, but it was in the first seven songs that just picked themselves. There is absolutely no logical or describable reason why I love the Pet Shop Boys’ music, I just do. It never fails to uplift me. The only benefit to me of Bono damaging his back and U2 therefore pulling out of Glasto 2010 was that I got to go and see the Pet Shop Boys headline the Other Stage instead (yes, over Muse on the Pyramid Stage, which I know many people think is madness, but I don’t care!) And this is, for no particular reason, my favourite Pet Shop Boys track. It’s a desert island and I’m on my own, I don’t need any other reason to listen to the guilty pleasure that is mid-80s electro-pop!

Sergei Rachmaninoff: “Bogoroditse Devo” from All-Night Vigil (aka Vespers)

Ideally I would have chosen both of Rachmaninoff’s liturgical works, the All-Night Vigil and the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom (I’m sure you can get them in a double-disc set that would count as one choice!) However, I had to choose a single movement for the actual event. I thought about choosing the opening “Great Litany” from the Divine Liturgy, which opens with the most amazing basso profundo as the Deacon begins the prayer. In the end I went for this piece, in part because it’s the one piece I’ve heard live, in the chapel of Peterhouse, Cambridge, and that means it holds a strong memory for me of the joys of Cambridge and getting to attend choral evensong in so many glorious chapels.  And, of course, I couldn’t resist the somewhat delicious cheekiness of a Methodist Minister picking a piece which is the Orthodox equivalent of “Hail, Mary”!

Florence & the Machine: “You’ve Got the Love” from Lungs

I love Florence Welch’s voice. I think it’s amazing. That said, this one almost lost out to another great voice. In the end it got through because it’s such an amazing prayer. I know it’s a cover version (I remember dancing at school discos to the original!) but Florence’s voice just does something to it that makes it her own. I’ve used it in worship before, and I’ll certainly use it again. In my lonely moments on a desert island this song would remind me that it’s God’s love that will see me through, as it has done at other times in my life.

Translation of the Bible: New Jerusalem Bible

This isn’t an official Desert Island Discs category, and it was rather thrown at me (I had chosen the usual book, which is given below but which wasn’t asked for last night). I guess, though, that in a church setting it’s a reasonable question for getting to know a minister. It was suggested that on the original series it would have been the King James or Authorised Version that was assumed in the provisions, but nowadays there are lots to choose from. I was clear that for poetry I do like hearing the AV read out loud (I’m used to Shakespeare so it doesn’t throw me the way it does many people), and if I planned on studying on the island I would always choose the NRSV, which is the current academic standard, at least in Cambridge. However, for sentimental reasons I would always choose the NJB – it was the first translation I ever owned for myself, given to me on the occasion of my confirmation by the then Bishop of Shrewsbury, who I would call a friend of the family, and signed by him. Even if I didn’t have access to that precise copy, it’s the translation I’d want alongside me.

Book: Lord of the Rings by J R R Tolkien (Not actually required in the end)

I remember being read both the Hobbit and this when I was little, and I have read them both many times since. However, while the Hobbit is clearly a good children’s story, for whiling away the hours on a desert island the substantial nature of this one would, I reckon, stand up better over time. It is such an amazing, complex, beautiful, challenging piece of work, exquisitely crafted and worked out, and speaks clearly to how that which we call simply myth, legend, and folktales can still contain deep truths.

Luxury: a personal dvd player and the complete West Wing boxed set

There was never any other choice in my mind. How could I ever make it through life knowing I would never again hear President Bartlett utter the immortal words “What’s next?”? Simple – I couldn’t!

* Choice if only allowed one piece of music.

Whatever the music of your life is, travel well,

The Nomad


About MendipNomad

I'm a nomad both physically and denominationally, but I'll always call the Mendips home. Currently a Methodist Presbyter (Minister) in Cornwall. I love sport, film, tv, socialising, politics (both US and British), and, yes, being part of the church.
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3 Responses to Desert Island Discs

  1. Pingback: Out of Time | The Mendip Nomad

  2. Pingback: Body, Mind and Soul Music (Worship Diptych, pt 2) | The Mendip Nomad

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