When I marked the century of these posts last week it prompted me to look back at the very early days. I began this series on 24 March 2020, the day after the UK had first been placed into lockdown due to Covid-19. Despite what the government would have you believe, the pandemic is far from over, and we are still seeing many new cases every week. But it does feel a little different from two years ago, when the prospect of this invisible enemy was very scary. Many of the early posts in this series reflected that situation, and it wasn’t long before I adopted the idea of a weekly theme – in reality, I had done it from the outset but hadn’t included the themes in post titles to begin with. I began by just playing two songs each week, but that has gradually expanded to the eight which I regard as the norm nowadays. I thought it might be a good idea to take you back to those early days and play again some of the first songs that appeared in this series. Nothing like a little bit of nostalgia, even if it isn’t what it used be. I’m going to be building these around edited versions of the words I used when I first shared them: you’ll notice that in those days I hadn’t yet got around to giving you details of chart placings!
Going right back to that first post, it included two songs which reflected the way my thinking was going in the early days of the pandemic. This was the first, from Jackson Browne:
That is from his third album, Late For The Sky – still my favourite of his – and is a song about mankind’s stupidity and arrogance in its belief in its superiority, and how the true spirit of ourselves and nature can rise above that. The song has always spoken to me, and I thought it was particularly meaningful as a comment on how we needed to come together to defeat the Covid-19 virus.
The second song I played in that first post was from an English folk-rock band that I guessed most of you wouldn’t haven’t heard of before: Merry Hell. They share with Jackson Browne a strong sense of social conscience, and many of their songs are rousing and uplifting calls to our better nature. I believed this one was especially relevant to us all, perhaps more than ever at that time, and this live performance really gives the song its full power:
For the following week I played a couple of songs whose titles gave clues as to my thinking on the pandemic. This is how I introduced them back then:
“This week’s two songs are, in title at least, my little response to Covid. The first is from a man whose music I’ve loved for over 50 years, going right back to his days as a founder member of Fairport Convention. I have every album he has ever made and have seen him play live as part of the Fairports, with his then girlfriend – and later wife – Linda, solo and with his own band. I never tire of listening to the great Richard Thompson, a man who has written so many wonderful songs. This one gives us all a suitable message for these strange times in which we find ourselves”:
Yes, I know it’s about a love affair and not a virus, but so what? It’s a great song, and deserves to be heard.
My second song for that week was also about doomed love, rather than a virus, But the message could easily apply: it was what we were thinking about Covid-19, restrictions on our lives, and worries about whether we’d be caught short of toilet paper. The band Del Amitri had a few years of success in the pop charts, and should, I feel, have had more. Derided by some as a ‘pop band,’ and somehow unworthy of the attention of serious musos (or pseuds), they produced some seriously good songs, and Justin Currie, their leader, wasn’t given the credit I felt he deserved for his songwriting abilities. This is what we were all wishing we could do to Covid-19 back then (and still are!):
By week 4 I was getting into the spirit of theming the posts, and this was what I gave you then: I chose a couple of songs that tell the stories of those who aspire to creative greatness, something which I freely admitted was way beyond me. The first was from 1966, from a little band you might have heard of before:
A ‘dirty story’ of a ‘dirty man,’ whose ‘clinging wife doesn’t understand’ – as I said back then, I think there have been a few of those over the years!
My second song that week was another story of aspiration, which is even further from my abilities than the first. As one who struggles to produce the simplest landscape picture my artistic talents could charitably be deemed to be ‘limited.’ Little wonder, then, that I studied the History of Art for my degree, rather than actually doing it myself! But in my youth I had my dreams, rather like this:
As it says on the video, that is a Bob Dylan song. He and The Band had a long association and this was far from being the first of his songs that they recorded. It appeared on Cahoots, their fourth studio album, and was released in 1971. I prefer their version: I think the late Levon Helm’s plaintive vocals really suit it. I also gave you a little piece of additional trivia around this one: Levon was the inspiration for the song Listening To Levon, which is on Marc Cohn’s Join The Parade album. I recommended then, and still do, that you check that out: it’s a lovely song of love and reminiscence, on a great album (like everything Marc Cohn has done).
Week 5 was the first with an official theme in its title: “kindness, caring, support.” You can see where I was coming from, can’t you? One of that week’s songs was by Frank Turner, a singer/songwriter with a very loyal following, who has been making great albums for more than 15 years. This song is the title track from his 2018 album Be More Kind. It is one of his gentler songs, and as I said in 2020 I think we should all heed its message:
The song was written as a response to world developments in 2016/7, notably the election of Trump and the UK Brexit vote, but it had a much wider relevance than just those two countries. With the pandemic affecting so many countries, I felt that its message was even stronger and more pertinent, and still hold to that belief now. It is a beautiful song.
This week’s final offering is one from week 6 of this series. It made a special point for me for that week’s theme, which was “being apart” – one of the major consequences of the lockdown. Music can be a comfort blanket for us, and I guessed that going back to the music of my youth – I was 22 when this was released – was a way of coping with the necessity of lockdown. Again, the lyrics aren’t really much about the then current situation, but I would imagine that many of us had been thinking this about someone at that time:
As you will no doubt have noticed, that version is from the Live 8 concert in 2005. I am a long-term Floyd fan, so it was particularly emotional for me to see them all on the same stage again for the first time in 24 years, no doubt as the result of Bob Geldof’s unique style of (expletive deleted) persuasion. I remember it well: it was a hot Saturday evening in July, I was still married and living with my wife and daughters, and was washing up the dinner stuff while watching it on the portable tv in the kitchen. I suddenly became aware of two things: firstly, that I had tears running down my face, and secondly that one of the girls was watching me, not knowing why, or what she should do. A quick explanation persuaded her that Dad was really ok, and nothing more was said. But when I think back to that it brings home to me with some force the feelings engendered from being required not to see those that we love. It also emphasises the power of music and its importance to me: if you’ve ever wondered why I post a lot of music, there’s your answer!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at the first few weeks of this series. It has been an interesting experience for me, as those early posts are very much a reflection of their time. Two years on, the pandemic is still with us but is under some kind of control now, and feels less scary than it did: which is not to say that it isn’t still a very serious issue and it still takes lives. Here in the UK the news is currently being dominated by Ukraine, and the sleaze surrounding our government, both in terms of the way the governing party is contorting itself to defend an indefensible, corrupt leader and in terms of the policies it is pursuing. The most recent of these to hit the headlines is the proposal to remove asylum seekers to Rwanda, a mere ten months after we criticised that country for its human rights record. I wonder how this series would have developed if I had been starting it now, against that backdrop? I’ve long since stopped using the week’s main news story as a prompt for my weekly themes, and to me the series feels better for it – frankly, I’m not sure how I would manage with choosing ‘corruption,’ ‘racism’ or ‘hypocrisy.’ I’ve already decided on next week’s theme, and it is nothing to do with any of those thoughts!
That’s enough ranting and waffling for this week, so I’ll take my leave for now. As always, I wish you a good week and hope that things in your life are going well. Take care 😊