Tuesday Tunes

I’ve recently seen a growing number of bloggers and Facebook friends posting under the banner of ‘Music Monday.’ As is often the case I didn’t quite get my act together to start doing this yesterday so I thought I’d do a little rebranding to suit my tardiness. Anyway, what’s a day, between friends? Somehow, though, I doubt that ‘Tuesday Tunes’ is a remotely original tagline: I haven’t been on Twitter today but I expect I’d find loads on there!

As anyone who has viewed my blog will not take long to realise, music is very important to me, and to countless others. In these strange, scary and unimaginable times in which we find ourselves, music is a common bond between us: if you don’t believe that, just take a look at the videos of Italians joining together in song from their balconies, or the Spanish police roaring to a halt in an empty street during lockdown, and serenading the people who live there. Music can uplift our spirits when we need it most, and I’m going to begin my ‘Tuesday Tunes’ by sharing a couple of songs which I think speak to us at all times, but especially now.

I shared the first of these on my Take It Easy Facebook page a couple of days ago, but think it deserves a much wider audience (hint: new sign ups to the page are always welcome, follow the link in the right hand column). Jackson Browne has been a favourite artist of mine ever since his first album, all the way back in 1972. The track I shared is from his third album (and my favourite of his). It 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. That sounds pretentious, as I write it, but it is anything but that: couched in one of Jackson’s beautiful tunes, the song has always spoken to me, and is particularly meaningful as a comment on how we need to come together to defeat the Covid-19 virus. Take a listen and you’ll see what I mean – I saw him play this live some years ago, and it was one of those ‘hairs on the back of the neck’ moments. I still get something in my eye every time I hear this:

The second song I want to share today is from an English folk-rock band that I’d guess most of you 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 believe this one is especially relevant to us all, now more than ever – the band’s albums are great, but this live performance really gives the song its full power:

We do need each other now. Our Prime Minister finally did last night what he should have done weeks ago, and put the country in lockdown to try to prevent the spread of the virus. Yet still this morning there are pictures in the media of people crammed into the carriages of London Underground trains. I doubt that they are all key workers, but the stupidity and arrogance of those who aren’t beggars belief. They, and we, could learn a lesson from these two songs. It is hard not to write a downbeat post in our current times, and this is very much intended to be a positive message, via the medium of music. Take care, be and stay safe, and be uplifted by the beauties of life which will long outlast the crisis. And keep remembering:

We need each other now.

#ChristmasSongOfTheDay 2019 – Part Three

Welcome back to my series of catch up posts for the #ChristmasSongOfTheDay that I am posting on Twitter and on the Facebook page for this blog. Today I’m taking you through days 14 to 19, which will leave one more collection to come.

Last Saturday – day 14 – I returned to a song that I have included before, as I think it is one of the most beautiful modern day Christmas songs. It is by Jackson Browne, who is one of my favourite artists and, I think, ranks at the very top of the list of singer-songwriters. I was fortunate enough to see him play live in 2010, at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was a wonderful show but, as it was in June, i.e.  the wrong time of year, this one wasn’t on the set list. Nevertheless, as its time has now come I’m happy to share it:

I hadn’t realised it at the time but Jackson is a regular visitor to the RAH, since his debut in 1994: he is scheduled to play there again next year, which will be his 16th appearance. I think they like him too!

That was Jackson’s own version of his song which, as far as I know, has only ever been issued on the 1997 compilation The Next Voice You Hear. He did, however, do a version with the Chieftains for their 1991 album The Bells Of Dublin. In my best DJ fashion, I’m now making a segue into another track from that album, which I shared on the 15th. Smooth link, huh? I always try to post a version of a Christmas Carol on Advent Sundays, and this was always one of my favourites when I was growing up, and was a more regular churchgoer than I am nowadays. I think Marianne Faithfull and the Chieftains do a lovely job with it:

My selection for Monday 16th was one that I have included for all five years that I have been doing this. As before, I make no apology for the repetition: there is a reason for it, and that is because I like it! This is by far the best version I have ever heard of a Christmas standard which is probably most associated with the crooners in their cheesy jumpers. This version really brings out the song’s beauty, and the accompanying video is a perfect fit in creating the mood. You may not have heard of the singer – Brynn Andre – before, and you could be forgiven for this. She made an album in 2009, then another one and a couple of EPs in 2012 – this is the title track of one of those EPs. Since then she has largely been absent from the recording scene, having become a personal life coach instead. But she returned with a couple of collaborations last year, and a new single of her own this past summer. I’m hoping that she will give us more: her lovely voice deserves to be heard more widely.

Tuesday’s song was another that was returning, although only for its second appearance. I think I’m pretty safe in saying that it is the only one of these songs to be performed by a Nobel Laureate! Bob Dylan released a Christmas album in 2009 – Christmas In The Heart – and this is his version of a song that has been around since the 1940s. It was also covered recently by Bryan Adams on his Christmas EP but I much prefer Dylan’s version, with this utterly bonkers video:

Yesterday’s song was one which I have featured most years that I’ve done this. You may know the Killers from their many hit albums and singles, but were you aware that they issued a series of Christmas singles for eight years or so? These were all done to raise money for The Killers’ Christmas Charity, and no doubt they have done a huge amount of good. This one, from 2011, is my favourite, because nothing says Christmas quite like cowboys and robot spacemen, does it:

For today I chose a song I’ve never featured before, though it isn’t exactly new! Those of us of a certain age are probably familiar with Phil Spector’s Christmas album, but of a similar vintage (1964) is the lesser known Beach Boys’ Christmas Album. This sad tale of a little boy’s experience with a department store’s ‘Santa’ will probably echo with many – and it is a piece of classic Beach Boys, so is well worth including, I think:

I’ve rounded off my two previous posts in this series by sharing the wonderful Christmas adverts made by Hafod Hardware, a local shop in Rhayader, in Wales. They have produced three of these now (although I did find an earlier, more prosaic one). I began with this year’s, then went back to 2017. This is the middle one in the sandwich, from 2018, and shares all the charm of the other two, including a ‘vocal’ role for little Arthur at the end:

Isn’t that lovely? As before, the Jones family have shown excellent taste in choosing music from Andrea Von Kampen to accompany their advert: this song is on her Christmas Project EP from 2016. As I said last time, I recommend her highly: she has a beautiful voice and writes good songs of her own, too.

I’ll be posting again on Saturday, with an updated version of last year’s piece for the Winter Solstice, and then again with the concluding part of this series on Christmas Day. Hopefully I’ll see you again for both of those. And, if you haven’t already done it, a timely reminder that you should be putting the sprouts on if you don’t want to be too late…..

Still Trying To ‘Take It Easy’

Three years ago today I began my series of #SaturdaySongs. This kind of ran out of steam, although I have revisited it on several occasions, and its spirit lives on in the #SongOfTheDay I post on the Facebook page for this blog – the link is in the right hand column if you want to take a look, and maybe even sign up. The first post was, as I said at the time, an easy choice to make: after all, I’d used it for the title of my blog! If you haven’t seen it you can find it here or from the #SaturdaySongs section of the main menu, at the top of this page.

The post tells the story of how the song came to life, in a collaboration between Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey. I won’t repeat myself here (for once!) but do take a look if you’re interested. I was prompted to revisit that post by one of those chance findings on YouTube: a live performance of the song on Spanish TV by Jackson Browne, Sharon Shannon and an uncredited mandolin player. I’ve tried, but haven’t found anything to identify her (help welcome!). This version is lovely, and really gets to the heart of the song:

It got me thinking, mostly about why I gave my blog this name. At the outset, if any of you remember, I chose the amazingly original and creative name of ‘Clive’s Blog,’ but when I retired in September 2013 I felt the need to rebrand, to reflect the way I wanted my life to be from then on. I had several possible choices but settled on this one, and I’m not thinking of changing it again anytime soon. I had always wanted to retire at 60 and achieved that aim, and had lots of plans as to how I would spend my time. This included increasing the number of music gigs I attended, theatre visits, museums and art galleries, and getting a season ticket for my ‘local’ Football League team – Leyton Orient. I live at the end of a London Underground line which enables me to be in central London within around 40 minutes, and Leyton is on the way in, so it was all going to be easy.

For the first two or three years I really did ‘Take It Easy’ and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Many gigs, museums and galleries were attended, and I managed a few theatre trips too. The highlight, though, was that first season of being a regular at the Os: it was the team’s best season for ages, culminating in a wonderful evening when we won our promotion play off semi final and then the final itself – at Wembley Stadium, no less. Sadly, we lost on penalties after being 2-0 up in both the match and the penalty shoot out. It’s the Orient way!

So what changed? My health let me down, that’s what. By that I mean physical, not mental, health – for a change. I have a condition which affects my mobility and travelling on public transport, especially up to London, is an absolute no-no at present, and has been for a few years. So much for being in charge of my life or, to use a phrase which has been prevalent here for a while now, ‘taking back control!’ My entertainment is now home-based, with reading, television and music to the fore. That wasn’t a change I had envisaged being forced to take, and it has taken a while for me to come to terms with it. I may never be ‘safe to travel’ again, and have had to accept that I might also not be able to attend live music, theatre or sporting events again. My ‘social life’ is now largely based around visits to the hospital and my doctor, and home visits by those who live close enough to me. I have the phone and online communication to keep me in touch, so I don’t feel cut off from the world, thankfully. But this experience has taught me that, whatever our intentions may be, we may need to make changes to our plans.

I probably sound as though I’m feeling sorry for myself, but I’m not. It would be easy for me to give in to ‘losing’ my ability to be more active and outgoing, and to sink back to the kind of depression I suffered eight years ago – which is why I began blogging, in case you missed that part! But I’m determined not to let that happen. I went for one of my regular blood tests yesterday, as part of the monitoring that I go through for my health – they want to check that I don’t develop diabetes. I guess that at some stage that may happen, and I’ve been reading up on it, as there are some horror stories about what it can mean for you. But I don’t have any of the symptoms, and would therefore be surprised if it was diagnosed. Even if it were, I would be hopeful that it would only mean a need to alter my diet and possibly take a few more pills every day, and that feels manageable.

So why should I feel sorry for myself? There are millions of people around the world who are far worse off than I, and I have much for which I should be – and am – grateful. There is, I think, a simple lesson for all of us in this: look for the positives in life, not the negatives. If you do, you will be far better placed to cope with the curve balls life can throw at you. I think I sound a little glib in saying that: after all, who am I to tell anyone else what to do? But I say it with feeling: it seems that modern life surrounds us with huge amounts of negativity every day – for example, politics appears to be based on it – and it can feel overwhelming. But if we can wade through all of that there are plenty of good things to be found, and perhaps the act of seeking them out can help us to appreciate them all the more.

I’m still trying to keep ‘Take It Easy’ as my mantra for life. Some days it feels more difficult than others, but I choose to look for the positives. I hope you do, too.