I was really shy when I was a kid. I used to go and hammer the keys of my old piano and quietly sing. It always effected me. Certain melodies, certain chord changes, intervals gave me a kind of heartache or relief or joy. I felt transported, I felt alive.
I could always kind of sing. I never questioned this until I was older. I used to crawl into the hedge at primary school and sing into my friends ears. It reminds me of that film ‘In the Mood for Love’: whispering your deepest secrets into a hole in a tree. Music has always been like this for me.
At 5 I got a record player at a jumble sale and I spent all my time listening to records, reading the sleeves. I had piano lessons but never really associated what I liked to do with all the sight reading and scales. I remember my old piano teachers tiny little pencil writing on my scores. She was so nice. She always used to say; ‘Now we can have jam on our bread’ when we paid her.
Like most kids in the 80s, I loved Top of the pops and the chart show. It seemed like everyone listened to the same music then. Music was an important thing.
One evening I remember watching the Isle of Wight Festival on t.v. Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, The Doors, Leonard Cohen, all my soon to be favourite artists on one show. Wow. ….These people were singing about freedom, love, connection, revolution, community, truth….. that was what believed in. I never stopped loving that music.
We used to have to hunt down music back then…. I would stumble upon mystery artists in the library and hurry home to listen to them. I remember one day I picked up ‘Boys for Pele’ by Tori Amos. Wow. It took me a listen or two but with each listen it grew to be something quite spectacular. If you have to work for it, you can never go back. It’s like that with opera I think. I loved expressive music, from Beethoven to Schoenberg to The Sex Pistols, to 60’s ‘folk’….
I don’t know how it happened but I was at college before I properly appreciated grunge. I sang requiems during the day, Billie Holiday in the factory where I worked in the evening and Hole (very badly) when I got home at night. I loved it all…..Jacqueline du pre playing Elgar, Emma Kirkby singing Dido’s Lament, Lyndsey Buckingham playing Big Love live, the old man down the pub singing his sea shanty. The guy at school who only had 2 notes in his voice who sang a love song to his girlfriend, in front of everyone………It blew my mind.
I remember the places where I first heard things…. I was sitting on a mattress on the floor in an apartment my friend and his girlfriend were renting when I first heard Jeff Buckely. He seemed to do it all; raw and dirty, angelic and clear, nasty, nice, sexy, wild, restrained, free…free…..free…
“There’s an undercurrent to his music, there’s something you can’t pinpoint. Like the best of films, or the best of art, there’s something going on underneath, and there’s a truth there. And I find his stuff absolutely haunting. It just… it’s under my skin.” B.Pitt on J.Buckley.
…..I studied, I studied a lot. I got my A levels, my music degree, then went to music school. I now don’t only know notation, I know the history of notation!?! I’ve both learnt and forgotten how to write lute transcriptions, fugues, string quartets. Maybe it’s all still in there somewhere. Music school was good for forcing me to perform. I wish I’d known then what I know now: that becoming confident is simply making the unfamiliar familiar. Repetition, failing, learning, dinging again, the act, the moment….. Only assholes point out failures…let’s leave it to the assholes shall we? Happy, successful people don’t need to do it.
……For me singing doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be anything. It’s words and noise. It’s self expression. It’s your or my expression. …..It’s still the simple songs that have changed my life. I’d love to know more about your life in music.