Long time, no blog. There was a time when I blogged almost daily, sometimes more than once. But what with all the stuff I write elsewhere, not to mention twitter and my Instagram Lives, the blog has become less frequent. And I note that the last one, like this one, was about music, and in particular the choices we make when forced to, about what music we really really like. It is a wonderful way to spend the time, and an aid to following half of one of my favourite mantras: ‘Read books not newspapers, listen to music not the news.’ So good for your mental well-being!

So the last blog was as far back as March, and it was about six songs I was asked to pick to tell the story of my life for Boom Radio’s Still Busy Living programme. You have to select …

  1. A current track you are enjoying. (I went for Helene Fischer, Die Achterbahn)
  2. Your first song. (Hollies, He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother)
  3. Career highlight song. (Things can only get better, D-Ream … ovi)
  4. Your personal favourite. (Quand on n’a que l’amour, Jacques Brel.)
  5. A song that is inter-generational – you’ve influenced your kids to like or vice versa. (All around the world, Oasis.)
  6. Your ”exit stage left” song as they are wheeling you out in the casket… (Piper to the End, Skipinnish.)

Well now I am moving a little up market from some of those, having been asked to be a guest on Sunday’s Private Passions with Michael Berkeley on Radio 3. They asked me, given the audience, to focus as much as possible on classical music, though I did confess to Radio Times, who interviewed me this week, that I am more likely to listen to Motown than Mozart, Elvis than Elgar.

In trawling through my memory bank though, and in listening through a long list of possibles, I was reminded of a line I wrote in Living Better: ‘I love music so much, and I love so much music.’ It is so hard to turn the long list into a short list.

For Private Passions, you are allowed seven pieces of music, and here they are, with a brief explanation.

  1. Lament for the Old Sword, played by Donald Campbell (yes, my brother … see 2, above.) Lament for the Old Sword is a Piobaireachd (pronounced ‘Pibroch,’) which is as near to classical bagpipes as you’ll get, and you can listen to it here, It is track 11 on one of Donald’s CDs, A Piper’s Tapestry. If you like it, you can buy it here. Donald died five years ago, aged 62, but having these recordings of him playing underlines the immortality of music. When I listen, I don’t just hear him, but I see him play.
  2. (see 4, above). I’m afraid there was no way I was not having a Brel song, and I went for the same one as on Boom. Choices 3-7 are more in keeping with Radio 3 …
  3. The Drinking Song, from Verdi’s La Traviata. This was the first opera I ever saw, under pressure from Fiona, in Leningrad as was. In addition to enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would, this song in particular, my overriding memory was the drinking between Acts, as the audience filed out and then walked around the edge of a huge carpet, knocking back vodka. Not long afterwards I was diagnosed as having a drink problem.
  4. Mozart’s Mass in C Minor – Credo. One of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Also theme music for the TV adaptation of Chris Mullin’s Very British Coup, on which I was an advisor.
  5. Schubert, Four Impromptus. The music Fiona used to listen to when pregnant with our first son, hoping it would influence him to be more interested in high brow music than football (my passion!) Rory is now 34, and works in football.
  6. Un bel di from Puccini’s Madame Butterfly. My only insistence was that it must be sung by Albanian soprano Ermonela Jaho, who has become a friend though my work in Albania, and something of a cultural educator too. She is a wonderful singer, and a lovely human being.
  7. Rustle of Spring, by Christian Sinding. Allows me to tell the story of why I gave up learning the piano – a tea-slurping teacher – and why I wished I hadn’t, as my sister kept going, and plays this one beautifully.

So there you go. Sunday midday, Radio 3. I should add that Michael Berkeley is a very good interviewer, in that he had clearly done a huge amount of research, and I ended up leaving the studio wondering whether I had been a bit too open at times. Anyway, I hope that if you tune in, you enjoy the choices, and the chat.

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