Music

A London memory

I worked in London for many years and so commuting into the City and across the metropolis was a great part of my life for a good deal of time.

At one point and for many years I often passed through one particular London Underground (Tube) Station - Baker Street - almost daily, and I got to know it very well.

It's a fascinating place. It's where lots of different underground lines converge, and it's a labyrinth of platforms and interlinking corridors. 

And it's historic - Baker Street is one of the original stations of the Metropolitan Railway,  the world's first underground railway, which opened on 10 January 1863.  When I was working in London, the Bakerloo Line, which gets it's name because it links Baker Street and Waterloo among other stations, celebrated it's centenary. The line opened in various stages between 1906 and 1915.

Baker Street is also famous because of its links with the fictional detective Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock holmes baker streetHis creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Holmes living at a fictional address - 221B Baker Street - which back at the time when the novels were being written, would have been a high class residential area. Today the Sherlock Holmes Museum is at the address and there's a statute of Sherlock Holmes outside Baker Street station which also draws masses of visitors to the tube stop.

The platforms are decorated with tiles bearing an iconic silhouette of Holmes - pipe and all ! I love the way the powers that be have embraced the mystery of a fictional character, and woven it into a place of historic value.

But I'm thinking about this particularly today because, LONG  before I knew about the Tube station at Baker Street, I was aware of the name, thanks to a fantastic song which bears the same title.

Not that it has anything to do with the story of the underground station, but today is the birthday of Gerry Rafferty, the Scottish singer/songwriter and the creator of  'Baker Street'. Born this day - 16 April - in 1947

I've loved this song since it first made the charts in 1978, and I have to say, often when I passed through the actual station I found it ringing around in my head!

So - in celebration - here it is ... 

 

 

 

 

 

 


A Musical Experience

If you're a person who sings, and sings seriously - I'm thinking about choirs and the like, including in church - you MAY know the piece of music I'm talking about today.

It's not easy to sing - I know, because I've tried it once or twice and it was beyond me.

But it's a glorious piece, actually more of an experience I would say, rather than just a 'sing'

And it was on this day - April 13th - in 1742 that Handel's 'Messiah' was first performed in Dublin!

George Frideric Handel was a German born composer who had trained and worked in Germany and Italy before moving to England in 1712. His reputation was built on compositions of Italian opera but as public tastes began to change, he adapted. In 1727 Handel became a naturalised British subject and by the 1730s he began producing English oratorios.

Hallelujah chorus sheet musicResearch tells me that Messiah was actually Handel's sixth oratorio in English and although it apparently had a rather low key debut, it was immediately popular. About a year after the Irish first night, Messiah was premiered in London, a gala performance attended by royalty. And apparently King George was so moved by the rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” that he rose from his seat. The audience also took to their feet and for the past 270-plus years, audiences have continued to do the same. Over the centuries it has become one of the best known, most popular and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

But what I didn't realise until I started researching was that it was written at a time when Handel's health and reputation was failing. He was an opera man and that genre had begun to become less popular. He felt his work had become rather jaded and he was struggling, but he was a deeply religious man and he turned to the Bible for inspiration. And that's when he was re-energised and he started to produce some amazing works!

Messiah is all about life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the 'Messiah' being the saviour of humankind who is first mentioned in ancient Jewish scripture. Christians believe Jesus is the 'Messiah'.

Handel was so inspired that he apparently finished Part I of the piece (the birth of the Messiah and the Old Testament prophecies) in only six days. He composed Part II (the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus) in nine days. Part III ( which charts the promise of redemption, the day of judgement and the resurrection which ends with the final victory over death for all those who believe) was completed in just six days. The orchestration took Handel only a few days more which means that in total, the whole composition took less than 25 days. Astonishing!

Handel's music is set to words compiled by Charles Jennens who drew from the King James Bible, and from the Coverdale Psalter, the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer.  The 'libretto' is apparently not designed to dramatise the life and teachings of Jesus, but to acclaim the "Mystery of Godliness", and anyone who has sung or heard Messiah will be aware not just of the wonderful music but also of the spiritual impact it can have on a soul!

Handel continued to write religious music and to perform until, at the age of  74, he collapsed while conducting a performance of Messiah. At that time, as he was laid in bed he allegedly said  “I should like to die on Good Friday.” 

That wasn't to be, although he did die on a Holy Saturday -  April 14th, 1759. That anniversary is tomorrow! Handel’s grave is in Westminster Abbey in London and it's marked by a statue of him with a score of Messiah opened on the table. The page that is visible is, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” 

But today I'm going to share perhaps the most familiar piece of music from Messiah and it's the piece that brought a king to his feet. And it's still attracting crowds ... as this 'flash mob' by the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus in the USA proves.

I love this and as I watch it I wonder if all those singing are actually members of the Chorus, or whether because the piece is so well known some people just started singing along?

I think Handel would have loved it.

Enjoy!

 




A musical debut

There are some things in life that you think have been around forever. 

Think about things you enjoy -  maybe a cup of tea, or coffee? What about cake? Sandwiches? Spaghetti Bolognaise?

Well, now I'm just talking about things I like ... but you know what I mean?

Recently we've been thinking about Easter and that's been around forever hasn't it? Well no ... there was the first Easter, that day when Jesus was resurrected. That amazing, outstanding day in history.

There was the first time someone picked tea and made a cuppa or the first time someone put two pieces of bread together with something in between to create a sandwich. Most things had a 'first time'. Right?

Ever heard of ABBA?

If not - where have you been?

Growing up, ABBA was one of the soundtracks of my teenage and early adult life. They were massive. I listened to them on the radio, bought the albums, danced the night away to the sounds of AgnethaBjörnBenny and Anni-Frid.

They still are massive! Their award winning music has stood the test of time down the years. They are legends in their own lifetimes across the world and if you've watched the movie or seen the stage show 'Mamma Mia' you'll know the tunes. ABBA just keep going on and on. They've brought so much joy to so many people. How great is that?

But, believe it or not, there was a time when the world was unaware of ABBA.

Abba waterlooAnd, in fact, it was on this day, April 6th, in 1974 that they first appeared on our radar.

If you're not aware, they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, with their song 'Waterloo'. A weirdly wonderful song that just made us all laugh and want to get up and dance and sing along.

When millions tuned in to watch the performance on TV that night, we had no way of knowng that very soon ABBA would become part of all our lives!  Who could have imagined that when the obscure and colourful band from Sweden stepped onto that stage that there would soon be a time when we could hardly think of life without their music?

So - to celebrate - let's wind the clock back to that night in Brighton on the south coast of England, and the beginning of history...

Enjoy!

 


Thine be the Glory!

Happy Easter!

What a fantastic day today is!

If you're a Christian, like me, it's the Best Day of the Year. 

Why?

It's because today we celebrate something AMAZING!

Easter he is risenSomething supernatural and surreal, astonishing and astounding  ... as Christians we believe that today Jesus, who was killed two thousands years ago in Jerusalem, came back from the dead. He was 'resurrected'.

If you've been reading my blog these past few days, or if you're into theology, you'll know that this is central to the Christian faith. That we believe in a God who is alive. Jesus proved his divinity by living as a man, dying and then ... well being raised from the dead! Defying death!

And all this to give us all hope that if we believe in him, we may also live eternally, eventually, when we're done living life on earth!

Today we celebrate the life of Jesus and his resurrection - and what better way than to share a great hymn?

It is actually my favourite Easter hymn. Years ago I featured on the TV religious programme BBC Songs of Praise  (recorded in Jersey) and THIS was the song I chose.

It tells the story of Easter so well and it's so optimistic, so positive. It always fills me with joy! 

I hope it does the same for you today!

Happy Easter!

 

 


Written in Red

On Good Friday, as Christians we are remembering how Jesus Christ was crucified on a hill outside of the city of Jerusalem.

It's perhaps the holiest day of the year for Christians, and some people might think that it's strange to call a solemn holy day that commemorates a death a 'good day'.

JOhn 3 16Lots of deep theological and historical and cultural reasons for that, but for me the 'good' is there because actually it comes a few days before the main revelation of Christianity. Which is  ... that Jesus didn't stay dead!

Yes he died, but then he pushed through death, proving that it didn't have to be the end of existence.

By coming back to life he 'conquered' death which means that if we believe in Jesus we also ultimately can push back death. Dying doesn't have to be the end of it all for us. We can be God's person here on earth,  but we may also live eternally in the spirit world after we have shrugged off this mortal coil

It's an astonishing thing! Difficult to comprehend, supernatural, but when embraced, an outrageous concept of optimism and hope.

Christians believe that although Jesus lived as a man for about 33 years, including 30 as a member of a family, a working man, followed by three years as an itinerant preacher, teacher and miracle worker and healer in the place we now know as The Holy Land (modern day Israel) ... he actually was more than a man. He was the Son of God, or God himself in human form.

We Christians do believe that Jesus was the best example of a human being that ever existed and we are encouraged to emulate his compassion, love and life of service. We also believe that his death (and ultimate resurrection on the day we call 'Easter Sunday') not only shows his divinity, but also paves the way for us to embrace eternal life ... if we would only believe in Jesus and follow him.

If you've been reading my blog a bit this week you might have picked up that by the time he reached Jerusalem in the final days of his life - the time we call 'Holy Week' in the church - the religious leaders of the day were determined to get rid of Jesus.

There were rumours that people believed that Jesus - the poor itinerant preacher - was actually the Messiah. This was the person that ancient scripture said would be sent by God to save the people of Israel. Not to mention those claims that Jesus could actually be God in human form, or the Son of God. For the Jewish religious leaders this was blasphemy and Jesus' popularity threatened their control over the population.

Ultimately they wanted rid of him. And by the day we call 'Good Friday' they had had him tried before the local and the Roman authorities and he found himself being beaten, a crown of thorns rammed onto his head (an ironic reference to the fact that some saw him as a 'King') and he had to carry his own cross through the streets of Jerusalem, through the crowds, being mocked and taunted and laughed at!

The story of Jesus' final hours and his death on that cross at a place called Calvary outside the Jerusalem city walls is documented in the New Testament of the Bible, including in the book of Matthew and Chapters 26 and 27 ,  if you have time to do so, please do read that account today.

It was a horrible death, bloody and brutal, designed not just to punish the person being nailed to a cross of wood and left to hang until they died, but also to warn those watching that THIS is what was in store for them if they, too, dared to defy authority.

There are many songs associated with this day, some very traditional. But this one and this particular version by the Gaither Vocal Band, always stirs my heart as on Good Friday I once again think about what Jesus did two thousand years ago, and what he's still doing for me today.

No pictures on this video. Maybe just close your eyes and listen to the words.

And be blessed!

*this song now on my You Tube channel 


Happy Talk

I was listening to the radio the other day and heard a song which brought back so many memories.

First, this version of 'Happy Talk' was released in 1982, the year I left university and started work.  It was a time of great excitement and promise - my whole life lay ahead of me.

Second, it was sung by a chap called 'Captain Sensible' - it was an ironic pseudonym because he was far from 'sensible'. He was not just quirky but rebellious. He had set up the punk band 'The Damned' which had been one of the soundtracks to my late teens.  

South PacificAnd finally, this quirky song wasn't an original. It was actually a tune and a song from a brilliant musical, a stage show called 'South Pacific' which premiered on Broadway in New York 1949. In 1958 it was made into a movie of the same name and by the 1970s I was listening to the soundtrack and learning all the songs.

Interesting point here - we didn't have a 'South Pacific' LP or vinyl record. We actually had the movie sound track on a reel-to-reel audio tape recording which we played on a tape machine. So I listened to 'South Pacific' accompanied by the whirring sound of the tape running through the machine. Classic.

And I hadn't even seen the film! It was years later, maybe a few years after Captain Sensible sang that song that I would have hired a VHS from 'Blockbuster' ... the video hire shop. It's the way we got to see loads of movies at home at the time. 

 'Happy Talk' was always one of my favourites songs from the show - it's sung by the character Bloody Mary and that was the nearest I got to using a swearword when I was a child! I knew it off by heart, so when Captain Sensible appeared on BBC Top of the Pops - I could sing along.

And the words I loved the most?

You gotta have a dream, if you don't have a dream, How you gonna have a dream come true?
If you don't talk happy and you never have a dream, Then you'll never have a dream come true.

It's nearly 40 years since Captain Sensible released 'Happy Talk' and around 50 since I first learned those words. It still rings true for me. 

Be Happy. Talk Happy. Have a Dream! Or maybe ... more than one!

As I said before, in 1982 I was standing of the threshold of life and was at the start of my career as a journalist with all the excitement of what could be. Some of my dreams - personal and professional - have come to pass, others not. 

These days I'm nearer the end of my full-time working life but I'm still excited about what might be. Later this week I will start a new adventure, as I leave working for the BBC and go back to being a freelance writer/broadcaster/PR + communications 'guru'. More of that later !

And although it's a bit scary ... I'm excited.

And I have this song going round in my head. 

Which for me is a GOOD thing! It makes me smile!

 

 


The Bare Necessities

One of my jobs at BBC Radio Jersey is to co-ordinate and produce what we call the 'Morning Thought'.

It's broadcast at around 0640 every morning ... so it is a bit early for a lot of people ... but it is surprisingly popular, as anyone who has contributed to it may tell you. Many a vicar, church minister or leader or individual who's done a recording have told me that after their 'morning thoughts' have been transmitted they will get people saying 'heard you on the radio!'

Each 'thought' is only about two minutes in duration and it's just an uplifting thought to help ease people into the day. It's sometimes spiritual but not always. We feature people of different faiths, and topics like fair trade and peace, and charities who are maybe marking a significant anniversary or a special week. 

The contributors usually record in advance (rather than getting up at the crack of dawn) and since the start of the coronavirus lockdown, when the Radio Jersey studios have been closed, they've been unable to come in to record. But they've been wonderful because they've all learned to record at home on their phones and tech devices, and email the audio to me, after which I'm able to edit and make it ready for the Breakfast Show.

Why am I telling you this?

Well it's because on Monday this week, our morning thought was about the importance of friendship. And our contributor, a great guy called Graeme who leads a church in Jersey, started with one of my favourites songs from my childhood.

Back in the early 1970s I was at boarding school in Kenya. It was one of those schools that had 'houses', Everyone was in a 'house' and there was a system of rewards and punishment for good stuff, or bad things, we did. Points added to the house tally if you did something amazing, points deducted if you stepped out of line. So what you did wasn't just for YOUR own glory, but for the general benefit of the whole house. And if you stuffed up then it wasn't only YOU who suffered but all the other kids in your house. It helped to bond us together, and made us realise the need for corporate responsibility. Oh and of course, it helped to encourage us all to behave ourselves and it kept us all in line. 

If you know the Harry Potter books, you'll know all about this. 'Ten points to Gryffindor for...' or 'Twenty points taken away for...' 

At the end of the year at one particular school I attended, the house with the winning number of points got a treat ... a chance to see a movie!

I'm sure you get where I'm going with this now. One year my house won the house cup and we all sat down one afternoon to watch 'The Jungle Book' ... the animated movie which had been released just a few years earlier, in 1967. And yes, I really AM that old!

I loved it! I've seen it numerous times since that hot afternoon in the school hall, with black out curtains keeping the sunshine out, and I never tire of it. The tale of Mowgli, the little boy brought up in the wild with his band of animal friends. Based on the fabulous collection of stories by Rudyard Kipling, one of my favourite authors and poets!

As I said, for his Monday 'morning thought' for BBC Radio Jersey, our Graeme was thinking about friendship and he took as an example those friendships in 'The Jungle Book'.

And at the start of the piece he actually broke into song and gave us a little rendition of one of the most popular songs from the film - 'The Bare Necessities'.

It's a great tune with fantastic words. and it's sung by the big bear Baloo and Mowgli 

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life

It's hard to 'forget about your worries and your strife' I know, but actually there's something in this song about just trying to keep life simple.

But the real reason I'm talking about this is because ever since I heard Graeme singing that song on the recording emailed to me, it's been going around in my head, like an earworm. Now, don't get me wrong, it's not a bad song to have constantly in my brain, but I figure if I share it with you here then I might get it out of my system.

Or maybe not.

 

PS - if it's now in YOUR head, sorry. But hope you enjoyed it!


A Favourite Song

Do you know what a 'crossover' song is?

No?

Well - it's a song from one genre which makes it into the popular charts.

In the USA there are so many different music genres, all popular in their own right - I'm thinking blues, and country and western, jazz, bluegrass, R+B, soul, funk, techno ... etc etc ... you get my drift I'm sure! 

And then there's the Gospel and the Contemporary Christian Music scenes - all incredibly popular with very successful artists, many of whom may never make it into the 'Pop' download lists but who have brilliant careers, millions of followers and fans, downloads and sales. Radio stations galore playing all types of music.

In the UK it's a bit different, with a much more limited 'pop' scene and fewer opportunities for radio play on our most popular stations, but there's a growing number of online stations playing different kinds of music.

But back to my first thought. Every now and then there's an artist who successfully manages to 'cross over' ... someone from one genre who 'makes it' in the pop world.

One of those brilliant singers is Carrie Underwood, born on this day in 1983.

I remember seeing her on TV, winning the fourth series of 'American Idol' in 2005. Apparently during the programme run, 500 million votes were cast in her favour and for the final - 37million votes were recorded. That gives you an indication of the numbers of people who enjoy music ... just in the USA ... and why it's possible to be a star there whatever your style of music.

Carrie was just 21 when she appeared on American Idol and she was described as a 'farm girl' from Oklahoma. Musically she came from a 'country' background and although not everyone who wins these TV talent shows goes on to great success, in the case of Carrie Underwood, she's gone on to become a seven-time Grammy-winning country megastar. 

Carrie apparently takes her musical inspiration from many different types of music, but she's also released songs and albums with Christian themes.

So today I'm just going to share with you one of the Carrie Underwood's songs that I love - 'Jesus, Take the Wheel'. When I used to present on BBC Radio Jersey it sometimes popped up in my playlist especially on a Sunday morning, but also at other times of the day.

Now if you've been reading this blog for a bit, you'll know that I'm a Christian, and I love especially the first few lines of the chorus of this song ...

"Jesus, take the wheel
Take it from my hands
'Cause I can't do this on my own
I'm letting go..."

For me, that's a bit of a prayer.

Enjoy!

 

 

 


Ordinary Miracles

I work at the BBC ... BBC Radio Jersey to be specific, in the Channel Islands.

I'm the Communities Journalist, so part of my job is to engage with our local community and help people to share their stories. Not just to contribute to 'news stories' but to share their life experiences and talents.  

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic BBC local radio stations across the British Isles have been highlighting the good that is happening in communities through a campaign called 'Make a Difference'.

Every day we hear about people who are making their world, their communities, better places. Initially it was just really a response to the impact of the pandemic and to highlight how people were helping those who could not get out, and those assisting directly in response to the pandemic restrictions we are living under.

Now it's extending beyond that and we love to hear from people who are just helping others in all sorts of ways, helping to make the environment better, coming alongside those who need help. We've had stories about fundraisers for charities that are struggling to survive in these Covid19 days. We hear about those doing beach cleans, we highlight jobs that are in caring roles. As well as the ongoing direct response to the pandemic - charities and individuals offering food parcels, clothing, and general day-to-day help to those who continue to be affected.

I'm sure I'll talk a lot more about this down the line ... but it has got me thinking about my life.

What do I do to 'make a difference' to the lives of others? I'm not talking about saving the world, inventing something that will change the course of human history or intentionally setting out to be an inspiration.

I'm just talking about the kinds of things that our 'making a difference' people do every day.

Reaching out a hand of friendship, caring enough to smile at someone (even with a mask on), picking up a phone to chat to someone, dropping them a message on social media, doing a little kindness that will bring a little joy to another. 

There's a song by the fabulous Barbra Streisand which, I think says it all. It's one of my favourite songs. I love the sentiment that we can all be 'ordinary miracles' just changing the world quietly, not drawing attention to ourselves, even by sharing our efforts and stories on the local radio station.

Enjoy and be inspired!

Change can come on tiptoe 
Love is where it starts
It resides, often hides,  deep within our hearts
And just as pebbles make a mountain, raindrops make a sea
One day at a time change begins with you and me
Ordinary miracles happen all around
Just by giving and receiving comes belonging and believing

Every sun that rises
Never rose before
Each new day leads the way through a different door
And we can all be quiet heroes living quiet days
Walking through the world changing it in quiet ways
Ordinary miracles like candles in the dark
Each and every one of us lights a spark

And the walls can tumble
And the mountains can move
The winds and the tide can turn

Yes, ordinary miracles
One for every star
No lightning bolt or clap of thunder
Only joy and quiet wonder
Endless possibilities right before our eyes
Oh, see the way a miracle multiples

Now hope can spring eternally
Plant it and it grows
Love is all that's necessary
Love in its extraordinary way
Makes ordinary miracles every blessed day

 

 


A Song for Friday

It's a Friday.

It's almost the end of February - my second month writing this blog.

I have to say sometimes - just sometimes - I've struggled to be inspired as to what to bring you.

Shall it be another diatribe based on something that happened 'On This Day in History'? Just something that popped into my head, a picture I've seen, a quote I adore?

Or in this case, a piece of music?

Little known fact ... unless you're me or a few people I know who've heard me go on about this endlessly ... one of my favourite stage shows is 'Les Misérables'.

When it first came to London's West End I heard the soundtrack, saw some reviews and was absolutely determined to see it live. I didn't live in London so every time I was visiting the UK capital, for whatever reason, I would try to get tickets. To no avail! 

One time I even queued for hours in the hope of getting some 'return' seats. Nothing!

In 1993 when I moved from Jersey to the UK, I was in a better position, and eventually, sometime down the line, I got my opportunity. Ticket in hand I found myself in the theatre.

Absolute Bliss!

It did not disappoint. Loved the songs, loved the staging, the characters. Everything.

And since then I've seen the show about seven times, including once at the Jersey Opera House, a most excellent amateur production a few years back by the Jersey Amateur Dramatic Club. They were amazing, and the best thing was a few of my friends were in the cast. Perfect.

Now, don't worry, I'm not going to go on endlessly about the show, or the film, or the (very long - five 'volumes') book that it's based on. I've read it by the way, and it's a classic!

But just to say, Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist, and dramatist had started writing the tome in the 1840s but the book Les Misérables  wasn't published until 1862. It's based on events which had taken place around thirty years previously.

Hugo had apparently walked the streets of Paris during the June 1832 rebellion which is the culmination of the novel. He saw those barricades. But the novel - considered one of the greatest of the 19th century - is not just about the conflict and unrest in France over the decades preceding 1832. It's a narrative on poverty, and injustice, and social and class division. Its themes are philosophical as well as historical. 

Hugo was not just a writer but also a politician and he had very strong views on issues like social injustice, he was opposed to the death penalty and in favour of freedom of the press, among other things. And this, ultimately, got him into trouble.

When Louis Napoleon, Napoleon III, seized power in France in 1851, he established an anti-parliamentary constitution and when Hugo openly declared him a traitor the writer had to flee the country. He moved first to Brussels and then to Jersey.

Unfortunately he was expelled from this /my lovely island for supporting a local newspaper that had criticised the Queen of England, Queen Victoria. So Hugo moved just across the water to another Channel Island, to Guernsey, where he and his family settled at Hauteville House in St Peter Port. The writer lived in exile from October 1855 until 1870 - and by the way, you can visit the house even today to see how he lived.

It was while he was in Guernsey that Hugo created some of his best work, including completing Les Misérables. It delights me that this classic was written quite close to my home!

Anyway, back to the stage production. And all I'm going to do is share one of the fabulous songs from the show. Hard to choose, so many great tunes but this is one I've selected for you today, sung by the amazing Josh Groban.

Oh, and if you're wondering - I'm posting this today because Victor Hugo was born on this day - 26 February - in 1802.