My Desert Island Discs – for the benefit of any American readers this a longstanding radio programme (over 50 years) where the well-known get invited to talk about their life and play the music that they would like to have with them if they were stuck on a desert Island- you are allowed eight. You also get to choose a luxury and a book (The Bible and the Complete Works of WS come gratis).
1. Right Off – Miles Davis
The opening track on his ‘Jack Johnson’ album. At 25 minutes it means I get loads of Miles but it also features John McLaughlin (Britain’s greatest ever guitar player) and Herbie Hancock (the dirtiest keyboard sound you have ever heard on this track) at their best so I get three greats for the price of one. The Penguin Guide to Jazz suggests that in 50 years time this album may be seen as superior to Bitches Brew and In a Silent Way. I agree. Reminds me of 1990-91 and living in Dulwich Village and doing things I shouldn’t have done but glad I did. Mike where are you now?
2. We’ve Come Too Far To End it Now – Smokey Robinson and The Miracles
I listened to this almost continuously when I wrote my first book and managed to name a chapter in its honour. It was the most unhappy time in my life (writing the book blocked out the depression) and I loved the sentiment of the title. Those who know me will know why the time was so unpleasant. Is there a greater piece of sweet soul? I see writing a book on positive thinking at a time when I was so low as a kind of divine providence. I was forced to pull through by having to be in a positive frame of mind to write the book. A ‘why’ to live for.
3. You’ve Got To Have Freedom – Pharoah Sanders
I love this track and I love the album it is on. It would make me momentarily happy when alone. A man who has kept his music interesting and innovative into his 70’s. And a spellbinding live performer. Great trumpet playing from Eddie Henderson too. The ‘Journey To The One’ album it comes from is joyous but it is actually a very important one too. It is probably the album for me that closes a great era (1950-1980) for black American music – my first musical love.
4. Umbarabauma – Jorge Ben
This is a floor stomper from one of the greatest songwriters of the 20th century. I bought a 4 CD compilation of his music with about sixty tracks on it and there is not one weak one on it. I chose this one partly as a symbol of hundreds of Brazilian tracks I could have selected. Great music from a nation which must be the most naturally musical on the earth.
5. The Great Curve – Talking Heads
Off the Remain In Light album which is by far their best. They were a great band and stood out in the weakest era for popular western music since the very early 1960’s (I refer to the early 1980’s). This track has absorbed almost every musical influence with great African-style backing vocals and powerful guitar (King Crimson’s Adrian Belew from memory) to the fore. There is nothing like this music anywhere, ever.
David Byrne of TH is also responsible for my love of Brazilian music through his series of Brazil Classics compilations in 1989-90. Buy volumes one and two if you want a great introduction to Brazilian music.
6. Folk Song – Garbarek, Gismonti, Haden
I am a big fan of the ECM sound and this is a classic example of it. Garbarek is, after Rollins, the best unaccompanied saxophonist around and Gismonti one of the great multi-instrumentalists. I saw Garbarek live a few times in the 1990’s and he was terrific every time (I managed tears at one of his performances). I saw Gismonti too, doing a solo show in Southampton and on here it is his guitar playing which is so beautiful. This track is the opening piece off Folk Songs which every person I have played it to has gone out and bought immediately. The standout track from a stand out album. Best described as classical jazz.
7. Oh Girl – Chi-Lites
I had to have something from either the Chi-Lites or the Delfonics and this just edges it over almost any Delfonics track. Beautiful songwriting from Eugene Record who wrote loads of great tracks and doesn’t get the credit he should. Had he been at Motown…This appeals to the highly sentimental side of me which craves real love.
8. Starless and Bible Black – Stan Tracey Quartet
British Jazz’s finest moment and a piece of Jazz I would defy anyone to dislike. Tracey played with all the greats as the resident pianist at Ronnie Scott’s in the 1960’s. But in 1964 he produced a jazz classic ‘Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood’ and this is a magnificent piece from that album. I remember the first time I heard it was on a documentary about him and they set this track with panoramas of the London Skyline by night. I was transfixed by the connection of image and music and remain so to this day. This was a great era for British Jazz but of course no-one realised it at the time. What Joe Harriot was doing was ahead of Coltrane and if you don’t believe me and you are a jazz fan buy his two albums from the very early sixties – ‘abstract’ and particularly ‘freeform’ which features great playing from Shake Keane too. Also Indo-Jazz Fusions.
If I could take only one piece on my Island then ‘starless’ would be it and I know I would listen to it every night, look at the stars, remember the image of the London Skyline and cry my eyes out at the thought that I may never see it again. I would die of melancholia eventually.
Book: The London Encyclopaedia
Luxury: Piano – I could teach myself Stan Tracey’s piano parts!
Of course it pains me at what I have missed and there is little from after 1990 which is a shame because there is so much great stuff from the last decade. But it probably does reflect my love of black music from the Americas and evocative European sounds. The biggest gap is British rock and I am sorry I could not include Colloseum’s ‘Elegy’, Bowie’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ or something from Led Zep. Maybe if I do this tomorrow they would all be in there. No Coltrane, Dolphy, Marvin Gaye or from the modern era Nitin Sawhney, Suba or Anouar Brahem either.
I have gone for highly emotional music first, figuring I would need it on the Island.