Although I rarely listen to it, I love the idea of Desert Island Discs on Radio 4. It’s one of those iconic radio shows that has stood the test of time and has been around for 76 years. If you don’t live in the UK, look it up. It’s really interesting.
Each week, a famous figure (from any walk of life) comes on to talk about their backstory and what they would take with them if they were stranded on a mythical desert island.
So here’s the format. You are allowed to take 8 ‘discs’, or pieces of music, a book and a luxury item. You’re also given the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible.
I thought it would be kind of fun to do my own. Once you’re done with reading mine, let me know what you would take with you in the comments section!
This was the most fun I’ve had writing this blog so far. Music has been and continues to be such a huge part of my life as you’ll see. Some of these pieces of music are memorable because I have performed them, others are because they take me back to great moments in my life that have stuck with me.
Disc 1: More – Frank Sinatra
This is a little-known song from the 1962 film Mondo Cane. But most importantly to me, it was the song that I performed the first (and only) time I’ve sung with a full swing band. It was the end of Year 11, when I was 16 and it turned out to be the last time I sang at my then-school, before I moved on to another one.
I think that I came across it while I was on family holiday in France the summer before and the house that we were staying in had a Frank Sinatra CD that featured this song. I fell in love with it instantly, as did my Mum and Dad. So, I found the sheet music and took it to my singing teacher and hey presto, we started practicing it and I eventually ended up performing it a few months later.
It’s got that whole ‘big band’ feel. Great lyrics, a great backing track and a fantastic instrumental section where the band can really show their skills. Like other jazz pieces, the tempo of the song alongside the bass part keeps going, like a steam engine. The only way I can put it into words is a kind of ‘chug chug chug chug’ that keeps the piece moving along.
Obviously, Sinatra sings it wonderfully, with his easy-going voice that can still melt anyone’s heart, even 56 years after the original recording. It’s really a throwback of the big band swing pieces that few people could replicate today.
The memory of ticking off one of the things on my bucket list at the age of 16 – singing with a big band – is something that I still remember fondly and that’s why I would take More with me. It inspired me to continue to fall in love with music and it’s something that I would certainly love to get back in to at some point soon.
Disc 2: Silent Noon – Ralph Vaughn Williams
This may be a pretty random piece of music for some, but I think that it is just stunning. I performed it at the recital I had to perform while I was taking my Music A2 Level.
The lyrics were originally a poem and are wonderful, even if they don’t particularly speak to me (I’m not going to go into it, but it’s NSFW, even for a song written in 1904!). It’s a very calming piece of music with a really amazing piano score complimenting the poem.
There’s not much else to say, but give it a listen – you might like it.
Disc 3: Don’t Stop – Fleetwood Mac
My parents brought me up on 70’s disco and soft rock, which is why I still listen to a lot of those genres (anyone that knows me KNOWS that I love disco music, see below).
But Don’t Stop resonates with me politically. It’s not only upbeat and inherently positive, but it was used by two of the politicians who have inspired me throughout my life. Bill Clinton used it at the 1992 Democratic National Convention, which nominated him to be the Party’s nominee for US President that year (which he then went on to win a few months later).
Latterly, I remember it being used by David Cameron in the run up to the 2015 election that I was involved in when I worked in Plymouth. Do you remember that time, when politics was more positive and just generally better? Me too.
The song is forward thinking, and urges everyone to put yesterday’s troubles behind them. Not a bad call to action if you ask me.
Disc 4: Mack the Knife – Robbie Williams
Robbie Williams really brought swing music back into fashion when he released his Swing When You’re Winning album in 2001. I can’t believe it was 17 years ago!
For what it’s worth, I love the Sinatra version of this song too, but I included Sinatra above, so I figured that I could go with the version and score that’s most important to me.
Mack the Knife marked my first foray into jazz music, having been trained classically as a chorister at Southwark Cathedral (I was an ADORABLE Choir Boy!). It’s important to me because I first performed this song at a school assembly and it went horribly wrong – forgot the lyrics, froze up.
I kept going but it taught me that when you’re performing – actually scrub that, in life – you need to keep going and powering through and you’ll get to the end.
Disc 5: Last Dance – Donna Summer
Donna Summer is one of those iconic women who turned out amazing music over and over again. I was a pretty late convert to this song, hearing it pretty much for the whole of the summer of 2010 when I was working in upstate New York. My colleague (and all round best friend) Betsy – you got a mention! – had a catalogue of Donna Summer music on her iPod that we would play while we were setting up the kitchen in the morning or cleaning up at the end of the day. I honestly would have loved to have grown up and had my 20s in 1970s New York – it would have been amazing.
But my favourite song by her is Last Dance. It starts slowly, kicks into a high gear and goes back and forth. The lyrics have very little significant meaning to me, except that the song just reminds me of three amazing summers working at the summer camp. I made the most amazing friends from around the world who I know will be there with me forever.
Disc 6: Copacabana – Barry Manilow
This was obviously going to make it in, wasn’t it? My Mum and I are both completely out of the closet Fanilows, and we’re definitely not afraid to talk about it. I’ve seen Barry 5 times – three in Las Vegas and twice in London.
When Barry ‘came out’ and married his manager a couple of years ago, I had about 5 or 6 messages from my friends that went along the lines of “Oh My God Stuart!” or “I can’t believe he’s gay!”. Well my friends, only a true homosexual can write Copacabana and pull off an outfit like this:
Anyway, it was late in 2006 and my school at the time ran its own version of The X Factor. Obviously, I chose to perform Copacabana. I had a costume change, back up dancers and an amazing interlude, all in my 6-minute performance.
I came second, behind an 11-year-old in a boob tube singing Tutti Frutti – and no, I’m still not over it and yes, you know who you are.
However, seeing Barry sing Copacabana live in Las Vegas was literally amazing. He ended the show with it and ended up on a platform over the audience singing down to all of us. It was a sea of middle-aged women, gays, and my Dad (side note, he loved it).
Copacabana is my go-to karaoke song, so next time we’re out and there’s a karaoke night, watch out, because I’ll be waxing lyrical about Lola and Tony (not my Dad).
Disc 7: September Song – Agnes Obel
I only came across this beautiful piece of classical piano music recently as it’s featured in Big Little Lies (I seriously hope that you’re as obsessed as I am with that show). No words, no voices, just 3 minutes of a wonderfully flowing song. I actually quite like to run to it, even though it’s not the kind of music you would associate with exercising to.
September Song has so many complex parts to it. It’s calming, but there is an underlying tension. I’d almost equate it to that of a swan – gracefully sliding along the water, with the legs underneath frantically moving. The piece undulates like a wave and the Big Little Lies team used it to perfect measure (but I’m not going to put down any spoilers here).
But why does it speak to me, especially as it is only such a recent find? It’s because this piece is a beautifully manicured example of the best that a piano can do. One person with one instrument, bringing so much feeling and emotion to a singular piece. I think that, because there are no lyrics, the listener is able to imagine themselves in a situation of their choosing. They can pinpoint that exact moment in their life that they would have listened to this piece and it would have complimented their thoughts at the time.
That’s why I would take it to the island. On one of the hopefully few rainy days, I could sit under a tree or somewhere with a roof and watch the water pour down from the skies, listening over and over again.
Disc 8: Who’s That Chick? – David Guetta ft. Rihanna
Because everyone likes a bit of club trash, don’t they? This was a favourite when I was at University in Plymouth. It was always a tune that we heard during pre-drinks at someone’s house.
And yes, I may have come up with a routine for it, with a dance and a character. But really, didn’t you see this coming?
Book: Extraordinary, Ordinary People – Condoleeza Rice
I first thought that I should take a survival guide with me, because let’s face it, I am useless when it comes to outdoor activities (there are many examples of this).
I was given Extraordinary, Ordinary People a few years ago by my parents. It is a story of a future US Secretary of State and the things that shaped her throughout her life, from growing up in Birmingham, Alabama to becoming America’s top diplomat under George W. Bush.
For me, the book again signifies the grit and determination of someone who was up against it, excelled and made a difference. Whatever everyone’s political views, Condoleeza Rice’s story is extremely inspirational.
Luxury Item: My Nikkon Camera
I bought my camera in October of last year, after I went on a holiday to Crete with my parents and didn’t really have anything except my phone to take photos of the amazing landscape.
I only really use it for work at the moment, but I really want to start taking more photos of landscapes and just places around London, the UK and the world when I travel.
But being stranded on an island, with possibly a lot of explore, I think a camera would be a perfect thing to take so capture some of the amazing things I’d see.
So, that’s it! It took me a while to think of my choices but I am pretty pleased with them. They all mark a moment in my life that have fond memories of.
I think I had about 20 songs that I had to whittle down to only eight. One of them was Only You by Alison Moyet. I didn’t put it in because there were 8 others that are more important to me, but I did sit down at my piano a few weeks ago to sing it, so why not watch and let me know what you think! I’m thinking about getting back into singing, so I suppose I can only improve!
What are your Desert Island Discs? Let me know in the comments section!