Click on the arrow and I'll tell you about them - just like on the radio!
I can still picture the scene. My parents, my brothers and me sitting around a table eating Sunday lunch whilst listening to a radio programme called Two Way Family Favourites. The British Forces Posted Overseas would be sent messages by their loved ones at home, and played a record which brought them closer together. I can’t remember many of those old recordings, but a song by Red Foley somehow lodged itself in my mind.
It was about a dog called Old Shep, and was spun regularly on Family Favourites. As a teenager I played the guitar and sang a bit, in fact a friend and I used to perform in pubs and even on the stage whenever we were given the opportunity, and Old Shep was always the climax to our act. We even won a talent contest performing it once, even though a song about a dog being shot was hardly appropriate at a fund raising event in aid of a dogs home. I’m told that Elvis Presley also performed it in a talent contest in 1941 when he was 10 years old, but he only came 5th! Still, he had the last laugh because a few years later he recorded it and it was huge hit.
Not a year has passed since my teenage days when I haven’t sung it. I’ve trotted it out at parties, pubs and holiday hotels all over the world. In fact I sang it to my travelling companions in the Foreign Correspondents Club in Cambodia just a few months ago!
‘Old Shep he has gone where the good doggies go, no more with old shep will I roam’. I’m leaving strict instructions that it’s not to be played at my funeral. You know why? ‘Cos I’ve never really liked it!
Red Foley, Old Shep
I’m not sure that my kids and their kids will be particularly made up with the piece of music I’m going to hand down to them. I can hear them saying ‘oh no, not more church music’. But John Tavener’s beautiful setting of William Blake’s poem The Lamb somehow sums up my life. Not the words, lovely as they are, but the sound.
I remember so clearly the first time I heard it. I was spending a few days at a music festival in Winchester, and I managed to get into the cathedral one afternoon when the choir were practicing for the evening’s performance. I had the place pretty well to myself. I can see myself now, sitting on the stone steps just yards away from the choir. There was total silence. Then suddenly this most wonderful sound began to waft over me. It was unaccompanied, soft and gentle. It was if was being sung for me. I’d never experienced a feeling like it, and I’ve never again to this day.
It’s a simple piece, probably the simplest he’s written to date. As I said just now, the sound of the piece relates to me. I’m not sure how to explain what I mean, but I’ll have a go. My life has been one of ups and downs, highs and lows. Discord and harmony, and that’s where Tavener’s music comes in. Parts of it are sung using chords which shouldn’t work, yet their discord has a harmony all of its own. You see, I believe that when things went wrong for me it was meant to be, even the bad times weren’t truly bad, just a little out of tune. And as a result I experienced highs which I otherwise would have missed out on. I wouldn’t be enjoying the wonderful Iife I am now.
In The Lamb, crooked and wonky verses are separated by some of the most beautiful soothing harmonies I’ve ever heard, and that really is the story of my life.
John Tavener, The Lamb