The Bush of Goats

Marc Williams, writer & designer: 'Life's too short for empty slog ans'

Day 01 – My Favourite Song

1. The Glenn Miller Band – String Of Pearls

Wow. Nothing like starting out easy, huh?

Since deciding to do this little project, I’ve thought about little else than the 30 songs I was going to whittle this down to. And just about the last one on the list I decided on was also the first: my favourite song.

Clearly, trying to distill forty years of having ears into a single song is a pointless, meaningless task that reduces a great span of human endeavour to little more than a nubbin of trivia. You might just as well ask, ‘which do you prefer? Breathing in or breathing out?’ But as mountaineers are supposed to say when asked why they do it, I did because it was there.

My favourite song has also, of course, changed several times in my life, and will probably change again in what life remains. As a casual aside, here’s the long (and yet still not definitive) list of songs which have at one time or another struggled beneath the yoke of my portent:

Down At The Barber Shop – The Wombles
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
Reelin’ In The Years – Steely Dan
The Lark Ascending – Vaughn Williams
Nessun Dorma – Puccini
To Blind To See It – Kim Syms
Could Heaven Ever Be Like This – Idris Mohammed
Thrasher – Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Shake It – Limbomaniacs
Alice Clarke – Baby Don’t You Care
Like Someone In Love – Bjork
Carceres Ex Novum – Black Dog Productions
Belfast – Orbital
Mario Man – Super Furry Animals
Lover, You Should Have Come Over – Jeff Buckley
Gypsy Man – JJ Cale
Doves – The Cedar Room

All great songs and had I been doing this at another point, it would have been one of those. Several of them make it onto the list in other categories, but others… Sorry, songs! There were just too many of you.

So why  ‘A String of Pearls’? In the end it came down to choosing the song which was considered and pencilled into the most other categories. This one song manages to describe in me the greatest range of emotions and feelings, as dictated by the scope of the task. (And also some which weren’t: ‘Spaghetti’ for instance, as for some reason I cannot fathom, this song always makes me think of a plate of cooked spaghetti.)

So, here are the other categories Mr Miller’s and Mr Gray’s particular String of Pearls could have gone into:

A song that makes you happy
When I am feeling unhappy, this song can change my mood. By the time the saxophones commence their rhythmic croon at around 7-8 seconds, any frown has been smoothed away. By the 25 second mark, when the saxes repeat the same phrase with a slightly raised pitch, lines appear less wrinkled. By 53 seconds, when one of the saxes cuts lose and pulls off a cocky little solo, I am once again frowning, but only because I am concentrating on my very own air sax solo. And then at 1.55 as the cornet takes over from the sax, I am beaming from ear to ear.

A song that makes you sad
As with the previous category, this implies the song has the ability to change your mood. This song, as well as making me happy can on occasion have quite the opposite effect and bring tears to my eyes.
A quick point here: I like sad. Sad is great. I like it’s self-indulgence and I like knowing that when I have finished feeling sad, I will feel happy again; doubly so because I will have figured out what was making me sad and resolved it.

Having said that, ‘A String of Pearls’ reminds of my Grandpa, who is dead and I wish he wasn’t and I can’t do anything about that.

A song that reminds you of someone
Like I just said, Grandpa George. Tall, funny, brave, handsome, generous, honest and hard working.
Blimey, it must be getting smoky in here.

A song that reminds you of somewhere
The floor of my Grandparent’s dining room, on a Saturday night, cocooned inside the black, brown, yellow and orange patterned sleeping bags, with the sound of this song, blended with the dull chink of ice and laughing on cut glass whisky tumblers drifting down the bungalow hallway of the seventies.

A song that makes you fall asleep
This song is one of my oldest, probably the oldest, musical obsession I’ve ever managed. And lying in that sleeping bag, in that place, I distinctly remember waiting until I had heard it before allowing myself to sleep. Once it had started playing, I would relax and be asleep before it reached my favourite part.

A song no one would expect you to love
I can’t be certain that this is true, but I suspect it is. Although knowing what a Contrary Mary I can be, several people having initially appeared surprised might then concur that even that surprise had a certain predictability to it.

A song you listen to when you’re sad
Similar to, but  not the same as, making me sad about Grandpa, Pearls fits in twice here, as it also works to get me out of feeling sad, if I’ve got stuff to get on with.

A song that you want to play at your wedding / funeral
Important events, important song. Yeah?

A song that makes you laugh
I mentioned earlier the happiness this song creates in me, well at around the 2 minute mark, the smile bubbles out into actual laughter
as Bobby Hackett rises, wiggles his valves, sets his lips and begins to play this short but spellbinding solo. I never cease to be amazed by the debonair insouciance of it: I don’t think there was ever a more stylish piece of play.

A song you wish you could play on an instrument
When I was 15, I started learning to play the trumpet because of that solo. I was terrible. After months of learning and attainng the dizzy heights of second trumpet in the school orchestra, I began practicing for my grade 3 exam. I scraped through with a point to spare, despite what I remember as being real effort on my part. A week or so later, plodding my way through the 3rd trumpet part of ‘Liberty Belle’ (having been demoted due to my low pass mark) it dawned on me that I would never ever be good enough to play that solo with anything like the panache it required. I packed my trumpet back into its case that night, went home and never took it out again.
A song from your childhood
I think I said this already.
Your favourite song from this time last year
Having packed my trumpet away in 1986, String Of Pearls disappeared from my life. I had new obsessions like The Damned and Pink Floyd and girls and computer games and art to occupy me.
Then my friend Nick anounced he was going to wed a lady and he asked me to DJ for him. Part of the ask was a playlist of big band stuff for the afternoon, so I bought a box set of big band tunes on Amazon (for an absolute pittance, I might add) and suddenly ‘String of Pearls’ was back. I cannot describe the feeling of rediscovering a song that hadn’t crossed my mind in over 20 years – foremost of which was, ‘how have I not heard this in 20 years? And thus, I commenced to renew my obsession.
Those within earshot will be pleased to learn I have no plans to start learning the trumpet again.

So there we have it. Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Glen Miller…

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November 2010


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