Cue Music

The news of the death of John Barry gave the news outlets an opportunity to play extracts from his great repertoire of movie music.

In amongst the ubiquitous orchestrations of the James Bond theme were two snippets which had far more resonance for me; the theme to Born Free and that of Midnight Cowboy.

Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers seemed to be in every film I saw when I was small, but I expect that is a distortion of memory.  I only have to hear a tiny excerpt of the ‘Born Free’ music though and I recall the sun-drenched landscape, the clipped cut glass accents, the safari suits and rattling Jeeps (probably mixed in with a few stray memories of ‘Daktari’).

I think I may have even wanted a lion for a pet for a while, (not as much as I wanted a chimpanzee like Cheetah, though.)

But it was the sound of the soulful harmonica of the theme from ‘Midnight Cowboy’ that really threw up a welter of memory.  I saw the movie as part of a double bill, with ‘The Graduate’ at La Scala, the cinema in Helensburgh.  It was probably in about 1976, when films had longer lives in the cinema than they do now; and Helensburgh was the kind of small town where everyone knew who’d seen what at the pictures; and they weren’t shy about telling you.

That would still be true, if Helensburgh had a cinema now.  La Scala was demolished years ago and there is a hole where it used to be; it’s so small it’s hard to believe that it was the footprint of the old flea pit.

Music is such an evocative thing.

It started me thinking about those music tracks that I associate with particular places or times in my life.  The first that come to mind are quite an odd collection.

When I should have been studying for my ‘O’ Grades, I listened to Jethro Tull, ‘Living in the Past’, endlessly, my back leaning against the radiator in my bedroom reading and, sometimes, doing my homework.  ‘War and Peace’ was the book of the moment and so whenever I think of the story of Natasha and Pierre, I have Ian Anderson and his flute as the soundtrack.

Dire Straits’ ‘Sultans of Swing’ album takes me straight to a room in a student hall of residence at the University of Limoges.  For much of the academic year I spent there I had only two or three tapes – one of the other ones was Billy Joel’s ‘The Stranger’, but I’ll not admit to having listened to that in the last 30 years.

Nena’s ‘99 Red Balloons‘ is the first house in London I shared not long after I started work.  For six months one of my house-mates had it running on a near continuous cycle.  I wonder what ever happened to Nena?  But not enough to search online.

A friend and I bought The Pretenders ‘Singles’ on tape when we were on holiday near Arcachon in France and hired a car that unexpectedly had a tape deck, and so we listened to the tape for the week driving from sea to vineyards and back.  Those songs will forever conjure a splendid lunch in Medoc at which a half bottle of local wine was served to us with as much ceremony as any grand vintage.

Play Nina Simone ‘Greatest Hits’ and Simple Minds ‘Good Music from the Next World’ and I’m right back in my flat in Moscow, lying on the grey velour Italian sofa, under my Mexican rug, trying to ignore the hideousness of the Russian chandelier.

There are so many examples; I suspect this subject will recur.

I wonder what tracks will conjure now to me, in the future?

REM ‘Imitation of life’,  probably…..

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  1. I nearly blogged on midnight cowboy!! A day of nostalgia, that.

  2. sarah jarman

     /  February 8, 2011

    That’s funny about the Nina Simone memories as Ruth and I are both devotees after one summer at your mum and dad’d when we went through their old record collection. We stumbled upon Nina’s greatest hits and then made up some tapes and sang the songs at Homehill and in the car with your mum and dad. We still listen to her now ….lots of memories and warmth.

    • Thank you Sarah. I’m sure M&D will be pleased to know they have influenced you musically! – Such a lovely story….. good to know you’re on board!


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