A Little Musical Remembrance

Soon enough now, it will be nine years since Mum died. It’s hard to believe that it’s been so long, ‘seems like yesterday in many ways. 

As I have done in other years, around this time, I feel the urge to write something about her. To evoke her just a little. But it’s been tricky this year. I didn't feel the urge to be terribly maudlin because she never was. 

My mind kept coming back to how she was always singing around the house and how she never ever sang anywhere else. Whatever chore she was about, it was always accompanied by a snippet of some song. 

It’s a lasting memory but it’s also one I’ve touched upon in several bits of writing already.

When I woke up this morning, it being Saturday and all, I could tell that my brain was in a bit of a pleasant post dreaming muddle. This, for me, is a ripe time to find an idea. Logic is still a few moments away and silly amorphous things can often shape themselves into something useful, if you let them.

So, feeling bleary-eyed, I deliberately set my mind to the problem of what to write, to see if some fuzzy logic might be applied to it.

Again, my thoughts went to the songs she used to sing and how they had come to define her for me more than practically anything else. I remembered how, when she was alive, I had toyed listlessly with an idea of preparing a collection of her favourite songs and playing them at some future party that was never thrown for her.

Then the fuzzy logic thing worked and I made a connection I would not have made when wider awake. 

At Christmas, my boys had bought me a month’s subscription to Spotify so that I could try it advert-free. The month came with another two free months so I am, at the moment, pleasantly without interruption in my music appreciation.

There it was. Simple as that. 

I could make a playlist of some of the songs that Mum used to sing around the house. I could share it on here and nobody would ever have to listen to it or anything, that wouldn’t matter. I would have evoked her one more time, by pulling up the songs she loved from the same ether where she now perhaps resides. 

It was fun to do. It’s not a definitive list by any means. There’s only fourteen songs on there, after all, and her repertoire was vast. What is does reflect, though, was the quirkiness of many of her song choices and also how she seemed to migrate towards the playful and the slightly unusual. 

Here’s the link to the Spotify playlist:

There are notable omissions. Although ‘Show Me The Way to Go Home’ is on there (and Mum’s singing of it dates back to long before ‘Jaws’ made it a household thing), Mum’s version was a complex one that I can never find anywhere but in my memory. If you can help, please do. Her version had lines like;

They showed me the way to go home and they put me on an icy plank bed, they gave me no clothes to cover my toes, no pillow for my head. Next morning, present at court, the man with the sheikh’s beard on said “… …. Nine bob is the fee, pay up, get out, and go home.” 

I kid you not, she sang that and, as far as I can tell, nobody else ever did even though somebody must have. 

‘Little Mister Baggy Britches’ is another key song that is missing. I wrote (and sang) about that one on this post (click here for link). If anyone has a link to an online recording of it, I’d sure like to hear it.

One of the songs seems particularly incongruous, I think. In Nineteen Seventy Nine, a new local radio station was warming up in Sligo, doing test transmissions. They only had three records as their playlist and one of them was ‘Oliver’s Army’ by Elvis Costello. Mum immediately added it to her performances as she cleaned the kitchen or made the dinner. It fitted in with all the other older hits as effortlessly as we all fitted in that little house by the river. 

The remarkable thing about these songs is that none of them were records we had in the house. For quite a few of them, the only place I ever heard them was Mum singing them. This remained the case for most of my life, until I looked them up here in later life or, once or twice, was side-swiped by one of them coming on the radio. For me, most of these songs only existed through her.

For you non-Spotify people, I’ll add a comment to the post shortly which lists the songs, just on the off chance that you feel like Youtubing one or two of them or in case one of them evokes a memory for you.

Like I said, there’s no obligation to go to Spotify and certainly no requirement to hear the songs. It’s enough that I gathered them for myself and put them together in one place in her treasured memory. 

That will do.


Jim Murdoch said...

I'm sure I mentioned (but I'm not sure where) that I recently (relatively recently) converted a pile of old reel-to-reel recordings of my family to digital. They're fantastic recordings because all my dad did was switch on the tape recorder and let it pick up whatever was going on in the house at that time. Occasionally we kids would take an interest in it but mostly we got on with our own stuff and so you can hear me bullying my little brother and Dad reading The Beano to us and the two of them, Mum and Dad I mean, singing although they never dueted. They both broke into song all the time. I'd forgotten quite how much. They had a TV by then and there'd been a radiogram before that but neither of them was on while they were recording. Mostly Mum was in the kitchen but you could hear her in the distance singing away and a few times Dad was left alone in "the house" which was what they called the living room for some peculiar reason. He'd sit there with my sister still a babe in arms singing away to her. One of the songs he sang was 'She Loves You' by The Beatles and you've never heard a jollier version ever-imagine 'She Love You' in the style of 'The Grand Ol' Duke of York'. Dad thought he sounded like Bing Crosby. Mum did sound like Gracie Fields. She was actually named after a singer, an old music hall act from the turn of the century. I can't recall offhand any of the songs Mum would break into on a regular basis but she had her favourites. And she sang all her life. I do too. Carrie comments on it when she hears me. It pleases her. She thinks it's indicative of happiness. She's not entirely wrong. With me it's theme tunes. To TV shows mainly. Whenever I watch Hell on Wheels I end up drumming the title music on any surface I end up standing near.

Theme tunes aren't what they used to be. I blame it on Lost. Remember back in the seventies you could buy compilation albums- The Persuaders! & Other Top Seventies TV Themes and the like? I've had a few of those in my day. But they died out and it's not because there aren't some catchy theme tunes still kicking about like Covert Affairs, Boardwalk Empire which Birdie loves and responds to every time we watch the show, Arctic Air with all its huffing and puffing, the beautiful themes to The Newsroom, House of Cards and especially Game of Thrones, Murdoch Mysteries and Warehouse 13 with that lovely bit for oboe (or it might be a cor anglais). You could waste an entire afternoon on this site.

Ken Armstrong said...

As promised in the post, here are the songs that are in the playlist, in case you are interested and don't 'do' Spotify. I started out with the first 14 and kept thinking of others so I added them too. I'll keep adding to it as I think of them.

I Saw Esau - The Ames Brothers
Can I Canoe You Up The River - Arthur Godfrey
Five Minutes More - Frank Sinatra
He'll Have to Go - Jim Reeves
If I could Choose - Sean Dunphy
Little Arrows - Leapy Lee
Goodbye - Joseph Locke
I See The Moon - The Mariners
Hot Diggity - Perry Como
Sh'Boom - The Crew Cuts
Walking the Streets in the Rain - Butch Moore
Bimbo - Jim Reeves
Oliver's Army - Elvis Costello
So Long, It's Been Good to Know You - Woody Guthrie
The Last Thing on my Mind - Tom Paxton
Things - Bobby Darin
Every Step of the Way - Dickie Rock
Hey, Good Lookin' - Hank Williams
Candy Store - Dickie Rock
Morningtown Ride - The Seekers
Moon River - Audrey Hepburn
Who Want's To Be a Millionaire - From High Society
A hole in the Bucket - Ed McCurdy