On Music and Musicians

It’s been a week of news on music and musicians. Just today I’ve been reading about a new album by Gerry Rafferty, compiled and produced by his daughter Martha, 10 years after his death. Songs he was working on when he died at the age of 63. Rafferty is most widely known for his classic Baker Street but he is seen in the business as a real craftsman, a songwriter producing great song after great song. Rafferty was inspired by folk songs, hymns, Sinatra and rock’n’roll. In the article I read, Martha speaks of the way he was a man who shunned the limelight, and dropped out of a U.S. tour at the height of his success. Money, she said, meant bigger houses and moving further away from others. Her father struggled with his mental health and craved anonymity. But also she recalls some of her happiest memories of singing together as a family, songs by the Beatles, the Everly Brothers and other traditional numbers.

On the day the news broke about a new album from that little-known group Abba (I’m an unashamed fan, I grew up with everything from 1974’s Waterloo to 1981’s One of Us) I also heard about the death of Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. I instantly recognised the track they played but didn’t know why. It was from the soundtrack to Zorba the Greek which Theodorakis composed. He also composed the soundtrack to Serpico, a film I remember seeing, and not understanding really (too young), and yet it was one of the things which made me fall in love in some way with detectives. I attempted to write my own short story after called A Premonition of Murder. I sadly don’t still have the story, but I do have an echo of the feelings that the film conjured up. Theodorakis also composed The Mauthausen Trilogy¬†– which I don’t know but has been described as some of the most beautiful music ever produced about the holocaust. He was a political man who lived through very difficult times and experiences, and perhaps this informed his creativity.

Apparently Abba’s new album may be released the same day as Adele’s (according to the internet – so it must be true), two musical titans up against one another. No group has quite achieved the same kind of success as the Swedish fab four. Hugely popular in the 70s they have re-emerged with even more success due to the films and musical. The Abba numbers which, back in the sweltering, pavement-baking summer of ’76, made us jump around and feel good alongside the likes of Don’t Go Breaking My Heart and Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel, have become unbreakable classics. And they have found a new place in the hearts of so many who weren’t even a twinkle of a twinkle in the eyes of the generation bopping around in their flares and tank tops. The 1992 Abba Gold album is still in the charts, notching up more than 1000 weeks.¬† Feelgood music is vital, I think, lifting the spirits on good days and bad. I’m a fan of 70’s punk too, but there’s nothing quite like a blast of Take a Chance on Me to bring a smile and set the old toes tapping.

I am coming to the end of a book I’ve been reading about King David, another timeless musician. Surely his songs have been read and reproduced more times than any others? Widely viewed as songs of praise they are much more than that. Some expressing the loneliness and heartache of The Winner Takes It All, others soaring to glorious heights, a little like that saxophone solo in Baker Street. The book Men Behaving Badly by John Goldingay, is a wonderful and earthy unpacking of the life of a man who knew rags and riches. Loved God and yet tripped over the shoe strings of his own failings time and again. Goldingay knows his stuff and is not afraid to call a spade a spade, or a catapult a catapult. David chased both God’s heart and his own, and the writers of his story are honest about that. He knew embarrassment, terror, grief, gratitude, miracles and extraordinary power. Perhaps songs are the best way to express all these things. We don’t know whether David’s back catalogue sounded anything like Abba, Gerry Rafferty, Adele, The Jam, Genesis, Bach, John Williams or Mikis. But they are songs which give expression to all of life’s experiences. Music can do that.

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