Music: a lifelong obsession
I was introduced – if that’s the right word – to music as a toddler. True, my mother had alwyas bought records and listened to the radio, but it was her habit of sitting me in front of the television for hours on end to be “entertained” by the Test Card and its music that was my first experience of solitary listening to music. I must have enjoyed it becuase, apparently, it would keep me entertained for hours, even though there were no moving images on the screen.
If you’re not old enough to know whar the Test Card was, it was a graphic displayed on the television screen when, between the morning start-up around 9 o’clock for schools programmes and the start of children’s programmes around 4, there were no programmes on. In those days, we didn’t have twenty-four hour television. Behind the Test Card was a constant stream of what was known as Light Music, orchestral pieces by composers who wrote characterful but not intellectually demanding pieces. Forgotten, even despised, since the later 1960s, it is currently being rediscovered and found to contain items of real musical worth and quality.
I am also (just) old enough to remember the impact of The Beatles. Their music and that of their imitators soon dominated the radio stations my mother would play (the pirate station Radio London was her favourite). when I was seven, my parents bought a reel-to-reel tape recorder, which they would use to record episodes of Top of the Pops by the primitive expedient of putting a microphone next to the television’s speaker. Of course, it would also record extraneous sounds. I recall one in which my then four-year-old brother can be heard wailing “Mummy, I want a wee-wee”.
My mother also liked the Classics. It was generally the stuff I would consider undemanding, almost easy-listening, late eighteenth- to late nineteenth-century music. Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn and (especially) Tchaikovsky were her favourites; Beethoven was mostly too “heavy” (apart from the piano concertos) and, for reasons I never understood, she wasn’t interetsed in Haydn.
This was the music I grew up with and which formed the basis of my musical tastes. As a teenager, I was much more interested in broadly “classical” music than popular: while the glam rock of T Rex, David Bowie and Roxy Music were interesting, subversive and fun, Motown, prog rock and early seventies singer-songwriters really did nothing for me. Beethoven, then Mahler, then Bartók and finally Shostakovich became the things I most wanted to listen to.
Until, that is, punk hit in late 1976. Something about its rawness appealed to me. Here was music that got straight to the point, delivering unsubtle messages by poor musicians whose understanding of even basic concepts of how to write a song just didn’t exist. And, paradoxically, that was precisely that sort of quality that I found so appealing. In a way, I find that it evokes the same musical feelings in me as medieval music does.
I want to write more about specific pieces of music in the future. I don’t yet know what they will be, although I have a few ideas. I hope to start writing them soon.
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