Desert Island Discs. A long-running BBC Four radio programme in which guests, or “castaways”, select eight recordings (usually music), one book, and one luxury item to take with them to a desert island. I confess, I don’t listen to it often, but I am always intrigued to see what certain people I admire or am interested in select as their options.
Recently, my friend Natasha Gibson, who works in the National Museum of Scotland up in Edinburgh, had to select her Desert Island Discs for a display. Inspired by her choices, I decided to select my own. Or at least, those I would pick at this moment in my life.
My first selection would be Life on Mars? by David Bowie. Bowie has always been a formative part of my life. My mum is a fan right from her childhood, so I listened to him a lot growing up and even surpassed her. While she mostly stuck to his 1970s Ziggy Stardust era, I soon collected every album and listened to them constantly. Labyrinth became my favourite film. Life on Mars is my favourite TV show (not because of Bowie, that was just a happy coincidence.) Despite all this exposure to his oeuvre, the one thing I kept coming back to was the album Hunky Dory, and the song Life on Mars. It is a perfect amalgamation of Bowie’s haunting, poetic, and slightly weird lyricism, beautiful musicality in Rick Wakeman’s piano, and reminds me of both the happiest and saddest times in my life.
Next I would select Bring Me Sunshine by Morecambe and Wise. If my mum brought me up with Bowie, my dad raised me on Elvis. And yet Elvis is not what I associate our relationship with. Dad also raised me with an appreciation of the comedy of his youth (I was mostly taken with the inherent silliness of ‘Allo ‘Allo) and as part of this I grew to love Morecambe and Wise. I see a lot of their dynamic in our relationship, with my dad as Eric and me as Ernie. It then became our go-to karaoke duet. It is also perhaps the most relentlessly, infectiously joyous song ever to be written.
For my third pick, I would select I Heard It Through the Grapevine, but the version by Doug Anthony All Stars. This, I would say, is my second favourite song after Life on Mars, and while the Marvin Gaye version has an undeniable magnetic power, there was something about an anarchic musical comedy trio suddenly switching up to perform this number as a tragic, heartbreaking ballad, stripped back to just three impeccable harmonies and an acoustic guitar, that made me sit up and take notice. I revisit this constantly, and get chills every time.
Pick number four I would dedicate to my closest friends, and it would be The Whole of the Moon by The Waterboys. It’s not even my favourite Waterboys song (that distinction falls to Don’t Bang the Drum) and is almost certainly their most popular number, but something about the lyrics, despite actually being about C.S. Lewis, reminds me of the greatest, most supportive and loving people in my life. As in the lyrics, such as “I spoke about wings, you just flew”, I often unfairly compare myself to their accomplishments, but that doesn’t negate the wonder, awe, and pride I have for each and every one of them.
My fifth selection would be Tomorrow by James. My favourite band, who I have seen live thirteen times now, James hold a special place in my heart both for their music and for the connection they have to Manchester. I don’t know how or when Tomorrow became the song that grabbed me the most of theirs. With their extensive repertoire I could select literally dozens of favourite songs. Tomorrow is about hope in the face of absolute hopelessness (it was written to convince singer Tim Booth’s friend not to take their own life) and has helped to pull me out of dark moments, but at the same time the instrumental is so triumphant that when James finally performed it at a gig I went to (they are notorious for constantly switching up their set lists), I wept with happiness.
Number Six is Hellfire from Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame. I had to get both some Disney and some musical theatre vibes in here and this song, for my money, is the pinnacle of Disney’s musical achievement. Not only does Tony Jay have the best villain voice in the world as Judge Claude Frollo, but it is the most musically, lyrically, and emotionally complex song in the history of Disney. The incorporation of the Latin choir undermining Frollo’s every justification for his heinous behaviour is a work of genius.
For number seven, I realised I needed something fun after some heavy nostalgic and meaningful suggestions. And no song is more fun to me than the Queen herself, Tina Turner with Proud Mary. Full props to Credence Clearwater Revival for the original here, but Tina’s version is a burst of pure, uncontrollable energy and joy. She sounds incredible vocally, the musical accompaniment is infectious, and it’s just a fun time! Also, queer icon.
My eighth and final song choice was the most difficult. I had so many options. Did I go for another fun song? Something nostalgic and meaningful? Something that elicits a strong emotion from me? Eventually, I decided I needed a song that connects me with another part of my heritage. I spoke already about Manchester, but I have dual citizenship with Ireland and with that comes a huge part of my identity. My family come from Kilkenny and Sligo, and also a huge part of my life is the Irish community I know over in Tenerife. A song that reminds me of both would by Galway Girl by Mundy. It hits all the beats I was looking for. It’s a fun, uplifting number, it reminds me of some of my happiest times over in Tenerife, which is basically a second home for me now, and it reminds me of important people in my life.
For my book, I had a couple of options I was debating. My favourite two books are I Am Legend by Richard Matheson and Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne. Quite opposite ends of the spectrum, I know! However, I ruled both of them out. I Am Legend was put aside purely because of how short it is, and I predict I’ll have some time to kill on this desert island. Winnie the Pooh I ditched because I wasn’t sure how I’d feel only having a children’s book, no matter how much I loved it. I instead selected The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. Without doubt, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, it has an endless readability quality, is a decent length, and is such an emotional rollercoaster of a journey that I could turn to it no matter what I was feeling.
The Luxury Item
Finally, my luxury item. Ruling out “things that would get me off the island”, I’d probably choose a Winnie the Pooh teddy bear. Yes, this is partly to compensate for not choosing the book, but Pooh Bear was my first ever interest. The first thing I ever remember owning was a Pooh Bear given to me by my nan. I’ve had a whole collection of Pooh Bears throughout my life. And my first present “from” my newborn nibling was a Pooh Bear for my 30th birthday. The nibling was born the next day. So I’d take that one with me. (Or my guitar to give me something to do.)