A walk down music memory lane
Cooking dinner on Friday night turned into a serious nostalgia trip
A short while ago, I read an article by Ossiana Tepfenhart on the power of scents to take us back to certain times and places. I fully underwrite that sentiment. Ellnette hairspray? Forever entwined with memories of my late, great Nana, who used it every day to fix her perm. Every time I catch the scent, she’s back in the room with me.
Music can do this to us too. Songs also have the power to catapult us back to another time and place with no warning. Just a week ago, I was sitting in a café close to where I live in Vienna when Christina Milian’s “When You Look At Me” played on the radio. All of a sudden, I was 20 again — living in Bloomsbury in London. It made my head spin!
Since the task of cooking on Friday night fell to me, I decided to set up a little stroll down music memory lane to entertain myself while chopping, frying and stirring. Like a Wiki-trip, but on YouTube. Let the music take me back in time…
1. Hed Kandi Winter Chill albums
Off we go back to the winter of 2002–3. I’m spending a year living and studying in Munich as part of my law and languages degree and I’m finding it hard to cope with the freezing continental winter weather. I spend a lot of time hiding indoors in my student digs, listening to these albums which my best friend had loaned to me. The smooth, downbeat music is just perfect for slow, snowy days.
Swan Song for a Nation — Rae & Christian feat. Veba; So Beautiful — Millenia Nova
2. Rapture — iio; At Night — Shakedown
Rewind slightly to summer 2002, and I am spending the summer holidays in London after completing my 2nd year at university. While a lot of my colleagues are anxious to spend the summer getting work experience at commercial law firms, I decide I’m going to get my city work experience a different way and start a job at a bar around the corner from the Bank of England.
Apart from the manager (who employs me on the spot when he finds out I’m from Yorkshire — like him), I’m one of only two Brits working there. The others are Italian, Polish, Slovakian, Kiwi, Australian, Zimbabwean, and South African. You really couldn’t imagine a group of more disparate backgrounds and personalities, but the boss clearly has a magic touch when it comes to putting a team together and we all get on superbly.
Being in the business epicentre of a city that loves to work hard, play hard and drink hard…the nights in the bar can get pretty mad. The work is physically tough, but we pull together and have a great time. I quickly find out that South Africans in a party mood are something else and end up drinking and smoking a bit too much for my own good.
I might not have furthered my legal career that summer — but I learned all kinds of other things that would come in useful further down the road in life. I spend a lot of time out of my comfort zone, but have an exorbitant amount of fun out there. I don’t regret a single thing. These songs bring all those crazy and wonderful memories flooding back.
(PS: Let it be known that I can still pour a mean Springbok shot.)
3. Three Drives — Greece 2000
It’s September 2008 and I am on holiday with my family in Corsica. One day, we drive around the Cap Corse from east to west. The road is precipitous in places, with no crash barriers and multiple opportunities to plunge off the road, down the cliff and into the sea below. French driving being what it is, there are constantly cars and buses coming around bends in the other direction, veering perilously far into our lane. I get this song on repeat on my iPod to distract me from my own imminent death. With the result that it is now bound in perpetuity in my mind to that Mediterranean summer drive.
4. Booty Luv — Boogie 2nite
I guess it is now sometime around 2007 and I am living in my first apartment in the 9th district of Vienna. For me and my British friends, Friday night is cocktail night at our favourite bar over in the 18th district and this is the song I always have on while I get ready to go out. It’s still a guilty pleasure; a naughty but nice musical treat.
5. Piu Bella Cosa — Eros Ramazotti, 1st Train Home — Imogen Heap
Back in July 2010, I cycled solo across the Alps from Füssen in Germany to Bolzano in Italy. You can read my travel diaries from that trip here.
These two songs will always remind me of speeding down from the Reschen Pass from Austria into Italy and the bittersweet moment of the outdoor adventure ending and having to return to reality.
Imogen Heap is a great act to watch and I love the way she is not ashamed to go all out there with a British accent when she sings. See also: Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Too many British singers affect a fake American twang while singing, which is ridiculous. Better to be authentic.
6. I Wanna Dance With Somebody — Whitney Houston
This is the first song I ever recall hearing on the radio. I cannot have been more than 6 years old at the time, but I remember precisely where I was and what I was looking at when that intro hit my eardrums. I was in a garden centre in Lancashire, looking at a green rubber mould for making garden gnomes. That that has seared itself so indelibly into my memory forever is testament to how the song made my childish emotions “jump”.
Shortly afterwards, Whitney appeared on the weekly British pop charts show Top of the Pops which my sister and I watched with almost religious zeal. Whereas almost all other acts took the easy road and mimed, Whitney took the stage, sang live and knocked the ball clean out of the park and into the stratosphere. We’d never seen anything like it. My God, what a phenomenal talent she was.
I challenge you to listen to this song and NOT start dancing.
7. When Will I Be Loved — The Everly Brothers
The Everly Brothers were favourites with my parents so we often had their music on in the car when we went on holiday. Such lovely harmonies, and I used to love singing this song with my dad. Even though I don’t sing a lot these days, I still give the old vocal chords a bit of a workout to this when the mood takes me. The Other Half says I sound like a strangled cat — but I don’t care.
8. Poor Leno — Röyksopp (Sander Kleinenberg remix)
Jumping now to another freezing cold continental winter where the only thing I really want to do is to take refuge inside with a blanket and a cup of tea. This time, it’s 2007 and I’m living close to the old Franz-Josef rail station in Vienna. A friend had lent me his iPod to try out and this was one of several jewels that were already on there. Erlend Oye truly is one of those rare musicians that excels at whatever he does. Even though I am now more familiar with his work with The Kings of Convenience, his vocals sound just as good against the electronica beat of this track as they do with an acoustic guitar.
9. American Dream — Jakarta
2001 and I’m a first year law student at University College London. Unlike other, more mature and better-adjusted students who took to the classic student life of partying, drinking and promiscuous sex like ducks to water…I was completely overwhelmed by my new life and opted for panic attacks and counselling instead. On one of the rare occasions I managed to get out to a club (I think it must have been some kind of intervention), a group of us ended up in the legendary Ministry of Sound south of the river.
I remember nothing about this night apart from this song playing and seeing one of our friends dancing up on the bar. I don’t think this was actually allowed — but this friend was at the club so often, he knew all the bar staff and they made an exception. As the music slowed down (at 1:50), I’ll never forget how amazing he looked in the strobe lighting — sunglasses on, shirt open, giving it his all. That guy got student life 100% right.
10. Sophie B. Hawkins — Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover, Inner City — Hallelujah
Going back to the summer of 1992, and I’m 10 years old. Most of the summer is spent watching the Barcelona Olympic games on the TV and going horse riding. My sister has gone to Spain for two weeks to improve her language skills and it’s exciting to have the run of the house to myself. She has these two songs on cassette as singles and I often sneak into her room to listen to them. Desperately wanting to be more grown up, and thinking they might contain some clues about her new and secretive teenage life, at which I can only guess.
11. Geronimo — Shepherd
Spring 2015 and I am sick to death of my boss. I’m sick to death of the job. In fact, I’m sick to death of my entire career. A contretemps with the dreaded boss escalates, and I reach the end of my tether and decide the uncertainty of being jobless is a far better prospect than sticking it out here. I quit. Spontaneously, I decide to make myself self-employed as a legal translator. Not macht erfinderisch, as you say in German.
This song was doing the rounds at the time, and encapsulates perfectly the sheer exhilaration of throwing myself joyfully out into the new and unknown, feeling like I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Bombs away!
12. To Err is Human — Peppercorn
It’s spring 2002 and, because I still haven’t realised that buying women’s magazines is a giant waste of time and money that only serves to gnaw at your feeling of self-worth, I buy British Glamour. Mainly because it has a free CD on it this month. The 3rd track is by a British artist called Peppercorn, who I promptly fall in love with. I buy her album and get tickets to see her play live at Orange Yard in London’s SoHo. That music became part of the soundtrack to my student years, with this being one of my favourites.
I don’t know what the hell happened to her. A star that shone briefly and brightly on the British music scene — but she’s a part of my music memory forever.