Desert Island Discs…

Inspired by a Twitter friend, here’s my bash at my Desert Island Disks.  It’s inevitably a pretty personal post – I hope you’ll forgive me for anything over the top!

1) Don’t Look Back in Anger – Oasis
Having grown up in a Salvation Army household, most of my childhood musical memories were orientated around brass band music. The non-Army music I listened to was largely influenced by my brother’s taste (mostly Queen and the Guns and Roses), and to this day he still mocks me for owning Jason Donovan’s ‘Too many broken hearts’ (without mentioning to whomever he’s telling that he bought me it!). I had a bit of a Beach Boys thing going for a while, and my first, bought with my own money, record was Shaggy’s ‘O Carolina’. I’m not going to start my choices here though, but jump forward to around my 18th birthday and this seminal classic of the Britpop era.  Blur and Oasis were having their titanic struggle for supremacy – and for me it was the snarling arrogance of the Manc brothers that won the day.  ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ was something different though, a soulful, introspective reflection which spoke deeply to my melancholic teen angst. I spent many hours listening to the whole album, but this was the one that had me hitting the repeat button time and time again.  I was quite the introvert, struggled with any kind of confidence, no hope of a girlfriend (years without one left me feeling this way!) – and yet there was something in this song, something quietly hopeful and ultimately triumphant which helped carry me through many moments of angst.

2) Design for Life – Manic Street Preachers
I can still picture the scene: driving across the New Forest from my home in Bransgore to Brockehnurst College. Ahead of me is a non-descript brown envelope containing my A-Level results, hopefully leading me to Cardiff University to study law. I get to college, open the envelope and…well, it hasn’t gone to plan. Predicted ABB, I’ve ended up with BCE. My dream of pursuing a career in law appears to have disappeared. I don’t have any other ideas. And then it hits me, the worst part of it all: what are my parents going to say?  I’ve let them down. No mobile phone to break the news, so I get back into my battered old Yugo and head home. The radio is on (Atlantic 252 I think) and the opening chords of Design for Life blare out. In that moment I have a sense that although things aren’t as they should be, it’s going to be alright. I can’t claim that the lyrics as a whole spoke deeply to me, but that simple, repeated refrain ‘a design for life’ made me feel like something else was going on, something bigger, something I couldn’t quite make out yet, but something worth pushing towards.  

In the end my parents were fine. We found a course at Brunel University that spoke to my love of History, and life, as it has a habit of doing, moved along.

3) Just Looking – Stereophonics
Fast forward three years and I’m on the other side of Uni. I started off a little less than committed, but gradually found my feet and in the end worked quite hard to get through with a reasonable 2:2. I was living back in Bournemouth, working as a careers adviser and youth worker. More importantly, I’d figured out what I thought I wanted to do with my life – aiming towards ministry with the Salvation Army.   The problem now, though, was that I was going to have to wait for a couple of years before I could enter training.  Like most early twenty-somethings, I was in a bit of a hurry…so a couple of years felt like an eternity.  This Stereophonics song seemed to sum up my feelings of ‘not quite there-ness’ – that life wasn’t quite fitting together the way I wanted to. Not only that, but because of the rules of the organisation (which were soon to change) I was aware that relationships would be a problematic issue.  If I couldn’t find a partner who had the same calling to ministry as me, then I’d probably be single for the rest of my life.  Man…I was an intense young fellow! 

Again, things worked out differently – I was offered a gap year with all expenses paid that would serve as an entry route to ministry training. Just a couple of years down the line this journey would lead me to one of the best moments of my life – meeting Kay.

4) In My Life – The Beatles
2003 – on summer placement with a Divisional Youth Officer in the middle of my two years of ministry training.  Shawn and I have been working all summer towards the annual ASCA youth camp, which would take place a week before heading back to college. As part of my work I’d been in touch with several team members, including a student at Cambridge, a certain Kay Brine.  Arriving at the venue I met Kay and, well, the rest is history…including a rescue mission to Wales, a speeding ticket and marriage within a year. Back to ASCA, though, where as part of the singing group, the boys had been given a challenge of performing this song. It’s a beautiful lyrical explanation of what it feels like to meet that person who  helps everything make sense. That person, for me, is Kay. We chose it as our first dance at our wedding, and to this day those words ‘there is no-one who compares to you’ ring true. I am a better person because I met Kay.

5) Better Together – Jack Johnson
11 months later Kay and I were married. Thanks to the incredible generosity of her grandparents we were able to spend our honeymoon on the beautiful Hawaiian island of Kauai.  Two weeks of stopping, relaxing , getting to know each other.  As Kay was completing her pgce at Cambridge and I was completing my ministry training in Camberwell, we hadn’t really spent much more than the weekends together…so these two weeks were a little bit of a chance for us to work out how to live with each other. Back home we’d be thrown into our new careers – Kay as an English teacher and me as a Salvation Army Divisional Youth Officer. She’d be ‘Miss’ and I’d be ‘Captain’ – but here we were just us.  This song reminds me of these two perfect weeks with its laid back Hawaiian vibe…a bit of an easy choice.

6) Gracie  – Ben Folds
Our first child,  Josephine Grace was born in 2009, five years after we’d been married.  Much had changed – two and a half years later I’d taken the decision to move on from ministry in the Salvation Army (as chronicled here), and was working as youth work adviser for the Church of England in the Exeter Diocese.  I was a home owner with a big mortgage, had deconstructed and reconstructed my theology – and two years further down the line was just about to become a dad. Like lots of first time parents we found the process of choosing a name a little tricky.  Teachers especially find it hard as there are far too many professional associations (both good and bad!) with many of the names we considered. We had almost settled on the name Gracie, largely inspired by this lovely song of Ben Folds until we realised just how many other lovely Graces there were out there. In the end we decided to give Josephine a middle name that we hoped would help to define her – willing to love all with no limits or expectation of reward.  Folds’ song beautifully expresses the love and hopes a father has for his children (Josephine has since been joined by Rosalind Hope),  the realisation of the changing nature of the relationship as they grow up, and the intimate connection that will always exist between us.  For better or for worse, they’re stuck with me.

7) Sigh no More – Mumford and Sons
I’m going to leave behind the biographical flavour now and instead choose a couple of songs that I just really like.  The first is this opening track from Mumford and Sons’ first album.  I’m not sure whether it’s the driving, infectious rythym, or the passion of the lyrics which captured my attention – but it’s one of my go-to tracks when I need a lift. If nothing else, writing this post has helped me to realise just how much of an old romantic I am – and one of the key stanzas from this song just reinforces this point:
Love, it will not betray you
Dismay or enslave you, it will set you free

Now, I’m smart enough to know that this isnt always true – but it is a great expression of what love can be at its best. Love can transform us in the best possible ways – if we allow it to.

8) Yellow – Coldplay
I had to include one Coldplay track as they are probably my favourite band of all time. I know that, for some, this is going to seriously undermine my credibility – but I don’t really care too much. Earlier on in this post I’ve explained how I’m one of life’s melancholics – and I guess that’s why Coldplay’s music appeals to me. Yellow, however, is a triumphant hymn to what happens when you connect with the one you love, when they become so much more than ‘skin and bones’, and how, if you could, you’d move heaven and earth for them.

Book: Unapologetic – Francis Spufford
A fantastic attempt to explain how faith ‘works’ – a book I’d happily give to anyone who asked me why I continue to believe in something that can’t rationally be explained.  Spufford does a fine job of attempting to unpick why many of us find that these ancient stories still hold deep meaning and resonance to us even in a world full of pain and suffering, which can, for many, diminish the attraction of belief in the ‘spiritual’ other.

Luxury Item: notebook and pen
A tricky one – ask those who know me and they’d probably tell you that I couldn’t live without my gadgets, and I would struggle to disagree. However, I think I’d go for a Moleskine notebook and Muji 0.5mm black fine liner. I find the process of writing intensely therapeutic, and would struggle to survive without the ability to do so.  

Well – there we go.  In the end it took me almost two weeks to come up with this list…and presented a huge challenge in concisely explaining each item.  I imagine that a psychologist could have field day with my choices…and it has been a fascinating process thinking through the songs that have accompanied my life journey to this point.

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