A musical education

 One of the many visions of fatherhood that I’ve had over the years, and one of the most pleasant, truth be told, is of my curious offspring bending their ears around the door to my private chambers and asking about the music I have playing.

See, music is one of the few things in my life about which I can hold a conversation with strangers. Or acquaintances. Or most of my close friends. It’s the nearest thing I have to a passion that is fairly sociably acceptable. (Only my wife and I are able to maintain excited conversations about languages, etc.)

Now, the first illusion to be shattered was the oak-panelled study with a roaring fireplace and acres of weighty tomes reaching to the ceiling. That disillusionment I can absorb.

The second is more perilous. 

What if J-Bone (and any future critters) decide that my music is unlistenable? (They would not, in fairness, be the first.) Or worse, what if they have no interest or inclination towards music at all?

My own upbringing involved very little recorded music, very little rock and pop. We had a record player (a vintage Bush system from the early 70s) that would only be employed to trickle out a Chieftains LP or perhaps The Sound of Music during Sunday dinner.

Both my parents sang in choirs: in fact, my Mam’s vocal chords are still going at the age of 81. We were taken to various concerts by the North Wales Orchestra – plenty of Handel, Monteverdi and Bach. All three of us kids had to learn instruments: piano for my younger brother and sister; I drew a shorter violin-shaped straw. But albums there weren’t.

My folks were of a generation before the Beatles got going, and while my Dad had tried his hand at Jazz drumming, there were no corresponding LPs. And absolutely no singles.

My own pop awakening only really came about when components of the venerable Bush system made their way into my teenage bedroom. From then, John Peel and other luminary bodies set me off on the course I still chart through the oceans of culture today. (I love a tortured nautical metaphor, don’t you?)

I’ve been haunted by the memories of various Desert Island Discs guests setting off on Proustian rushes about their parents’ record collections. And in my idealised parental reveries, I’ve dreamed of J-Bone doing the same.

Even though ‘people’ don’t own music collections any more in the same way.

The wife and I would play a seven-inch to tiny J-Bone when we changed his nappies on the dining room table. Roxy Music seemed to confuse him a little (later stuff like ‘Avalon’ especially) but he loved Kraftwerk: ‘Pocket Calculator’ setting him off on pre-verbal coos and chirrups. Gary Numan’s ‘Cars’ was another hit.

Eventually, we compiled a playlist of some of his favourites on Spotify, which was added to as he began to crawl/cruise/stagger over to the vinyl and choose a couple of tunes himself, our Toddler Selecter. Lots of punk and some quite curious 12-inch mixes.

‘Bankrobber’ by The Clash became one of his official bedtime songs – partly because it had a nice lullaby-type tune, partly because I at least knew a verse-worth of words.

When we moved to a slightly smaller place in Leeds, we no longer had the space for easily accessible records, so his DJ sets were put on hold.

In recent weeks, as he has got more organised with his words and can tell us of his preferences and expectations, he has begun to request ‘tunes’ when we travel in the car. 

His current habit is to ask about the various noises that appear on The Orb’s ‘A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain that Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld’.

He danced very capably to slightly-scary early Techno classic ‘Stakker Humanoid’ the other morning, which was also encouraging.

Horribly egocentric parenting as this is, having 6Music on in the kitchen or some nostalgia-riddled playlist helps me to get through the childcare shifts and even brings a bit of my dream life into reality. Why not have some memorable (if sometimes obscure) tunes to fall back on?

So, while I’m not readying my back for some serious self-slapping when I’m name-checked in the write-up for glowing retrospectives of his life’s work as a genre-defying maverick institution, I console myself with the thought that Renegade Soundwave’s ‘Probably A Robbery’ might one day bring a salty must to his manly eye.


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