30 Day Music Challenge: Day Twenty Five

Day 25: A Song That Makes You Laugh

British music is full of quirky silliness that makes me chuckle – Village Green Preservation Society by the Kinks, anything by Lemon Jelly, the Darkness or Goldie Lookin Chain and so on. As is British culture – from the Goonies to Black Books our comedy is by turns daft, dark, deeply human and utterly hilarious. The apotheosis of all this silliness is, at least as far as I’m concerned, Monty Python. The credit for my love of Monty Python has to go equally to my dad – I remember watching Python sketches with him when I was younger – and friends in my first year at University. I must have watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail about a million times during that year – I can still quote great big chunks of it from memory and it’s undoubtedly one of my all-time favourite films. In fact, I slightly judge people who don’t like it…

The Pythons were also brilliant at bonkers songs and of all their music there is one song that will always make me laugh out loud – however much of a terrible mood I’m in. My friend Jodie used to play it to me whenever I was having a crisis and although I’ve become much less melodramatic over the years it still works. So a little bit of laughter for a Tuesday morning – the Galaxy Song!

“The universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
In all of the directions it can whizz
As fast as it can go, at the speed of light, you know,
Twelve million miles a minute, and that’s the fastest speed there is.
So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure,
How amazingly unlikely is your birth,
And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space,
‘Cause there’s bugger all down here on Earth.”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Twenty Four

Day 24: A Song You Want To Play At Your Funeral
A somewhat depressing question this one and one that it’s quite hard for me to think about. It’s only about a month since my Nana’s funeral and the feeling of complete unreality as we walked into the church behind her coffin is as tangible to me now as it was then. There must have been music playing and I know we sang hymns but I honestly couldn’t tell you what any of it was. I don’t remember what music played at my Uncle’s funeral either for that matter or at any other funeral I’ve been to. So in the face of death does music become insignificant to me or do I just choose not to remember it? Poetry seems much more appropriate for funerals to me – so many of the poems I’m most familiar with – Brooke, Sassoon, Owen, Rossetti – are infused with war, loss and grief.

Music is however an important part of my life and I want that reflected at my funeral – even if no-one really listens to it. I don’t want anything too upbeat playing – I seriously doubt I’ll be happy about dying and I’d like to think that people will be at least a little bit sad that I’m gone! However I’m not having anything dirgelike either – no Smiths or I will haunt the person who chooses the music for the rest of eternity… So instead let’s have a bit of classic rock, namely the Rolling Stones. The Stones are undeniably an epic band, love them or loathe them, their music is incredible. After I’d worn out my ears listening to the Beatles at 16 I then moved on to the Rolling Stones fully prepared to dislike them – I’d got it into my head that you couldn’t be a fan of both bands I think… That clearly isn’t the case – in fact I don’t think there’s a Rolling Stone song which I don’t like! Ruby Tuesday is however one of my favourites and I think it’d be entirely appropriate for saying goodbye. Of course I’m not going anywhere just yet so don’t get too melancholy listening to this…

“She would never say where she came from
Yesterday don’t matter if it’s gone
While the sun is bright
Or in the darkest night
No one knows
She comes and goes
Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m gonna miss you

Don’t question why she needs to be so free

She’ll tell you it’s the only way to be

She just can’t be chained
To a life where nothing’s gained
And nothing’s lost
At such a cost
There’s no time to lose, I heard her say
Catch your dreams before they slip away
Dying all the time
Lose your dreams
And you will lose your mind.
Ain’t life unkind?
Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday
Who could hang a name on you?
When you change with every new day
Still I’m gonna miss you…”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Fifteen

Day 15: A Song That Describes You

Seriously? Seriously?! A song that describes me. Well I have absolutely no idea about that oneI tend to get ridiculously self-deprecating when describing myself therefore I’m seriously tempted to just pick Fat Bottomed Girls by Queen and have done with it! However I’ve taken the rest of this challenge reasonably seriously so I’m going to at least make the effort to pick something sensible…
Where to start? Well, my middle name is taken from The Beatles song Michelle but as that’s a) not my name, b) a love song and c) half in French I’m not sure it says much about me personally… Someone once told me that I made them think of the Nine Inch Nails song Closer as well but I’m really not going to dwell on that. In desperation I did a little twitter poll which amused my family for an entire evening without getting us very far – however their suggestions are listed below for amusement value:
  • Loser – Beck (thanks to my big brother for this one)
  • She’s So Lovely – Stevie Wonder (a much nicer suggestion from my dad)
  • Girls Just Wanna Have Fun – Cindi Lauper
  • Sweet Child O’Mine – Guns’n’Roses 
  • Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves – Aretha Franklin
The song I’ve chosen is however a totally different song – it’s called  I Hope You Dance by a country singer called LeeAnn Womack. It’s somewhat of a family anthem – my mum played it to me when I was about 15 and said that it was the advice she’d give me for living life. I think I probably scoffed in typical teenage style but then I listened to the words.  It doesn’t so much describe me as describe the attitude I try to have, particularly when faced with things that put me outside my comfort zone – I’m sure I don’t always succeed but I do try. Taking a chance on  anything can be really difficult but if I hadn’t taken so many leaps of faith, particularly over the past four years, my life would be immeasurably poorer. So go crazy, do something that makes you a little bit scared and don’t forget to dance – you’ll feel better for it, I always do!

“I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat
But always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed
I hope you still feel small
When you stand by the ocean
Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens
Promise me you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances
But they’re worth taking
Lovin’ might be a mistake
But it’s worth making
Don’t let some hell bent heart
Leave you bitter
When you come close to selling out
Give the heavens above
More than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance
I hope you dance”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Fourteen

Day Fourteen: A Song No-One Would Expect You To Love

This question is tricky – anyone who’s ever met me will know my music taste is quite eclectic. I’ll listen to anything once, I’ll go to any kind of gig and I do make a geniune effort to widen my listening habits. So I’m not sure anyone would be particularly surprised whatever I said I was listening to – the last three bands I’ve seen live have been Thin Lizzy, Beardyman and Breed 77, the last three albums I’ve listened to have been by Slipknot, Alice in Videoland and The Smiths. I’ll admit I don’t listen to much classical music but I do quite like Ravel, Holst and Rachmaninov. Dance music irritates me but I will shake my thang to it if the occasion calls for such activity, Drum’n’bass is good for running to and I have a secret love for the occasional bit of country music. I can’t think of a genre of music that I can’t tolerate at least one song/artist from. So what to choose?
I’m not particularly religious – I was brought up as a member of the Church in Wales although we were never the sort of family that went to church every Sunday. Faith was important to my Nana in a way that it doesn’t often seem to be to people of my generation or even my parent’s generation – the church is much less a central part of people’s communities these days. My own beliefs (or lack of) aside that seems strange given how vital religion has been in shaping our country – even today, when we live in a comparatively secular society, religious beliefs and prejudices have a big impact on people’s lives. A lot of rhythym of our lives is set by the Christian calendar – Lent, Easter, Christmas – even though the religious aspect is often lost. I do however make an effort to go to church at Christmas despite my general religious ambivalence and it’s now a family tradition that me, my mum and my sister go to midnight mass on Christmas Eve. Every year my dad says he’ll join us but never does, we’re usually late and there is always a drunk person in the church either singing at the wrong time or crying hysterically… Despite all of this there is always something a little bit magical about church on Christmas Eve – plus it’s the only time of year I can go to church and know all the words to the hymns.
Today’s song is one of my favourite carols – although technically it’s an advent song  drawing as it does on verses from the book of Isaiah. I’ve chosen the version sung by Aled Jones as it’s quite traditional although I also quite like the Belle and Sebastian version… 
“O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel 
Shall come to thee, O Israel”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Seven

Day Seven: A Song That Reminds You of A Certain Event

I wrote something for this post a few days ago and decided that whilst the song was ace the event I was writing about really wasn’t. So you may or may not get that post rehashed later on… In the meantime I have thought of both a song and an event that pleases me so on with the show!

One of the things that sometimes surprises people about me is that I’m a big football fan. It doesn’t happen so often these days but certainly when I was younger I think it was less common for women to be football supporters. These days I think the sport is much more inclusive, Andy Gray and Richard Keys aside, and some of the most passionate football fans I know are women. I even used to play football when I was at school, even though I was absolutely useless and only ever started one real game. These days I stick purely to watching it, which often ends up with me sitting in bars full of shouty men who are normally supporting the other team and then suffering incredible amounts of stick about my choice of team from most of the men I know. Because I am, of course, a Manchester United fan.
Sadly this means I get accused of being a glory hunter a lot. And a plastic Manc – although as I grew up 45 minutes outside Manchester I’m not sure that’s fair! The reason I support MU however has nothing to do with trophies – we’re just good, deal with it – it’s because they’re my Dad’s team. Dad started taking me to watch United matches at the pub across the road from the age of about 7 (this was in the days before we had Sky) and I used to have to stand by the door so I didn’t inhale too much smoke. This coincided neatly with the end of United’s wilderness years so I can only really remember them winning things, particularly the Double in 1994! However, as any United supporter will tell you, winning the Treble in 1999 was just an unbelievable experience. Watching the Champion’s League final against Bayern Munich must have been one of the most stressful moments of my life – after Sheringham equalised in the 91st minute I literally couldn’t watch the rest of the match. When Solskjaer scored in the 93rd minute to win the game my Dad, my brother and I cheered so loudly that I’m sure it was heard across the other side of Wrexham! A few days later the team returned from Barcelona for a open-top bus ride through Manchester with their three trophies – Dad picked me up from school and we hotfooted it down the M56 to join the crowds on Deansgate.  It was a beautiful June day and the atmosphere was electric, like being at a carnival! The one song that was everywhere was “We Are The Champions” by Queen – for most of my lifetime always a fitting song for Manchester United. Queen also happen to be one of my all-time favourite bands but maybe that’s due to over-exposure to this song from an early age…
“We are the champions – my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting – till the end 
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions – of the world”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Five

I was doing so well and then a weekend got in the way, a fantastic weekend but not one involving much writing… I’m suspecting that this whole thing will probably take me a bit longer than 30 days but I doubt it matters that much.

Day Five: A Song That Reminds You of Someone

Thankfully today’s song was much easier to choose than last Friday’s… We all associate songs with people don’t we – my friend Louise used to get people calling her from clubs at 3am because they were playing “her” song (9 to 5 by Dolly Parton) but over the past couple of months there has been one person on my mind more than most.

Sadly, on Valentine’s Day this year my wonderful Nana passed away at the age of 92. Despite the fact that I have spoken or written those words at least a hundred times in the past two weeks it still doesn’t seem real – she was the absolute heart of our family and I don’t think I can express in words just how much we will all miss her. My childhood was defined by the time I spent with her – Holt, the village in which she lived, is as much home to me as where my parents live. My love for history certainly can be traced to Nana talking to me about the Romans, the Civil War and all the other facets of the history of a tiny village right on the English-Welsh border. When I went to university she wrote to me all the way through my first term, enclosing essentials like stamps and money for chocolate along with fervent wishes that I both keep warm and have fun.

Her legacy is far more however than my childhood memories – she bequeathed to all of us the knowledge of what it means to live life to the full. She went to university and had a long career as a teacher as well as looking after a husband and three children long before modern dilemmas about women “having it all”. Family, however, was a vitally important part of her life as were her many friends, some of them acquaintances of over 80 years standing. On the day of her funeral the sun shone and the church was packed with people which was a more than fitting tribute to how wonderful a person she was. She was an intelligent, warm and inspirational woman with a wickedly dry sense of humour and a deep interest in everything happening in the world right until the very end of her life. I can’t tell you how proud I am to be Dorothy Leyland’s granddaughter, I only know that if I’m half the woman she was I’ll count myself lucky.

One of my abiding childhood memories is going to church with Nana and listening to her singing in the choir – and my mum tells me that their house was always full of music when she was growing up. The song that always makes me think of Nana however is Dance the Night Away by the Mavericks. You see, when she was in her 80s she took up line dancing – along with lace-making, German and a hundred other pastimes – we used to joke that her social life was more active than any of ours! When my brother got married in 1998 Nana refused to go to bed until she’d danced to The Mavericks and ever since I’ve always smiled and thought of her whenever I heard Dance the Night Away.

“Here comes my happiness again
Right back to where it should have been
‘Cause now she’s gone and I am free
And she can’t do a thing to me

I just wanna dance the night away
With senoritas who can sway
Right now tomorrow’s lookin’ bright
Just like the sunny mornin’ light”

Things I wish I’d known when I was 16…

This is a bit different – my week has involved quite a bit of shouting about various things in my life so I’m not really in the mood for political ranting… However there’s a topic that’s currently trending on twitter – #tweetyour16yearoldself – and reading other people’s thoughts all day has made me think a lot about what exactly I would say if I had just a few minutes with myself at 16.  I remember that, at 16, I really felt like I’d lived a lot of my life already and that my path was already fixed,  I couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d tried – in reality it was the point at which I started becoming the person I am today. 
So please step into my DeLorean – we’re off back to 2001…

Dear Claire-at-sixteen,

1. It doesn’t matter what all those people thought of you in school, in less than ten years time half of them will still be stuck in Wrexham doing exactly the same things with their lives. You, on the other hand, will have escaped – just as you always planned.

2. Stop wasting your time being insecure about your looks – you’re not Kate Moss but that’s ok because she’s a drug taking model! And for god’s sake stop worrying about being fat – you never have been and, if you’re sensible, you probably never will be. So relax and enjoy that sausage and egg bap – Shelly’s will close next year and you might as well enjoy them whilst you can.

3. You like rock music right? Listen to more of it! Buy more CDs and listen to John Peel on Radio 1 whilst you still can.

4. Stop being cynical about relationships – one day you’ll work out why they’re worth all the hassle. Also, when you get your heart broken just remember it’s not the end of the world, it’s just another bump in the road.

5. Don’t cry when you don’t get into Oxford – you’ll get into a university which is just as good and you’ll have the time of your life when you get there.

6. Driving is much harder than you imagined and it’ll take you ages to learn but don’t let that get you down – when you do pass your test (and you will!) it’ll be terrifying at first but absolutely worth the wait.

7. All the quirks in your personality and all the geeky things you’re interested in are the things that make you unique. Don’t pretend to be someone else just to fit in – the people who are worth knowing will love you for who you are.

8. Your sister may be annoying now but she’ll grow up to be an awesome person and one of your best friends. You both just need to grow up first…

9. Your friends and family are really important. Life is tough sometimes and you’ve got a lot of that still to come but you’ll get through it because you’ve got fabulous people around you. Don’t forget to be there for them when they need you.

10. And finally, smile and be happy. It will all work out for the best, just savour every moment.

Love from your twenty-five year old self  – trust me, it’s really not that old once you’re here!