Celebrating 2014 on a desert island

Sadly not this kind of desert island:

Tongan beachThough strictly speaking, this isn’t a deserted island, but you get the idea… 

Most Brits will be familiar with the concept of ‘desert island discs’ – stranded on a desert island, you miraculously have access to eight of your favourite tracks and the means with which to play them. (Plus the Bible, complete works of Shakespeare, a book of your own choosing and a self-defined ‘luxury’.) It’s a quintessential piece of British radio programming, in fact it’s the longest running programme on Radio 4, about to celebrate its 72nd birthday at the end of this month. [More fascinating facts about the show can be found on its Wikipedia page.]

Thanks to having friends who come up with brilliant ideas, I found myself spending NYE (a night which I have a strong dislike of) embroiled in a ten person desert island discs – possibly my most middle class evening, ever. The rules were simple, but hard. Choose three of your favourite pieces of music and have a story to share about each of them.

Now, it just so happens that I’ve spent quite a lot of time thinking about what I’d choose. Not because I think appearing on the show is a realistic future opportunity, more that it’s the kind of thing you start contemplating when you listen to the DID podcast on a weekly basis. Getting a list of 8 pieces seems nigh on impossible. Faced with cutting this down further to just 3 seemed to be downright cruel.

However, I came up with a system – they needed to be tracks that I liked and that had good stories attached to them, which helped slightly. After all, there were going to be several people at dinner who I’d never met before, so I needed to look like I had a modicum of sense in my musical taste too. [There was every possibility that my choices would be outdone by the resident 2 year old’s taste in music.] I eventually decided that there would be one classical (this particular piece was always a given), something from a musical and something else. That ‘something else’ was not decided upon until the moment I dutifully gave my choices to our host for the evening’s Spotify playlist.

Obviously, this kind of evening only works with a smaller number of people. 30 tracks is perfectly doable over dinner and isn’t too many stories to hear. The playlist was divided into three rounds, each beginning with the DID theme tune (these people know how to do things in style), and each matching a course of the meal. By round three and dessert, there was a contest to see if people could guess whose choice was whose, based on the idea that we’d now know a little bit more about our fellow guests’ musical tastes. All in all, it was a jolly good way to welcome in a new year – and a dinner party concept that I highly recommend.

And my choices? Well, all-in-all, I think they were good ones and reflective of me and my eclectic taste…

1. Adagio from Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E Minor played by Jacqueline du Pre.
Easiest choice. Elgar’s one of my all-time favourite composers; I rather wish I’d taken up the cello (although it is rather bulky); and listening to this in packed tube carriages is hands down the best way of disappearing into tranquility.

2. Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye, sung by Ella Fitzgerald.
In my list of 8 DID tracks, I’d originally had Etta James’ At Last, but felt that Ella singing Cole Porter was more representative of family car journeys and my long-standing love of Ella’s tones. The fact that my Dad was playing this album when he picked me up from Dublin last week helped secure its choice.

3. La Vie Boheme, the cast of Rent.
There were so many musicals to choose from. If this had been 8 songs and no dinner party, Defying Gravity from Wicked would have been a prime contender. I also dithered with choosing One Day More from Les Mis instead, as both are brilliant examples of ensemble songs mid-way through a musical. In fact, of the two, One Day More is definitely better, but La Vie Boheme holds a special place in my heart. Firstly, it’s a very wordy and oh so slightly inappropriate song – and I know the words to the whole thing, which I consider to be something of an achievement. Secondly, in 2007 while on board a coach somewhere in a Palestinian desert, I had a competition with one of the leaders of our international conference as to who could sing the most of it without forgetting the words. Thirdly, watching Rent (and practising what we liked to call ‘the lesbian love duet’) was a key feature of a previous NYE with an old friend.

Happy new year!

2014 Big Ben