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When You Can't Say it, Sing It

26.May.17

I've always found it easiest to explain myself through music, so I thought I would share something I wrote once upon a time. A summary of my life thus far through the medium of my favourite songs in the whole world. Because when you can't say it, sing it.

The Very Thought of You by Billie Holiday

I grew up with jazz and instantly fell in love with Billie Holiday. I loved her because her voice wasn’t perfect. She smoked and she drank and sadness dripped from her vocal chords, and she inspired me to sing. My vocal coach always told me not to do any of those things because it was bad for my voice, but I always secretly thought - if Billie can do it, so can I (except for the heroin). This song reminds me of the first time I lived away from home. It was the depths of winter and I was in my bedroom. The windows were all steamed up and it was snowing outside. I watched the snowfall framed perfectly by twinkling fairy lights and I felt as if I’d been transported back in time to a weird soft focus 1930s film. When I get low, I get high on this song. 

Jurassic Park Theme Song by John Williams

This song has been the soundtrack to my life since its release in 1993. It was the first film I saw in the cinema, despite my parents’ efforts to put me off the idea. In hindsight, I think it’s safe to say that I was both mentally and emotionally traumatised by it. I spent months afterwards having dreams about big green dinosaurs wearing red baseball caps, which sounds fun, but in reality, I was sleepwalking my way around the house, anxiously rubbing my hands together and talking nonsense. My mum was convinced I had been pushed over the edge. Turns out I’m only slightly damaged. I still have my RAP ATTACK T shirt to remind me of the experience, so it can’t have messed with my head that much. I just never walk into a kitchen without turning the lights on. Apart from that, I’m fine.

Killing Me Softly by The Fugees / Roberta Flack

I don’t want to be a philistine and claim that The Fugees wrote this song, but their version was the first one I heard. I was obsessed with hip hop from a young age, listening to rappers like Biggie Smalls, 2Pac, Eminem and Missy Elliott. As a moody teenager, I would sit in the back of the car with my headphones on, swearing my way through bars, surrounded by my family. I was so cool. Anyway, Killing Me Softly was the first song that I sang in public. A friend of my mum’s used to have a regular jazz gig at Henry’s Cellar Bar, and he invited me down to sing in front of people for the first time at the ripe age of 16 (don’t tell Henry). I was so nervous, I wanted the floor to eat me up. But I did it! I’m not saying it was good or that, but I definitely grew a pair that day.

Firestarter by The Prodigy

When I was 11, Firestarter was unleashed into the world. It was always on MTV and I remember watching this scary guy with ridiculous hair and eyeliner running around a tunnel like a maniac. I was petrified of him, but also infatuated, and I must have watched the video a million times. A brand new obsession was born. Firestarter made me feel something that no other song ever had. It made my heart race, and it still does to this day. When I discovered The Prodigy, I got hefty into my beats, breakbeats and electro bangers, which led me to buying some crap turntables and a bunch of banging records and learning how to mix. I’m rubbish, but I’m enthusiastic.

Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

A timeless classic: many love this song, but I refuse to believe that anybody loves it as much as my best friend and I. We performed it - complete with air guitars - to a couple of bewildered police officers from the window of my old flat, and received rapturous applause from our adoring audience. She long distance called me from New Zealand on my birthday and we sang the whole thing from start to finish down the phone to each other while I was on my way to work. And on top of all that, for my 30th birthday, a bunch of my pals secretly clubbed together to make a music video of folk that I love from around the world singing Bohemian Rhapsody. It makes me think of all the amazing people I know and, most importantly, it makes me think of my best friend. Funnily enough, she shares her birthday with Freddie Mercury and I share mine with Brian May. Nice one, Universe.

Music When The Lights Go Out by The Libertines

A lot of people hate Pete Doherty, but I think he’s great - partly because he’s really weird, but mostly because he’s an exceptional lyricist, and he inspired me to pick up a guitar. The first time I heard this song, I fell head over heels for the words, the sentiment, and the rawness of it. My 20th birthday was fast approaching, so I went to my local music shop and bought my first guitar. It was a black semi-acoustic and it was love at first sight. I called it Pete, obviously. I took it home and tried to play it but it turned out the guitar was much harder than I thought it would be, so I stuck it in the corner of my room and forgot about it. After 5 years of collecting dust, I decided to give it another bash and spent every single day playing it. I signed myself up for open mic nights and pub gigs that required me to play for hours at a time. Slowly but surely, I got better. As it stands, I’m no Jimi Hendrix, but I’m definitely better than the Irish one from One Direction. I play it in front of people, it sounds nice, and sometimes I even get paid.

Green by The Banana Sessions

Ok, I wrote this, but shameless self-promotion aside, it’s the first song I ever wrote, and it was an important landmark in my life. I was in the throes of my first relationship, my first love, and it was intense. I was young and stupid and uncorrupted and madly in love. They lived in London, so I arranged a visit, only to be broken up with on the day of my arrival. My train home wasn’t for another week and I was a student, so I couldn’t afford to buy another one. So I started writing. I wrote and wrote and wrote until I felt vaguely normal again. When I got home, I put chords to the words I’d penned and I took it straight to my partner in songwriting crime. I think it’s classified as a Banana Sessions ‘hit’ these days, so that’s quite cool. Out of the darkness comes music.

Here, There and Everywhere by The Beatles

I’m sorry; I couldn’t leave out The Beatles. Call me a cliché - I’ll take it on the chin. The Beatles are one of my biggest musical inspirations, but the first time I heard them, I hated them. These days, I couldn’t live without them. Forget ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’ and ‘Yellow Submarine’. They’re not bad songs, but the magic is in the music that isn’t shoved down your pie-hole with nae ketchup. Listen to the tunes you’ve never heard. Really listen to them. My connection with this particular song is simple - I arrived home with my best pal one night, we sat on the couch and I asked her to listen to my new favourite song. We sat in silence and really listened to it, and dozed off with a couple of big fat smiles on our faces.

Lost & Found by Lianne La Havas

I fell in love so hard once that I thought I was going to die. It was one of those intense heartaches that could only be remedied by listening to the same song over and over again on repeat. When I listen to it now, I relive that time of my life all over again. I know what you’re thinking – in the words of Garth Algar, LIVE IN THE NOW. Of course you’re right, but I think there is something beautiful about the memory of a song having such a powerful effect on you. This song still makes my heart feel sore to this day. I saw Lianne La Havas perform it live and burst into tears. When I met her after the show and told her that, she gave me a cuddle and wrote on my ticket: ‘Dear Roberta. Thank you for crying. Love Lianne’.

Tender by Blur

I moved to London once and spent three glorious years there. No, I’m not being sarcastic. Yes, it’s expensive and full of assholes, but there are some downsides too. Seriously, I met some cool people and made some good music but after a while, things began spiralling out of control - I quit my job, broke my leg, ran out of money… Everything was crumbling around me and I was sad. For the first time in my life, I read a self-help book. A SELF-HELP BOOK. I’d never read a self-help book, and I didn’t think I ever would. The book is called The Power of Now, my mum sent it to me because Annie Lennox said that if she got stuck on a desert island, it’s the only thing she would take with her. I read the book and I listened to Tender by Blur on repeat for a month. On repeat. On repeat. On repeat. After a month, totally out of the blue, my friend sent me a version of Blur playing Tender unplugged on a couch with a choir behind them. I listened to it whilst standing on Blackfriars Bridge, looking out over the Thames. ‘Come on, come on, come on - get through it...’ I did. Love’s the greatest thing.

BIGLOVE,

Phan Grrrl


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