September 9th, 2013


'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there' (apparently) - a column

Unlike LP Hartley and the entire premise for his novel, 'The Go-Between', I'm not normally given to nostalgia. While I have memories, pleasant or otherwise, from times gone by, I can't say that I see the past in anything other than a pragmatic way. The definition of nostalgia is: a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past. I haven't got that.

And yet, (you just knew there would be a 'but' or an 'and yet' or a 'surprisingly' coming along with indecent haste) lately my looking back has been decorated with a blob of fondness on top, like strawberry jam on a West Country Cream Tea. The thing with me though, is that it sometimes seems to embarrassingly slide off onto the plate, or much more likely, my lap.

As ever, and without any more ceremony than I feel I can expect to get away with, I'll begin at the beginning. A while ago I put together a pile of compilation CDs for a friend. When I create a compilation CD I like to give it a theme, some thought; make sure that everything fits together well, that it starts in the right way and ends perfectly. I like to think I'm quite good at it, and the trouble I take to find the right pieces of music, fit them together in the right way and the right order, tell a kind of story over 80 minutes, is well worth it to the person I give them to.

One of the CDs I did in this recent pile was based loosely around the thought that, not all music from Ireland is Irish music (by which I mean that it doesn't have to be diddly diddly stuff to be Irish). The likes of Thin Lizzy, Stiff Little Fingers, Ash and David Holmes have their place and are just as much Irish music as The Dubliners.

Having said all that, I did include a couple of tracks by Clannad (as a bit of a cross-over, a kind of traditional electronica.) In the notes I sent with the CD I mentioned that both these pieces had been used, and were expressly written, as themes for a couple of television series. In telling me what she thought of the CD, my friend said that she was surprised that such good music would be used as television themes, and that it wouldn't have been likely to happen in her country.

This set me thinking, would I have enough pieces of appropriate music to put together a television themes CD? If so, what would I use? It turns out that the answer to the first question is, 'Oh yes!'. But the second is a bit more complicated. I pulled out a pile of CDs from my, it has to be said, extensive collection. (And yes children, I have and prefer tangible music. None of your paper-thin downloaded stuff for me.) I started flipping through them, finding odd tracks that I might use, not necessarily from television programmes I like or liked, but very much music I like.

Inevitably, hearing one or two of the bits of theme music for the first time for a long time, especially ones used in programmes from my childhood in the dim and distant past, produced the odd wave of nostalgia. One in particular floored me for a while. I didn't even realise I had it, and I played it three or four times. It really did send my mind racing back to when I was a child. I remember vividly being enthralled by this particular television series, it made a great impression on me. I loved the way it made me feel as a child, and last week I loved the way it made me think about my memories of it.

'The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe', a quintessentially English story, was actually a French television series. Here it was dubbed into English and narrated by a soft, sympathetic voice. It was in black and white and had a graininess that I loved even then. But it was the theme music that I loved most about the series. I understand now that the music for the UK version was different to that used in other parts of Europe, and I don't know what other countries got, but ours was a beautiful lilting melody, evocative of the sea and paradise, of loneliness and contentment. I remember wanting to have similar experiences, probably so that I could have that music wafting through my head as I made a shelter on a deserted island, foraged for fruit and milked goats. I can honestly say that this piece of music had more of an impact on me emotionally during my childhood than just about any other (and let's face it, I have lived through quite an era for popular music.)

So, I'm looking forward to putting the CD together, including themes from series like Red Dwarf, Black Beauty, Ski Sunday, Big Brother and much more besides. The new Doctor Who theme will loom large, menacing and uplifting, and Robinson Crusoe will be there evoking a foreign country where they do things differently, a Go-Between linking the past and the present to an uncertain future.