Thursday, October 04, 2007


I have what you might call an eclectic taste in music. Everything from middle of the road, easy on the ear Chris Rea to obscure Swedish trance bands. When I was still in short trousers, I had tapes (yeah, that old) of both Flanders and Swan and Bauhaus in my collection - two musical acts most unlikely to share an event, I think. Even if Michael Flanders hadn't died at such a tragically early age. My basic criteria for musical appreciation is a very simple one - do I like what I'm hearing. There's no deep introspection about it, and I can be quite ruthless with the 'next track' button when something comes up that I'm not in the mood for.

Recently I wasted a fair chunk of time ripping all of my CDs to my hard drive - ending up with about 30 gigabytes of music. And that's without touching the LPs - remember them; funny-looking foot-wide black plastic things with grooves in them, and paper labels with a hole in the middle. The first CD I ever bought was Kate Bush's seminal The Hounds of Love, picked up in a record store in downtown Hong Kong in the spring of 1986. I still like that CD, but there's a lot of stuff from those early days that I can't listen to anymore. Anyone remember T'pau? Anyone actually like Genesis after Phil Collins took over? Simply Red - what the fuck was I thinking? I even went to see them live.

But there's good stuff in the mix too. Bauhaus, as I have mentioned before. Sisters of Mercy, Love and Rockets, David J - there was a time I was into the whole Goth thing.*

I'll put my hand up and admit to modern jazz too - Pat Metheny, Oregon, Ornette Coleman. I saw Courtney Pine live, and that was an amazing gig. Forty-five minute saxophone solo that felt like five minutes - that's some virtuoso playing.

I like to collect obscure bands, too. There's not many people in the eighties ever heard of The Bolshoi, and I was into that whole Indie scene before it even had a name: Jazz Butcher, Throwing Muses, Colourbox, Woodentops - the classics. And this is just names from the top of my head. Dig down a little, open up shItunes and there's good old Siouxsie and the Banshees, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance.

There's great new mainstream music about, too. Courtesy of my nephews I've found out about some wonderful bands like Razorlight, The Killers, Kaiser Chiefs and the Zutons. There's hundreds more, but I just cant' be bothered to list them all.

But one thing has become clear to me over the years, and more recently over the course of my current work in progress. I need silence to write.

Mr Stuart is on record as saying he writes to music but edits in silence. I am the opposite. This morning I put some music on early, before starting to write, as I had some other stuff to do first. Stupidly I left it on when I opened up the Word file - come lunchtime I had the sum total of one page written. That's zinging along.

After lunch and the dachshund stroll, I returned to my computer having switched the noise off. I didn't turn it back on, and lo - eight pages done in just two hours.

I know it's not hugely scientific, put like that. But the fact is, if I want to really immerse myself in the story I'm writing, I need quiet. Luckily around here, quiet is a plentiful commodity. Tune out the wind in the trees, the water in the stream and the occasional bark of sheepdog in the landrover, and there's nothing to spoil the peace.

Perhaps if I was living in the city, I'd need something to drown out the noise, but I think even back in my Aberdeen days the best work was done without counterpoint.

What works for you - the welcome beat of a familiar tune, or the nothingness from which you can conjure worlds?

* though I never quite managed to get into the whole painting your face white and dressing up in black thing. And Goth Girls just scared me when I was a teenager.

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Blogger angie said...

Good lord, that was a musical trip down memory lane. I was obsessed with 4AD bands for a very, very long time and will still haul my cd's out for a listen.

I prefer to write with music, but it has to a) be something I know well so I'm not surprised by sudden shifts in volume or trying to figure out the lyrics and b) have a vibe that sorta goes with whatever I'm working on. I don't want to listen to anything when I'm editing, probably because I'm going into analytical mode. Everyone is so different! Keeps it from getting super boring, though.

October 05, 2007 9:10 pm  
Anonymous E said...

I don't recall you being too frightened of girls like that whilst you were at University!

October 18, 2007 1:26 am  
Blogger JamesO said...

There weren't too many Goth girls at Uni, E. I guess Aberdeen was a bit behind the times in that respect. Or ahead of them.

October 18, 2007 9:22 am  

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