Today's #SundaySoundtrack comes from Jim Fletcher, a freelance project manager who has worked with Birmingham Royal Ballet on projects that include Ballet Hoo! and more recently our supporters' magazines, film projects and more.
1) Soulful Lady – Michael Chapman
This album from the Yorkshire singer is an early 70s classic - the music eases between Dylan-esque folk, and the heavier sounds of progressive rock. I chose this track to highlight guitarist Mick Ronson, who went on to become David Bowie’s anchor for four albums in the Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane period. Mick was a simple gardener but also a talented self-taught Hull musician. His magnificent solo here heralds greater things to come, as he arranged many Bowie classics. I met Mick in 1974 with my late pal Eddie, and am friendly with Mick’s sister Maggi. I was Associate Producer of a show by Mick’s band about his life: Turn and Face the Strange
2) Starman – David Bowie
I could have chosen any number of tracks from this seminal album, but this one is particularly memorable from its performance on Top of the Pops. For the line ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you’ Bowie - all make-up and androgynous ‘glam’ - embraces a platinum-haired Mick Ronson and points straight at the camera. In my opinion, this brief gesture gave a whole generation of young people ‘permission’ to be different. With my own blue hair and eye-shadow, I must have been quite a sight amongst the bovver boots and skinheads of Glasgow’s East End in 1972.
3) Coast to Coast - Trapeze
There’s a West Midlands connection here in that this band’s lead singer and bass guitarist, Glenn Hughes, is from Cannock, now resident in Los Angeles. He later went on to join Deep Purple and now has a very successful solo career with a distinctive fusion of heavy rock and R&B. In this beautiful ballad - considered to be his signature song - you can easily hear the influence of Stevie Wonder in Hughes’s voice, not to mention his phenomenal bass playing.
4) Ilanot - Achinoam 'Noa' Nini and Gil Dor
Achinoam Nini (‘Noa’) is one of Israel’s greatest singing stars with a huge international following largely in France, Spain and Italy. She is also an effective activist for peace, reconciliation and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. This beautiful song showcases Noa’s incredible vocal range but it also talks movingly of the ‘pain’ of having two homelands. In Noa’s case, she was born in Israel of Yemenite origins, but grew up in New York State. The song is sung in Hebrew, but there’s a verse in English.
5) Think of Others – Mira Awad and others
Another of Israel’s great artists, Mira is of Palestinian descent and another brilliant advocate for peace and dialogue. I am proud to count her as a friend and have produced two of her recent London performances. This song is based on lyrics by the brilliant Palestinian poet, Mahmoud Darwish, encouraging us not to take for granted our freedoms, and to remember those people whose basic liberty has been removed through war, conflict, famine etc. Although her solo version of the song in Arabic features more of Mira’s stupendous voice, this ‘Solidarity’ version - featuring many of Israel’s top artists, is in English enabling a focus on the all-important lyrics. I guarantee the chorus ‘if only I could be a candle in the dark’ will echo in your head for days.
6) Comme ils disent - Charles Aznavour
One of France’s finest and best-loved chansonniers, Charles Aznavour wrote and arranged this song in 1972 and from his first performance of it at the Olympia in Paris, it captured the imagination of the French public still reeling from the 1968 student ‘revolution’. The song remained integral to his repertoire until his death in 2018, aged 94. The song depicts the world of a man who lives with his mother as her carer. After bedtime, though, he becomes a drag artist at one of Paris’s nightclubs where the ‘straight’ men marvelling at his performances feed his desire for a happy life with one of them. I was fortunate enough to attend an Aznavour concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 2014 and remember thinking how peculiar it was to hear 5,000 people singing along in French, right in the heart of London.
7) Swan Lake, Op.20, Act IV No.29: Act IV By The Lake: No.29. Finale: Andante - Allegro agitato - Moderato e maestoso - Moderato - Pyotr IIyich Tchaikovsky
During my 35+ year career in ballet, I must have listened to Swan Lake thousands of times. This section towards the end of the ballet never fails to move and lift me into an emotionally charged state, with the shift of key, and sumptuous textures of the music, culminating in that final chord. Simply magic!
8) Living for the City - Stevie Wonder
This funky, punchy song carries a powerful message about racism in America. In the middle of the song, a little piece of drama is played out with the character arriving in New York and saying ‘New York, just like I pictured it… skyscrapers and everythin’’ (I greet Manhattan with this line on every visit). One thing that particularly reaches me in this song is the genuine anger in Wonder’s voice after this section. An important song, still so very relevant today.
9) Gethsemane (I Only Want To Say) – Ian Gillian
The original concept album of Jesus Christ Superstar featured Deep Purple’s lead singer, Ian Gillan, in the title role, and was produced on a very low budget. At the time, no-one quite knew if a rock opera would work! This beautiful song, the musical’s telling of the Last Supper, features Gillan’s incredible vocals, both lyrical in passages, and rocking elsewhere, highlighting his signature ‘musical’ screaming.
10) Caledonia – Douglas MacLean
There can be few Scots ‘in exile’ who are not reduced to tears by this moving hymn to Scotland, especially the line ‘Caledonia you're calling me, and now I'm going home’. It seems that nostalgia and romance work together, to remove the Scottish reality of swarms of attacking midges and the constant rain that renders the hills and glens drookit* most of the time.
*drenched, extremely wet
11) Chega de Saudade ('No More Blues') – João Gilberto
Credited as being the first Bossa Nova album, this song written by the legendary duo of Antônio (Tom) Carlos Jobim and Vinícius de Moraes and sung by the great João Gilberto sums up for me the rhythm, colour, hedonism and slightly anarchic character of Brazil. Having visited Brazil a few times, I find myself powerfully drawn to the music - especially Bossa Nova - spending probably too much time in the hidden away clubs of Rio, where the music and dancing just materialise as if by magic. The title is almost impossible to translate - literally it means ‘enough longing’ - but the word saudade has complex qualities to Brazilians, part of the mystery that draws me to this mesmerising place in the first place.
12) Bess You Is My Woman Now – Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
Riddled with controversy surrounding its depiction of African Americans, Porgy and Bess has gained some ground as a musical work of genius. This beautiful duet is sung by the main character Porgy and his beloved Bess, expressing their eternal love for each other. In my household as a child I remember this song being sung by my Mum and Dad, so - quite apart from the Gershwins’ genius - it has a particular resonance in my heart. Many artists have covered the song, but I think this version by Ella and Louis is gorgeous.
13) Kashmir – Led Zeppelin
Without doubt, this rambling epic is Led Zeppelin’s finest composition, sometimes described as the St Matthew Passion of progressive rock. Led Zeppelin is of course best known for Stairway to Heaven, but it’s Kashmir - with its hypnotic, repetitive riff and mysterious lyrics - that gets my vote every time. Inspired by a 1973 visit to the wastelands of Southern Morocco by West Bromwich-born lead singer Robert Plant, the lyrics describe a journey itself, rather than a destination ‘Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dreams’. I’d really love to see a dance piece made to this, with the score fully orchestrated and played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia.