Life in Lockdown: Keep on keeping on

The Head’s blog is back. Each week the Head is writing a new post and giving you some music recommendations for you to enjoy.

As we return to school for the start of the Summer Term, I thought it would be worth spending a little time reflecting on what we all need to do in order to get through the following weeks and months.

It has become something of a cliché to state that we are currently living through difficult times, and each day the news brings us stories to illustrate just how difficult a time this is for many people. As an historian, I frequently read about periods of history in which life appears to have been extremely dangerous or perilous for individuals and groups, and wondered just how they managed to do it and then go on and rebuild their lives. 

Perhaps the most obvious, if rather macabre, parallel to our present situation is with the Black Death which tore across Europe between 1347-1353, arriving in England in the early summer of 1348. It shared several similarities with covid-19: it spread rapidly across countries; there was difficulty establishing a definitive origin to it, and the data on the number of people infected and died is probably an underestimate. 

In the region of 40-50% of England’s population perished, and rates were even higher elsewhere. For example in Florence, it estimated that the figure is upwards of 60%. What is remarkable about this, and other periods, however, is the ability of those affected to establish new forms of normality and build new lives out of the chaos of what they have been through. Life did not return to exactly how it was before the plague, but peasants still farmed, townspeople still traded, people maintained their faiths, and political structures (eg how countries were ruled) did not change considerably. 

Central to being able to get through the crisis, I would argue, is the need to remind oneself of the following:

The next few weeks and months will present challenges to all of us, in different ways. However, we will be able to deal with these challenges and things will get back to normal before you know it.

Here is week 3s playlist:

Let’s Dance’  David Bowie

Membership of the David Bowie Fan Club requires all new members to swear a solemn oath that Let’s Dance was a heinous misstep by Mr Bowie, and a song that should be erased from his back catalogue. I never joined the Club as I think it is probably the best thing he ever did.

‘Losing My Mind’ Liza Minnelli

During their ‘imperial phase’ Pet Shop Boys acquired a reputation as the go-to songwriters and producers for entertainers who were ever so slightly past the peak of their popularity. Coupling the star of Cabaret with Brit synth-pop’s hot young(ish) things on this Stephen Sondheim number might have seemed like an odd move back in ; however, on the basis of this song, it definitely worked.

‘Pure’ The Lightning Seeds

For much of their career, The Lightning Seeds were actually less a packet of seeds and more of a one man band, with that man being Liverpool producer Ian Broudie. Known for creating some of the most recognisable songs of the 1990s, including ‘Three Lions’, this is one of his finest songs.

‘Come and Get It’ Badfinger

The next 3 songs are performed by artists who had a reputation for being outstanding songwriters but, perhaps a little ironically, they were best known for songs which they did not write. In this case, Paul McCartney chose to give this track to Badfinger, which featured as part of the soundtrack to the film ‘The Magic Christian.’ However, Badfinger originally wrote and recorded the song ‘Without You’ which was later covered by Maria Carey having been first turned into a global smash hit by…

‘Gotta Get Up’ Harry Nilsson

Harry Nilsson had a 3 octave range, was an innovative and original songwriter and arranger, but is probably only known for his versions of other people’s songs: Fred Neill’s ‘Everybody’s Talkin’ and Badfinger’s ‘Without You’, which features on the same album as ‘Gotta Get Up’.

‘They Don’t Know’ Kirsty MacColl

Many people will have heard Kirsty MacColl’s voice, even if they did not know it was her, as she sings the female part on The Pogues’ perennial Christmas hit ‘Fairytale of New York’. The irony here is that she wrote ‘They Don’t Know’ but didn’t have a huge hit with it; however, a few years later it did become a big hit single in the UK and USA for Tracey Ullman.

‘Raspberry Beret’  Prince

Prince, like Bowie, is one of those artists who I feel I really ought to love, but…..I can very much take or leave him. This is from his 136th album, and…I quite like it. This was released before he launched his sponsored different name every day campaign.

‘Barney (…and Me)’ The Boo Radleys

In the same way that there is an interesting piece of research to be done on history graduates who became pop stars, so there also seems to be a link between pop stars who then go on to become IT teachers once the glory days are over (and before the glory days of teaching are to begin). The Boo Radleys’ bass player followed this route, as did legendary session guitarist JJ Jeczalik. Ok, only 2 so far, but there must be more… (This, by the way, is from one of my favourite albums of the 1990s.)

‘Stress’ Talk Show

The closure of music venues and record shops, like other areas of the arts industry, is having a significant impact on many artists and perhaps its impact will be felt greatest by those attempting to build a career at this time. This track is from the debut EP of a relatively new group, released at the end of March, who are led by an Old Wac (Harrison Swann, Class of 2013) and is well worth exploring.

‘Blinding Lights’ The Weeknd

The history of popular music is full of singers and bands corrupting the English language as a means of demonstrating their edginess or street credibility. Indeed, the phrase ‘rock n’ roll’ is perhaps the best known example, but to it can be added The Beatles, Slade (C’mon Feel The Noize etc…). However, no matter what his feelings towards Saturday and Sunday are, I can’t think of any possible reason why removing the final ‘e’ from his name adds an ounce of credibility. Is it a twitter thing? (you will only have 140 characters to play with so do what you can to shorten your name)

Let’s Wade in the Water’ Marlena Shaw 

One of the great northern soul tracks, from an artist who gave up training to be a Music teacher in New York to pursue a career as an internationally-acclaimed singer. 

‘Nothing Is’ WH Lung

This is the second track on this playlist by a group with strong CHS connections, with all 3 members of WH Lung being Old Wacs. It is from their first LP, released last year to widespread acclaim, and was ranked by Piccadilly Records as their album of 2019.