Singing the blues

Tuesday 20th September   

Despite my repeated and oft-quoted dislike for “pop” music, I am not totally stuck in a time warp musically.  My lifelong passion has, of course, been classical music, especially the piano, but I am not averse to other genres.  I have a CD of Miles Davis ‘Kind of Blue’, which I simply love, though much ‘Jazz’ leaves me cold; I think it is the honesty of the playing which I love.  And I often tune in to Radio 2 on a Monday evening to catch Paul Jones playing ‘the blues’, well ‘Rhythm and Blues’ he calls it, I just know it as ‘the blues’.   I just love those old black bluesmen, often with just a guitar, singing in their deep rich and sad voices; and no, it quite cheers me up actually.  I know that they are singing about the hardships of their lives, and I am fully aware of the awfulness of slavery and the civil rights movement in America in the fifties and sixties, but I believe there is a thread of hope and human joy in these recordings too.  Who can fail to be moved by Billie Holiday singing ‘Strange Fruit’, with its’ tragic subject matter, but above all I always hear the hope in her voice too.

I don’t own any ‘blues’ CDs, and actually I cannot remember the last time I bought anything on CD; I listen to the radio now mostly. I can remember the radio, the wireless as it was called then, as a child, and how we would all sit around and listen on Sunday evenings to ‘Sing Something Simple’, (and yes, Grandma would sometimes sing merrily along too) or that one where they read letters out from soldiers serving abroad.  Grandma, of course, controlled our listening; it was clearly understood that I was not to switch on the wireless; that was always Grandma’s job. The wireless set itself was ancient and must have been from the late forties, it was a piece of furniture on its’ own and had a fretwork sunset design over a big cloth covered speaker, and lots of valves which took minutes to warm up.  We foolishly jettisoned this in the late sixties, and got a real Bush transistor radio, which has long gone too. I remember I was always allowed to listen to Uncle Mac on a Saturday morning, with all those songs about teddy bears picnics and puppies in the window, and three billy-goats gruff, but my very favourite was Sparky; how I longed to be Sparky, even though I showed no aptitude for the piano at all.

I have one of those clever little digital radios now with all the stations tuned in, so when the mood takes me I press Programme 2 and listen to and often find myself singing along to the blues, I don’t really know the words, I just sort of vamp-along (as I believe the expression goes).  In my younger days, when I was a bit more serious than I am now, I would never have imagined myself, at sixty-three, glass of red wine in my hand, puddy-tat staring strangely at me, waltzing round the room and happily singing the blues.