It’s All Too Beautiful…

If I were an actual writer you could potentially describe what I’m currently experiencing as ‘writer’s block.’ Ever since arriving in Guyana I’ve felt a nagging pressure to put into words this whole new experience. Each day that passes the burden and anxiety mounts, yet nothing comes into my head, regardless of the internal frustration, which I imagine is much of the problem.

This is absolutely no reflection on Guyana. There’s so much to write about, I just haven’t thus far found an angle by which to present this in my own words. In previous blogs a subject matter has frequently revealed itself through one single event, or a series of corresponding events which follow a common theme. In most cases these smack me bang in the face, and from the ensuing concussion I dizzily fumble words onto the page and a blog is born.

I was recently questioned about why I ‘write’ and directed towards three articles which discussed the very theme. I am not really a writer. I just happen to write a regular-ish blog, which fortunately for me, some people read. However, the three quotes below stood out in each of the articles.

“I write because it is a habit, a passion.”

Orhan Pamuk (Nobel Prize for Literature, 2006)

“Sheer egoism. Desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after death.”

George Orwell, ‘Why I Write’ (1946)

“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means.”

Joan Didion, ‘Why I Write’ (1976)

My continuing desire to blog stems in part from a jumbled concoction of the quotes above. With that in mind I have decided to resume on a theme that gave me great writing pleasure in my previous post. A theme that is a constant in many of our lives. Personally I know that if deprived of this I’d lose direction almost immediately and sometimes when I have lost direction it has grasped me by the scruff of the neck and hauled me back.

The theme is music, and in the spirit of George Orwell’s frank admission of writing for pure egotistical purposes, I’m going to present my personal song of choice from each decade for the past fifty years.  I often find myself at a loss when people pose that very simple question, “What kind of music are you into?”

For some reason all I ever offer in response is a rather awkward and frustratingly vague, “Erm, it’s hard to say…I’m into weird music!” It’s not weird at all, it’s just not particularly ‘mainstream’ much of the time, and it’s difficult to pin it down to one main genre. So here goes, in what seems like an almost impossible task, I will chose one song (and a couple of runners up) from each decade (60s to 00s) in order to offer a window into my musical mind.


I’ll begin with my favourite melodic decade of all, the 60s. The quality of the music written and recorded in the years defined by peace, love, and intense anti-war protests has always drawn me in. I remember hearing ‘You Really Got Me’ by the Kinks at the age of 10 and was a little shell-shocked. Ever since then I’ve gradually become further intrigued by that period. It was a defining era for so many reasons, and musical creativity and innovation was an integral part of it.

Many of my favourite artists emerged in the second half of the decade – Love, Pink Floyd, The Kinks, The Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, The Turtles, The Mamas and Papas, The Zombies, Left Banke, Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens, Jethro Tull, a fresh-faced David Bowie, The Doors, Cliff Richard (wait…what??!!), Steppenwolf, Strawberry Alarm Clock, The Moody Blues, The Yardbirds, Sandie Shaw, The Searchers, Joe Brown, The Amen Corner, Nick Drake, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, etc, etc. The list goes on and on and deeper underground as I have explored further.

Though, there is one band as yet unmentioned who wrote a song that epitomizes the 60s quite perfectly. Infectiously quirky and unique, this composition undoubtedly had the authorities probing the moral fabric of its lyrics and the message it conveyed upon the impressionable youth of the day. With a characteristically English spirit and humour, it has stood the test of time, remaining as fresh sounding now as it did when it first hit the airwaves in 1967.  Of course, these are purely my own personal opinions, but in my mind the lyrics evoke such strong images of a mystical and magical England, it is hard not to be drawn in.

Over bridge of sighs/ To rest my eyes in shades of green/ Under dreaming spires/ To Itchycoo Park that’s where I’ve been.”

It also contains the line I’ve used as the title for this blog, which I think says all that needs to be said when describing this song. Steve Marriot and Ronnie Lane were such bold songwriters. They are vastly underrated, far too frequently overshadowed by the likes of Lennon/McCartney, Jagger/Richards, Page/Plant, Townshend/Daltrey, and Waters/Gilmour during a golden period of incredible composers and lyricists.

In my view, they are right up there with the best. Now, I know I wrote in my last blog about ‘You Set The Scene’, which I stated as being my favourite song of all time, thus meaning it should technically also be my song of choice from the 60s. For the sake of keeping things fresh though I’ve decided to keep it separate from this exercise! Therefore, my song of the 1960s is;

Itchycoo Park – Small Faces (1967)

This was an almost impossible choice with countless songs vying for the crown. My two runners up are as follows,

Incense and Peppermints – Strawberry Alarm Clock (1967)

This song epitomises the ‘psychedelic 60s’ for me. Bizarre lyrics, the swirling sounds of an organ, and terrific vocal harmonies.

Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks (1967)

From 1967 once again, this song was written by one of Britain’s finest – Ray Davies. Another artist who in my humble opinion has never quite received the acknowledgement he’s due. I’d place him right up there with Lennon and McCartney for song-writing genius. Waterloo Sunset is such a classic, and it really reflects Davies’ deep appreciation and endless love affair with London. This performance is from Glastonbury 2010.


This is another very difficult decade to define in just one song. However, it didn’t take long to know which to select. In fact it was obvious to me almost instantly. This song was written as an ode to a novel, which also happens to be one of my favourites. Set on the desolate Yorkshire Moors in the 18th century, this novel tells a particularly dark, psychological tale of love, hate, death, jealousy, and obsession. What is so striking is that it tackled issues which were rarely (if ever) presented so starkly at the time of its publication in 1847.

Critics wrote of their shock and condemnation of the subject matter. Yet, it’s now deservedly considered a classic, and in acknowledgment of the author, Emily Brontë, Kate Bush produced her own masterpiece, and in my view, the song of the decade. Wuthering Heights was released in early 1978, and Bush wrote it aged just eighteen.

It captures the emotion of the book and its main characters quite perfectly. It is also incredibly haunting, and I don’t think there was anyone else more suited to writing and performing this than Kate Bush, with her piercing voice and eccentric delivery. Also, the video is epic, in a kind of creepy way!

Wuthering Heights – Kate Bush (1978)

Runners up;

Starman – David Bowie (1972)

I love David Bowie, and not purely because we share the same freaky eyes. I actually favour much of his 60s material, but Starman is just classic Bowie – weird and wonderful, and as the great man says himself, “Hey! That’s far out.”

Songs from the Wood – Jethro Tull (1977)

Folk music is something I’ve explored a lot more extensively in recent years and Jethro Tull are a band that do it well. Ian Anderson plays the flute with sheer comedic brilliance. I was lucky enough to see them live in Prague in 2009 and it’s a gig I won’t forget. Songs from the Wood is a veritable blend of melodious vocals, jazz flute, church-like organ, and heavy guitar, accompanied by lyrics that J.R.R. Tolkien may have written, had he been inclined to create a folk-rock band!


Despite being a child of the 80s, I feel like this decade is the one that has me puzzled most. I fear the 80s in many ways. The crazy fashion, the hair…the big hair, the use of synthesizers, a Britain dogged by unemployment and strikes, the excess of accessories, football hooligans, Tron (the original), Robert Mugabe, people wearing one bright pink sock and one bright yellow sock, etc, etc. All in all it’s a decade that hasn’t ever really made a great impact in my collection of music. However, that’s not to say there weren’t some notable successes. So here goes.

My number one is by a band far more commonly known for a song they wrote that is guaranteed to be on the playlist of any classic wedding, cheesy nightclub, 50th birthday party, karaoke night, school reunion/disco, and all official meetings of the ‘World Dungaree-Wearing Appreciation Society’. The song I have chosen is NOT Come on Eileen, but it was written by the same band.

Dexy’s Midnight Runners released this in 1980, and it took them to number one. It’s bold, brash, and brimming with energy – helped in the main by Kevin Rowland’s distinctive voice, the stomping beat, and the backing brass of saxophone and trombones. And so, for the 1980s, I present to you,

GenoDexys Midnight Runners (1980)

Runners up;

Rattlesnakes – Lloyd Cole and the Commotions (1984)

I love the freshness of this song. It’s quintessentially 80s, yet it seems to somehow bridge decades and wouldn’t sound out of place if played in any of the past fifty years. The emotion in Lloyd Cole’s voice makes it compelling listening, and it also has fantastic lyrics,

“She looks like eve marie saint in on the waterfront/ As she reads simone de beauvoir in her american circumstance/ Her heart’s like crazy paving/ Upside down and back to front/ She says ooh, it’s so hard to love/ When love was your great disappointment.”

It’s the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine) – R.E.M. (1987)

Awesome tempo, wonderfully brilliant lyrics (which intrigue and baffle in equal measure) delivered in some kind of freestyle rap mantra, and all this brought to listeners by a truly great band.


The 90s is another fairly tricky decade to reduce to just one main song. Britpop was magic and it heralded the emergence of some truly great artists and songs. However, one of my favourite bands emerged midway through, and unleashed their contemporary take on psychedelic rock to the world…with quite divisive results.

Fronted by Crispian Mills (son of Haley and grandson of Sir John) Kula Shaker is a band that quite frankly some people love to hate. But not me. In my mind they took the 60s and redelivered it in a revolutionary explosion of sitars, Hammond organ, gritty guitar riffs, and poetic lyrics. I could’ve chosen any one of about fifteen songs to crown as my 90s song of choice, but there was one which just stood out above the rest. It’s essentially Kula Shaker’s anthem. This live performance is psychedelically marvellous!

Govinda – Kula Shaker (1996)

Runners up,

Parklife – Blur (1994)

There’s not much you can say about this. It’s just Britpop at its best, in a cockney knees-up kind of way. Phil Daniels’ narration is perfect, the video is full of humour, and it always makes me laugh when people mention the Oasis vs. Blur debate. What debate?

Alright – Supergrass (1995)

Another of Britpop’s finest, Supergrass released this in 1995. I won’t bore you with another long-winded explanation; suffice to say this song is fun, end of.


In keeping with most of this blog post, it has been a painful experience trying to reduce a decade to just one tune. My brain is now exhausted as it has reached the final stretch in musical deliberation that has spanned fifty years! However, I’ve reached the 00s and there’s a band that emerged during the middle of the decade who have restored my faith in great song writing.

Built around incredible compositions incorporating a range of instruments (trumpet, flugelhorn, ukulele, saxophone, violin, trombone, tuba, glockenspiel, etc, etc) a myriad of cultural influences, and wholehearted lyrics, Beirut have quickly become one of my favourite bands.

Again, it’s difficult choosing just one song, but this is the task I set myself, and thus it has to be The Shrew. Largely because of this live performance. With Beirut you can really see how much the music means to them. X Factor take note. This is real music (yes I’m a ‘music snob’ sometimes).

The Shrew – Beirut (2009)

Runners up;

American Wedding – Gogol Bordello (2007)

Gogol Bordello have had a huge influence on my playlist in recent years. Describing themselves as ‘Gypsy Punks’ they hail from New York, but are an eclectic mix of nationalities with band members from Russia, Ethiopia, Ecuador, Israel, the US, and Romania. They are all led by the Pied Piper of Gypsy Punk, Ukrainian Eugene Hütz.

Sporting the best moustache in the music industry, he is quite simply, the man. I’ve seen Gogol Bordello live three times and they probably rank as the best I’ve ever seen. They also set me on the path of exploring Eastern European/gypsy folk music and this has been a revelation. American Wedding is a textbook example of what they’re all about – energetic, in your face, chaotic music that sounds as if it could light the fire of revolution at any point.  Super Taranta!

What A Waster – The Libertines (2002)

One of the greatest attributes of music is that it often has the ability to catapult us back in time, inducing vivid recollections of a certain moment or period from our past. The Libertines are a band that provided the soundtrack to my first year at university. They burst onto the scene in 2002 offering high tempo rock and roll with a bit of punk thrown in. I was practically awestruck by them.

Clad in leather jackets (or occasionally British Redcoat tunics) they were in my mind the coolest guys on earth.  Just two months after arriving at university I attended my first ever live gig at Nottingham Rock City. It was the Libertines, and as I stood there in a sea of bodies, engulfed in the aroma of sweat, cigarettes, beer, and testosterone whilst being thrown around all over the place, I suddenly thought, “Wow…so this is university.” Hence this band will always hold a special place in my heart as they provided the music to a crucial point in my life. What A Waster has always been my favourite song of theirs.

So there you have it. Fifteen songs that offer a little insight into my ‘tastes’ in music. There are so many other artists and songs I could’ve mentioned, but alas, that will have to wait until another time. Feel free to scoff at my choices or to vehemently disagree. I welcome all feedback and would love to hear your own personal choices.

Forever Changes

I was in a record store. I recall browsing without purpose for some time, wandering around considering whether I should add to my rapidly expanding music library. It was 2003, and I was a student at the time. I’ve always derived great pleasure from random music searches, yet it’s been trickier these past few years due to my locations. On this particular day though, I had no idea the purchase I was about to make would have such a lasting and definitive influence on my tastes in music, or perhaps more significantly an enduring effect on the way I aspire to look at life events (not always successfully I must add, especially recently).

As my seemingly fruitless search for new music neared a conclusion, and I contemplated leaving empty handed, one record caught my eye. The strange album cover was compelling. A myriad of colours and faces all intertwined. It was unashamedly psychedelic, and seeing as I had at this point embarked upon a fairly dedicated journey toward 60s music discovery, I decided to at least give this item the acknowledgment I believed it deserved.

Upon inspection the song titles were suitably convincing that for some reason the record had to come home with me. ‘The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This’, ‘Andmoreagain’, ‘Alone Again Or’, ‘Bummer in the Summer’, and ‘You Set The Scene’ to name a few. Everything about this record intrigued me. Even the name of the band, Love, seemed so clichéd yet perfect.

“For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while, and the things that I must do consist of more than style…”

My reason for providing this fairly mundane anecdote is because I’d like to touch on the theme of change. As the record I bought that day testifies, forever does change, and this has been a fairly weighty feature of my life in the past few years. I’ve experienced some notable transitions, with the most recent being arguably the toughest challenge of all. I left Bangladesh (see previous blog) to pursue a slightly different career path. I’ve been lucky enough to get the opportunity to rejoin the WorldTeach team.

WorldTeach is an education non-profit organisation that links up with governments and organisations in developing countries and sends volunteer teachers to spend a year in their country of choice. I volunteered with WorldTeach in Rwanda in 2010.  I’m now the Field Director in Guyana, which basically means that I oversee the program on the ground here and assist the current Guyana volunteers. It’s rewarding in that even though I’m not in the classroom directly teaching, I am still very much involved with international education.

 “And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game, do you like the part you’re playing?”

So, I’ve changed jobs and I’ve transferred location. From the most densely populated country in the world I now find myself on the northern coast of South America in a country home to just 750,000 people….total. I once again face the guilt of being a Brit in a former colony, but this guilt is slightly negated by the fact I also live in the only English speaking nation on this continent…..which helps….me.

However, the most notable change of all has been the people in my life. The past three years have been a quite remarkable adventure. The places I’ve seen, the photos I’ve taken, the foods I’ve tasted, the journeys I’ve embarked on, the insects I’ve battled with, the inspirational folk I’ve met and stared in awe at, the stories I’ve heard and shared, the generosity and  hospitality that has always been so welcome, the number of instances I’ve mused ‘Ben Fogle would probably do that if he were here now’, the smells that have at times purified my senses, the occasional challenges I’ve struggled through, the suffering I’ve witnessed that’s so often faced with sheer strength in adversity, and finally the quite incredible sunsets I have had the privilege to capture in both my mind and on camera.

“There’ll always be some people here to wonder why, and for every happy hello there will be goodbye….”

However, principally, the past three years have been defined by the people I’ve met and formed close relationships with. And with that comes the toughest part of travelling, because moving on inevitably means leaving behind those who have shared so much with you on that particular stretch of road in the crazy journey.

Saying goodbye becomes the toughest challenge of all, and it doesn’t get any easier with experience. Location in life is often irrelevant. If we’re surrounded by good people it doesn’t matter what exterior conditions we find ourselves in. I have come to realise this at a number of points throughout the past three years. Waist deep in water and suppressing fear in a dark, dark cave in Laos was one. Lost and a little bewildered at a Nuns’ dining table in Rwanda was another. Sandwiched between a huge man and a good friend on a minivan in northern Botswana also springs to mind. In the middle of the night lined up against a coach by South African police on the border with Zimbabwe I recall being particularly grateful for company. Sat on a sweltering bus for sixteen hours straight in Bangladesh, and in gridlocked traffic on the single lane highway between Chittagong and Dhaka was completely bearable because of one person.

These are examples of specific moments, but Prague, Rwanda, Bangladesh, and all travels in between have been distinguished by so many genuinely good people. People who I have learned so much from and who have made the journey that much more enjoyable and meaningful. All people who I have at some point in the recent past had to say goodbye to. However, goodbyes aren’t always forever.

“You Set The Scene”

The name of the record I bought that day back in 2003, long before I embarked on this journey, is ‘Forever Changes’…perhaps fittingly. Written and performed by 1960s LA band ‘Love’, they were led by singer and chief songwriter, Arthur Lee. Lee was an incredible lyricist. A poet many say. The collection of songs concludes with my all time favourite by any artist (‘You Set The Scene’), and I mean that. For me the composition is perfect. Perfect in terms of structure. Perfect in terms of the dreamlike instrumentals that weave into its dramatic crescendo. Perfect for the manner in which it is constructed and delivered, and perfect for its seemingly timeless message.

However, primarily it’s perfect for its lyrics. The song’s powerful and inspirational words have always made me wonder just how far we can push ourselves. Change is inevitable, but right now as I begin a new chapter I’m struggling to know quite how to deal with it, having at times been completely overwhelmed by its total disregard for stability. However ‘You Set The Scene’ has been a constant reminder of the wider picture.

“This is the time and life that I am living,
And I’ll face each day with a smile.
For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while,
And the things that I must do consist of more than style.
There are places that I am going.”

“Everything I’ve seen needs rearranging,
And for anyone who thinks it’s strange.
Then you should be the first to want to make this change,
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game –
Do you like the part you’re playing?”

The lyrics of the song in full can be interpreted in many ways. Written in 1967 Los Angeles, it clearly expresses the burning political frustrations of the day, namely Vietnam. “There’s a private in my boat and he wears fears instead of medals on his coat”, “There’s a man who can’t decide if he should fight for what his father thinks is right.”

Dramatic change was beginning to define a generation in the 1960s, and Arthur Lee reflected this perfectly in his songs. I discussed the words with my students at AUW a few months back, and they presented their own understanding of what Lee was conveying. These were both characteristically thoughtful and extremely well considered.

So, as I continue with my journey, I do so with the words of Arthur Lee ringing in my ears. They provide strength, and they crucially pose testing and provocative questions. This is not a usual post for me. However, my blog has never really followed a set structure, and the recent move has once again left me pondering how I can represent my new experiences through words. Right now my experience is defined by change, and I’m therefore grateful to have the opportunity to write about these moments.

To conclude, here are the full lyrics of You Set The Scene, and below is a live recording of it performed by Arthur Lee and his band in 2003. Bear in mind Lee is 58 in this video. He sadly passed away three years later, but for fans of Love his legacy lives on.

Arthur Lee and Love – You Set The Scene (Live on ‘Later with Jools Holland’ 2003)

You Set The Scene – Love (Lyrics: Arthur Lee) 1967

— Part I —

Verse 1:
Where are you walking, I’ve seen you walking
Have you been there before?
Walk down your doorsteps, you’ll take some more steps
What did you take them for?
There’s a private in my boat and he wears
Fears instead of medals on his coat
There’s a chicken in my nest and she won’t
Lay until I’ve given her my best
At her request she asks for nothing
You get nothing in return
If you want she brings you water
If you don’t then you will burn

Verse 2:
You go through changes, it may seem strange
Is this what you’re put here for?
You think you’re happy and you are happy
That’s what you’re happy for
There’s a man who can’t decide if he should
Fight for what his father thinks is right
There are people wearing frowns who’ll screw you up
But they would rather screw you down
At my request I ask for nothing
You get nothing in return
If you’re nice she’ll bring me water
If you’re not then I will burn

— Part II —

Verse 1:
This is the time and life that I am living
And I’ll face each day with a smile
For the time that I’ve been given’s such a little while
And the things that I must do consist of more than style
There are places that I am going

Verse 2:
This is the only thing that I am sure of
And that’s all that lives is gonna die
And there’ll always be some people here to wonder why
And for every happy hello, there will be good-bye
There’ll be time for you to put yourself on

Verse 3:
Everything I’ve seen needs rearranging
And for anyone who thinks it’s strange
Then you should be the first to want to make this change
And for everyone who thinks that life is just a game
Do you like the part you’re playing?

I see your picture
It’s in the same old frame
We meet again
You look so lovely
You with the same old smile
Stay for a while
I need you so, oh, oh, oh, oh
And if you take it easy
I’m still teethin’
I wanna love you, but
Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh