Skip to main content

Music, perhaps more than anything else, has the power to transport us to another time and place.

It was the Friday morning of our recent holiday in the Lakes, and it was just after 9 a.m. I suddenly remembered: ‘Desert Island Discs’! It was the former Man Utd. and Denmark goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, whose dad, it emerged, had been a Polish jazz pianist who had needed to pose as a spy in order to leave communist Eastern Europe in the early 60s to join his Danish wife in Copenhagen. One of the tracks was a cool jazz piece but apart from that, with Schmeichel being just a bit older than me, it was all significant stuff from my own formative years. I loved hearing ‘Sultans of Swing’, which was released when I was thirteen and my musical interests were just beginning to branch out in all directions. The song also reminds me of a conversation I had with the man who was Guest Master for many years in the monastery I visit regularly. He had been out in the car one day on monastery business and had decided to turn the radio on, something he hadn’t done for over two decades! ‘Sultans of Swing’ was being played and he told me excitedly how “it brought me back.” Yes, that’s what music does. It brings you back, right back. There are other things too that can do that, the taste and smell of food, for example. Yet, this can just as likely trigger an unpleasant memory as a pleasant one. Music, on the other hand, seems (for me at any rate) to be exclusively associated with precious memories and emotions…

…Like when Peter Schmeichel explained how he’d twice performed on stage with Robbie Williams and followed that up by the playing of ‘Angels’. I was instantaneously in a pub in West Wickam on the South Eastern outskirts of London. There was a meeting of European leaders of L’Arche at the nearby Emmaus Retreat Centre and most of had ventured out one evening for a drink. We were a motley group, one of whom was Anne who had started the L’Arche community in Dublin and who uses a wheelchair. This posed a slight challenge when we took a short cut through a park and found that the metal barrier at the other side was locked. No problem: myself and a couple of others lifted a beaming Anne up and over. There was a woman performing in the big pub where we ended up and two of the people from Belgium took to the floor to do a kind of slow dance, even though it wasn’t a particularly slow song. There were one or two bemused looks from the locals but, undeterred, I likewise got up to dance with Maria, who founded L’Arche in Belfast, and a few other intrepid souls from around Europe joined us too. The song being sung was ‘Angels’ and anytime I hear that song it brings back the memory of that wonderful evening.

The first day back after my holiday there was a launch event for my book in the incredible surrounding of the RSA, Royal Society of Arts, just off the Strand. The event was given to me as a gift, via CCLA and CSAN, and what a gift it was. I present the book in word and song, and how could it be otherwise when music is one of the threads that runs most strongly through the book. I read from the chapter entitled ‘The Fields of Athenry’ which tells the story of a Traveller event at HMP Chelmsford where I sang that song and one of the guys strode over and put his arm around me and sang into the mic with me, and how all the men (who earlier in the day had heard the dreadful news that somebody had taken their own life in their cell) were roaring out the words to the chorus and punching the air and how it had been a catharsis for all of us. I had my Ovation with me at the RSA. I even had a sound technician, Chris, and was plugged in. I so enjoyed singing that song again, and I so enjoyed that people joined in, and I so enjoyed gazing round the room and seeing how people were touched (maybe even transported somewhere?) by the music. I loved as well the sight of Anne and Rory taking to the floor later for a waltz as I sang ‘The Galway Shawl’. I’d also, as part of my main presentation, sung ‘Be Thou my Vision’ and ‘When you were Sweet Sixteen’, which are also mentioned in the book, and I spoke of how lucky I was to be able to share music as part of my work.

Following the event I took the underground back to St Pancras and at the bottom of the final escalator there was a busker who was doing a great instrumental version of…’Sultans of Swing’. What else! I came past with my, thankfully now, empty suitcase (it had been filled earlier in the day with books) and my Ovation and I stopped. For once I had a bit of cash in my pocket and I gladly made a little offering. He nodded in grateful acknowledgement. The day was complete.

Eddie Gilmore

Author Eddie Gilmore

More posts by Eddie Gilmore

Leave a Reply