Music was my first love

24 August 2019

Karen and I have recently been to the cinema. We went to watch Blinded by the Light. It’s the story of Javed a British-Pakistani Muslim teenager coming of age in 1980s Luton.

The comedy drama is based on the memoirs of journalist and documentary maker Sarfraz Manzoor and is directed by Gurinder Chadha, who was responsible for Bend it Like Beckham. So Blinded by the Light is a sort of ‘Sing it Like Springsteen’.

In the film Bruce Springsteen’s lyrics speak to Javed like nothing else. There is resonance between the working class struggles of Springsteen’s New Jersey and Luton England. There is a deep connection between the composer and the listener when addressing the relationships that so often concern and confuse a young adult making their way in the world.

In my own teenage years, during the 1970s, it was the music of John Lennon, Simon & Garfunkel and even the Sex Pistols that spoke to me. The Troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height, there was the Three Day Week, the Winter of Discontent and the ever-present threat of nuclear war. It was an interesting time to wrestle with adolescence. The lyrics of the songs I listened to in my bedroom helped open my mind to something beyond the immediate; they made me question my existence, and analyse what was going on in my life. Indeed I am quite prepared to say that they played a significant part in my becoming and an ordained Christian minister.

It was the spiritual that sustained slaves in their long torment, and then drawn upon to help liberate them. A century ago music hall songs and brass bands inspired men and boys to volunteer for the trenches; five decades later the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam war demos were fuelled by their anthems.

Music is a powerful force; couple it with the right lyrics and almost anything is possible: from Gregorian chant lifting the 9th and 10th century Roman Catholic congregations into the heavenly realm or the hip hop of today transporting those on the dance floor to a very different place to the one that is so constraining.

Few can escape the influence of music on our lives. Get into the car and the radio may be tuned to light pop music or relaxing classics. Arrive at the supermarket and the sound system is playing Christmas songs in November.

Music can be the soundtrack of our years.

I often hear a song from the past and am able to associate it with an event in my life: a summer’s day, a particular experience, a journey, a holiday or a person I have known and loved.

Which of us who tuned into the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, will ever forget Elton John singing a variation of Candle in the Wind?

To this day Hymns and worship songs remain a strong feature of Christian worship. I believe that the hymns of Charles Wesley have sustained the Methodist people far more effectively than the sermons and theology of his more famous brother John.

Visiting a Muslim country would not be the same without hearing the Adhan, the call to prayer. And you don’t have to be a member of the Jewish community to be moved by the mourners’ Kaddish.

I recall Natasha Kaplinsky on Who Do you Think You Are? travelling to Belarus and to the city of Slonim where members of her family perished during the Holocaust. There she and her cousin Bennie climbed into the abandoned synagogue where their family had once worshipped. Once inside Bennie, a cantor chanted the mourners’ Kaddish. It was probably the first time the crumbling walls had absorbed its soulful tune since the city’s Jewish community was brutally massacred in 1942.

The film that Karen and I went to see was a reminder, as if we needed it, of how music and song can change a person’s life. It can speak more clearly, more loudly, more eloquently than any great philosophical work. It can be of greater assistance in life than a self-help guide. It can be a prayer to the Divine. It can even unite enemies.

Cyril was a member of the Church in which I grew up. During the Second World War he was a guard in a Prisoner of War Camp. On Christmas Eve he and a German soldier sang Silent Night/Stille Nacht, just as their predecessors had done three decades earlier during the famous Christmas Truce.

I end with the words of a song made famous by British rock singer and musician John Miles:

Music was my first love
And it will be my last.
Music of the future
And music of the past.

To live without my music
Would be impossible to do.
In this world of troubles,
My music pulls me through.


Songwriters: Breyon Jamar Prescott, Michael C. Flowers
© Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.

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