Christy Moore - Ride On
This isn’t one of my favourite albums but it is steeped in bittersweet memories for me. Car journeys and family gatherings were always fuelled with three types of music: Irish folk music, musical soundtracks from the 1970s and 1980s and Country and Western. Christy Moore falls in to the first category and whilst the phrase ‘Irish folk music’ may fill your mind with tin whistles (feadógs), hand drums (bodhrans) and jigging about, old Christy does not fit that bill at all! If you instead picture a bleak Irish moore, with fog and drizzle coming down with greens and greys being the predominant colour as far as the eye can see and then imagine music playing in the background to that, you’d be more in Christy’s territory…bleak and quite frankly depressing. The title song of the album is particularly bleak, with his tone barely moving out of his famous low range. We used to go over to Ireland every other summer, taking the car on the Swansea-Cork ferry and driving past those vast grey and green landscapes with this album playing in the background. It wasn’t until recently that I dug out the album on Spotify. I honestly couldn’t tell you the last time I heard it but suffice to say, I don’t own a copy of my own, but as soon as I heard the opening acoustic guitar, I got a warm feeling in my tummy and my heart tingled a little bit (like I said, Christy Moore is pretty depressing so there was no chance of any full on euphoria). Later that week, I went to visit my parents. My dad’s in his early 70s and is suffering from dementia. He doesn’t know who I am any more, though he does recognise me as someone familiar and most of the time he thinks my mum and I are his sisters, Kay and Grace. His short-term memory is pretty much gone and his long-term memory is reducing, as I write I think he believes it’s the late 1960s and he’s still living at home in Cork, as opposed to in Hampshire. We were doing a jigsaw puzzle together the day I visited and I thought I’d put some music on in the background. When I opened Spotify, I saw ‘Ride On’ in my recently played list and I thought I’d give it a go. I always play songs on shuffle and the first song to come on was ‘Lisdoonvarna’, a rare up-beat number for Christy. My dad started tapping his foot along and before I knew it, he was singing along without a single slip up. I was a little girl again, sat in the back of his car on my booster seat, looking out the back window at the rolling hills and the familiar streets of Cork, listening to him sing. It took everything in my power to fight back the emotion I felt but it was no good and soon silent tears were rolling down my face. My dad saw and asked: ‘What’s wrong, Grace?’ I took a deep breath and laughing it off replied, ‘I just love this song.’ And with that we went back to looking for edge pieces of the puzzle.
Mariah Carey - Daydream
Now this IS my favourite album of all time by my favourite artist of all time. Quite honestly, I could have done all eight of my albums as Mariah Carey albums because I love every single one, but this one holds the biggest place in my heart. Daydream was not the first album I owned, that title goes to Enjoy Yourself by Kylie Minogue, nor was it my first album on CD, Take That’s Everything Changes holds that spot, but it was the first album I remember buying with my own money. I even remember that I bought it from Our Price in Fleet, Hampshire. What lead me to the album was the song Always Be My Baby but right now I can’t remember how I came across it, we didn’t have Sky or cable TV so it must have been on Top of the Pops or the radio. I remember holding the album in my hands whilst I was in the queue and looking at the black and white photo of her face on the cover, and perhaps with some rose tinted glasses here, I could feel the significance of the moment. Saying that, I don’t think I would have had the same connection with just any album, this one quickly became very special to me. I played it over, and over, and over again, never getting bored and loving every single track. I made up elaborate dance routines to them all on the navy blue carpet of my bedroom floor, especially the expressive closing track Looking In which is one of my favourite songs of all time. I even bought the book of sheet music so I could play the songs on my keyboard. Unsurprisingly I learnt every single word to every song and although I couldn’t quite hit her whistle register (and still can’t!) I just adored letting my voice tumble down her riffs and spiral up her adlibs. Her music was, and actually still is, like therapy to me. You know that feeling when you swallow something menthol flavoured? That kind of satisfying warm, slightly burning yet slightly cooling sensation? That’s what this album feels like to me. I bought this album back in 1995 and since then have bought every album she owns. My dreams came true when she announced a ‘Greatest Hits’ tour in 2016 and I went to her London gig on my own as I didn’t know anybody else who would go with me and I wasn’t a stranger to going to gigs on my own. Tickets were pricey and all I could afford was a seat right up in the nose-bleeds but I didn’t care. I sang my heart out to everything and marvelled at her awe-inspiring vocal prowess. I know she’s a diva but you know, I kind of love her for that too. She knows who she is. I sing in a Gospel choir now and it’s like I have been in training for it ever since I first loaded that CD in to my Hi-Fi system back in the mid 90s.
Tamar Braxton - Bluebird of Happiness
I came across this album because one of the songs from it came up on a ‘Recommended for You’ playlist (probably based on how much I play Mariah Carey!). The song was called ‘How I Feel’ and though I can’t remember exactly what I was doing, probably marking, I vividly remember stopping and as soon as the track ended I listening to it all over again… and again… and then it was the only song I listened to for the next few days until I prised my ears away to listen to the whole album it came from. The reason it struck such a chord with me is really hard to describe. There is a certain progression of notes/chords which, when I hear it in a song, makes my tummy do an excited little flip, Diary by Bread (though I know it by Babyface) is a good example. Bluebird of Happiness made me feel like my digestive system was doing a gymnastics floor routine! Around the time I had this album on repeat my maternal grandmother passed away and so Bluebird of Happiness became the soundtrack to my grieving process, ‘How I Feel’ especially. I cried endless tears listening to that song. I sang it when I was alone at the top of my voice, sobbing. Bluebird of Happiness is not even a particularly melancholic album but the musicality and melodiousness of so many of the tracks helped me feel safe in my grief and to be able to reflect on the role my grandmother had played in my life. The love songs felt like I was connecting to the love shared by her and my grandfather in their early life together. Not to say they didn’t love each other beyond that but it was a part of their life that I had no access to and so I allowed my mind to build a romantacised imagination based on what had been told of their time together. Bluebird of Happiness helped me transform my grief of my grandmother’s passing in to the joy of her and my grandfather being reunited.
John Mayer - Room for Squares
It was around Easter time in 2006 and, rather than heading back home, I stayed at university in Bangor to write my dissertation. Though I was very organised with my studies, I always knew my dissertation was going to be one of those things that I would have to knock out in a specific chunk of time rather than little bits here and there. So, I spent a week writing it, going to the library each day from 9 til 5 and treated it like it was my job…what a way to make a living! The girls I lived with in my final year at university were often sharing music between the five of us, and Room for Squares was one that came my way. I was aware of who Mayer was, even though this was in the days before his philandering in the late 00s. Room for Squares was the only album I listened to for that entire dissertation writing week and as soon as I hear a song from it nowadays I transported back to the desk I sat at (same one every day, of course) with the light pouring through the massive library windows with lower Bangor sprawling out below. As I listened, I realised that I knew a lot more of his music than I realised. One song in particular blossomed for me that week, no, not Your Body Is A Wonderland, it was a song called 3x5, a real ‘album only’ track. It’s about someone who goes travelling and is writing back to his loved ones saying he hasn’t sent any photos this time because he was so struck by the awe and wonder of what he saw: ‘You should have seen that sunrise with your own eyes, it brought me back to life. You’ll be with me next time I go outside, no more 3x5s’. I wish I could put my finger on what instrument is being played in the background of this song, it sounds like a cross between a harmonica, an accordian and a hurdy-gurdy, but it provides a momentum that flowed in through my ears and out of my fingers as I wrote about American teenagers in the 1950s and the films that represented it (the benefits of doing a History with Film Studies degree meant much of my dissertation prep was watching movies). I hadn’t really done much in the way of travelling back in 2006 so couldn’t really identify with the theme of the song but its optimistic melody gave me a warm feeling of hope for my future at a time when this dissertation was providing the closing words to one of the greatest adventures of my life.
Official HIGE DANdism - Traveller
This is a very recent one but I can already sense its significance. In October 2019, I was signed off work for the first time due to a worsening situation with my health. Though I’ve had Crohn’s for 17 years, this was by far the worst my condition had ever been. I’ll be brutally honest, there were days when I thought I wasn’t going to make it through to the next day and there were some days I even wished I wouldn’t, I was in so much pain and with treatment not working for the first time ever, the outlook was unpredictable. I had no real quality of life and was losing weight rapidly. I rang in the New Year weighing just 49 kilos, constant stomach cramps and a migraine which had started back at the beginning of December. I usually get very reflective at the beginning of a new year but in early January 2020, I could just about manage to think one hour ahead at a time, let alone try and think of my hopes and wishes for the next year. Fast forward to the end of the month when following the start of a new treatment and some surgery, my healing process finally began and day by day I started to get back to my old self. Music had been a big part of my illness and soon became a big part of my recovery too. There is no way on earth I would have come across Official HIGE DANdism based on my usual listening habits. Official HIGE DANdism…I don’t even know how to say their name properly…are a Japanese pop band and their album Traveller (along with many other of their albums) will stay with me forever. Again, through a ‘Recommended for You’ playlist I heard a Pentatonix, an American acapella group, song called Pretender and got that tummy flip sensation even though I couldn’t understand a word they were saying. I Googled it to see if it was part of an album which is where I discovered it was a cover of Official HIGE DANdism, so I thought I’d give the original a go. I was in my kitchen, unloading the dishwaher and soon found myself dancing around with mugs in my hand. It was the first time I had danced since before I was signed off, not only because I finally had the energy from gaining weight and eating properly again but because I had the energy and desire in my soul to dance. I danced like nobody was watching and laughed at the joy of the situation. I listened to the entire album that drizzly morning in late February and spent the whole time smiling as every song made my heart soar even though I had absolutely no idea what they were singing about. The upbeat and uplifting tunes fitted this time of transfiguration as I became a better version of my old self. Out of that time of darkness came the light that I had stopped myself from daring to dream would come.
Incubus - S.C.I.E.N.C.E
Excuse the sweeping generalised statement here but I think pretty much everyone who was a teenager in the late 1990s/early 00s went through an ‘alternative’ phase. I of course was no exception but not wanting to be tied down and defined by one type of ‘alternative’, I was drawn to Incubus because they ticked a lot of musical genre boxes. It was in the late 90s/early 00s that I spent my Saturday nights at the Agincourt rock club in Camberley, where my friends and I used to joke that you could get in even if your ID was a smiley face drawn on the back of a receipt. I loved getting dressed up in my largest possible flared jeans, a pair of wedged stomp about trainers, a t-shirt usually depicting a retro cartoon character and an armful of multicoloured plastic jewellery. I was no mosher but I did enjoy the odd skanking session on the dancefloor. It was there that I first heard A Certain Shade of Green and just loved its energy and felt very drawn to Brandon Boyd’s voice. It was in the early 00s, before I went to university, that I also became a Young Guide Leader so that I could go with my friend Christina to camps where we would drink and flirt with the young Scout Leaders and visitors around our age. Christina was very alternative, much more so than me, and it was during our friendship that I was able to expand my musical horizons beyond Mariah Carey (though I never let go of her!). One summer she and I were helping in the kitchens preparing basic meals for masses of Scouts and Guides and she had made a mix CD for us to listen to whilst we worked. One of the tracks was Incubus’ Anti Gravity Love Song from the album S.C.I.E.N.C.E and I fell in love with its heavy bass line and jazz-funk style breakdown instantly. It was just so a happy song and has stayed in my musical rotation to this day. Today I love it for its production values too and it has helped open me up to listening to more jazz-funk music, especially brass related tracks. Listening to S.C.I.E.N.C.E (on shuffle naturally) is like eating a bag of Revels, it is full of different flavours and textures and you never quite know what you’re going to get when you stick your hand in! That’s why I feel it’s just a timeless album and seems to have something to offer whatever mood your feeling. I got to meet Incubus before a gig a few years ago, and I practically begged them to play Anti-Gravity in their set, but they never did.
Zac Brown Band - You Get What You Give
America has a very special place in my heart. I grew up at a time when the media was saturated with American pop culture. I also specialised in American history at uni. I've always been enamoured by the place and I dare say that if it wasn’t for my health, I would have moved out there to teach. Every part of the country fascinated me and whilst I had been to Florida and New York before I yearned to see and experience more. The problem was I had nobody who could travel with me for a significant amount of time so I decided to go on my own. I came across a company that allowed solo group travel of 18-35 year olds and in 2011 I signed up to a 3 week road trip from Los Angeles to New York via the Southern states. Along with being diagnosed with Crohn's and going to university, I'd say this trip was a defining moment of my life. I adored every minute and experienced things my younger self could never have dared to imagine. I saw famous sites and little known corners of the country that held such a huge place in my heart. Some days of our trip were spent on the road which is when our tour leader introduced us to the Zac Brown Band through the song Chicken Fried, which fast became a trip singalong anthem. But it was in the quieter moments of our journeys when he would play other songs that we would listen to whilst these iconic vast landscapes rolled passed. So many lyrics and melodies caught my ears and I found myself scrawling them down in my travel journal so I could explore them further when I got home (this being before the days of Shazam, Spotify and WiFi in minivans). So it wasn't until I got home that I fully discovered their albums and You Get What You Give became a fast favourite. I listened to it constantly to hold on to the amazing memories of my summer and to stave off the ever-approaching return to reality of the new school year. This album will forever remind me of the life changing experiences I had on that trip and how I got to live my childhood dreams of exploring a country I adored. I was a late comer to travel (I did this trip in my late 20s) but I have never looked back: I did another coast to coast trip the following year and have endeavoured to make sure travel remains part of my life. When we got married, my husband and I did our own trek across America and it was such a joy to share those experiences that this album evokes with him and make new memories too.
Les Misérables Original West End Soundtrack
Musicals, especially those of the 1970s and 1980s, help me feel attached to my parents. When they were courting, my mum and dad would regularly go to the West End to watch shows when it cost 'tuppence. They have a trunk crammed full of all the programmes from the shows they saw. I share my name with an actress they saw in the orginal cast of Evita (Siobhan McCarthy)! I was constantly listening to musical soundtracks during my childhood as they relived the memories of the late 70s and early 80s and in no time at all I got involved in musical theatre myself. The very first song I performed for my Musical Theatre grades (I went on to achieve grade 8 in Musical Theatre performance) was Castle On A Cloud from Les Miserables. Quite frankly could have performed any song from it as I knew the whole show off by heart but at the age of 8, Castle On A Cloud was by far the most age appropriate. We would sing along to the soundtrack on car journeys (when we took a break from Irish Folk and Country) and have watched pretty much every incarnation of the show with them from the West End to Hollywood. Even though I knew all the words I didn't fully appreciate the story of Les Miserables until I became a stronger Historian. I feel like I have identified with almost every character and every song as I have grown and matured. This is on my list because every note of every song will forever connect me to my parents and the encouragement they have shown me. The opening bars of One Day More will forever fill my heart with joy and my eyes with tears.
Siobhán O’Neill is 35 and lives in Basingstoke, Hampshire with her husband and their cat, Jessie. She’s been a secondary school History teacher since 2007 and is now branching out in to the world of online revision support at ONE History Help which you can find on YouTube, Twitter and Instagram (@onehistoryhelp) and on Facebook. She has also recently founded The Basingstoke History Educators Network (@bstokehen on Twitter) where she hopes local History specialists from Primary school to A-Level can share ideas and learn from each other. Diagnosed at the age of 17, Siobhán is also a self-described ‘Crohn’s Warrior’.