10 songs that bring back memories of my travels: Cerys Matthews’ playlist
Adventure Flight by Lemn Sissay and Hidden Orchestra/Cerys Matthews
“Go to Addis!” Three words from author and poet Lemn Sissay made me book a flight and finally head to Ethiopia – a land of music, history, food and nature. The trip was too short, though we did meet Mulatu Astatke, father of Ethio-jazz, on his home turf, visited a coffee plantation and drank the best coffee in the world, saw several hippos and fell in love with the marabou storks, as tall as me and as characterful as our older generations. We tried tej (honey wine) at the Fendika Cultural Centre in Addis Ababa, saw the young generation play and dance to ancient songs, then watched a DJ session by Melaku, surrounded by his record collection. Also check out Hailu Mergia and Homesickness by Tsegué Maryam Guèbronwells.
Police and Thieves by Junior Murvin
This song is indelibly associated with the 1976 Notting Hill carnival and race riots, but a few bars of it take me to San San, a quiet stretch of beach near Port Antonio in Jamaica, where local mento band the Jolly Boys play their version. Junior Murvin lived on the same hillside, and this tune resonates miles away. It was playing again on the decks at the Geejam Studio in Port Antonio, by when I had a sorrel martini in hand and I was gazing upwards through the canopy of the trees in this area famous for its verdant giants. I recognised varieties of climbing plants usually left languishing, gathering dust, in office corners back home.
Éirigh is cuir ort do cuid éadaigh by Altan
Teac Hiudai Beag’s bar in Gweedore, County Donegal: midwinter, full wind, young children and peace on a bar stool with great Guinness. Our three little ones, none older than seven, danced to and with the Murphy family in session, then watched Altan on New Year’s Eve in the local arts centre, and later listened to ghost stories – all in the shadow of a snow-covered Mount Errigal.
Johnny is the Boy for Me by Les Paul and Mary Ford
At the Iridium jazz club on Broadway, Les Paul was so switched on, talking about bluesman Pegleg Howell like it was yesterday. On the same trip to New York, we headed to the Terra Blues bar on Bleecker Street; then Sunday afternoon was spent at Smalls in the West Village, and the intimate jazz sessions that simply cannot be lost to Covid. Check out the club’s fly-on-the-wall camera that streams live sessions.
Yesterdays by Yusef Lateef
Yusef’s attitude to music reminds me of great local music venues – you don’t always have to travel for great trips. I used to stroll into Mau Mau on London’s Portobello Road (now sadly closed), stay gripped to my other half and take in whatever its jazz re:freshed sessions had to offer that night. It was an experience that only the passing of time has showed the real value of. We witnessed a generation of soon-to-be-seminal London jazz players stake their claims. Check out a clip or two of Nubya Garcia on YouTube, and you’ll get an idea of the magic they created.
Further up on the Road by Honeyboy Edwards
So much can be learned through music. As a child I’d drink in the politics and life that were found in the best pan-world songs. To end up singing with this Delta blues legend, who was a colleague and friend of Robert Johnson, was something I will never forget. Three chords and so much to say, he was in his 90s when I met and sang with him in the humidity of a Mississippi afternoon, guitar in hand, on a porch, sweating and swatting away the mosquitoes.
El Carretero by Guillermo Portabales
OK, hand on heart, I’d enjoyed too many mojitos a few days previously in El Floridita bar, where Hemingway used to drink in Havana, and ended up singing the first verse of the Irish folk ballad Spancil Hill a few too may times … I couldn’t remember the rest of the words. Then I endured a flight on an ancient plane through an electric storm after an eight-hour delay because of technical difficulties (I’m a nervous flyer at the best of times). But then I got to spend time in the cradle of son cubano music – Casa de la Trova in Santiago – with its huge cigars, dancing of gymnastic capabilities (not me) and some standout acoustics, all played live, electric-free by world-leading local players.
Supersonic by Oasis (on accordion, ideally)
I was standing in the middle of this little industrial village called Lerwick in Shetland. The cobbled square ends abruptly and becomes a mooring for oil boats from all nations. Right there: a mooring up to the middle of the pedestrian centre! There are tiny stone-fronted shops and cottages, a paved centre, and then the huge red-and-white hulks of steel ships forming a border to the square. Add to that scene slowly falling mammoth snowflakes and crystal-clear air. Then a door suddenly opened to belch out Oasis’s Supersonic – played on accordions. It was a snow globe kind of evening that I never wanted to leave.
Castell Rhos y Llan by Llio Rhydderch (from Melangell)
Walking the heights of Caernarfon Castle, eating food in the local pubs such as the 16th-century Black Boy Inn, reading about the history of the city walls, borders and migration … And then visiting the leading exponent of the Welsh triple harp, Llio Rhydderch, at home among a collection of harps that date back to the 18th century, when Abram Wood and his Roma family settled in Wales, took up playing the three-stringed harp and saved the tradition, allowing the pedal-free harp to become the national instrument of Wales. Llio was a pupil of “Queen of the Harp” Nansi Richards, who learned from the Wood family. I was in heaven listening to Llio’s versions of local airs from Ynys Mon (Angelsey), and I dreamed of Miles Davis arriving, and listening to him and Llio improvising on these ancient melodies.
Petite Fleur by Sidney Bechet
My perfect day in Paris would start with coffee and a view over the Seine followed by a browse through the bookshelves of Shakespeare and Company, then a wander around the central districts of Paris, looking for that perfect spot for a picnic lunch beside the river to devour a new book and une demi-bouteille de vin. This tune, recorded by Sidney Bechet and French jazz clarinettist Claude Luter, bottles the Parisian summer haze, and serves as a taster for a late-night boogie in the Latin Quarter at jazz club Le Caveau de la Huchette (opened in 1946).