FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: SONGS FOR A DEPARTURE
It has been a challenging week. I lost my sister to cancer in early January and her funeral was on Wednesday at Macclesfield Crematorium followed by a memorial service at Good News Church in Whaley Bridge. Saying a final goodbye to a loved one hardly comes easy but grief does give way to something uplifting when you are able to celebrate that person’s life within a community bound together by fellowship and love.
Among some of my sister’s much-loved songs and hymns, I chose one of my own favourites – Fairport Convention’s “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” to begin the memorial service. I had written about this particular song twice before: once when ConsequenceofSound ran a feature some years back about songs suitable for a funeral and again here in April 2018 on the 40th anniversary of the death of singer Sandy Denny (pictured above). Craving your indulgence, I felt it appropriate to dust off my thoughts about the song for this week’s column.
What song would you like to be played at your own funeral? Now that’s a taxing one. Unless you sell life insurance or deal in annuities, most of us prefer not to think about death, particularly when it comes to one’s own. Yet our lives are wound around the wire of time. The wire can be long or short, billowing out, or stretched taut and snapped. We all have fond memories of those close to us who lived rich, full lives until it was time for them to go, while we also recall those whose lives were cut tragically and unfairly short.
Meanwhile the wire pulls us along relentlessly, never missing a beat until we do. Because you never know till you know, now is as good a time as any to consider the funeral question. It’s one you can approach from different angles; Do you want a song that is in keeping with the sadness of the occasion? Or something joyful, uplifting and thankful? Of course, the two may even go hand in hand. However tough the call is to get going I would probably pass on any Billy Ocean though. Need something to relieve the pain of grief? Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side” immediately springs to mind.
Levity apart (that was funny?), I would opt for something beautiful and meaningful for the occasion. As I cross things off my personal list and reduce the outcome to three or four possibilities, one of them kept jumping out at me: “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” is from the oddly named Unhalfbricking, the third album by UK folk-rock legends, Fairport Convention. The song is written and sung by one of, if not the greatest female vocalists of all time, Sandy Denny. It’s her parents, Neil and Edna, on the album cover, standing by their rather nice walled garden gate in Wimbledon, with the band casually seated in the garden itself and ne’er a half-brick out of place.
Sandy Denny’s premature death in 1978, after an accident in the home, makes the choice of this song especially poignant. Her voice has an angelic purity, the resonance of seasoned wood and an inner strength that reveals itself in soft tones as much as impassioned moments. The song opens gently with Richard Thompson’s lead guitar waxing lyrical over gentle waves of acoustic guitar, percussion and tasteful bass. Appropriately it begins at the end of the day as ‘across the evening sky all the birds are leaving.’ That familiar, evocative image sets the tone for a song, which goes on to speak simply and eloquently of stoicism, loyalty, the comfort found in companionship, faith in a strong relationship and the power of love to grow.
These very human attributes and values combine to provide a perfect antidote to the march of time. Love conquers the fear of time and its consequences, making you at one with time as the song concludes, ‘For who knows how my loves grows/And who knows where the time goes.’ Such sentiments are perfectly fitting for an occasion where you meet to celebrate the life of someone dear and so it felt when we listened to them on Wednesday.
I think my sister would have approved of this song choice but it is only fair to include one of hers too. This was played midway through the Good News service. It is a version of the hymn “How Great Thou Art” performed by the melismatic Bella Taylor Smith who, in 2021, went on to win the tenth season of The Voice Australia. It is so great that I can wholly forgive the moments of over singing.
We close this week with a timely reminder and a that-time-of-month again prompt. Firstly, a final reminder to all unsigned acts based in the UK or Ireland that entry to Glastonbury Festival’s 2023 Emerging Talent Competition is still open but will close on Monday 6 February at 5pm. The free-to-enter competition gives contestants the opportunity to compete for a spot on one of the main stages at this summer’s Festival. To add to the kudos, there are also valuable Talent Development prizes sponsored by PRS for Music and PRS Foundation to be won.
JANUARY SPOTIFY PLAYLIST
A regular feature of this site is the monthly Fifty3 Fridays Spotify Playlist. The latest one includes all the songs in order from January’s Fifty3 Fridays as long as they are to be found on Spotify, of course. The January Playlist opens splendidly with “The Shadows” by my Glastonbury 2022 breakout star, Nadia Sheikh and reaches its conclusion with the spiky “Anglepoise” from The Happy Somethings. It’s a shorter playlist than usual, simply because I downed tools for the first two weeks of the month.