Note to any non-Brit visitors: Desert Island Discs is a BBC Radio 4 format of long standing.
The Pogues - The dark streets of London
One of their earliest utterances, and their best. It's a statement of intent from MacGowan, that Pogue Mahone (as they still were) had more to offer than punky belligerence set to polka-time. The rambunctiousness drifts off into a dreamy wistful outro. It reminds me of a Kavanagh poem 'If ever you go to Dublin town'
"On Pembroke Road, look out for my ghostI was brought up with Irish music. When I heard the way that The Clash took 'Johnny I hardly knew ye' and re-worked it into 'The English civil war', I figured that there was a gap in the market and I'd spent a few years trying to talk people into forming a band that would re-work those ballads into something more noisy and contemporary. Of course, I got no takers. Then I heard 'dark streets' on the radio in the morning half-light of Bermondsey while I was working on a delivery van, and it set me on a trail around London's pubs, catching the Pogues wherever they played. I soon lost count of the times I saw them...
Disheveled with shoes untied
Playing through the railings with little children
Whose children have long since died."
The Reverend Gary Davis - Hesitation blues
In the mid-1980s, I shared a flat with a hippy called Stu who could make an acoustic guitar talk. He used to pick out Gary Davis tunes, and I've spent years trying to play them half as well as Stu could. I'm getting there, slowly. The original recordings add a real sense of urgency to them though, and this is one of the best.
Errol Dunkley - A little way different
This one has everything. A message of tolerance, a great lazy vocal part, a lovely dubby interlude. Kids! Don't do drugs! But if you must, stick this on while you're doing them.
Craobh Rua - The Narrow Gauge Railway Jigs
I've got a house-full of Irish music tapes. The Bothy Band, Planxty, Jackie Daly, Stockton's Wing, the Sweeney's Men and so on. And I've always liked the way that these acts update and rearrange traditional themes. But over the years, I've come to prefer a more contemporary and purposeful arrangement of new tunes. The combination of whistle and guitar here is a great example of what can be done with Irish music. The accordion is alright as well.
Captain Beefheart - A blue million miles
I've only really got into Beefheart properly in recent years. This is one of his more accessible tracks, (from 'Clear Spot') but one that is hard to get out of your head. Or out of mine, anyway.
Dexy's Midnight Runners - Plan B (probably the Too Rye Ay version).
There are two versions of this. One was a brass-laden b-side, and this fiddle-driven version appeared on the second album. Until the Pogues came along, Dexy's were ... er ... my bombers, my dexys, my high. I played their first LP so much that I had to replace it. Twice.
I still play them all the time, and on another day, I could have picked any one of about a dozen tracks of theirs for this list. I met Kevin Rowland once and told him that I listened to 'Stand me down' every day. This was an exaggeration, and I don't know why I said it, apart from to be creepy. He gave me a look of mild disgust: "Every day?!!?!" he said.
Gil Scott Heron - Gun
My old mate Tom lent me a load of GSH. I loved most of it instantly, but this one grew on me the most. It's less outspokenly political but more focused on the human condition. And the arrangement is a perfect blend.
Sister Nancy - Bam Bam
Effortless dancehall reggae. I've never seen a pictue of Sister N, but in my mind's eye, I imagine a femme fatale. Disdainful and slightly bewildered in the way Billie Holiday was, or like Netta in 'Hangover Square'. Gorgeous, unreachable. And singing in an echo-chamber.
Apart from the Bible and the complete works of Shakespeare (which everyone gets already), this is a tough one. I like to think that I'd take something that I've always meant to read properly (Ulysees or Don Quixote) or something I've largely read but want to remind myself of (Orwell's collected non-fiction). But seeing as I've got Shakespeare already, I'd take that Peter Ackroyd biog that's been reviewed so generously - as a companion to the set.
If you take a musical instrument, can you take a pile of sheet music with it? If so, I'd take an acoustic guitar and a bundle of sheet music I've built up over the years - fingerstyle blues, jazz and ragtime, flatpicking (especially bluegrass), a load of DADGAD Irish harp pieces, Richard Thompson and Nick Drake transcriptions etc. And loads of spare sets of strings (Martin Bronze 12s). If I'm allowed to take the piss, I'd also ask for a Tin Whistle (a 'D' whistle) er... to help me tune up. And a harmonica as well (same reason).