I love music and can't imagine life without it. It's in my family: my father was chapel organist, my spinster aunt played songs from the Sankey hymn book rambunctiously on an out-of-tune piano with yellowing keys and built-in brass candlesticks, and sang along in a mellow contralto voice. From a young age I took piano lessons. I studied music at school and sang in the school choir.
In my mid-teens I embraced the rock and roll revolution: Elvis, Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, and the music of the American West Coast hippie scene: Joni Mitchell, CSN&Y, the Byrds, Jackson Browne, Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead. And soon, after undergoing a Damascene conversion on hearing the fourth movement of Brahms's First Symphony, I was devouring classical music: Bach's Suites and Brandenburg Concertos, Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Debussy.
Live music transported me most of all: the Bach Passions in Lincoln Cathedral, a touring Fairy Queen by Purcell, the keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson sticking knives into his synthesiser during a memorable performance of ELP's much-maligned Tarkus at Sheffield City Hall.
Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Leonard Cohen live. Folk and jazz clubs in the UK and Ireland. Keith Tippett and Julie Driscoll in a tiny underground club in Frankfurt. Thin Lizzy during a drugs bust. Breton roots music in a French village. A lone Scottish bagpiper in a remote Scottish glen. Nigel Kennedy playing demonic violin in Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall. Lots of memories, lots of events — too many to mention.
And yet . . . and yet . . . the older I get, the more I'm drawn to silence. And the more I prefer real, live music to canned, digitised, homogenised music. Yes, I do listen to the radio, and I listen to CDs and MP3s and watch YouTube. But I'm always glad the 'off' button is there; and when I press it, it's usually with relief.
You see, I just don't believe that music should be a permanent backing track to our lives. Or I don't want it for my own life, at any rate. It's inexplicable to me how we have to endure music not-of-our-own-choosing in restaurants, lifts, taxis, shopping centres. And I find it unfathomable how many people can't walk, jog, do exercise, sit on a train, drive a car or wait at a bus stop without constantly being plugged in to an endless shuffle of musical fodder.
Yes, give me the silence — or rather the near-silence, for silence is never completely silent. There's always stuff happening, which somehow defines the silence — rather soothing things, like the drip of a tap, the cough of a passer-by, the creak of a gate, the wind in the trees, the river running over stones, the world slowly turning on its axis. Ok, and the sound of the cat being sick too. All music to my ears.