Sunday 22 September 2019

John Masterson: 'Listen up while you still have the time'

Guy Garvey. Photo: Getty Images
Guy Garvey. Photo: Getty Images

John Masterson

I am a good sleeper, but if I do wake during the night I have a simple routine. I have the BBC App on my phone and I check Radio 4 and select 'Featured'. There is always something interesting to listen to. Usually I fall back asleep in five minutes but recently I gave a full hour at 4am to Guy Garvey, lead singer in Elbow.

Guy got involved in an interesting pastime a decade ago and he is now encouraging others to do likewise. His father was a good storyteller and Guy asked could he record some of the stories as they chatted. Guy, and his brothers and sisters, knew they would forget them in years to come.

"Do you think I am going to die?" his father asked. "I know you are," was Guy's uncompromising answer! Both hoped that it was a good time away and indeed it proved to be. It will happen to us all. We just don't know when. Now Guy is chatting about it on radio and telling all and sundry how much it meant to the relationship with his father, and how glad he is to have made the simple recordings. He values them enormously.

I was recounting this to the young people who surround me in my daily working life. I am never quite sure what they will say. Sometimes their eyes glaze over but I don't care. It is worth it to keep in touch with a world view that is somewhat different from mine.

We had some common ground as Elbow were not unknown to them. But I was rapidly informed that the storytelling idea was a bit old hat. Had I never heard of DJ Daithi? Somehow this particularly talented exponent of dance music has passed me by. So I was directed to Mary Keane, which was a huge hit for Daithi and featured an interview with his grandmother. It is a fabulous interview. Mary has a wonderful laugh and tells in her Clare accent about how she didn't take her father's advice and go and meet the fellow with the big farm. Instead, she met the love of her life in Kilfernora. She tells about meeting Daithi's grandfather and comes up with the tag line that features through the song... "And I fell in love with him". It is fun and it is charming and I defy anyone to listen and not have a smile on the face and a tap in their feet. I hope Guy Garvey gets to hear it. He would get it, big time.

I don't live much in the past. We have old reel-to-reel recordings of my father singing. Someday we must transfer them. The best Christmas present I ever gave the family was a CD version of a film of our parents' wedding. It was a mute film but it was fascinating to recognise people that we never knew before middle age.

I do keep important letters. I like the feeling of seeing an envelope with bold confident handwriting written with a fountain pen waiting for me at the hall door. But these days who writes letters? I have kept the occasional well written text but they are few and far between.

The past is a different country. And Guy and Daithi have given us a glimpse into earlier years that many people may like to give a try. We might also try writing the occasional letter as well.

Guy Garvey is right. It does pay to listen to old people. And to young people. Middle age is great!

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