129 episodes

Series about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact

Soul Music BBC

    • Society & Culture

Series about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact

    Sunshine on Leith

    Sunshine on Leith

    "While I'm worth my room on this earth......"

    Sunshine on Leith was released in 1988 but didn't become the big hit The Proclaimers had hoped for. However it has endured and become an anthem of love and a celebration of life. It is the song played at Hibs FC matches and has come to symbolise the sense of community felt by supporters. Margaret Alcorn recalls how she and her husband were involved in the Hibs Supporters Club organising and taking part in social events for local people in Leith. When their club came under threat from a merger with rival Edinburgh team Hearts she and her husband worked tirelessly to preserve it. Craig and Charlie Reid played a benefit concert for the Club. Sunshine on Leith became the song that expressed the emotions of the fans during that time and has remained the song they still sing at the football ground. When her husband passed away the song played at his funeral was Sunshine on Leith.
    Musician Ross Wilson grew up in Leith and is also a passionate Hibs Supporter. The feelings of comfort and solidarity he experiences at home games led him to create his own version of the song which he performed with a choir to celebrate one of his favourite songs that reminds him of home and that he calls true soul music.
    Melinda Tetley's family would always sing Proclaimers songs at home in Edinburgh while her three children were growing up. But when her teenage son fell ill with leukemia Sunshine on Leith took on a special significance for them culminating in a spontaneous joyful singalong on a walk along a lochside.
    The human rights lawyer Clive Stafford-Smith is a big fan of The Proclaimers and remembers seeing them perform Sunshine on Leith in New Orleans just days after 9/11 to an audience of exactly eight people - half of whom were the prosecuting team in a Death Row murder case he was defending. And musicologist Dave Robb who toured with The Proclaimers explains the song's lasting emotional appeal and spiritual beauty.

    Producer: Maggie Ayre

    • 28 min
    Life on Mars?

    Life on Mars?

    Life on Mars was released on David Bowie's Hunky Dory album in 1971. Two years later it came out as a single in its own right. Famous for its exploration of disillusionment and alienation, there is no one single definitive story behind it. But that is perhaps the song's beauty and the secret behind its appeal - that its cryptic lyrics are open to interpretation, and can mean different things to different people.

    Musicians and fans talk about what Life on Mars? means to them, and its lasting emotional impact, in this special programme remembering Bowie's birthday on January 8th 1947 and commemorating his death on January 10th 2016.

    And what does the question mark in the song's title mean?

    With contributions from:
    Musician Dana Gillespie whose autobiography is Weren't Born A Man
    Bowie author Chris O'Leary
    Scientist Abigail Fraeman of NASA's Mars Mission
    Artist Bridget Griggs
    The Reverend Steve Stockman
    Screenwriter Ashley Pharoah (Life on Mars)

    Producer: Maggie Ayre for BBC Audio Bristol

    • 28 min
    Once In A Lifetime

    Once In A Lifetime

    Talking Heads emerged out of the post punk scene of the late 1970s. Once In A Lifetime is the iconic single taken from their album Remain In Light. With its looped synthesizer and Afrobeat inspired by Fela Kuti it seemed to pre-empt the consumerism and ennui of the 1980s. Writer Ian Gittins interviewed David Byrne and later wrote his book Once In A Lifetime. He says David Byrne had in mind people of a certain middle class existence who seemingly breeze through life with ease when he wrote the lyrics. They may get to middle age or reach a crisis point and ask "How did I get here?" For a song that invites us to question our lives it has a suprisingly emotional core that encourages people to be grateful and make positive changes in their lives where necessary. For Glaswegian Gerry Murphy that meant becoming more present for his family after serious illness forced him to reconsider the amount of time he devoted to his career. He went on to write a book about his experience - And You May Find Yourself: A Guided Practice To Never Fearing Death Again.
    Ian Peddie was inspired by the song to leave his dead end existence in Wolverhampton in the mid 1980s to 'find himself in another part of the world' following his dreams. Kelly Waterhouse says the song symbolises gratitude for all the things she takes for granted and sometimes struggles with in her life as a busy working mother.
    And singer Angelique Kidjo recorded her own version of Once In A Lifetime in 2018 after coming full circle with the song from her arrival in Paris in 1983 after fleeing the dictatorship in her home country of Benin. She heard the song at a student party and recognised the Afrobeats adopted by David Byrne and Brian Eno that made her feel both joyful and homesick at the same time.


    Producer: Maggie Ayre

    • 28 min
    I Wonder as I Wander

    I Wonder as I Wander

    As Christmas approaches, Soul Music leads you through Advent with the Appalachian carol "I Wonder as I Wander".

    Written by American folklorist and singer John Jacob Niles, its origins come from a song fragment collected in 1933. Mysterious, inspiring, this traditional Christmas carol reflects on the nativity and the nature of wondering.

    While in the town of Murphy in Appalachian North Carolina, Niles attended a fundraising meeting held by evangelicals who had been ordered out of town by the police. He wrote of hearing the song:

    “A girl had stepped out to the edge of the little platform attached to the automobile. She began to sing. Her clothes were unbelievably dirty and ragged, and she, too, was unwashed. Her ash-blond hair hung down in long skeins. ... she was beautiful, and in her untutored way, she could sing. She smiled as she sang, smiled rather sadly, and sang only a single line of a song”.

    The girl, named Annie Morgan, repeated the fragment seven times in exchange for a quarter per performance, and Niles left with "three lines of verse, and a magnificent idea". Based on this fragment, Niles composed the version of "I Wonder as I Wander" that is known today.

    This most unusual of carols touches people in different ways. With childhood memories from a 1960s RAF base in Oxfordshire, a Nigerian schoolgirl who found her place in Winchester Cathedral, reflections from a candlelit vigil in an Appalachian town, and a Christmas gift as described by world renowned singer Melanie Marshall.

    Guests: Performer Melanie Marshall, Ron Pen (biographer John Jacob Niles), Viva Choir member Louise Sheaves, author Chibundu Onuzo and music scholar John McClain. Featuring music from John Rutter and Burl Ives.
    Consultant: Ted Olson.

    Producer: Nicola Humphries

    • 27 min
    Lean On Me by Bill Withers

    Lean On Me by Bill Withers

    An enduring classic which delivers a message of support and friendship. Never more so than in 2020 when it's been the musical backdrop to the Covid crisis in the UK, and at Black Lives Matter protests in the US.

    Taking part:

    Andy Greene, a senior writer at Rolling Stone magazine, tells the remarkable life-story of Bill Withers.

    Composer, Neil Brand, explains how the simplicity of this track is what enables it to pack such a strong emotional punch.

    Sara Morrell is a nurse whose version of Lean On Me, recorded quickly at home as a way of cheering-up colleagues, caught the attention of some big names in the music industry.

    Sharmila Bousa organised a community flash-mob to show support to her local shops in Westbury-on-Trym which had suffered a spate of armed-robberies.

    Arianna Evans has become a voice of the Black Lives Matter protests. She recalls a powerful moment at one of the Washington DC rallies where local singer, Kenny Sway, sang Lean On Me creating a memorable and much-needed moment of joy and unity.


    Thanks to: Ian DeMartino who recorded the speech given by Arianna Evans; Zaranyzerak who provided the recording of Kenny Sway's performance; and to Tristan Cork who filmed the Westbury-on-Trym flashmob for Bristol Live


    Produced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Karen Gregor

    • 27 min
    I Will Survive

    I Will Survive

    "At first I was afraid, I was petrified"... From a breakup to a shipwreck, emotional true stories of what Gloria Gaynor's iconic disco anthem I Will Survive means to different people around the world.

    A woman sets out to become the first female rower to cross the Atlantic solo; a woman listens to the song 35 times in a row after a breakup; a drag queen steps onto the stage of a Berlin nightclub; a mother watches her daughters sing karaoke at a holiday club on the first foreign holiday since leaving her abusive marriage; women gather on the steps of the Courts of Justice to sing the song together as they await a verdict.

    Featuring Elisabeth Hoff, Latrice Royale, Penny Arcade, Pragna Patel and Nadine Hubbs.

    Produced by Mair Bosworth

    • 27 min

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