Series about pieces of music with a powerful emotional impact
Take Me Home, Country Roads
"Country roads, take me home
To the place I belong"
Written by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert with and for their friend John Denver, the song went on to be covered by Ray Charles, Toots and the Maytals, Olivia Newton John and many more. A song about the longing for home and the desire to be back with the people you love, 'Country Roads' has become one of the official state songs of West Virginia but it also speaks to people from around the world and across political divides. It's a song about togetherness, belonging, homesickness, the immigrant experience and the hold that the landscape of your 'home place' can have on you.
Featuring contributions from Bill Danoff, Sarah Morris, Jason Jeong, Ngozi Fulani, Lloyd Bradley and Alison Wells. And from Molly Sarlé, Alexandra Sauser-Monnig and Amelia Meath of the band Mountain Man.
Produced by Mair Bosworth for BBC Audio in Bristol
The Parting Glass
"So fill to me the parting glass...
Goodnight and joy be to you all."
A popular toast at the end of an evening or a heartfelt farewell to a departed or deceased person? The Parting Glass has become synonymous with leaving. It was written in Scotland and has criss crossed the Irish Sea becoming a popular song among Celtic peoples around the world.
Folk singer Karine Polwart talks of its fragile beauty as a song that can be a rousing drinking song at the end of the night but equally a poignant farewell at a funeral.
For Alaskan Fire Chief Benjamin Fleagle there was no more fitting song to honour his mentor and colleague at his Fire Department when he passed away over a decade ago. The song still brings out raw emotion in him.
Alissa McCulloch 'clung' to the song when she heard the Irish singer Hozier sing a version of it at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. At the time Alissa was seriously mentally unwell at home in Australia and was admitted to hospital where she listened to the song over and over finding comfort in its timeless beauty.
After Canada's worst mass shooting in its history Pete MacDonald and his sisters recorded an acapella version of the song as a musical tribute to those who lost their lives. It's a tradition in Novia Scotia to sing in the kitchen at parties, wakes and celebrations and they wanted to pay their respects to the dead.
The Irish singer Finbar Furey has performed the song with his band the Fureys and talks about its appeal not only in Scotland and Ireland but throughout the Scots-Irish diaspora.
"But since it falls unto my lot
That I should rise
And you should not
I'll gently rise and softly call
Goodnight and joy be to you all"
Producer for BBC Audio in Bristol: Maggie Ayre
The High Kings
We've Only Just Begun
The Carpenters - brother and sister duo Richard and Karen - were one of the most popular groups of the 1970s. His outstanding compositions and her stunning vocals created several massive hits including We've Only Just Begun. Originally written as a TV advert for a bank portraying happy young couples embarking on married life full of hope, they loved it and released it as their third single in 1970. Karen's wistful voice gave the song a melancholy that has long resonated with fans.
After her premature death from heart failure due to anorexia nervosa, the song took on an extra poignancy with lyrics like "so much of life ahead".
Fans tell their stories about the song and how it relates to their own life journeys.
For Professor Karen Tongson (named after the singer), We've Only Just Begun is about growing up in the Philippines where The Carpenters epitomised the American Dream. When she emigrated to the USA, the song became a metaphor for the immigrant experience.
Nomad and writer Jeff Read remembers his childhood in a poor part of Los Angeles brought up by a single mother who eventually died homeless on the street. The song brings back memories of childhood optimism and his longing for a stable family life.
Poet Abigail George recalls seeing a film about Karen Carpenter's life and identifying with the singer's struggles with an eating disorder as she herself had to cope with a difficult family life in South Africa.
Retired policeman John Weiss was reminded of the song when he attended the death of an elderly person at a care home. John looked at the deceased man's wedding photos and was struck by the brevity of life.
The singer Natasha Khan aka Bat For Lashes always loved The Carpenters and recorded her own version of We've Only Just Begun as part of an album where things don't end well for the young bride. Ironically, her version now features in a commercial for a British bank so the song has come full circle.
Randy Schmidt is the author of Little Girl Blue (The Life of Karen Carpenter).
Versions of the song featured are by
Grant Lee Buffalo
The Carpenters with the Philharmonic Orchestra
Producer for BBC Audio in Bristol: Maggie Ayre
Smalltown Boy by Bronski Beat
This disco classic tells a powerful story: that of a young, gay man leaving his homophobic small town for the freedom of the big city. Released in 1984, Smalltown Boy continues to resonate and has become an anthem for the LGBTQ+ community. The track appeared on their album 'The Age of Consent' which drew attention to the inequality between the ages at which heterosexual people and homosexual men were legally able to have sex.
Taking part in the programme:
Shaun Dellenty, an ex primary school leader and author who developed an award winning LGBT+ training programme 'Celebrating Difference-Inclusion For All' which he now delivers to students and staff around the world.
Paul Flynn, journalist and author of 'Good As You, 30 Years of Gay Britain'.
Diane Anderson-Minshall, CEO and Editorial Director of Pride Media.
Colin Crummy, freelance journalist
Neil Brand, pianist, composer, writer and broadcaster
Adam Carver aka Fatt Butcher, drag artist, creative producer, and community organiser.
Archive: The audio of Jimmy Somerville is taken from the BBC archives
Music:: various versions of Smalltown Boy by Jimmy Somerville, and Bronski Beat. Also covers by Dido, and Orville Peck.
Produced by Karen Gregor for BBC Audio in Bristol.
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
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
I just love listening to this podcast every night 💜 Thank you for creating this!
Tks for the great podcast! It helps me to sleep and relax