Family commitments meant I couldn’t go to the Southbank Centre’s ‘Death: Festival for the Living’ over the past weekend, but I was able to attend Paul Gambaccini’s Desert Island Death Discs session on Friday evening at which he held an enraptured audience in the palm of his hand.
From the tweets and postings by The Natural Death Centre and Emembrance, the weekend was exceptionally good and I would like to thank and praise the Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director Jude Kelly for having the courage and vision for staging the event.
She summed up the audience’s gratitude when thanking Paul Gambaccini at the end of the event, for his was a most intelligent, informed, personal, amusing and insightful analysis of funeral music. He had researched copious lists in this country, Europe and north America. He used his encyclopaedic knowledge of all types of music to add pertinent anecdotes, not least that the original lyricist of My Way electrocuted himself changing a lightbulb while standing in his bath shortly before the release of Sinatra’s version, thus losing the huge royalties that would have boosted his bank account.
Paul felt no reason to hide his annoyance at Robbie Williams’ Angels being the third most played secular song at funerals. “It’s got nothing to do with death.” And he damned Celine Dion’s My Heart Will Go On with the faintest of praise.
What I, and most of the audience, appreciated were his personal choices that didn’t make the top ten. I’ve made them a specific fave five, and in the meantime will mention a most moving Johnny Cash tribute to a friend, Jim I Wore A Tie Today; the poetic, haunting Hope There’s Someone by the gifted Antony Hegarty, better known as Antony from Antony and the Johnsons; and Beth Nielsen Chapman’s Sand And Water, which was heard in total silence, Gambaccini’s explanation of its provenance and the sadness of the lyric demanding nothing less.
I also liked the way he interspersed the secular songs with the most popular hymn, The Lord’s My Shepherd, the most popular piece of classical music , the opening of Mozart’s Requiem and his personal favourite Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs, sung by Elizabeth Schwarzkopf. As an aside, Gambaccini told us that when she was the castaway on Desert Island Discs the eight titles she chose were all her own recordings, the only time this had happened, not surprisingly.
The most popular comedy song was Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life from the Python film The Life Of Brian.
He knew when to ask for audience interaction – ‘what were the songs we wanted at our funerals?’, and I would like to finish by giving my thanks to those who suggested Ain’t No Sunshine, Misty Blue, Iron Maiden’s Hallowed Be Thy Name, Is That All There Is? And in particular the lady who came on stage and explained why a Sinatra song was her choice.
I didn’t catch the title of the song, but it was a cracker. If anyone who was there can let me know I will be very grateful, and the song will appear on My Last Song so others can appreciate it too.
And the top ten secular funeral songs as researched, described and played by Paul Gambaccini:
My Way: Frank Sinatra
The Wind Beneath My Wings: Bette Midler
Angels: Robbie Williams
Time To Say Goodbye: Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightman
Stairway To Heaven: Led Zepplin
My Heart Will Go On: Celine Dion
I Will Always Love You: Whitney Houston
Goodbye My Lover: James Blunt
Candle In The Wind: Elton John
The Show Must Go On: Queen