So for a ‘Spill Challenge I thought it might be fun to combine my love of music with my love of European travel and produce a sort of musical travelogue around some of the capitals of Western Europe. But if you put yourself into the mindset of Judith Chalmers and were on this journey and could make your decision based only on these tracks, which one of these 11 cities would you not bother getting off the train for….
1 Scott Walker – Copenhagen: As the home of Hans Christian Anderson and Tivoli Gardens, I think Copenhagen holds a special place in many people’s imagination as a city of fairly tales and childlike wonder, an atmosphere that Walker evokes beautifully in this lush track.
2 Amália Rodrigues - Fado Lisboeta: Amália was the Queen of Fado (the Portuguese Blues, the absolute sound of the working class districts of Lisbon), and what more perfect track to play here than this sweet number in which the sound of the Fado evokes a cityscape of dark streets populated by folks with a heavy burden in their soul. An unsurpassed vocalist.
3 Heidi Brühl – Berlin: If anyone tries to tell you that the Germans can’t do “groovy”, steer them towards this little gem from Heidi Brühl, one time child star turned Schlager supremo who had a brief moment making funky records in London, including this one, penned by Ernest Maxin, one time producer of the Morcambe and Wise show….
4 Michel Legrand - Sous Le Ciel De Paris: I had the very good fortune to work in Paris for a short while a few years back and one of the best €5 I spent there was on a copy of Michel Legrand’s Paris Jazz Piano in the Champs-Elysées branch of Fnac, and it quickly became the soundtrack to my free time roaming the city, no more so than this ultra-cool, ultra-smooth take on a Parisian standard.
5 Per Myrberg – Stockholm Blues: Swedish singer (and actor) Myrberg takes on Oscar Brown Jr’s Humdrum Blues and in a moment of Bergman-esque genius, relocates that existential angst to his hometown. A seriously swinging piece of big band Swedish jazz-pop.
6 Jacques Brel - Bruxelles: An affectionate portrayal of his hometown in its pomp around the start of the first world war and the lives his grandparents lived there. Bombastic and magisterial.
7 Billy Nicholls – London Social Degree: And so to London, and what more exciting time to visit than when it was the epicenter of the swinging 60s? Is this young chap saying that London is such a hotbed of art, culture and social opportunities that he don’t need no education daddio, he’s going to the school of life to get himself a London Social Degree?, yeah, that’s right! Er, hang on London Social Degree – that’s LSD right? Ooh, the cheeky scamp, I hope no other, more respectable bands get ideas like that.
8 Billy Joel – Vienna: In my view, one of Joel’s finest songs, inspired by a visit to his estranged father who he found living in Vienna. In Joel’s song, Vienna represents many things – a crossroads and meeting place of many cultures in the heart of Europe (particularly of Jewish culture, central to Joel’s upbringing) , a place of beginnings (his father had fled to America from the Nazis), and so equally a place of return – when Joel found his father there, he found a fulfilled man. Perhaps therefore Vienna itself is a metaphor for fulfillment and the rest of your life. The song’s atmosphere is unmistakably European, but still firmly embedded in Americana – a really great record.
9 Kostas Roukounas – Στης Πλάκας τα στενάκια (Stis Plakas ta stenakia): The beautiful Athenian district of Plaka, right in the shadow of the looming Acropolis, has been a hive of human activity for millenia – this superb example of Rebetiko (the Greek working class blues), dating from the mid 1930s, celebrates the potential for wine fueled fun that the district holds. The 30′s were a critical time in the development of the Rebetiko genre – Greece and Turkey had recently undergone a compulsory population exchange (one of the biggest acts of ethnic cleansing outside of wartime), which resulted in the population of Athens swelling. The new arrivals brought with them some distinctly Eastern musical styles, which integrated themselves heavily into working class music – hence why this sounds distinctly oriental. Over time, the stronger elements of Eastern styles were smoothed out of the Rebetiko, but here it is very dominant.
10 Gianmaria Testa – Gli amanti di Roma: A hopelessly romantic song from one of Italy’s finest contemporary singer songwriters (who inexplicably is hardly known outside of his homeland), this celebrates, without a trace of cynicism, that on some days, every bridge and road of the city seems to be filled with lovers.
11 Collage – Madrid: When I first went to the beautiful city of Madrid (over 10 years ago), this was the piece of music that got stuck in my head, its only real association being the name, but it was on an excellent Blue Note compilation that I had acquired and its laid back, languid feel was just perfectly suited to the vistas across that hot, shimmering city. In actual fact, it was recorded by a group of session musicians led by one time Shadows drummer Brian Bennett for an album released on the EMI Studio 2 Easy listening label – but that doesn’t matter, it’s cool as anything, and as far as I’m concerned, is inextricably linked to that magical city.