Episodes

  • "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

    Song versions:
    Karine Polwart
    Hozier
    Finbar Furey
    The High Kings
    The MacDonalds

  • 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
    Paul Williams
    Natasha Khan
    The Carpenters
    The Carpenters with the Philharmonic Orchestra

    Producer for BBC Audio in Bristol: Maggie Ayre

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  • 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.

  • "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 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • "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

  • It's a love song about growing old. Neil Young's Harvest Moon released in 1992 is a nod to the 1970s country rock loved by music blogger Alyson Young. It's also a grown up song about love says singer-songwriter Ricky Ross. How do you make the magic last and how do you keep love alive? People tell their stories about what the song means to them: jazz singer Maureen Washington danced to the song with her late husband. Amanda Legere played it to her premature baby daughter when she went to see her in the ICU. She knows the baby responded to that song. Mary Divine and her husband were serenaded on their wedding anniversary during lockdown. The whole neighbourhood came out to watch a teenage neighbour play Harvest Moon for them. Margy Waller drove to work at the White House on the final days of Bill Clinton's Presidency listening to Harvest Moon because she needed to cry. For her it's a song about loss. She is still touched by it today during the pandemic in what she describes as another period of great loss.

    Versions include Harvest Moon by
    Neil Young
    Cassandra Wilson
    Maureen Washington
    Nils Lofgren
    Neil Young Unplugged

    Produced by Maggie Ayre


    Alyson's music blog is Jukeboxtimemachine.com
    Ricky Ross presents Another Country on BBC Radio Scotland.
    Maureen Washington is a jazz singer based in British Columbia.

  • Ravel's beautiful Pavane For A Dead Princess touches many people. While it is not actually about a dead princess it does evoke a sense loss. For Carla van Raay it symbolises the loss of innocence she experienced after sexual abuse as a child which led her to make some difficult life choices. Deal Hudson played it to prisoners in Atlanta and was moved by their reaction. At an academy for troubled teenagers in California the Pavane had a similar effect. Genevieve Monneris comes from the town where Ravel was born on the border with Spain. Her film Henri and Pat tells the story of three French airman who were stationed in York during World War Two. Just days before Henri's plane was shot down the three young men went to a concert of Ravel's music in York. So the piece has a strong emotional meaning for Genevieve whose own father was also stationed with the RAF in York. Professor Barbara Kelly of the Royal Northern College of Music explains the background to the Pavane's composition and why it appeals to the emotions in such a powerful way. Although it was written at the end of the 19th century it became more widely known in the 1920s. That was when a young woman called Lucia Joyce daughter of James Joyce danced to it with her avant garde dance group. The writer Annabel Abbs tells Lucia's tragic story of how her life ended in a mental asylum and how she almost became the imaginary 'dead princess'.

    Versions used:
    Pavane Pour Une Infante Défunte
    William Orbit
    Julian Bream
    James Rhodes
    Maurice Ravel
    Ravel Pavane arrangement for harp and cello

    Producer: Maggie Ayre

  • The surprising history behind a track made famous by Nina Simone. Feeling Good was written for a now obscure musical and originally performed by Cy Grant, the first black man to appear regularly on British TV. Cy Grant's daughter, Samantha Moxon, describes her father's extraordinary life from Prisoner of War camp to a successful career in the arts. The composer, Neil Brand, discusses why the song has gone on to transcend the almost forgotten musical it was created for. Other speakers are Sam Reynolds, who says the track helped her through challenging times, and musician, Kirsten Lamb, who sings a simplified version with young children at a homelessness project in Massachusetts.

    Producer: Karen Gregor

  • Sittin' On The Dock of the Bay was written while Otis Redding was reflecting on his life on Sausalito Bay in California in the summer of 1967. Its upbeat, laidback melody belies the loneliness of the lyrics. Just a few months later Otis Redding was killed in a plane crash and the song was released, becoming the first posthumous number 1 record in the US. His musician contemporaries including Booker T Jones and guitarist Steve Cropper, who co-wrote Dock of the Bay, tell the story of the song's genesis, and people in their twenties to their seventies reveal why they relate it to dramatic periods in their lives.

    Booker T Jones' Time Is Tight is published by Omnibus Press

    Producers: Maggie Ayre and Mair Bosworth

  • “It’s a goodbye song, but it’s also an inspirational song, It could also mean a new beginning" - Ray Davies

    Written by Ray Davies and released by the Kinks in 1968 'Days' had a very different sound to the rest of their repertoire. Sorrowful but uplifting it's been embraced by listeners across the world who have found solace and hope in it's lyrics.

    Having been covered by numerous artists (most notably Kirsty MacColl), it speaks to people of all generations and captures moments in their lives.

    For Sim Wood it's an anthem to great friendships and discovery whilst for actor Gabriel Vick it's a song that has journeyed with him from a place of fond memories to heartfelt remembrance. John Slater, who was born the same year that it was released, has his own celebratory take on 'Days' and for Laura and John Mapes it's the song that gave them the words they so needed to express.

    Produced By Nicola Humphries
    With contributions from rock critic and writer Barry Miles

    For Help and Support

    BBC Action Line support: Emotional distress
    www.bbc.co.uk/actionline
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4WLs5NlwrySXJR2n8Snszdg/emotional-distress-information-and-support

    The Samaritans
    www.samaritans.org

    Cruse Bereavement Care provides support after the death of someone close including face to face, telephone, group support, as well as bereavement support for children.
    www.cruse.org.uk

    SUDEP Action provides information and bereavement support to families affected by Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) and other epilepsy related deaths.
    www.sudep.org

    Young Epilepsy is a national charity supporting children and young people aged 25 and under living in the UK with epilepsy.
    www.youngepilepsy.org.uk

  • Released in 1982, this soft-rock anthem has become an unlikely viral smash-hit.

    Africa by Toto is a song that has changed lives, helped to raise thousands of pounds for charity and provided an unexpected musical corner-stone in a critically acclaimed play. Telling their personal stories in Soul Music:

    Ralf Schmidt is the Artistic Director of Ndlovu Youth Choir which is made up of young people from the poorest parts of South Africa. Incredibly, the choir made it to the final of America's Got Talent, one of the biggest entertainment shows in the world. Ralf's exuberant, irresistible and uniquely African arrangement of Toto's Africa was their stand-out performance. (Brief extract of AGT (c) Fremantle USA and Syco Entertainment)

    Michael Savage (aka DJ Michael Vinyl) of Prime Cuts record shop in Bristol, staged what could be considered a night of torture when he played Africa non-stop for twelve hours at a club. As Mike and Olivia Perry recall, this was to raise money for the Bristol based charity, Temwa, which operates in Malawi. They expected a handful of people to turn up, but the event had worldwide attention and was a huge success.

    Mike Massé's life was completely changed following his release on YouTube of what many consider to be one of the best Africa cover-versions ever recorded. The main photo is of Mike Massé (photo credit: Jim Mimna).

    David Greig is the Artistic Director of the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh; an esteemed playwright with intellectual clout. So, why did he include Africa in one of his plays? Well, he nearly didn't, but then he saw the light.

    And, Abigail Gardner, a reader in music at the University of Gloucestershire, explains why Africa - originally a US No. 1 for just a week in 1982 - has recently undergone a strange modern rebirth, making it one of the most streamed songs on the internet.

    Please scroll down to the 'Related Links' box to find out more about the interviewees.


    Producer: Karen Gregor

  • Performed as part of the mystery plays, the 'Coventry Carol' is from the Pageant of the Shearman and Taylors and tells the story of the Slaughter of The Innocents. A copy of the manuscript survived a fire in Birmingham Library in 1879 by sheer chance. Musician Ian Pittaway describes seeing the play in the ruins of Coventry cathedral in the 1980s - the drama was so powerful it still moves him to tears. The carol was sung on Christmas Day in 1940 in a live broadcast to the Empire just six weeks after the bombing of Coventry that destroyed the city's cathedral. Journalist Donna Marmestein tells of how the carol transformed how she felt about loss in her family; composer and performer Tori Amos describes what inspired her cover version of the song and Amy Hanson from the Small Steps Charity talks about how much her mother loved the carol. The children from the school her charity supports in Kenya sing their version of the song. Roxanne Burroughs explains about how her daughter Kaitlyn came to have the carol sung at her funeral. The soloist is Samantha Lewis; early music is from The Night Watch; Reading Phoenix choir and Southern Voices sing the carol and the children's choir is from the Rehabilitation centre Immanuel Afrika in Nairobi, Kenya. Producer: Sara Conkey

  • We Are Family written by Nile Rodgers and performed by the Sledge Sisters Kathy, Kim, Debbie and Joni was released in 1978 at the height of disco's popularity. Kim Sledge says it has become the anthem for diverse groups of people around the world who come together on the dance floor to form a friend family. Professor Tim Lawrence says disco at its best was an inclusive music movement that welcomed people of all races and genders, unlike rock music which in the early 1970s appealed to a predominantly white male audience. We Are Family epitomised dance music's appeal to traditionally marginalised groups in the USA - African Americans, Latinos, women and gay men.
    Listen to the stories of some of the people for whom the song is linked with some of the most significant experiences of their lives.
    Producer: Maggie Ayre

  • The Boxer - Simon & Garfunkel. People who connect directly with the lyrics and have a deep personal connection to the song discuss what this masterpiece means to them.Seamus McDonagh is a former boxer. He describes the tumultuous time he had during and after his famous fight with Evander Holyfield in 1990. He also explains why he identifies closely with the lyrics of The Boxer.Julie Nimoy is the daughter of Leonard Nimoy and co-producer of the film 'Remembering Leonard Nimoy' which tells the life story of this much loved actor, most famous for playing Mr Spock in Star Trek. The Boxer was his favourite song, and Julie describes exactly what it meant to him both throughout his life, and in its closing moments.Gary Edward Jones is a singer-songwriter who for years rejected comparisons made of him to Paul Simon. Eventually, he embraced the likeness and his life changed after developing a show called 'Something About Simon - The Paul Simon Story'. Dave Mason is an amateur guitarist who has found deep meaning in The Boxer; meaning that has changed and grown as he has. Scroll down for photos, and to the 'Related Links' box to find out more about these interviewees.Producer: Karen Gregor

  • Personal stories about Farewell to Stromness, by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Written in 1980 as a protest against uranium mining in Orkney, the music has touched and changed people's lives. The Orkney landscape which inspired Max's music is described by his partner Tim Morrison. We hear from Rosalind Newton, for whom the music provided peace after the death of her grandmother. Conductor Christopher Warren-Green recalls his performance of the music at the wedding of the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall. In Stromness we discover a community coming together to face the threat of uranium mining. Guitarist Sean Shibe and writer Ivan Hewett consider why this simple piece is so subtle and affective. And we hear from Jeana Leslie how the music, with its quiet melancholy inspired by folk music, has became traditional , and was a favourite for Peter Maxwell Davies to perform to visitors at his remote island home.

    Producer: Melvin Rickarby

  • “I follow the Moskva, down to Gorky Park… listening to the wind of change.”

    The German rock band Scorpions’ lead singer Klaus Meine was inspired to write Wind of Change at a rock festival in Moscow in the summer of 1989. Politics were rapidly shifting in the Soviet Union at the time as a result of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms. Recalling the peaceful yet revolutionary atmosphere at the concerts, Klaus said “there was a whole new generation of Russian kids that said the Cold War would be over soon - we could literally feel the world changing in front of our eyes”.

    No one had any idea that the Berlin wall would come down only a few months later. Wind of Change was released in 1990, and has since become an unofficial anthem for the end of the Cold War and the reunification of Germany in 1991. The power ballad is one the best-selling singles in history, and popular all over the world.

    Featuring interviews with lead singer of the Scorpions Klaus Meine, Russian rock musician Stas Namin, and true stories of what the song means to people who lived in the former USSR.

    Producer: Sophie Anton