Sarah Ledger has stolen – yes, stolen – the Standard Issue mixtape and is now consorting with some outlaws.
I think of myself as a rebel but, really, I live a life of dull security. If my 15-year-old self could see what we’ve become, she’d chuck her History O-Level notes in the river, knock back a shot of tequila, hitch a ride on the back of the biggest motorbike she could find and take to the highway.
Thinking about it, I’m not sure any of this was an option in Carlisle in the early ‘80s: tequila was hard to come by and rakish strangers on Harley Davidsons were few and far between. Really, I had no choice but to stay put. Still, when I feel wistful for a walk on the wild side, these are the songs that I listen to.
Adam and the Ants – Kings of the Wild Frontier
Good lord! Two drum kits! And, when we’d recovered from the drumming, there was Adam Ant, lithe in fringed leather and plaited hair with war paint streaked across his cheekbones. The racial politics of the lyrics are unclear: “down below those dandy clothes, you’re just a shade too white”. What does that even mean? In 1980, however, this suburban white girl experienced a frisson of recognition: at last someone saw me for the badass I was! I finally got to see Adam Ant live at Solfest in 2012.My friend texted to ask, “Is Adam wearing his stripe?” I had to push my way through the crowd to see. Adam was indeed wearing his stripe, but also, alas, his specs. I watched the rest of the set from a distance.
Littl’ans featuring Peter Doherty – Their Way
This charming wayward song is like Pete himself. The video shows him strolling, troubadour-like, strumming his guitar and leading a band of drunken revellers through the streets, while the exasperated police patiently escort them from a distance. The song sounds like it’s been composed on the spot; there are mistakes in the double-tracked vocals that, presumably, no one had the time to go back and correct. Its spontaneity and lack of finish are part of its charm – a recording of the party before it got out of hand.
Gram Parsons & Emmylou Harris – Return of the Grievous Angel
Gram Parsons was the Pete Doherty of his day – a shining talent dulled by excess. Unlike Doherty, who is – miraculously – still with us, Parsons died of an overdose in a motel room aged 26. If you can get past the ghastly first line, “Won’t you scratch my itch, sweet Annie Rich”, Return of the Grievous Angel is a fabulous road trip around America, passing billboards, truckstops and saloons. Gram sings with an audible smile while Emmylou’s beautiful harmonies wind around his. Although he only achieved limited success in his lifetime, Parsons’ family fortune meant he could hire the best musicians: his insouciant “pick for me James” is directed to the legendary James Burton, who was Elvis’s guitarist in the Vegas years.
The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem – The Wild Colonial Boy
This was played at my wedding and my whole family joined in. If my mother hissing, “Don’t worry – you can always get divorced” at the door of the registry office had aroused the suspicions of my new in-laws, the sight of my aunts, uncles, cousins – and me – triumphantly shouting the line “I’ll FIGHT but not surrender!” will have confirmed them. The lyrics of the song are like a cross between a ballad and a court report: “He robbed the rich, he helped the poor, he shot James McAvoy” set to a jingling dance tune. The Clancys urging each other on with roars of “sing it Paddy!” make this the most cheering song about murder ever recorded.
My Chemical Romance – Our Lady of Sorrows
MCR’s show at MEN Arena in 2007 was my kids’ first proper gig. They were 11 and 13 and from then on, My Chem, along with Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter, became the soundtrack to every car journey. Our Lady of Sorrows comes from the first album and is rarely played live. “Stand up fucking tall, don’t let them see your back / Take my fucking hand and never be afraid again” may not be the most coherent advice a mother can give her children, but it is at least heartfelt. Last year, when my flying-phobic daughter rang me, weeping, from the departure lounge to tell me she was too scared to get on the plane to Nepal, I played her Our Lady Of Sorrows down the phone. It did the trick.
Tom Russell – Tonight We Ride
Although I tend to distrust anything labelled ‘Americana’ whether it’s food, furniture or music, I make an exception for Tom Russell. This song is gloriously brutal, romping from scalping and whores to alcoholism and death. This, too, was one of my kids’ campfire favourites. They learned the words and my mother’s heart burst with pride as they sang “And if we drink ourselves to death, ain’t that the cowboy way to go?”
Marty Robbins – El Paso
This is a western in miniature. The laconic narrator, after killing his love rival, escapes justice, leaving El Paso on a swift horse – “I caught a good one / It looked like it could run.”
But the temptation to see his beloved Felina once more is too much for him and he returns, only to be gunned down by the posse. In a unique twist, he narrates his own death, dying in Felina’s arms – the ultimate in cowboy schmaltz.
You can listen to those of Sarah’s tracks which are available on Spotify here:619 Views
Champion soup maker; of a surprisingly nervous disposition. @sezl & sezl.wordpress.com