Music & Me: June Caldwell
What are your earliest musical memories?
My sister blaring The Bay City Rollers (I Only Want To Be With You) while putting on her illuminous blue eye shadow. The Beach Boys, Chicago, Olivia Newton-John, Paul McCartney and WINGS – Mull Of Kintyre. Bowie, of course, and some cracked random songs my mother used to play and sing along to like Val Doonican and Edith Piaf. Much later being tortured by that dreadful caper from St Winifreds School Choir – There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma, as everyone was singing it in the school playground. That was the first type of ‘gone viral’ type of song before viral was a thing.
And I also must mention The Muppets here, some class lyrics I couldn’t make sense of as a child sung by Robin The Frog: ‘Halfway downs the Stairs is a stairs where I sit, there isn’t any other stair like it, I’m not at the bottom, I’m not at the top’ and so on. When I hit ten years old or so I remember my mother being appalled at Charlene’s ‘I’ve Never Been To Me’ as she realised the woman had some jiggy jiggy with a priest or a preacher man. It was a strange old mix-of-music time alright. The first single I ever bought was ‘Golden Brown’ by The Stranglers. My taste began to slowly improve after that. The 70s into the 80s was a mad hotchpotch compared to the standardised crap of now, which sounds like drones in the air or high-pitched squeals of small forest animals having their legs pulled off.
Who or what were your musical influences growing up and why?
My brother Adrian (six years older than me) was a punk and played all the usual outrageous stuff at home (very loud) before he calmed down into the dulcet tones of Bowie and Ultravox, etc. I fell in love with all the Bowie albums as a child and a lot of the new romantic stuff like ABC’s album The Look of Love. I played that to death on our record player in the dining room. Kate Bush was a huge influence I think, a strong creative woman doing her own thing that didn’t fit with anything else at all. Hazel O’Connor too. By the time I was in my early teens I had morphed into a Mod, so it was all sixties music and Northern soul from there for a good few years, even into my 20s. The first Mod gig I went to was to see The Blades in the TV Club in Harcourt Street and I was blown away. I slipped into Ska music as well. Seeing Madness in the SFX hall around 1985 was a big moment. They were pure happy/nuts.
Does music influence your writing?
Definitely. I always associate a certain piece I’m writing with a certain song or lump of music. I play it over and over to get back into that piece and it becomes a doorway, an instant way back in, a mantra. Music influences mood and of course writing is a mood-based art (or illness, whatever way you want to look at it) so they go hand in hand. If I’m writing journalism or any non-fiction by comparison, I need total silence. I’ve no idea why that is.
Do you listen to music while writing, editing, etc.?
Yes, as above, whatever song I’ve got into for that piece of writing, I’ll play to death to almost train my brain into concentrating. I’ve terrible concentration so music is a great help. I find the musky strange voice of Nick Cave is great for editing along to. I also like classical music for reading over work. Classical music like Arvo Pärt- Spiegel im Spiegel or anything by Yann Tiersen.
Is there one novel or piece of writing you wrote that was directly influenced by a piece of music?
I listened to one song on a loop for each of the stories I wrote/reworked my short story collection Room Little Darker in the five months it took, no real rhyme or reason, but these were the songs that became associated with each of the stories listed below:
Upcycle: Katie Noonan – Crazy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yOeelyS8LKs
Leitrim Flip: Nina Simone – I Put A Spell On You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua2k52n_Bvw
Dubstopia: Radiohead – Daydreaming: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTAU7lLDZYU
Imp of the Perverse: The Heartless Bastards – Only For You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2l4alp0De8Y
SOMAT: Kate Bush – This Woman’s Work: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iEHqPCA_lzQ
The Glens of Antrim: Cigarettes After Sex – Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2LQdh42neg
The Man Who Lived In A Tree: AURORA – Runaway: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_HlPboLRL8
Natterbean: The Pogues – Summer In Siam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66quTi26YLY
BoyBot: The Waterboys – How Long Will I Love You: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xddVSMWv4eI
The Implant: Ash – Shining Light: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Nt2-pOs_-g
Cadaverus Moves: David Bowie – Starman: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI66hcu9fIs
What music are you listening to at the moment?
I’m going back in time to distinctive female voices like Mazzy Star, Tori Amos, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Maura O’Connell. Bands too like The Velvet Underground, Tango With Lions and Prefab Sprout, bands I’ve forgotten to listen to for a while. Even Johnny Cash! I’m feeling oddly sentimental lately. Perhaps the asteroid is finally heading for the lawn.
Musically, what’s your guilty pleasure (or is there such a thing)?
Hmmmm, awkward. Sometimes I love to listen to awful ballads online, the type of ballads I’d accuse people of being ‘gobshites’ if they listen to them. One song that I always sneak on when I’m alone is Brian O’Donnell’s version of The Fields of Athenry from the Veronica Guerin film:
There is something so mesmerising about his young voice belting out wise words from back in the famine. It just takes me to somewhere totally forgotten in time and also stops me feeling sorry for myself if I’m feeling down. His voice along with the drumbeat pumps a bit of hope back into my system. Sound of Silence by metal band ‘Disturbed’ has the same effect on me. I’m a shameless victim of the power ballad, oh God, why have I admitted this! All of the answers above, combined, means I’ve terrible taste in music, doesn’t it?
June Caldwell’s short story collection ‘Room Little Darker’ is on sale now.
Derek Flynn runs Writing.ie's SongBook blog, and is an Irish writer and musician. He has a Masters in Creative Writing from Trinity College, Dublin. He’s been published in a number of publications, including The Irish Times, and his fiction was featured in 'Surge', an anthology of new Irish writing published by O’ Brien Press with the aim of showcasing “the very best of the next generation of Irish authors”. Online he can be found at his writing/music blog – ‘Rant, with Occasional Music’ – and on Twitter as @derekf03