Everyone Should Sing! Patrick Freyne’s OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea Playlist

Patrick Freyne's debut *Ok, Let's Do Your Stupid Idea* is a riotously funny and oddly moving memoir. Here he shares the music that kept him company as he wrote it

I realised after writing my book of personal essays, OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea, that it was definitely influenced by Bill Drummond’s 45, which he wrote when he was 45. I’m 45 now. I like Drummond’s band the KLF but I love his extracurricular shenanigans even more. I devoured the book he wrote with Jimmy Cauty about how to have a number one record and I loved the fact that he and Cauty had once burned a million quid on the island of Jura as an art prank and somehow didn’t think to film this event properly (though there’s a very good film about Drummond called Best Before Death made by Paul Duane). Such lofty, wilful ineptitude is entirely the kind of thing I set out to document in my own life in my book.

OK, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea ended up becoming a lot more personal than I expected it to. It was notionally going to be a book of funny essays but lots of it ended up also being bare and vulnerable. I wrote about living on an army base, hereditary family traits, being in a touring band, running an anarcho-syndicalist radio station, mental collapse, singing, driving, bad jobs, parachute jumps, talking to strangers, my brother’s birth, carework and having people die on me. I was influenced in different ways by Drummond’s 45, Emilie Pine’s Notes to Self, Clive James’s Unreliable Memoirs, Sinead Gleeson’s Constellations and The Most of Nora Ephron. I wanted each essay to be entertaining or helpful or both.

Music played a big part in the writing of it. I often listen to the same song over and over again in a way that drives my wife mad. I sometimes do it to trigger memories and I sometimes do it because I like to hear the same song over and over again. I listened to a lot of the following music over and over again.

The KLF – ‘Last Train to Trancentral’

For the reasons already given.

Kris Kristofferson – ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’

My dad served with the UN in Cyprus in the seventies. In the record shop in the town where he was stationed, you could pay for records or you could pay significantly less to have them taped for you on a blank tape. My dad opted for the cheaper option. So I grew up listening to slightly muffled, hissy versions of Kris Kristofferson, Clifford T Ward, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. I continued this into my teens when my bass playing friend Daragh would tape the music he felt I needed to be educated about onto blank cassettes. Most of the music I grew up with now feels too clean in a digital form, like it’s missing something without that muddy second generation tape hiss. ‘Sunday Morning Coming Down’ is a raggedly beautiful country song about a lonely man dealing with a hangover but it makes me think of playing with Lego with my parents nearby on the couch.

The Monkees – ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’

The first band I loved was the Monkees and I loved them much more than those foul imitators the Beatles. I loved that they all lived communally in the same house and that they often had adventures together and somehow allowed it be filmed and broadcast on television. The Monkees are most definitely the reason I wanted to be in a band, though I did expect it all to be funnier. Deep down I think I’ve always loved ersatz counter-culture the best and when we formed our band and label we self-consciously mythologised ourselves as a manufactured outfit manipulated by capitalist Svengalis. In keeping with this ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’ is the best garage rock song ever created and it was created by songwriters-for-hire Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart and sung by an invented television rock band.

Paul McCartney – ‘Pipes of Peace’

‘Pipes of Peace’ is the first record I bought and I did so after seeing the video on television. In it, Paul McCartney plays both a British soldier and a German soldier on the eve of the Christmas day armistice. Cheeky English Paul McCartney and moustachioed German Paul McCartney greet each other across the killing fields of war. “We’re not so different you and I,” they seem to say to each other. It seems cheap to add: “Well, you’re both Paul McCartney.” At the time I bought this record I was really into army stuff because I lived on an army base, read too many war comics and my dad sporadically let me fire a gun (I write about all this in my book). Is it Paul McCartney’s best song? Objectively, no. It sounds less like he’s contemplating global destruction and more like he’s being upbeat in the face of a very busy day and a new synthesiser. Is it my favourite Paul McCartney song? It is. It’s definitely better than John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. And I have grown with it over time. As an eight-year-old, I thought it’s peaceful message was a bit naïve, because war, let’s face it, was exciting and probably inevitable. But now Paul and I are on the same page. I think war is terrible.

Crass via Jeffrey Lewis – ‘End Result’

The anarcho-punk band Crass had a big influence on both my very unpunk band The National Prayer Breakfast and the anarcho-syndicalist pirate radio station we helped run for a while. My bass-playing friend Daragh was a punk but my mind had been warped by MOR rock music. As a teenager I loved any music by a rich man on his third marriage (think: Eric Clapton), so Crass were way too discordant for me at first. I still loved their utopian revolutionary DIY attitude (they all lived in the same house like the Monkees) and what they stood for in UK counterculture, so when the brilliant anti-folkie Jeffrey Lewis released his album of Crass covers I was all in. I’m pretty sure he added melodic elements that weren’t in the original. He definitely brought out the compassion and beauty of what they stood for. I got to drive Lewis around Ireland for a short tour in 2006. I was also his support act and occasional backing guitarist and I was very impressed by the fact he managed to get all his equipment, merch and clothes into one case and that he asked from the stage in Galway if anyone could put us up for the night. Efficient thriftiness impresses me to this day.

The Pixies – Gigantic

My book contains an essay about a squalid summer I spent in Bremen when I was 19. It’s a story about friendship and freedom but it’s also very much about being a young idiot. I called it ‘Gigantic’ because whenever I and my friend and bandmate Paul were going out on a Germanic caper I would sing “Hey Paul, Hey Paul, let’s have a ball!” which is a refrain in the Pixies song ‘Gigantic’. I don’t think I knew at that time that Kim Deal was supposedly singing to a well-endowed lover but I don’t think it would bother me too much. I still think of Paul when I hear this. I listened to it over and over again when writing this particular essay.

Clancy – ‘Your Paul’

Before he died, Paul finished recording a beautiful album under the name Clancy (his surname). It’s called Road to the Heart. This song is particularly heart-breaking.

Mary Black – ‘Song for Ireland’

When I worked as a carer for intellectually disabled people, I lost a lot of the snobbishness I once had about music. How could I feel superior about liking krautrock or minimalism or post-punk or anti-folk when I’d seen the real joy inspired by Daniel O’Donnell or ABBA? One of the people I looked after and who I really liked would put on a Best of Mary Black CD whenever she felt like having a cry and she would sing along to this song with her voice cracking. I can’t, to be honest with you, make any judgement on this musically because I’ve heard it approximately 10,000 times but whenever I hear it I’m still moved.

Erik Satie – ‘Gymnopédies’

I often listen to Satie’s beautiful proto-minimalism to drown out other sounds when I’m working. There’s something about his gently propulsive melodies that completely clears my head. His working day in A Day in the Life of a Musician also mirrors my own. Here’s just a snippet: “I rise at 7.18; am inspired from 10.23 to 11.47. I lunch at 12.11 and leave the table at 12.14. A healthy ride on horse-back round my domain follows from 1.19 pm to 2.53 pm. Another bout of inspiration from 3.12 to 4.7 pm. From 5 to 6.47 pm various occupations (fencing, reflection, immobility, visits, contemplation, dexterity, natation, etc.)”

Aldous Harding – ‘The Barrel’

Harding is an ingenious folk weirdo but this is here largely because my wife and I call our cat “The Barrel” and we like to think this is about her. My cat and my wife are basically my “colleagues” and are usually around when I’m writing. My wife helped a lot with the production of this book. The cat… did not.

The Unthanks – ‘Magpie’

Years after I stopped being in bands, I became obsessed with singing. It might have been a good idea to have been interested in singing before I stopped being in a band but it never occurred to me. Ten years ago my wife and I started heading every year to a singing weekend run by the folk band the Unthanks in Northumberland where I discovered that singing in harmony with a large group of people is a deeply emotional experience. I now never miss an opportunity to sing with friends and family. I think there’s something about group singing that allows me to connect with people in ways that are difficult in everyday life.

The Unthanks taught us Graeme Miles’s song ‘Sea Coal’ about the bits of coal that had fallen from tankers and which poor people in the north would gather when it washed up on the beach. One summer they had a hundred of us join in singing in harmony from where we were dotted around a big audience as they played at the Home Gathering festival they ran in Newcastle. It was incredibly moving. They’ve never recorded ‘Sea Coal’ so listen to them perform David Dodd’s song ‘Magpie’ instead. More crucially – sing songs with your friends. Everyone should sing.

Ok, Let’s Do Your Stupid Idea by Patrick Freyne is published by Penguin

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