Desert Island Discs – David Cunningham

David Cunningham (Bass)


It all began on 1st July 1937, when the first wailings of this member of the second basses were heard in the south coast town of Shoreham-by-Sea in Sussex. Some would say that not a lot has changed since then !

Early musical memories are of theme tunes to Children’s Hour programmes on the wireless (a different meaning back then), such as Mompty and Peckham (“Said the cat to the dog”) and later discovered  to be from Walton’s Facade, then the theme to Dick Barton, Special Agent, but my abiding memory of early years is of my Father, who sang solo baritone, practising at home the then popular:  Trumpeter what are you sounding now?

Trumpeter what are you sounding now?

Apart from father’s voice, there appears to have been little other musical talent passed down, although my sister became proficient enough to play piano for church services.  As for me, I tried piano, but when at age 12 I was expected to go to lessons at 2 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, playing football won out, so all that remained, eventually, was a ‘bottom’ bass!

In my teens, I was encouraged, for some reason, to join the choir at the Baptist Church; some would say that this was because my girlfriend was involved. Pam lived across the road from us and during the war years we were part of the group of three families whose parents took it in turn to escort us to Primary School. Several times we found ourselves under a hedge as the air-raid siren sounded !

But enough of that! In December 1956, just before I was sent to Cyprus to complete my National Service with the RAF, Pam and I were engaged and after buying the ring that afternoon, we went to a Bill Haley concert at the Brighton Hippodrome, hence my next choice:  Rock around the Clock.

The time spent on Cyprus as a Radar Mechanic (living for 13 months in a tent) was enjoyable, having accepted that there was no alternative, and provides the next piece of music. Every evening the Forces Broadcasting Service closed down its transmission with a band version of “Evening Hymn and Sunset” and so here is the last part, to which I often dropped off to sleep:  Evening Hymn and Sunset from the Central Band of the Royal Air Force

Schooling was at Steyning Grammar School, ending at age 17 with the Headmaster being  pleased, I am sure, to pass me over to a Bank Manager who had enquired if there were any suitable pupils available. (I was by then spending much of my time helping the groundsman at the school playing field, having become something of a misfit educationally having taken A-levels a year early). Thus, in 1954, began what was to become almost 43 years working for the Barclays Bank group in their Executor & Trustee and Unit Trust arms. I am pleased that my retirement in 1997 came just as the word “service” seemed to lose its meaning and the Americans took over with their ‘bonus culture’. None of that for me!

My first month’s pay from the bank was spent on a trendy portable record player, and my next choice is a version of the first record I bought:  Unchained Melody by Jimmy Young (Yes, that Jimmy Young)

In 1971 I was transferred to Cardiff and as a family – our twin boys were aged 5 when we moved – we enjoyed living in Penarth for the next 16 years. St, David’s Concert Hall in Cardiff was opened whilst we were there which provides my next memory, We would get the cheaper seats behind the orchestra and, of course. became used to the conductor facing us, which presumably put me in good stead for the choral bit!  I was also at that time singing with Dinas Powis Choral Society and the choir at one of the Baptist Churches in Penarth, the latter under the direction of Andrew Wilson-Dixon, at that time a tutor at the Cardiff College of Music and Drama.

My choice from this period is:  Nimrod from Elgar’s Enigma Variations

When I was about ten, my father took me to The Dome, Brighton, to hear a performance of “Messiah”. Although this made a lasting impression, I have come to prefer some of the other ‘big’ pieces, such as Haydn’s Creation or Mendelssohn’s Elijah. The next record, an extract from the recording of an SCCS concert in 2002, is a personal favourite and will remind me of all the people I have been fortunate to rub shoulders with over a quarter of a century’s involvement with our choir, since moving back to Berkshire and Oxfordshire in 1987:  Lift Thine Eyes, Oh, Lift Thine Eyes (SCCS 2002)

Lift Thine Eyes (from Elijah by Mendelssohn)

So far, my choices have had some relationship to an aspect of my life, but the next two pieces I attach no significance to except that I just I like them.

The first is a long time favourite:  Finlandia (Sibelius)

I defy anyone not to have their spirits lifted by my last choice. It will remind me of a particularly delightful journey through the Suffolk countryside (my work ‘patch’ at the time was the Midlands and East Anglia) on an early spring day, with the road to myself, the radio on, ‘la-la-ing’ loudly as I drove ! It is the ‘organ bit’ from:  Saint Saens’ Symphony No. 3…… (and will be the one piece of music I am allowed to take with me)

Whilst on the Desert Island, I would like an endless supply of jigsaw puzzles (poor soul, I hear some say!), with a transport theme, please, and a copy of the Thomas Cook European Railway Timetable (updated annually if possible), so that I can continue the interest which I have had in railways ever since taking engine numbers (poor soul, again !) at the level crossing at the end of our road in Shoreham-by-Sea.

What an interesting journey this has been. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to share my music choices with you – although I can’t think why anyone would be interested particularly – it has revived some long held memories.

Previous Desert Island Discs Contributors

These are previous Desert Island Disc contributors (in first-name alphabetical order).  Please click on the name of the contributor to hear the chosen music:

Alan Chubb

Chris Guy

David Butler

David Cottam

Eric Hartley

Jane Arch

Karen Broadbent

Liz Harrison

Michele Whitehead


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