Desert Island Discs – Liz Harrison

Liz is the third castaway on SCCS island.  Liz has been in SCCS for many years, is a past chairman, and is now a trustee of the choir.  She sings in the Soprano 2 section.

I began picking my eight tracks by reference to significant aspects of my life. I pretty soon realised that I couldn’t do it – there were too many special people, too many special times and places.  But I have finally got there, with a list to share.  I worked out that, on a desert island, I would be desperate for the sound of the human voice, which means that every choice is a song. And every song is one that makes me stop in my tracks whenever I hear it, which is why I chose it.

There are so many dance tracks I might have picked.  In the end I have left out the Bee Gees, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Jeff Beck, the Pointer Sisters, and too many others and gone for Stevie Wonder singing Sir Duke, his celebration of music and the effect it has on people.  I defy you not to move to the wonderful rhythms!

I started secondary school in 1960. I grew up to the soundtrack of the 60s and 70s and I inherited the great and not-so-great songs of the  30s, 40s and 50s.  In so many ways we baby boomers are the luckiest generation! Mostly I like happy songs but even more I like songs with a hint of ambiguity and My Funny Valentine is one such.  This is the version by Chet Baker, better known as a trumpet player, who makes this song his own.

Choral singing has introduced me to lots of music I might otherwise have missed.  So there are two songs on my list that I love and that I discovered through South Chiltern and through Parenthesis.  The SCCS song is Choose Something like a Star, words by Robert Frost, music by Randall Thompson.  The Parenthesis song is My Spirit Sang all Day, words by Robert Bridges, music by Gerald Finzi.  These are both songs that I have been made to sing by heart by Gwyn and Valerie and I am sure that has enhanced my appreciation of them both! (the songs, I mean)

I love pure pop music and the choice here is endless.  In the end it came down to three groups that make a sound that is  unique and instantly recognisable: Lighthouse Family, Pet Shop Boys and Simply Red. I have chosen Holding Back the Years by Simply Red because I think that is one of the things that music, especially contemporary music, does.  Being open to new ideas, and not being stuck in one era, even if it does mean embarrassing the younger members of my family by insisting on dancing at weddings, is something that I hope will always be true of me.

I also love musicals, new and old.  How will I get by on my island without Fred and Ginger facing the music and dancing? or Mitzi Gaynor washing her hair? or Julie Andrews teaching those incorrigible kids to sing? To stand for all of those I choose Jerome Kern, Showboat and Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man; there are too many wonderful versions – a sign of a great song – but I am going to take Julie London, a hugely underrated singer with a voice, irreparably damaged by fags and booze, that is perfect for this song.

So just two choices left.  For me, songs carry a huge sense of place.  These songs that stop me in my tracks can also take me to a place where I remember listening to them before.  Some songs are even about a particular place.  No song does that better than I Left My Heart in San Francisco sung by the great Tony Bennett.  He represents a group of  crooners, who can turn even a mundane melody and nonsensical words into a song that gets into my head and won’t go away, and when they get the right material the results are amazing. Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Mel Torme, Barry Manilow, Jamie Cullum, Michael Bublé, Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand and so many others, Tony sings this for you all as well as just for me.

Talking of place, Reading has been crucial to my life; I grew up here, as did my children, and we have been really happy here.  But also important is the area of France where we have spent our holidays for the past twenty years.  Those of you who have been to Grenoble or to Lyon, or the French Alps more generally, will have appreciated the fabulous scenery, the great cuisine, the warm and friendly inhabitants and everything that makes life so very French there.  I need a song that is essentially French so my final choice is Charles Trénet singing his own song La Mer. This comes with a free gift – the association with the sea and with my childhood.  Like so many of my contemporaries, as a small child – and as not such a small child too, and with my own small children – holidays were at the seaside and there is still something magical about being the first person to shout “I can see the sea”.  (Or should that be Je vois la mer?!)

Liz is allowed to take one luxury item and one book with her to the desert island.  She also has available to her the Bible (as deposited by the Gideon Society) and the Complete Works of Shakespeare.  My luxury would be Radio 4 – it’s one of national treasures and has been a part of my life since I was really small.  Listen with Mother at lunchtime, being sent to bed with the closing music of The Archers, Uncle Mac on Saturday mornings, and so much more between then and now.  And the book would be a really big dictionary; I love words, their derivations, their meanings and their changing use and working my way through my dictionary, systematically and at random, would be a real pleasure.

Listen to Liz’s complete playlist here:


To hear Desert Island Discs from previous castaways:

David Cottam

Jane Arch

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