The soundtrack to my life
Caroline Quentin on the magic of music and how a well-loved tune can turn back time
This morning, while listening to the radio as I scrambled eggs for the kids, I travelled back in time. The DJ played the Peter Frampton hit, Show Me The Way. Magically, it was 1976 again:
I was no longer a middle-aged mum in Devon – I was a 16-year-old girl, with my best friend sitting beside me while we revised for our O levels.
Peter Frampton was on a poster above my desk, wearing tight, white satin, being hugely sexy with a guitar. The toast popped up unnoticed and I could feel the breeze blowing through my waist-length brown hair. ‘I wonder how you’re feeling. There’s ringing in my ears…’ Peter sang and, for three minutes and 33 seconds, that long, hot summer was more real to me than the present day.
As I was jolted back to the 21st century by the prattle of the presenter, I realised that music does for me what Marcel Proust’s madeleines did for him – it dissolves time. For that moment, my limbs were supple and tanned, and adulthood stretched ahead of me, just out of reach, glimpsed through a haze of patchouli, hope and hormones.
THE FAB FOUR
‘You think you lost your love,
Well, I saw her yesterday.
It’s you she’s thinking of –
And she told me what to say.
She says she loves you...’
As soon as I hear this, it’s 1964 and I’m at nursery school, proudly holding up my gift to the class: an off-cut of Beatles wallpaper from the recent redecoration of my teenage sister’s bedroom. My classmates and I gaze in wonder at the repeat pattern of the Fab Four placed on a cream background, so they can float around the beds of thousands of teenage girls as they drift off to sleep, dreaming of John or Paul or George or… well, John, Paul or George. I don’t think poor Ringo got a look in!
A Chopin Prelude in C minor and it’s 1963. I hear it crackling, needle on black shellac. My mum cried as I danced around the coffee table, aged three. I now realise she was crying because her own mother had died shortly before I was born, and Mum was doubtless wishing that she’d lived longer to see me dancing, just as next week – when I watch my 17-year-old daughter sing and dance in a musical at her sixth-form college – I will shed a tear for my mum, who died five years ago, wishing she was still here to share the joy.
‘Do you hear the people sing? Singing the song of angry men? It is the music of a people who will not be slaves again!’ It’s 1985 and I’m in the rehearsal rooms of the Royal Shakespeare Company. It’s the first day of rehearsal for a brand-new musical. Claude-michel Schönberg is at the piano and the company, of which I’m a proud member of the ensemble, hears the score of Les Misérables for the first time. I turn to a woman and whisper, ‘It’s a bit gloomy, isn’t it? Don’t think it’ll get much of a West End run.’ Nearly 40 years later, I admit I may have been mistaken!
‘Who loves you, pretty baby?
Who’s gonna help you through the night? Who loves you, pretty mama?
Who’s always there to make it right?’ It’s London in 2016 and I think of our fab family outing to see Jersey Boys, the musical story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. We all LOVED it, and, from that day forward, my son, daughter, husband and I have performed a dance routine in our kitchen every time we play the song. We’ve got all the right moves – and none of the high notes!
Music is such an important part of our lives and I love that it’s now so accessible through Spotify, itunes, Deezer and the rest. It’s so easy for us all to share our musical passions. Thousands more musical memories are being made every day, which brings me to the music I’d like at my funeral. It will have to be Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson. And I want everybody on their feet and DANCING.
Peter Frampton takes Caroline back to her youth