MUSIC, THE FOOD OF LOVE?

'One good thing about music: when it hits you, you feel no pain.'
Bob Marley

Everybody loves music. Nobody really knows why. It has been around since the dawn of Homo Sapiens. The world's oldest instruments, flutes made from swan bone and mammoth ivory, were discovered in the Geisenklosterle cave, Blaubeuren, southern Germany, and date back 43,000 years. Nothing new under the sun, is there.

Scientists have failed so far to identify a centre in the brain for what we sometimes call our universal language, because several cerebral areas appear to be involved. 'Studies show' that the temporal lobe is significant in the processing and appreciation of music. But that's only the tip of the iceberg, if that's not an inept analogy.

What, then, of our emotional response to music? Brain scans have brought us no closer to comprehension. All we know is that the brain areas stimulated by melodic sound are the same as those linked to other euphoric stimuli - obviously, food and booze, drugs and sex - all of which cause blood flow to the brain to increase. Of these, only food and sex are essential to our survival. Many will favour the grape over the grope. Potato, potahto.

That comparable neural activity has been identified in response to music suggests to those who sort of know about this sort of thing that there is some evolutionary advantage to music. As for what that could be, we might be a while off yet. I cannot sing, nor have I ever played any musical instrument. So what do I know?

What I know is that I find all genres of it much more fascinating than the celebrities I have spent my adult life writing about. In barbershop, for example, which I have discussed in TUMBLING DICE, the most distinctive element in this form of music is the 'overtone', also known as 'expanding sound' or the 'ringing chord', in which sound waves interact with each other to create a fifth voice over and above the basic four. The overtone is sometimes referred to as 'the angel's voice'. I love that. Leave out any element and the magic fails to happen. This illustrates beautifully why music is a metaphor for life. You get out much more than what you put in, if you do it right.

All three of mine are musical, with Grade Eights and Distinctions in Piano, Guitar and Singing between them. I'm still tripping over violins, ukuleles, keyboards, electric and acoustic guitars, recorders, mics, leads and amps around the place although Henry and Bridie departed for university two years ago. Where do they get it from? Neither from their father nor from me. The fact that all were attending rock concerts months before they were born, however, may well have something to do with it. 'The Secret Life of the Unborn Child', a remarkable book by Thomas R. Verny which I read during the Mia Clementine Jones (first) pregnancy, sheds light on the fascinating phenomenon of a foetus's ability to hear, remember and respond to passages of music.

We can over-analyse. That it puts a smile on our faces is enough, isn't it? Living life to a soundtrack renders it infinitely more interesting and do-able. This weekend was a whirl of contemporary church music at St. Brides, our journalists' church on Fleet Street; a recce at the one of London's coolest bars, the Savage Garden on the 12th floor of the Doubleday Hilton, overlooking the Tower of London; Tim Rice's The Best of Rock Musicals extravaganza at the old Hammersmith Odeon, where I once spent every night of my life for about five years, and where Henry and I were blown away by Kerry Ellis, Adam Pascal, Jon Robyns and friends as they revisited every rock-infused Musical Theatre hit from Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita and Chess to Tommy, Rent and Dear Evan Hansen. On then, to the Trembling Wilburys at the Half Moon Putney, where David Stark's super troupers rolled us back across the hazards to remind us of way back when. As did California Dreaming at the Holborn Pizza Express last night, summoning the West Coast Seventies songbook in superlative style. If it is possible to improve on perfection, three new members to the seasoned line-up - Toby Chapman (Spandau Ballet) on keys, bassist Kevin Miller (Paul Weller, the Style Council) and drummer John Miller (Saint Etienne, Gabrielle) have upped their collective game several notches. Serious pluckers James Nisbet (Joss Stone, Rod Stewart, Belinda Carlisle, Lily Allen) and James Graydon (everyone from Elaine Paige to Westlife via the Royal Philharmonic) were on fire, with some brilliant call-and-response sequences which ought to have ended in blood. Maybe they did. Add to the mix the serenity of Lisa Graydon’s pure vocals and there was every single reason not to go home.

I heard from James G., who is currently recording his debut solo album, that it was he who coached Gwilym Lee to play like Brian May in the 'Bohemian Rhapsody' biopic. They got the right guy, didn't they.

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