Richard Oliff - Music has been a diary of my life

Richard Oliff
Richard Oliff
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Throughout the filming of the Beatles Let It Be at Twickenham studio’s in 1969 there were hours and hours of down-time during which the four Beatles would natter with the production crew.

On one such encounter Paul McCartney was simply ‘tinkering’ on the piano when he was asked if he preferred the piano over the guitar. Paul said what he loved about any keyboard was that there, in one place, within the span of two arms, was the wherewithal to play every single piece of music ever written since time began. Almost unlike any other musical instrument, be it a piano, organ, synthesizer: all keyboards, one can actually see the music as well as here it.

McCartney has never been able to read or write music, using instead his own innate skill as a listener-interpreter to produce some of the best known songs of the 20th century. Songs have played a tremendous part in my life for many varied and associated reasons. Like most people I suspect I can hear just one note of a particular piece, regardless of genre, and can be immediately transported to a place and time, or see the faces and hear the voices of people that have long since left my world. Music is my life’s diary.

As a child I didn’t think seriously about the meaning of music as a memory indicator, purely because I had little life experience under my belt. Only as I began to reach my teenage years did I realise that I had my own legacy of music that would open specific doors in my mind.

This is a far cry from attempting to list one’s favourite pieces of music. Indeed, some of these memory jerkers were simply little ‘ear-worms’ that would partner themselves with a specific time and place in one’s head.

My favourites have always been the songs that remind me of past holidays which I could list ad infinitum. Meeting someone for the first time might be recalled instantly by the playing of just one note. More and more people seem to be aware of their own mortality purely by their insistence that this or that piece of music must be played at their funeral. We never really spoke of such things when I was younger. I’m quite selfishly irritated that some of my favourite songs which once invoked happiness have been ‘hijacked’ and flipped on their head simply because they’ve been chosen as a life representation at a funeral.

As an example, Stairway To Heaven is something that reminds me so much of my first wife Madeline, yet, many years after she had died, I heard it played at a friend’s funeral: I remember both.