When my mother died in 2013, I always wanted to record a tribute to her. I wanted in some way to capture something of her in music. Indeed, my album Fibolae and other music from that time onwards resonate with melancholy and heartache, and even more so after the sudden death of my brother the following year. Like many people, I find such detailed memories buried within music. How the briefest glimpse of a song on the radio can bring back the memory of sitting on a coach with my grandparents, driving through the countryside. Or walking along Hastings Beach with my brother, visiting the castle and hearing the music from the cafes on the waterfront blowing out across to the sea.
My mother loved music. In fact, she once told that she had dreamt of attending the Royal College of Music in London, but instead got married and had a family. It was never spoken with a sense of regret, but I always felt that beneath the surface her encouragement to follow my own path was born from this experience. She simply wanted me to be happy, no matter what I did. And I have been. (Thank you mum).
The Rolling Stones vs The Beatles
Her listening choices were radically different from mine, but I learned so much from her of course. She enthused about the American drummer Gene Krupa when I was kid, and told me that The Rolling Stones were a much better band than The Beatles, because they weren’t so clean cut and ‘nice.’ Johnny Ray, the American singer (the “father of rock and roll” according to Tony Bennett) was a perennial favourite of hers, as was the singer Neil Diamond.
Music was around our home all the time. At breakfast the radio would be tuned to BBC Radio 2 and easy listening ‘middle-aged’ music would accompany our cereals, whilst on Thursday nights Top of the Pops would shatter the silence of the evening and I would sit on the floor marvelling at all the new music, as I snacked on white bread rolls that my grandmother had just bought from the supermarket in Wandsworth. My brother Nick and I would listen to his vinyl records endlessly, and after he died one of the saddest things I had to do was to sort through what remained of his record collection to remind me of him. Every time I play one of those records now I can still picture us in our tiny living room singing along to Slade or Suzi Quatro songs, sorting through boxes of records to entertain ourselves all day long.
And my mum was always there to witness this and join in with us. Sometimes when a song came on the radio she would regale us with stories of how she once went to a dance hall with my dad, but couldn’t climb onto the bus as her skirt was so tight that she couldn’t lift her legs up on the ledge to board! And when in her later years I loved sitting with her at Christmas, and watching the overview of music on the festive edition of the Top of the Pops on TV, as she tutted and complained about all the artists that couldn’t sing.
Even when she retired very late in life she would switch the radio on, or play CDs at home to listen to. And when she passed away I had that painfully challenging experience of choosing music to bid her farewell. Her coffin arrived to the music of Andre Rieu, and we said goodbye her with a Rod Stewart song. I wrote here in more detail about her very sad passing, but please have a tissue at hand. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Songs for my mum
And it’s in that spirit I recorded these songs for her now. It’s been on my ‘To Do’ list for years but this recent quiet moment of isolation both gave me time to think and to record. There were so many songs I could have chosen but these were always ones my mum always loved – by Gilbert O’Sullivan, Rod Stewart and Leo Sayer.
Alone Again (Naturally) has always been a favourite song of mine by Gilbert O’Sullivan. Over the years, I’ve been asked about dream collaborators, and beyond all those legends of composition and electronica, Mr O’Sullivan is one of the figures I’d truly love to work with. His beautifully melancholic voice would be a great match for my music.
Rod Stewart’s Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? is a disco-fuelled gem and I maintained the sensuous groove of the original, whilst Leo Sayer’s When I Need You evaporates into the ether, building from a slow cinematic ambience into this gentle ballad. Interestingly reading, and then singing the lyrics, I had tears in my eyes in both the O’Sullivan and Sayer’s songs. Tiny resonances of my mother’s life and the challenges she went through flicked through my mind.
The Origin of ‘Jayemme’
And the original as to the name Jayemme? Well, my mum was called Janet Muriel, and despised her middle name. In fact, she was delighted to learn that when she was christened as a baby my grandad got the order of her names mixed up in the paperwork, as she was meant to be Muriel Janet, which would have been torture for her! I always remember her saying her initials to people as ‘J.M’ – hence ‘Jayemme’ 🙂
So, enjoy these playful cover versions of the songs and remember to keep the good memories of your family uppermost in your mind. These songs remain free to encourage you to return the good deed towards others.