When I set off for work in the morning, I don’t really think of myself as going on a journey. I’m going to get from somewhere to somewhere else but it’s not a journey. Mind you, as my bus fills up and grinds to a halt in the furred up arteries of London’s road network, it can slowly but surely start to feel more and more like a journey – a journey prefixed with a string of colourful and increasingly unsavoury adjectives.
But a real journey is surely something more: an undertaking, maybe with an unknown element, maybe approached with a little trepidation. “We’re going up that mountain?”, “there are crocodiles you say?”, “I have to catch the District Line to get there?” etc etc.
The destination itself might not even be the interesting bit. A ride on the Orient Express, a drive across the United States; often the transport itself is a big part of the main event. The destination is often loaded with the promise of something new, which is almost more overwhelming than the endpoint itself.
As youngsters, we're probably more concerned with the destination; the journey is usually something to be endured, from the nauseating long car journey to the nauseating long ferry ride. Any journey of significant distance has to be planned like a military operation, right down to uniform: "what are you going to wear on the plane?" was a memorable catchphrase in our house.
As we get older, holiday travel perhaps becomes less about the destination and more about the pure escapism. “It’ll just be nice to be away from it all for a few days,” we say, before fleeing from the office as if it was a raging inferno that you’ve been doing your best to extinguish since the last time you were mad enough to leave it for a few days unattended.
However, getting away from everything is not always possible. Travelling with children for example is, for some, not optional. I’ve seen friends easily fill the boot of a car with supplies for every conceivable baby-related emergency, not to mention the not-so-small matter of the infant’s “travel solution” – a buggy with more levers and pockets than even James Bond would know what to do with. And if you don't have children, you'll probably find you're carrying an equivalent with you at all times anyway, one that yearns for your attention if you could only find the courage to stop pandering to its every whim and need: your smartphone.
As they age, children perhaps don’t require so much hardware to accompany them on their travels but they do require some entertainment along the way. Some car manufacturers have sought to solve this by having integrated TV screens. This to me rather feels like cheating. These backseat passengers are surely going to miss out on the joy of endless rounds of I Spy, whose solutions become more abstract with every turn once the usual culprits sky, car and motorway have been exhausted. And a TV screen at perfect head height means a youngster might miss out on a vital life lesson that reading a Beano annual in a fast moving vehicle is likely to result in the immortal sibling words “Dad, you better pull over, he’s gonna be sick.”
I remember long car journeys meant a good squabble over whose tape got to be played. I could never understand why music couldn’t begin the moment we pulled out of our road: “not until we get on the motorway” was always the answer. Once we’d got up to top speed, our usual musical rotation involved Michael Jackson’s Thriller interspersed with a clutch of McVities mix tapes – compilations made by a biscuit manufacturer no less – that my Dad had sent off for after he’d collected the appropriate number of chocolate biscuit wrappers. Halcyon days.
In this staff playlist, we’ve handpicked music that reminds us of journeys; some are real journeys, others are a figment of our imagination but they come to life for a moment whenever we hear these sounds. We’re sure you have your own favourites too. With the UK holiday season around the corner, many of you will be doing your fair share of travelling. I wonder what your journeys will sound like?
– Stephen Bloomfield
Check out our journeys playlist below and find out who chose what and why further down the page.
J.J. Cale – Ride Me High
Takes me back to summer days and owning an old VW camper van, a vehicle that was not and could never be in any great hurry. The song evokes a gentle but solid rolling feeling, memories of driving the old VW to festivals and the like - going forward but not heading anywhere in particular. My only grumble is it’s too short, so have a dig around on Youtube for the Joakim extended edit.
Jon Hopkins – Open Eye Signal
Shuffle play threw this up when I was on a night time flight out of London. It timed perfectly with the take-off and the minute or so where the beat drops back near the start coincided with the aircraft climbing above a sleeping, peaceful-looking city below. That memory is now etched in my mind every time I get on a plane during darkness.
Chris Rea – On The Beach
The most epic journey of Chris Rea’s year is undeniably his drive home for Christmas. However, the wonderful guitar riff on this song immediately puts my mind on the white sands of Tulum in Mexico.
Jacob Forever – HASTA QUE SE SEQUE EL MALECÓN
On my recent journey around Cuba, this song was EVERYWHERE. On the radio, in the clubs and the Cubans love it. When I got home, I searched for it online and found the video. Havana looks great in it and it makes me want to be back there.
Joni Mitchell – This Flight Tonight
Many of Joni Mitchell’s conversational lyrics are inspired by travel, from the "unfettered and alive" of Free Man in Paris, to Carey’s "sure is hard to leave, but it’s really not my home." However I’m bound to This Flight Tonight. It reminds me of confused feelings of having to travel far away for a good few months, just as I’d fallen in love. Surely, by the time I was back I’d be so over it?
Tinariwen – Matadjem Yinmixan
Desert blues is wonderful music for journeys. Artists such as Ali Farka Toure, led the field developing a very particular African sound found across the Western Sahel - often from nomadic people - that many claim are the origins of American blues. The wave of artists such as Tinariwen, Bombino, Bouseeko Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, and Songhoy Blues all worth a listen, but Tinariwen’s Matadjem Yinmixan from the album Aman Iman (Water Is Life) is utterly hypnotic, transportive and joyful.
Gregory Porter – Feeling Good
Whenever I listen to this song I envision myself driving down winding countryside roads on a sunny day and … feeling good!
Leon Bridges – River
I chose this one because I find the gospel tone of Leon Bridges’ voice so soothing and calming: “Been travelling these wide roads for so long.” Listening to this song takes my imagination on a road trip deep into the Southern States of America.
Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River
This is more about a very specific journey. I took a 22-hour overnight Amtrak train through North California and Oregon last year. It was a very old fashioned train with a draughty sleeper car. I fell asleep in darkness as the train left San Francisco and woke up at 6am. The sun was just coming up and I looked out of the window and saw nothing but scrubland, red soil and a lime-green river. I’d already created an Americana playlist to listen to on the train, so this didn’t synchronise entirely by coincidence, but every time I hear it I remember that moment.
Marc Anthony – Vivir Mi Vida
The Spanish cover version slash translation of Khaled’s C’est la vie. It’s pure salsa pop, joyfully cheesy and won a Latin Grammy. It invokes a memory of a Havana dance floor at 2am. My wavering, Alan Partridge interpretation of a salsa. I’m not sure why but there wasn’t a place I could go to in Cuba without overhearing this song and I’m back smelling the mojitos every time it starts up.
Sia – Don’t Bring Me Down
This song takes me back to Hong Kong, 2004. Jetlagged and awake in the early hours, I took the first tram at first light to the top of Victoria Peak. I was listening to this song as I watched the sun rise, burning through mist, the skyscrapers slowly appearing through the clouds below.
Pat Metheny – Last Train Home
A lecturer of mine used to say he wouldn’t go and see Pat Metheny live until Pat cut his hair. I never worked out if he was joking. But if you can get past Pat’s improbable barnet and questionable striped jumpers then he might just reward you with some wonderful, wistful melodic fare. This one qualifies because it has the word train in the title, of course, though I’ve picked a live version which is very different to the original, whose rumbling double bass figure is perhaps more evocative of a train journey but otherwise leaves me a bit cold. For me, Pat Metheny is also reminiscent of a personally memorable journey. My own band was booked to play at Vienne Jazz Festival but we found ourselves beset with delays en route and that night we had tickets to watch Metheny in Vienne’s wonderful amphitheatre. It wasn’t that rock and roll but running into the venue clutching our own instruments, grabbing a seat just as he began his set and as the sun came down was ‘one of those moments’ and he was fantastic, though his hair was awful.