There is, of course, no such thing as a fish. Or, at least, the creatures we call fish don’t constitute a “formal taxonomic grouping”. In fact, some types of fish are more closely related to mammals than they are to some of the other fish. However, be that as it may, our topic was fish and other aquatic life. I arbitrarily ruled out swimming birds, reptiles and amphibians but left the mammals in as they were making such a fuss …
We begin the journey through the world of all things fishy and aquatic by stopping by a stream. A stream full of fish swimming in a tranquil fashion. From Harold Budd and Brian Eno’s album, The Pearl, a beautiful piece of ambient music which evokes this image perfectly. All is peaceful until …
Damn. Or more specifically The Damned. Somebody has to spoil it with their noisy interruptions. In this case an insistence on boasting about their sexual prowess. Or at least the lack of any fish smell when they “lay with you”. He doesn’t sound like much of a catch, to be honest. I think I’d hold out for something more than that. And a more positive attitude to our fishy friends if you don’t mind.
Because they are very useful things, these fish. You can eat them of course. Plus, if Eliza Carthy is to be believed, you can make an oven, a “nice little man”, some dishes, ships and cases from a herring’s various body parts. That I would like to see.
From the surreal to the metaphorical. A shark in the water is an image of danger, panic and fear. Like crying “wolf” or saying there’s something lurking under the bed it may just be a plea for help. VV Brown wants her lover back in her arms and has a few tricks up her sleeve. Annie Hall famously used the “spider in the bath” gambit. She’s going for the more dramatic approach.
Sticking with the dangerous creatures of the deep, we appear (according to Van Der Graaf Generator) to have a killer in our midst. He is definitely referred to as a fish – just about escaping the ban on all things mythical and fantastical. He also stands as a metaphor for Peter Hammill’s fear that he has “killed all the love I ever had”. Like the killer of the story he is lonely and wishes he could forget.
Something more soothing is needed after all this mayhem. A lullaby for seals. Why has nobody else thought of this? Words by Kipling, music by Eric Whitacre and utterly sublime. “Where billow meets billow then soft be thy pillow; ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!”
Seems a shame to get back to the idea of eating the other critters after that. Crawfish, of course, not fish but crustaceans. However, definitely not “baby lobsters” as the visiting yankee allegedly says. Allen Toussaint insists they are the sweetest dish, the personification of southern hospitality and he could eat them every day.
More food memories from Lopamudra Mitra. A song which purports to be about “my Bengal” seems to have a lot to say about tender prawns, hot fish curries, catfish, panchax and minnow. Anyone else hungry now or is it just me?
Fred Neil is searching for the dolphins. They prove as elusive as peace in this world. A version of this song by Tim Buckley was listed many years ago but this is the original version and, perhaps, the definitive one. As Douglas Adams once pointed out we could learn a lot from the dolphins. We think we’re smarter because we invented the wheel, New York, wars and so on. While the dolphins just mucked about in the water having a good time. The dolphins, of course, think they are smarter for much the same reason.
The Congos exhort the fisherman to “keep on rowing your boat … to feed the hungry belly ones”. From the 1977 Heart of the Congos album, a classic Lee Perry production and one of Jamaica’s finest vocal groups. Can’t go wrong.
“Salty salmon, salmon soul of man. King of the fishes.” Its celebrated swim upstream seen as metaphor for humanity’s spiritual striving. I’m fairly certain I’ve got that right. Steve Hillage wrote the song just before leaving legendary 70s psychedelic band Gong. Some nifty guitar playing served alongside the esoteric musings of course.
“Last night I heard the cry of my last companion, then came the blast of a harpoon gun and I swam alone … my soul has been torn from me.”
The Fisherman’s Friends’ rendition of The Last Leviathan ends our journey through the world of sea, river and lake and the life to be found there. At once beautiful and terrible; a lament for the great whale, and a fitting tribute to singer Trevor Grills who died in 2013. Written by Andy Barnes in the early 80s, there are, apparently, about 30 recordings of this song. I can’t imagine any of them being better, or more moving than this.
Angling Angelfish A-list playlist:
A Stream with Bright Fish – Harold Budd & Brian Eno
Fish – The Damned
Herring Song – Eliza Carthy
Shark in the Water – V V Brown
Killer – Van Der Graaf Generator
The Seal Lullaby – Eric Whitacre
I Could Eat Crawfish Every Day – Allen Toussaint
Bangla Amar Sorse Ilish – Lopamundra Mitra
The Dolphins – Fred Neil
Fisherman – The Congos
The Salmon Song – Steve Hillage
The Last Leviathan – The Fisherman’s Friends
Beluga B-list playlist:
Baby Beluga – Raffi
(I love watching the audience reactions on the video of this)
Too Many Fish in the Sea - The Marvelettes
(Classic mid-sixties Motown soul)
Cripple and the Starfish – Antony and the Johnsons
(Starfish as simile for resilience as Antony embraces love as pain. Hard to listen to at times)
Tales From the Riverbank – Riot Clone
(Fishes encouraged to “shoal together” and wreak horrible revenge on the anglers)
Crawfish – Elvis Presley
(From one of his good films/soundtracks)
The Fish – Bobby Rydell
(Not the funky fish alas. Did this dance ever catch on?)
Sea Lion Woman – Nina Simone
(Opaque metaphor, possibly based on the phrase “sea line”, meaning the ladies lined up to greet the homecoming sailors)
Butter fe Fish – Skin, Flesh and Bones
(One of my favourite nominations of the week but the title seemed to have little connection with the music. Always hard to tell with an instrumental of course)
Tales of Flossie Fillet – Turquoise
(Flossie forms/joins a band but will only live for a day and then be replaced. She may or may not be a fish. Kinks-influenced Brit-psych madness)
Aquarium – Camille Saint-Saens
(Beautifully evocative music which had to fight it out – in a tranquil way – with Budd and Eno)
Octopus’s Garden – The Beatles
(Written and sung by Ringo. He was fascinated by the fact that an octopus really will gather items together to make a kind of underwater garden. He also sometimes yearned for a quiet, safe haven, away from the warring factions in The Beatles)
(Traditional fishing song with dancing by the Nagasaki University Festival Team)
Guru's Two-Finned White-Tip Wildcard pick:
Fishing Song from Friday Afternoons by Benjamin Britten. Words taken from The Compleat Angler by Isaak Walton.
The Fish needs a Bike by Blurt. Oddball 1981 recording. Released as a single to little acclaim. The title a reference to the feminist slogan about a woman needing a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: In the swim of it: songs about fish and other life aquatic. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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