Philip Larkin’s Desert Island Discs

Desert Island Discs is a BBC radio program, started in 1942 by Roy Plumley, which asks its famous guests to select eight recordings and one luxury item which they would take with them when marooned. The resulting playlist frames a brief discussion of the subject’s life and work. Philip Larkin is one of my favourite poets. Music reverberates quietly through his work. He reviewed Jazz records for the Daily telegraph for 10 years. Larkin appeared on Desert Island Discs in 1976. He chose ‘either records that I’ve known and liked for a long time simply because they seem to me marvelous musical experiences. Or else music that reminds me of probably rather imaginary things that I like thinking about. But they are not, as you would say, nostalgic’. His luxury item was a typewriter and paper. As the podcast version excises the music for copyright reasons, I’ve collected his selection here with a view to doing something performative with them later.

Louis Armstrong – Dallas Blues (Wand, 1929)

Louis Armstrong is the …”combined Chaucer and Shakespeare of jazz.” (Larkin)

Louis Killen – Do Li A (Trad 1790/1962)

This Newcastle street song from the late 1700’s is recorded by folk luminary Louis Killen, and is about one regiment (the Black Cuffs) replacing another (the Green Cuffs) and how the change effected the female population of the town.

‘It has a curiously haunting tune, I always have a faint private feeling that it’s half about the departure of winter and the arrival of spring’ (Larkin)

Thomas Tallis – Spem in Alium (Tallis, 1570)

‘Creator of Heaven and Earth/be mindful of our lowliness’

Bessie Smith – I’m Down in the Dumps (L Wilson, W Wilson 1933)

The Coventry Carol (16th century)

Elgar’s Symphony No 1, Adagio (1908)

I should want to take something to remind me of home… I should like to lie back and think of England (Larkin)

Billie Holiday –  These Foolish Things (Maschwitz, Strachey, Link 1936)

I have always thought the words were a little pseudo-poetic, but Billie sings them with such passionate conviction that I think they really become poetry (Larkin)

George Friedrich Handel ‘Praise the Lord’ from Solomon HWV 67  (1749)

If I have a favourite composer it would be Handel…I couldn’t not have one of his great, roaring finales. The musical equivalent of sunshine, I think of them as (Larkin)

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