18 Mar 2012
Like Mother, Like Daughter | Music and the Maternal
Listen to the Like Mother, Like Daughter Playlist here (Spotify).
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Annette + Julia
Annette (Founder & Editor) -
“What did you do as a child that made the hours pass like minutes? Herein lies the key to what you should be doing in your worldly pursuits.”
“When I initially told my mum that I was putting together a piece for Mother’s Day, and I wanted her contribution, she responded with her usual bumbling doubt: “Really? You know how crap I am. It probably won’t make sense – well, only in my head.”
This sums up, in a nutshell, the way in which Old Ma Barlow has influenced my sister and I – modestly and mutely. It could be argued that as a result of her inarticulateness, she conversely raised two chatty Cathys (in the same way her abominable cooking resulted in two resounding foodies) – two excessively expressive, gesticulating drama queens with a penchant for the theatrical. And two deeply, inherently creative, reluctant hippies.
We were surrounded by music when growing up: mum ran her own business from home, working 18 hour days, 7 days a week in a tiny studio in the back garden. She was a picture framer, and stood for hours and hours on end at a hulking, dark brown workstation, stained with gold ink, and littered with squares of blotting paper. Whilst my sister and I were at school, she worked alone, with nothing but the radio for company. When we left the house for a whole day, she’d leave it on to keep the dogs company. We’d listen whilst scrambling to get ready for school in the mornings, and we’d listen when we got home in the evenings.
There would always be music in the car: either our dear friend radio, or a selection of mum’s cassette tapes. Childhood memories are dominated by twilight journeys, soundtracked by Joan Armatrading (“animal, mineral, physical, spiritual, I’m the one you need! I’M THE ONE YOU NEED”), The Pretenders (“maybe tomorrow, maybe someday / you’ve changed your place in this world, YOU’VE CHANGED YOUR PLACE IN THIS WORLD”), and Michelle Shocked (“Hey Chel, you know it’s kinda funny / Texas always seemed so big / but you know you’re in the largest state in the Union / when you’re anchored down in Anchorage”). Being the nomadic type, mum never stayed still for long. We moved house often, visited friends, went on adventures – long car journeys transformed from tedious to enjoyable with the addition of LOUD singing, and Russian-roulette-Revels.
My sister and I were afforded absolute freedom: mum never judged, never shouted, never pressed her opinions or aspirations onto us – we could be whoever and whatever we wanted. We were never taught to be open-minded, rather left to explore our own minds. For years I felt lost, drifting and unanchored – until I realised that in allowing me to find my own feet, Ma had given me the most important and powerful gift she could have – the ability to think for myself, trust my own instincts, be true to myself, and above all, be open-minded and creative in everything I do.
I will never cease to be astounded by my mum’s innate musicality – having never learned to read music, she plays everything by ear. Hand her an instrument, and five minutes later she’ll have it sussed. For Christmas we bought her a ukelele, a beautiful matt-black acoustic guitar – and lessons. After one hour’s tuition, she was nailing entire songs. Finger-picking for christ’s sake. She is led entirely by her instincts, and every day I try to emulate that.
Mum played the clarinet – so I wanted to play too. We never had any money, and I was fortunate enough to attend a secondary school that offered free music lessons. I was good, but never quite had her flair. When I was taken out of school for 2 weeks to attend a musically-gifted children’s camp, mum scraped together the money so I could go. I took my mum and sister to see Joan Armatrading at the Royal Albert Hall not long back. Whenever I hear anything I think both my mum and sister would like, I send it to them. My tiny way of saying thank you.
I think it was inevitable that I would end up spending my days surrounded by words and music: the former my act of rebellion against a stoic mother, the latter the natural result of a childhood spent revelling in notes, sounds and beats; the hours passing like minutes. And it’s no wonder I am so inspired by strong, creative, talented, motivated women – I was raised by one. the girls are wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for her.”
She must have had the patience of a saint because she never complained about either the genre or volume of any of the music all 5 of her children played, and we all had very different tastes including Motown, rock & roll, heavy metal and pop. One time while listening to Led Zeppelin, Mum asked me to turn it up. Damn. I couldn’t even rebel with loud music. So while I don’t think my mum’s music influenced me directly, I think maybe the ‘household’ music did in so much as I listen, sing along and appreciate a wide range. I have probably passed this on to my girls. As with all aspects of life, keeping an open mind.
When the girls were small we always had music in the car; regardless if we had passengers (children or adults) it was a rule that everyone had to sing. If they knew the words, great – if not, they had to La La La. We have had many a trip blasting out Joan Armatrading, Joe Jackson, Michael Jackson, Tracy Chapman and Kate Bush, and when we had lots of people in the car everyone had a choice of what was played. I would say I have exposed my girls to all sorts – and now my girls influence what I listen to, they send me new music links like tuneyards, Regina Spektor and Counting Crows to name a few.
The rule of thumb has always be been ‘be creative’ whether in art, music, in play, dressing up, baking cakes (yes, I could just about manage those), style, making camps – and to read and let the imagination run. That’s how children grow; that’s how I wanted MY children to grow. To have their own ideas and to run with them – yes a little guidance sometimes but ONLY guidance. This allowed them to work things through, to see why and how things are done, how things are made and best of all how to think for themselves.
I was fortunate that my own Ma supported my creativity – I drew, painted and played the clarinet, and whilst the pennies were incredibly tight, she always managed to buy me art supplies and even a second hand clarinet (my most treasured gift, I cried when it was given).
I see how my girls are and love how unrestricted, how independent, how open minded, fearless, creative and compassionate they are.
I couldn’t be any prouder.“
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Arike + Sue Oke
Arike (contributor) -
“Some of my earliest memories are of my mother’s records. Massive square pictures of Roxy Music women: in a jungle, a crawling mermaid over sharp rocks, a woman with a panther crawling by her high heels. The songs that provided the backbeat to my childhood memories included David Bowie’s ‘Starman’. I remember putting the record player needle back over the beginning of that record over and over again listening to Bowie’s intake of breath before the first line. Later on I fed my pre-pubescent angst with my mum’s KD Lang records, putting ‘Constant Craving’ on over and over again. When I got my first job, looking after council bowling greens and paddling pools, I used my wages to buy Eddi Reader’s eponymous album for my mum. ‘Patience of Angels’ is a song from that record that still reminds me of my mum and sunny days in parks in Hull.“
“My daughter has this wonderful capacity to build collections of diverse musical tracks that both tell a story and introduce me to some wonderful new artists and sounds. ‘Smokey Taboo’ by CocoRosie is a great example: creating an instant love affair with those haunting vocals and almost discordant Japanese-style backing, calling up both ancient and the modern – geisha loneliness cut through by “sirens in the street”. In contrast ‘Drummer Boy’ by Scout Niblett was a revelation. I’m a writer and this song seemed to speak directly to one of the characters in my book. Its slow, petulant build into the need for challenge and adventure, the shift in tempo to an urgent almost frantic need for fulfilment and back to a crashing whining demand for instant gratification. Perfect. The final track that I’ve picked out from my daughter’s mixtapes is ‘Baby’ by Warpaint. I find it difficult to pin down exactly why this track commands my undivided attention every time I hear it. There’s something compelling in its gentle stranglehold, the combination of acoustic guitar, cool voice and soft background vocals wound up by those lyrics: “thinking in circles/and checking what mirrors don’t see”. A real spider’s web.”
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Ngaire Ruth + Mave
Mave (14) -
“My mum hasn’t really influenced my musical taste because she has given me the space to be myself. She mostly has an open house and boys and girls are welcome and the music is loud (Kate Nash, Lily Allen, Lana Del Rey, Laura Marling, Adele and KISS FM – and I know we only agree on two artists in that list). She would never say “Is that your boyfriend? Or even girlfriend?” They’re all my mates and I’m free to be who I am and take my time with that. She doesn’t force an opinion on me, however if I ask her opinion on something she will give me an honest answer.
I only listen to artists who write their own lyrics and music, who create their own style and agenda and to be fair, my mum totally influenced this and I’m glad she did. I remember when I was younger and a keen Gaga LITTLE MONSTER. She bought me Born This Way – giving me a story about how she must love me more than life itself because she had broken her thirty year rule and purchased a CD from a supermarket shelf, in the trolley, with our shopping.
My mum is always playing her music around the house and I guess that has had a bit of an impact on me. At the same time, she sneaks in her views when she can which I admire and I know I see the truth behind adverts and other media in a way that my friends maybe don’t – which I’m thankful for.“
Ngaire Ruth (Live Editor) -
“As a mum I have aimed to teach Maedb how to mother herself, which involves being kind to yourself; hobbies; room to respond to feelings and learn what helps her deal with them and that means music too; space to make a mess cooking, making things, writing things, trying things on. I don’t tell her to turn the music down – well not often. I only give her my opinion if she asks it. For example she was playing Coldplay last night – downstairs it sounded like, believe it, Suede. I went upstairs and asked who it was, thinking/hoping she had been tampering with the CDs in my 1,000 capacity office shelf CD archives where I have left Mambo Taxi, Bikini Kill and Gilli Smyth and Sidi Bou Said poking out – just slightly after her reply I opened my mouth, and closed it again. I also wish she’d spell her name properly, Maedb as it is on her birth certificate. Again, I shut my mouth.
I made sure she learned to read music and learned enough about the piano – though she didn’t take exams and I ran out of money. We would share guitar lessons now, if we could afford it. (The Gaga phase got her back on to the piano and writing her own songs – a habit which has stayed with her. Phew!)
I lost my mum at 7. She played the squeeze box. My Dad accompanied her on violin. After her death Pops sold his violin. I don’t know what happened to the squeeze box. I looked to music and culture and teachers for female role models – starting with my art teacher, who muttered about “there being more room for us,” as we watched MAN land on the moon in the school library of my Australian private girl’s school. That year Nancy Sinatra was number 1 in Australia for 24 weeks and I had 8 pairs of boots and thought I could fly. No, really. The song was empowering, determined and certain. (Years later I discovered that the song was a response and firm rejection of a teen girl to a dirty old man.) I have high expectations of female musicality. For this reason I have always been furious with artists when they “fuck up”, for example Karen Carpenter – if my heroines turn out to be less capable than me and not a good influence at all. Ut have never broken my heart. It started my love of women and instruments and music that is forming, changing, thinking right before your ears… and writing music reviews.
Last week I was able to take Mave, now 14, with me to a working gig. I was reviewing Laura Marling and for the first time in years I had a plus one and after show invites. She was able to see the other side of my habit, music criticism, and maybe that her mother was respected and had an identity. When I tucked her up that night, I saw she still had her after show wristband on. I realised, in that moment, that if I can’t have a mum at least I’m getting to be the mum I would have wanted – unconditional love, sharing my personality, giving space for self-development and hopefully other adults who can be a good influence; on those days I seem just like an old fool who sings to the cats in front of her friends. And that’s all I can do, with my lack of experience of family life. We are entering a new phase and over the next decade – she and me – and sometimes, together, we are going to have an absolute ball.”
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“When I told my Mum that I’d be writing a piece about how she influenced my music taste we began to reminisce about the numerous theme tunes of my childhood. David Bowie’s ‘China Girl’ was the song she sung to me as a baby, the first time I heard ‘Respect’ by Aretha Franklin was on my Mum’s album and oddly a two-year-old me became entranced by Chesney Hawkes but let’s not get into that.
To me, the record that defined my childhood and how my mum shaped my taste in music is 90s RnB classic ‘Back to Life’ by Soul ll Soul. Whenever my mum would put that song on when I was a baby I would sit on the floor in my nappy and rock to the beat. My mum proudly told me that she knew I had rhythm watching me wobble away.
Obviously my mum has done a lot more for me than give me a love for music but it is important. Anyone that knows me will tell you that 90% of my life revolves around music and the other 10% is focused purely on chocolate. My mum has passed down to me my main passion and obsession in life and for that I am extremely grateful.”
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Emily (Picture Editor)
“Ode to the birth giver: as you grow older and you look back on your years as a child, pivotal memories come dwindling back; memories that to anyone else may seem inane or irrelevant, but have in fact shaped the core foundation of you as a person. My mother has been a key influence on most of these memories that I hold so dear to me, especially in my taste of music.
The earliest memory I have of my mother’s enthusiasm towards my relationship with music came at the grand age of four. I had already started my ongoing obsession with music, asking my fifty-year-old neighbour to join the band I had decided to start after receiving a child’s shiny red electric guitar for Christmas. Correctly remembering, I think the name of the band was “The Rock and Roll Dancers”. My mother, always keen to nurture my artistic side, humoured the idea and spent hours listening to my ramblings of touring the world and being a rock star. For my first single, I insisted my poor mother put my Aladdin video on the VCR, and with the repeated aid of the pause button wrote down the entire lyrics to “A Whole New World”. I never managed to get the record contract and tour the world, but nevertheless I still have my first electric guitar!
My first real consumption of women in music also came from my beloved birth giver. I have many early memories of one of her favorite bands The Cranberries, spending many an hour shoved in the back seat of our family car on road trips, wishfully hoping my little sister will not get travel sickness again and listening to Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can’t We? Looking back now, that album seems to be a soundtrack of my young life, every song a different memory of growing up. The Cranberries are still one of my favorite bands, and when I listen to that album the songs give me the sensation of a warm maternal hug.
The fact that The Cranberries, Joni Mitchell or many other women musicians my mother so kindly encouraged my hungry young ears to absorb moved me so much as a child, really changed the way I viewed music. Because of these early emotional connections to songs by the fairer sex, I kept a serious intrigue with woman fronted music. As I’ve grown older and started exploring my own musical tastes, I have always related to women fronted music like no other. Maybe it’s the fact that as a child I always wanted to be a musician myself, idolising these strong and outgoing women who can kick arse on stage, or the fact that the lyrics by these women tug so strongly on my soul unlike any other. Whatever it is I am still addicted and going strong, and it’s all down to my mother.
Happy Mothers Day, you wonderful woman.”
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Our mother’s body is the first threshold we cross in to this world. In the book ‘The Human Voice, The Story of a Remarkable Talent’, Anne Karpf speaks of the importance of the mother’s voice in early childhood. Karpf describes the mother’s voice as offering “the first psychic space, in which the mother expresses to the infant something about itself that forms the basis of its own developing sense of self and ego”.
My mother is an amateur Opera singer, and her intense operatic voice was my first “psychic space”. My mum sang opera, embarrassingly loudly, ALL the time. As a child I’d feel anxious whenever we were in public, just in case she began belting out Wagner’s Brunhilde in the school playground or doing Janet Baker impressions in the queue at the post office. While I was growing up, classical music was all that was available to listen to in the house. When I was very tiny I loved it, my mum always talks about the time the three year old me had to be dragged to bed kicking and screaming from the sofa where I’d be watching the BBC production of ‘La Traviata’ on repeat for 8 hours. As I grew older and began to develop independent tastes things weren’t so easy, I had to listen to Kate Bush in secret because my Mother hated her ‘screechy’ voice, and as much as I tried to convince her that Sonic Youth were radical in the same way Wagner was in his hey day, I still wasn’t given pocket money to go and buy Washing Machine when it came out because mum simply didn’t consider it to be music at all (her opinion on SY has now changed thankfully).
Friend’s mums were the ones to introduce me to more contemporary music, I remember one friend’s mum playing me ‘The Bends’ by Radiohead for the first time, another friend’s mum gave me vinyl of Siouxsie and The Banshees. In comparison my Mum’s tastes seemed extremely un-cool.
Now I’ve reached adulthood I can of course listen to my mother’s beautiful voice without squirming and sliding down to hide under the table. I’ve also come to appreciate the huge influence my mum’s love of classical music has had on me, both in my attitude towards music and in my own musical practice. My mother’s passion instilled in me a devotion to music, planted in me the seed of exploration, and a respect for music as a viable occupation. My brother, sister and I are all musicians. I’m certain they’d agree with me that in many ways dear Mum has been our biggest influence.
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Rosie + Rosie (Jazz Editor)
Mum’s are great aren’t they? I know that everyone thinks they have the best – but my mum REALLY was the best. Mum always supported me in my musical career even though she never quite ‘got’ jazz, she used to say it was all too complicated for her. She would be at every jazz gig of mine though, and read every article I ever wrote. Her musical tastes were varied – she was a free spirit and a truly unique lady, loving all sorts from Joni Mitchell to Tina Turner and Lady Gaga to Susan Boyle – but all Mum’s love Susan Boyle don’t they? Mum had a soft spot for Amy Winehouse – the Back to Black album particularly and she loved to dance – back in the 60s you could usually find her in the middle of the dance floor showing off her moves to whatever Motown record was a hit at the time. Sadly, mum passed away last October and I feel her loss every day. Even though she’s not here, I know she’s still up there trying to ‘get’ jazz.
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Listen to the Like Mother, Like Daughter Playlist here (Spotify).