Walking in Mind

A Trail of Thoughts

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Trail Music: Tracks 4 and 5

Here are two more tunes that accompanied me on the trail this summer.

Resolution (Part 2 of A Love Supreme): John Coltrane

When, as a young student of psychology, I began listening to A Love Supreme I was unsettled by not knowing where John Coltrane was trying to take me with this music. It was different to anything else I’d heard up until that point, including earlier work by Coltrane, and I couldn’t fathom it, not at first. Thirty years on, the fact that I do not where A Love Supreme will take me is precisely what I find enthralling. It has become an antidote to a staleness of thought, and whenever I listen to it I feel more grounded, emotionally, in life.

Coltrane was a profoundly spiritual man and regarded A Love Supreme as his musical gift to God. In the poem that appears on the album’s liner notes, and which is expressed musically in the suite’s final movement, Psalm, he asks of that God: Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses. I find Coltrane’s choice of verb here interesting. Resolving our fears and weaknesses would mean that some course of action can be decided upon in relation to these aspects of our self, that some kind of solution can be found. But resolution is not the same as triumph; it is not, in our emotional life, a final settlement. The root of the verb also gives us the noun resolve, and implicit in Coltrane’s plea to God is that we may be granted the determination required to resolve the challenges we face in life. This, I think, is why Resolution is the second movement of Coltrane’s four-part suite, coming after Acknowledgement but before Pursuance. Resolution, Coltrane seems to be saying, is not the end point, but rather the step that enables us to begin pursuing a deeper connection to things. Only by addressing our own limitations can we begin to pursue what really matters in life.

Several people have asked me what I was hoping to achieve by walking from Catalonia to Cornwall, the implication being that anyone who engages in such behaviour must surely be trying to resolve something in his or her life. Have you found yourself?, one old friend asked me. Questions of this kind are legitimate, but they are also wide of the mark. For many years I did struggle with the reality of living in Catalonia while longing for Cornwall, but gradually over time I have come to celebrate rather than suffer the task of calling two places home. Having reached that point, the act of walking ‘home’ was simply the continued pursuit of something already resolved.

Walk On: Michael Jerome Browne

It was my brother David who introduced me to the music of this Canadian guitarist and songwriter. This tune might be little more than a straight-up slice of R&B, but how could I not include a song that so effortlessly captures a feeling known to anyone who has walked alone for hundreds of miles: Well your mind gets worried, when your shoes get thin. Don’t know where you’re going, but do know where you bin. Walk on, walk on… I’m gonna keep on walking til I find my way back home.


Trail Music: Tracks 2 and 3

Following on from the Intro and Track 1 that I posted on 20 September, here are the next two tracks on my playlist for the trail.

Done: Frazey Ford

Shortly before I set off on what would be an 11-week hike from Catalonia to Cornwall I was tipped off to this song via a tweet by the people over at Caught by the River. This infectious slice of modern soul moves at a pace that is just right for walking, and I’ve lost count of the times that it helped me regain my step as I began to falter or wilt as the summer days wore on. The video’s great, too!

Helston: Dalla

Since their formation in 1999, Dalla have led the way in promoting, writing and re-interpreting traditional Cornish music. This tune, Helston, is a furry dance and a musical centrepiece of the St Michael’s Day celebrations that are held each year in the Cornish town of Helston, traditionally on 8 May. In this original arrangement, the clarinet leads us off up the road, while double bass, brass and djembe help to keep us in time. Towards the end, we are reminded that the tune is sometimes known as ‘John the Bone’, with Dalla singing the following refrain against the musical background: John the Bone was marching home, when he met with Sally Brewer, He kissed her once, and he kissed her twice, and he kissed her three times over. Furry dances are meant to be danced by couples in line, so thankfully there were no Helstonians around to watch in dismay as a solitary walker, poles in hand, bobbed his way along the back roads of France.

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Trail Music: Intro & Track 1

I don’t normally listen to music while out on the trail. Walking brings its own rhythms that I find are best complemented by attention to other melodies: to birdsong, to the wind singing in the trees, to the tune being hummed by my own rambling thoughts. However, spending weeks alone on the trail is a different proposition, and as I wove my way across France this summer I found that music was often a welcome companion. Some of it had a visceral energy that brought renewed vigour to my footfall as I began to flag on a hot afternoon. At other times a tune or song stayed with me as a reminder of the home I’d left behind, or of the one towards which I was heading. And then there was the music that carried me deep down inside, to more spiritual reflection and to an awareness of what was going on elsewhere as I walked on into the day.

Back home now in Catalonia, much of that music continues to resonate, and so I have decided to share a selection of ten pieces, ambassadors of all those songs and tunes that proved to be good companions on the trail. Each selection is accompanied by a short text that says something about my connection to the music, and by clicking on the title you will be able to listen to and/or watch a performance of the tune in question. While out on the trail I had time enough to savour this music, and I would like for you to have the same opportunity. Therefore, rather than presenting all ten selections as a single playlist I will post them in dribs and drabs over the next few weeks. Here’s the first tune. Enjoy!

Walk Awhile: Fairport Convention

Back in the early 1980s my brother-in-law, Len, had a brown Morris Ital, and one of the most memorable trips I recall making in that car was to Fairport Convention’s annual reunion at Cropredy. I had not long turned eighteen at the time, and was still many years shy of discovering the pleasures and pain of long-distance walking. When, over a quarter of a century later, I walked Wainwright’s coast to coast trail eastwards across the north of England, Len was one of those at my side. This summer, as I walked west across Brittany, he was there again for a few days, quietly urging me towards my goal. While the Ital has long since left the road, Fairport Convention continue to reunite each year, and two brothers continue to learn new things about each other. As for the song’s refrain, we need more than ever for it to be true: “Walk awhile, walk awhile, walk awhile with me. The more we walk together, love, the better we’ll agree”.