Svefn-g-englar by Sigur Ros
I’d spent a few hours at Keflavík airport in Iceland on a stopover to Canada as a teen and had always wanted to go back and feel what it was like to walk on that glistening moonscape I could see from the plane. Many years of daydreaming and listening to this great band followed. We finally jumped at the chance to play some shows, choosing to ignore the slightly troubling signs that they appeared to be organised by a trio of very sweet guys who’d clearly won some kind of bet or competition to promote the gigs. We got to bathe in the Blue Lagoon and paint our faces with salt, we hung out in a Reykjavík nightclub drinking vodka with the locals, we played in a beautiful old church and we wandered the lunar landscape as though we were at space camp. I got my Iceland.
Izarharh Tenere by Tinariwen
Tinariwen are a rock outfit from the Sahara, so imagine our surprise to find ourselves sharing their dressing room at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. Things took a more surreal turn backstage when the small desert army, dressed for the show in traditional flowing garb, only seemed interested in trying to obtain the wifi code for some kind of online gaming scenario. We watched it all unfold while lying on old sofas in the Texas sun waiting for our set to start. Tinariwen’s otherworldly presence made everything better somehow and helped soothe our sleep deprivation. When I want to, I can travel back in time with this beautiful slice of ethereal guitar music from their album Aman Iman.
Feel It All Around by Washed Out
My favourite US tour wasn’t the high-budget kind with a bus and fancy hotels, but one we did on a micro budget in 2014, driving ourselves in a beefed-up minivan, stereo on constant, and the four of us taking DJ slots. We played little venues and stayed in motels. This song became a favourite as we experienced America, ending up at the prehistoric redwood forest in northern California, location for the Forest Moon of Endor in Return of the Jedi. We wondered if we’d accidentally consumed psilocybin mushrooms in our sleep the night before as our minds got blown by the size of the trees against our bodies when we pulled in for a dizzying walk. Even now when I listen to this track, I can see Ewok-shaped shadows waving me in for another forest rave up.
Return Room by Hannah Cohen
During the first lockdown we received a letter instructing us to shelter our 14-year-old daughter, who has Crohn’s disease, and for her to keep three steps from us and her younger sister. We eventually settled on a level of safety we could live with, and later found ourselves driving out to the Surrey countryside for walks in the clear summer air – it was as if the saturation of everything had been turned up to 11. Journeys would be soundtracked by a mix of whatever the girls were into – Japanese City Pop being one of the more beguiling genres – and our “old-fashioned stuff”. But we often settled on this lovely album, Welcome Home by Hannah Cohen and the track Return Room, which brings a lump to my throat with its subtle tale of innocence lost.
Let me explain. My mum was a knitwear designer in the 1980s and my sleep was often accompanied by the distant swoosh of a knitting machine. One of her colourful creations was bought by the wardrobe department of the cop show Cagney & Lacey and used in the opening credits – the blue polo neck worn by Sharon Gless (see video). This is probably my best claim to fame (Band Aid 20 be damned), and no matter what hotel I’ve found myself in around the world since, I can be transported straight back to the comforts of my childhood in south London through the time portal of the hotel TV remote.
Boto by Lokua Kanza
When I was 19, I was working in a guitar shop and saving for an amp. I was playing in a band called 100 moments. The bass player Andrew and I decided to go to Nepal and delay buying that amp. We trekked and explored, we played a lot of chess and a lot of acoustic guitar. Then, we decided we should get a bus to Varanasi, the holy city on the Ganges in India. We went straight to a music shop and had a week’s worth of tabla lessons, bought tabla drums and headed back to Nepal. All the Nepalese bookshops and cafes were playing quasi meditation music, like Trilok Gurtu, Zakir Hussain and Jan Garbarek. I bought a cassette called Trance Planet that I listened to endlessly when I got back home, and this is one of the only songs I can find from it on the internet.
Clandestino by Manu Chao
Mountains O’ Things by Tracy Chapman
I had been learning djembe drumming in Brixton since Mexico, and Mesrop and I found a trip to Gambia for two weeks of drumming training. It was my first African adventure: we spent all day learning with a djembe master and all night listening to local bands. It was incredible to experience Africa via a direct musical avenue, and seeing and feeling where the music came from did a hell of a lot for my djembe playing. Every taxi you got in to creak and bounce over potholed sand roads had three tapes – Bob Marley, Tracy Chapman and Craig David! So now Tracy reminds me of Africa. And it shows that those three albums were speaking a universal language.
Dirt Floor by Chris Whitley
I moved, with the band 100 moments, to Toronto around 1998. I was sleeping on floors at first, working hard, didn’t have much money and was living in this frozen new land. But I was on a bit of a mission with good people. From the first note on this album, every single word seemed to be written just for me – it was mine, it was perfect. It was all about working hard, living with the basics, and maybe finding some reason or love in the cold alien world out there.
Trouble by Ray Lamontagne
In 2004 – at the end of an extensive and fun tour across America with the band – me, Olly and Phil (our keyboard player) were asked to stay for another week to do a radio show. Our girlfriends had joined us for the leg of the tour that went from Vancouver to San Diego. Olly and Rachel were planning on getting married on that trip. I was desperate to marry Miri – I’d stay awake at night imagining that I’d mess the relationship up by accident and ruin the best thing I’d ever had. So I proposed on a Tuesday and we all married together, two consecutive services, under a tree on Santa Barbara beach. We made a CD to play on the drive for the wedding day – a demo version of You Send Me by Sam Cooke given to me by Jeff Barrett at Heavenly Records, and some of Ray Lamontagne’s first album. Trouble will always paint the picture of us stopping the car to open champagne on the side of the road in the Californian sunset, blooming, freshly married.
Turin Brakes will be celebrating the 20th anniversary of their album The Optimist in October with a UK tour and vinyl rerelease, as well as releasing new album Lounge at the Edge of Town from their project with Phil Ramocon (who has played with Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Talk Talk). Visit turinbrakes.com for more