I'm a long way from home. Last night I was in proper Arabian desert. I watched the sun sink over dunes half the height of the Brecon Beacons, and this morning I saw a herd of camels drifting between little knots of blue green vegetation that looked about as appetising as plate scrubbers.
(Actually I think they were plate scrubbers - who knew they grew in the desert?) I'm here for work and always with work trips I don't plan. Somebody else has planned my itinerary and handed me a ticket, I know what work I have to do, so beyond packing the right number of pairs of socks I don't prepare for the down time part of my trip. Which means I always load my poor little iPod shuffle at the very last minute and end up making some pretty bizarre music choices. This time there's one artist who I don't even recognise on there. But in my hurry I also made some good choices....things I haven't listened to for ages. Today I had a long taxi ride with a driver with whom - we soon discovered - I did not share a single word of one language (he at least had the merit of having three to chose from I only have one) so I gave up trying to ask after his family in sign language and plugged in my earphones. Up popped all kinds of things....the Bhundu Boys, Curved Air ( ah...remember them?) an acoustic version of Talking Heads' 'Heaven', some Kate Rusby I don't think I ever heard before, ditto June Tabor, Stevie Wonder, and lots of lovely vintage early Beatles that I haven't heard since a party at the Bologna Book fair two years ago where twenty something Groovy Italian publishers were bopping about to stuff I hadn't danced to since I was four. Anyway it was an odd, if rather marvellous, sound track to the stark Omani landscape, of moon like mountains, and dots of green vegetation on russet, beige and lavender grey pebble- desert . It made me think and feel so many things - as music does -and along with the emotional stream of consciousness, I also thought about how I use music. And I do use it, to give me energy cheer me up, make me cry, calm me down. And that in turn made me think of some of the talk there's been in the press this week about arts funding. All the usual debates dragged out again...theoretical choices between curing childhood cancer and funding a theatre company which represents everything in courgettes, you know the kind of stuff. It's true there are tough choices to make, but what we all need to hold in our minds is that, yes survival is important, but there has to be a reason for surviving. Humans are, if they are anything, engines for explaining the world - through science, and through art in all their wondrous diverse forms, even courgette theatre and Schroedinger's cat.
So in answer to tabloid-esque questions about WOT USE IS THE ARTS below are some artists and tracks and their very specific uses, to demonstrate the Immense Utility Of The Arts ( apart of course from being about our biggest export - Ed Sheeran's just been here to Oman and my books and those of many other British authors are translated into a gazillion other languages - none of which of course I speak).
For Creating a Calm But Enlivened Atmosphere on long Drives
(This requires a mixture of up beat optimism underpinned with melancholy, struggle or pathos)
the Bhundu Boys
For The Happy Remembrance Of Past Relationships (when you don't want to do too much crying
David Bowie Life On Mars
Kid Creole and the Coconuts I'm Not Your Daddy
Olly Murs Dance With Me Tonight
For Cathartic and Indulgent Misery (possibly involving gin drunk in a hot bath)
Lana Del Ray Video Games
Talking Head This Must be The Place
Almost anything by Adele
john Martyn Couldn't Love You More
For Raising Energy Levels on the Way to Tedious Meeting or Shopping Expedition
Scissor Sisters. I don't feel like dancing
Weather Girls Raining Men
The Only Ones Another Girl another planet ( this is an efficient choice as you only need the intro, played VERY LOUD)
Los Lobos La Bamba
Beyoncé. All The Single Ladies
Womak and Womak Teardrops
For cleaning the Bath
Queen Don't Stop Me Now
Marcus Collins Seven Nation Army
For Existential Reflection When At Home on. Saturday Night
David Byrne Heaven
Rosanne Cash God is in The Roses
Nick Drake Time has Told me
Bobby Womak the Bravest Man in the Universe
Georgia Ruth The Week Of Pines (also good for making salad)
For Proposals of Marriage
The Magnetic Fields Time
For Driving to a Date
The Broken Family Band Cinema Vs House
for Driving From a Date
Lady Gaga Baby You Were Born this Way
And finally some gender specific tracks...
For Ladies Holidaying Alone ( especially on the first occasion )
Lisa Gerard Now We Are Free
Be Bop De Luxe Ships in the Night.
Anyway....I hope you find it helpful. Please feel free to tweet us your own Specific Uses Of Music.