Winning tip: Isle of Skye with Peatbog Faeries
I found Peatbog Faeries’ album Welcome to DunVEGAS from a tiny, well-stocked trad music shop in Portree. The album, recorded in a cottage on the banks of Pool Roag near Dunvegan during a three-month-long party, became a musical guidebook for a road trip exploring the beautiful and harsh Isle of Skye. Pete Morrison’s belting, anthemic bagpipes and Roddy Neilson’s undulating fiddle reels reflect the constantly changing weather and landscape. Gaelic vocals on the track Fear Eile echo the island’s rich mythology and the hollow percussion on Morning Dew evokes memories of hanging mist and raindrops falling off … well, everything!
Chasing the blues to San Francisco
As a child, I loved the evenings when my dad brought out his guitar and sang. One of my favourites was San Francisco Bay Blues, first recorded by Jesse Fuller, with its sadness and yearning infused with energy and hope. The lyrics held the romance of ocean liners and freight trains, along with a fantasy that someone who had treated me bad might one day sing about how I was actually the best. As a student finally able to explore the world I travelled the US west coast, heading for San Francisco. Like the song, the city was beautiful, miserable and hopeful all at once.
Matala, Crete, with Joni Mitchell’s Carey
In the bohemian town of Matala, Crete, there is a series of manmade caves carved by neolithic communities. In the 1960s, the caves housed a group of backpacking nomads. Joni Mitchell spent time living with them during her hiatus from music in 1970, which inspired some of her most famous hits, including Carey. In the summer of 2016, we made the two-hour drive from Plakias to Matala, listening to her album Blue on repeat. Nowadays the caves are a busy, ticketed attraction (€4/€2). So instead I would recommend lying on the beach and looking up at the starry sky “beneath the Matala moon”.
Betty Blue in the western Med
In my youth I was, like many others, entranced by the soundtrack of the sumptuous French film Betty Blue, as it was known over here. I played it wistfully on the piano, guitar and even harmonica – so easy to learn! Rarely have image and music blended so well. The shot of a saxophonist playing by a carousel led me down to Gruissan-Plage, just south of Narbonne, where I spent a glorious sun-drenched August on stilts, battling a typewriter, with a Gauloise hanging from my lip.
• Vrbo has stilted chalets by that beach from £381 a week
Supreme experience, Motown
Detroit is well worth a visit for the architecture and the lovely welcome. You can also, with a little research, find where Eminem grew up, where Madonna grew up, and visit New Bethel Baptist Church, where Aretha Franklin’s father was pastor. But the one must-see is the Motown Museum ($15/£10, Tues-Sun). For me, it was like a religious experience – so much of the music I love came out of that little house. The history there, the legends that have walked through the hallways. And we even got to sing in Studio A. Perfect.
Long and winding road to Cuba
As a child I was intrigued by The Long and Winding Road by the Beatles, and it triggered many hours of imaginary travel, with me always changing what was at the end of the road. This, I believe, was the force behind my many travels as an adult, often going off the beaten track to find what lay beyond. The urge to do this was so strong that, while on a guided tour in Cuba, I broke away from the group to follow a winding path, only to be met at the other end by a very angry-looking bull. I was unsure whether to turn back and face the angry tour guide or stay and de-escalate the bull. I chose the latter and carried on with my journey and found a secluded beach. Such great memories.
Cornish marathon – to The Trap
As there was not a real London Marathon this year, I ran the virtual one instead. The Trap (London Marathon theme tune, written by Ron Goodwin for 1966 film The Trap) inspired me to run in Cornwall in the rhino costume – as you do! I ran through many beautiful places, including Marazion, Newlyn harbour and Mousehole, and St Michael’s Mount. There is so much in such a short distance, and of course Land’s End is just a few miles away.
Awe-inspiring Iceland – and its music
The eerie, haunting melodies of Sigur Rós inspired us to explore the otherworldly moonscape that is Iceland. Long, empty roads cut through the solidified lava fields, taking us on to the bleakness of the black beaches of Vik and the many magnificent waterfalls. An awe-inspiring destination, with the music to match.
To Kiev with Modest Mussorgsky
School lunchtimes spent in the drama studio with access to a record player initiated a love of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Transported from suburban London, I dreamed about foreign lands and the grandeur of the Great Gate of Kiev – the finale is based on a design for the gate by the composer’s friend Hartmann. Thirty years later, low-cost flights to Ukraine meant I could promenade in Kiev, Mussorgsky providing a backing track in my head. Touring churches, cathedrals and monasteries suited the hymn-like refrain, but also added poignancy to the Chernobyl and Holocaust museums. In Independence Square it added a note of hope as I witnessed the struggle for democracy.
Flanders by bagpipes
I started listening to the folk music programme on Radio Vlaanderen International on a short-wave radio in the 1980s. I loved the sound of the Flemish bagpipes (you see them in many Bruegel paintings, such as Wedding Dance) played by the traditional folk group Het Brabants Volksorkest and started to take my tent and bike across to Belgium on the Hull-Zeebrugge ferry for short holidays to the flat, canal-crossed area near Damme, north-east of Bruges. There is often a pipe player outside the Groeninge Museum in Bruges, home of great Flemish art, including a Last Judgement triptych said to be by Hieronymus Bosch, similar to the famous one in Vienna. I was drawn by the music but return for the bread, beer, art and landscape.