All this week from Monday to Friday, JK Rowling chooses her Tracks Of My Years – the music she loves – for BBC Radio 2’s Ken Bruce show (9.30am-12pm).
Below are the tracks she chooses and what they each mean to her.
JK Rowling’s Track Of My Years choices:
Cloudbusting by Kate Bush
Heaven by Emeli Sande
Big Country by Big Country
Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell
All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix
River Song by Dennis Wilson
Ramble On by Led Zeppelin
Waitress by First Aid Kit
Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers
Dream On Dreamer by Brand New Heavies
Cloudbusting by Kate Bush – being a student in Paris:
JK: [Cloudbusting] came out in 1985 when I was still a student… because I was studying French I spent a year in Paris… I was teaching students in a lycee, basically a comprehensive on the outskirts of Paris. It was a very particular experience going away, I left a boyfriend back in Britain and we were all quite young and we were all quite broke… we had some wonderful adventures during that time… there’s something very wistful about that track… we were all people who like to travel and there was a sense of being lost, but in quite a nice way I suppose, we were exploring life a lot at that time… I don’t know how I managed to get Paris because a lot of my friends ended up in tiny little towns in the middle of nowhere so we all had very varied experiences. I couldn’t believe that I’d got Paris which was of course my first choice.
Heaven by Emeli Sande – remembering the fear of doing the London Olympics Opening Ceremony
JK: I love this song so much, but I have a particular memory attached to it which was the London Olympics Opening Ceremony. They played this track during the ceremony and that was probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done in my life, being part of that Opening Ceremony and, in fact, I told Danny Boyle twice, ‘I can’t do it, Danny, I just can’t, I would be too scared’. I’ve got better, but I find public speaking an ordeal. I’ve got better at it and I’ve made myself get braver about it, but I said to him I can’t do it in front of that large an audience, I can’t do it live, please don’t ask me and he kept asking, kept asking me and finally he just said to me, ‘Look, we’ve got the Queen jumping out of an aeroplane’ and when he told me that I honestly thought, [that] no-ones even going to remember I was there. If that’s happening, that’s sort of takes the pressure off! But I do remember just rehearsing and practising and practising this little piece I had to read and when it was over I cannot tell you the sense of exhilaration that I’d done it, I hadn’t fallen over, I hadn’t messed up the reading so I went up into the stands to sit with some people I knew and then we watched this extraordinary ceremony and they played this Emeli Sande track and I will forever associate it with that night…. I said to my husband on the night, ‘On my deathbed, that will be a moment I remember, going out into that stadium.’ It was the most epic event that I’d ever been involved in and I think all of us who participated would say the same thing, nothing will ever come close.
Big Country by Big Country – first ever gig
JK: Now I had to put Big Country by Big Country on the list because this was my first ever live gig. I went to Dingwalls in Bristol with my teenage boyfriend… and they were amazing live… and I just thought they were wonderful, they really were.
Ken: You’ve lived in many different places, where do you feel home is, where do you feel drawn to?
JK: Well, home now is definitely Scotland. I’ve lived most of my life now in Edinburgh, I’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, but when I was younger I had very itchy feet and I’ve lived in London, Manchester, Paris, Oporto… I’ve moved around a lot. I also, within those cities, kept moving. I just do have very itchy feet. But when I had my daughter, I decided consciously, not that that has to stop because I love travelling and as a family we travel a lot, but I decided that she needed roots so we stayed in Edinburgh, which I now love and really do consider my home and my city… [Travelling] is a useful thing to have done and to have seen life from a lot of different perspectives… and I love exploring.
Court and Spark by Joni Mitchell – on inspiring her latest book
JK: Before I began writing Troubled Blood… I looked up all the albums that came out in 1974 because the whodunnit… concerns a women who vanished in 1974 and I wanted to peg her disappearance to an album that she would have loved and I saw that Court and Spark… had come out then and I thought that’s perfect, perfect for this character. So then I began listening to it and listening to it and listening to it and then I loved it so much I now literally own everything that Joni Mitchell has ever brought out and I can now honestly call myself a mad Joni Mitchell fan. It was an odd way to discover all her other work, but I think she’s just untouchable, and as a lyricist I think there’s no one better. My husband last Christmas bought me a book of all her lyrics and it can be read like fine poetry. She’s absolutely extraordinary… Court and Spark is now one of my very favourite albums.
All Along The Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix – playing it after a bad break-up and being insecure
Since first hearing this song when I think I was probably 18 or 19, I’ve always had it in my music. I do remember playing it very loudly and drunkenly after one bad break-up and I think the attraction there was the opening line, ‘There must be some way out of here’. But it’s just a great song and he again, what a talent and at the venerable age I have reached now, looking back at artists who died so young is particularly poignant I think. I mean you ache for them because you think what would Jimi Hendrix have achieved if he’d lived to past the age of 27? It’s just extraordinary that people produce work of that quality when they’re so young… I think the thing I admire most is having the confidence because I had the idea for Harry Potter when I was 25 and I’d done a lot of writing before then, but I was extraordinarily insecure and very rarely shared anything that I’d written. I wrote some spoof things for friends to make them laugh, but I never shared anything that I’d written in earnest because I was quite insecure. But of course performers are different and they are driven to share in a way that writers don’t do; obviously we live in a far more introverted life, but… I am drawn to biographies of people like Hendrix because I am just in awe of what they did and what they achieved.
River Song by Dennis Wilson – reminding her of the pandemic during lockdown
This is always going to remind me of the pandemic, this song, because I’ve been listening to his album Pacific [Ocean] Blue which is a bit of an undiscovered gem. I’d had it for a while and listened to it, but it seems to be speaking to me in lockdown and River Song – maybe it resonates because certainly lots of my friends have talked about rediscovering being in the natural world in lockdown – having space and time to appreciate the small things. That’s not to say that any of us wouldn’t change things in a heartbeat, but it has brought a lot of us closer to family. Just having time to enjoy small things has been one small upside of the pandemic
Waitress by First Aid Kit – reminding her of an old friend
I think they’re kind of wonderful. This song in particular reminds me of one of my oldest friends Lynn she and I were in Paris together, we’d never have met otherwise because she’s American. There’s something about our shared nomadic tendencies in this song because it is a song about escape and reinvention. Now I’m very fortunate, I no longer feel the desire to escape or to reinvent myself I am very happy and I have a wonderful family. But I think this is a song about young women feeling displaced and feeling anxious and I think that’s the reason both of us particularly love this track.
On her lack of belief/confidence in writing
You have to push through your lack of belief. Certainly with Potter and with other things I’ve written, I’ve put them down for months at a time. I have got better at believing that I can push through. I remember when I was writing Potter I was writing two other things simultaneously and slowly but surely I realised that Potter was the best of them. And even though I was very insecure I just kept pushing on, pushing on. Actually, the thing that pushed me to complete the book and really to have belief, was having made such a mess of my life generally. In fact I do remember feeling, ‘Look, so you get turned down by every publisher in the country, what’s to lose now?’ Well you know, it was even that I thought it would be a massive success because I certainly didn’t. What I did believe was, I came to a point where I thought, ‘This is a good story and I’m going to put everything into this and see what happens.’ And I’d lost the fear of failing or rejecting that had probably hampered me a little bit early on in my writing.
On the Robert Galbraith books being a desire to that that the writing was as good as she thought it was and it wasn’t her name that was selling?
Yeah, that was definitely in there. I think I had a real yen to go back to the beginning, to go back to what’s important. And to get unvarnished criticism. And so I became Robert and it was a fantastic experience. I can honestly say the rejection letters were fantastic. I know that sounds bizarre and masochistic, but it was satisfying because I was getting unvarnished feedback and I was resilient enough to think, ‘Well that is a fair comment, but no I don’t agree with that comment’ because you’ve got to have faith in what you’re doing but I’ve never been arrogant enough not to believe that I need feedback and a good editor is essential, however successful you are.
Ramble On by Led Zeppelin – growing up
When I was really young, I mean sixteen or seventeen, growing up on the Welsh border, Led Zeppelin was a real thing for me as an adolescent and my oldest friend Sean he loved Zeppelin and it was something we shared. I just love Ramble On.
Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers – on a moving marital moment and lockdown being a special time with her family
JK: Well I think of all the love songs written, this might be my favourite. It’s such a beautiful, simple sentiment, but I have an additional reason for choosing it, which is that it took lockdown for my husband to say to me… I was playing it in the kitchen while cooking something; he walked in, he said, ‘This always makes me think of you when you’re down in London’ and that was a very moving marital moment so now it has an extra layer of meaning for me. [On lockdown]…. Well, I hope that all listeners have had the happy experience that I’ve had of it being quite a special time. We also have teenage kids and it’s been kind of wonderful to spend that extra time with them.
On being involved with the screen adaptations of her work
JK: Well, interestingly, I’ve been much more involved in the TV show than I have been with the movies. With the TV show, because I’m writing a series about my detectives, Strike and Robin, I have been very involved because I didn’t want the TV show to take them to places that I know they wouldn’t go because I know what’s coming, so that’s been such a happy project. I’ve loved all of it and I think and believe it’s been a very happy experience for everyone involved… a lovely cast and amazing crew, it’s been really satisfying…. It’s always a challenge because certain changes need to be made between novel and screen and I’m always sympathetic to that; different media have different demands, but the tv adaptations of the Galbraith novels I think have been very very faithful.
On fan feedback before it was known she was writing as Robert Galbraith
JK: The first three months I had, when no one knew it was me and I was Robert Galbraith, and Robert started to get letters… and fan feedback which was so genuine and so lovely. I think what people are mostly drawn to are the central relationship between the two detectives and I’m constantly being asked, ‘When are they going to get together?’ So, yeah, I think people will be happy with this book because they certainly do advance in their relationship, though possibly not quite the advance that everyone’s hoping for, but I loved writing that [latest book], it was a joy.
Dream On Dreamer by Brand New Heavies – on dreaming that Potter might be a success
JK: This is such a personal and meaningful track to me. When I was finishing the first Potter book, this track was being played constantly on the radio, and in one of the cafes that I used to write in, it felt as though this song was played every three minutes and I can remember more than once asking myself, ‘Is that who you are, are you the dreamer?’ [for] thinking that this can be published or will be published? But I still had this degree of belief in the story that quelled my doubts and made me keep working, difficult though it was at that time, so it always takes me back to just being on the threshold of the insanity that then ensued, because at that time I could have had no idea what was coming.
Stream Ken Bruce’s show via BBC Sounds.