All hail to the Green Street Mortuary band!

Charles Cowling

The best things in life have a signature tune, a tune forever associated with, and evocative of, a time, a place, a person — a soap.

Funerals have signature tunes, too. As a celebrant, every time I hear Oasis’s Stop Crying Your Heart Out I think of the lad who died at Glastonbury: Hold up / Hold on / Don’t be scared, / You’ll never change what’s been and gone … Stop crying your heart out. Every time I hear Kelis’s Lil Star I think of the lovely man whose children kept hearing it on their way to see him in hospital. There is nothing special about me was how their dad self-deprecatingly thought of himself, but not them, not them. He never actually heard the song himself, but that makes it no less perfect for him. Yesterday we had the Moody Blues’ I Know You’re Out There Somewhere, so that’s a new one for me.

Not all funeral signature tunes are memorable to me — Katherine Jenkins has sung Time to Say Goodbye at so many funerals she’s lost all specificity. Not the case for the people who were there.

Likely enough, you have a favourite song — the one you call ‘my song’. That’s probably more than just a signature tune, it’s more likely your soundtrack. This notion came to me when I was looking at one of Louise’s little life films.

I’m trying to work out what mine is, now. I know that it can’t and couldn’t be a piece of classical music: a classical piece wouldn’t work for anybody. “Strange how potent cheap music is,” said Noel Coward. He ought to know; he wrote enough. He’s right, too, dammit: it’s got to be something pop, something that can play over a photmontage of your life. 

You may have a very clear idea what yours is. Perhaps this is something that others must decide for us.

I know I favour something joyously anarchic. I’ve toyed with the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain and am presently inclining towards the Green Street Mortuary Band. Here’s a band that plays for Chinese funerals in San Francisco. It’s a longstanding tradition here. The band’s repertoire comprises all manner of Christian hymns, a custom inspired by military bands in British-occupied Hong Kong. The Chinese don’t mind about this at all; all they care about is that it sounds good.

It does, too, in a most agreeably chaotic way. The bass drummer habitually sets off car alarms, adding to the melodic cacophony. Find out more about this fascinating, wonderful band here. Enjoy the YouTube vid.

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