MUSIC has always played a huge part in my mountain life.
All those nights alone on the road to faraway places, a long-running festival of eclectic tracks to rival the shows of Bob Harris or Ian Anderson.
A typical journey would start with the whispered tones of a late-night radio offering, then a switch to my own collection when the reception faded away. I had always been into a wide variety of sounds, but 15 years of regular three and four-hour trips after midnight allowed me to sample so much I would otherwise have missed.
Most of us have songs that define who we are. When I played football, every match had its own song. When played now they invoke pictures of a certain day, a certain era. Memories long forgotten suddenly resurface with the first few notes.
The emotional impact should never be underestimated. I have often found an extra spring in my ascent of a mountain slope with Dougie MacLean’s The Gael playing out in my head. Its power is immeasurable. Just as I want my ashes scattered on the main summit of Buachaille Etive Mor, I want The Gael to be the accompaniment to my funeral march. Listen carefully - you may hear me humming along from inside the box.
Talking of boxes, I hit upon a real treasure trove the other day during a clean-out in my house - hundreds of long-forgotten compact discs from the days when newspapers were involved in big giveaways every weekend.
Granted, there was a lot of junk, but there were also some real gems. In amongst the cheapos like Learn Swahili in One Night and Rat Pack wrap-ups sung by, frankly, not Sinatra, there were proper albums by the likes of The Stranglers, Paul Weller and Roxy Music as well as some great Motown and Celtic Connections compilations.
There were also a few good movies in there but it’s a bit of a push to watch these while driving, so I stuck to the music. With so much rediscovered tracks, and much I had never listened to, it’s like a lucky dip - I just don’t know what’s going to come on next.
The mood of the music can change dramatically with the journey. I used to find that gentler sounds were the best for the dark hours, John Martyn or Southside Johnnie and the Ashbury Dukes for instance, every little hiss and silence feeding perfectly into each mile.
If it was raining heavily then the percussion on the car roof could be complemented by Michael Chapman’s Rainmaker, if the light was coming up and the travelling smooth then there was a lot of mileage in Little Feat.
But often the last 20 minutes before arrival saw a switch to something heavy, an awakening from the mellow mood, Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple to get the juices flowing and the psyche engaged for the task ahead. It may sound obvious, but Run DMC’s Walk This Way was another favourite in the build-up.
This rock and awe treatment worked a treat over the years. I got out of the car with an adrenaline rush already in place. It was a tactic I eventually employed to great effect on others.
There were eight of us in Skye - Cuillin the Gang, if you like - and I was the only one who had climbed all the peaks on the ridge. For the rest this was virgin territory, and there were a lot of shaky legs with the thought of what lay ahead.
We were staying at Sligachan and it was a 20-minute run down to our starting point each day. On the first day, I put on the wildest, noisiest tracks from Green Day’s American Idiot. It worked. Everyone arrived pumped up and ready to go.
It became the soundtrack for the week, and everyone got their Munros ticked. It was the week everyone became a rock star.