It’s amazing how a brief burst of music can instantly transport you to a different time and place.
I was driving the other day when a burst of an old English folk song popped up on BBC Radio 4.
I’d probably not heard the song for decades, but suddenly I was singing along to There was an old man called Michael Finnegan.
If you know it, it’s not the best set of lyrics ever written, but it certainly caught my young ear when I first heard it at a very tender age in Hart Road Junior School, now long demolished.
Every Monday morning, at 11 o’clock I believe, scores of us gathered in a dusty school hall, well a corridor really, to listen to a live BBC Radio programme called Singing Together.
Today’s youngsters will find this early technology hilarious, but we were well impressed that this programme was actually live, and the chap on “the wireless” was talking to us.
We all joined in with a lot of energy, and limited talent, but it was a strangely comforting feeling to be belting out an assortment of songs in the company of your classmates, and youngsters all over the country.
The reason that it was on my car radio the other day was that a documentary was being broadcast celebrating the decades of success of this remarkable programme.
Sadly, few live programmes were recorded in those days and only a few examples still survive.
Its roots lay in the Second World War, when many children were evacuated away from bombing, and many schools were short staffed because of teachers away in the forces.
Looking back, the songs broadcast were well chosen and covered quite a range, from old folk standards to light classical. That Michael Finnegan song always appealed to me and my friends because of the highly contrived rhymes which told us of our hero growing hairs on his “chinnegan”.
The best bit came at the end of each verse when you were encouraged to bellow out “begin again” and set forth once more.
At the end of each song the programme’s presenter told us how well we had done, and none of us believed a cynical friend who rightly surmised that the chap in London couldn’t really hear thousands of kids around the country.
It might seem dated now, but that simple pleasure of singing as part of a group still has an appeal.
Over the next few weeks, millions of us, religious or not, will get a real glow from singing Christmas carols together.
One of my best memories of the festive season a year ago was a brilliant session at a big lunch in Newcastle when the compere managed to get over six hundred sane business people letting rip on a superb version of The Twelve Days of Christmas.
Watching groups of tables bobbing up and down and belting out their verses was priceless.
I know that today’s young generation is more likely to share music on YouTube and often listen to it in headphoned solitude, but it will never beat the feeling of belting out a massed chorus with a few hundred friends.