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One Saturday morning back in the summer of 2010, not long after Jo and I found out we would be moving to Switzerland to live, we were driving down to the beach for a surf. Jo produced a pen and notebook from her colourful Desigual bag and said, ‘Give me your list of top five must see places when we are in Europe.’ The names moved from the pages of my imagination fairly easily. Cities and countries that I had often contemplated without any focus on the reason why they appealed to me. Then as quickly as my list had appeared Jo flicked an equally impressive five into her book. By the time we’d reached the Esplanade at Mooloolabah we both had a top twenty.
Now forty sorties across the far flung breadth and borders of Europe and Africa over a two to three year period may have been slightly ambitious, but it gave us a lot of flexibility and many awesome options. Morocco and Marrakesh were in my original top five list. From reading my previous blogs some people might think that I have lived a shallow life that has been too easily influenced by the romance and allure of pop music culture. And I’d be the first not to deny that. I’m also very grateful that I have never stopped listening to music and that many artists over the last five decades have written and recorded songs that attracted my sensibilities. Especially songs about their experiences in foreign lands and cultures.
The top three songs for me that were written about, or in Morocco, would have to be Marrakesh Express, Kashmir and Since You’ve Been Gone.
Marrakesh Express was written by Graham Nash of Crosby Stills and Nash fame for their debut, self titled album in 1969. It describes the sights, sounds and colours that Nash experienced during a train trip from Casablanca to Marrakesh some three years before the song was released. Jimmy Page and Robert Plant supposedly wrote the lyrics and music for Kashmir (a region of Northern India) in the southern wastelands of Morocco for Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti album released back in 1975. Page and Plant then revisited the Kashmir track with a new arrangement on their live reunion album, No Quarter, in 1994, which also happened to be partly recorded in Morocco.
But the big influence for me in regards to Marrakesh is Australian rocker and legend, Billy Thorpe. Jo and I saw him at a concert back in 2005 where he told the story of how he ended up in Marrakesh with his wife and family for his wife’s 50th Birthday back in 2000. Thorpie talked about the profound influence the culture and music of Morocco had on him during his holiday there and then played a few songs he had written about this experience. It was very different Thorpie and his acoustic guitar had a definite Middle eastern/North African feel about it. Sadly Billy died before he had a chance to finish this album of new songs. But thanks to the love of his good mate Michael Chugg and music industry friends, including Mick Fleetwood, Thorpie’s long awaited Tangiers album was released in October 2010. Tangiers ranks as one of my all-time favourite and most played albums. There is not one note of music or line of lyric on this album that doesn’t do it for me.
Marrakesh is sensual overload and I’m talking Spiritual sense here. Okay, I must admit that the snake-charmers were not my cup of tea and the need to pay everyone that came within range of the viewfinder on my Canon was a pain but it helped to make me more thoughtful in regards to the memories I wanted to bring back from Marrakesh with me. The people that we had the pleasure to meet and get to know can be best described as beautiful, helpful and caring and without them the history and architecture of Marrakesh would lack a true definition of colour. From somewhere in between the moments of the five am early morning call to prayer until the last drumbeat faded into my dreams long after midnight, a conscious understanding of what CSN, Led Zeppelin and Thorpie have been singing about for all these years was indelibly stamped on me.
One of the best times for me whenever Jo and I are in a new and exotic environments is my before breakfast, camera walks down and along the backstreets of these ancient cities. Nothing in full light can ever compare to the people,scenery and colours that pass from the brush of a sunrise (or a sunset) in these streets less traveled. Last Monday morning, as I found my way back into the organized mayhem of horse carriages and motor scooters as they mingled along the main road outside the Spice Souk in the old Jewish quarter, I had an overwhelming sense of my father. And I really missed him ... and his blue eyes.