Without becoming overly-sentimental, I knew long before I left for Europe the impact it would have on my life. I knew there would be culture shock, new friendships would form and I would come back a changed man. I knew I would go to great places like the London Tower, the Guinness Factory and Edinburgh Castle. I knew I would hear British, Irish and Scottish accents – perhaps what I was most excited about. And I knew I\’d make great memories. What I wasn’t prepared for was the great influence the music in Europe would have on my trip.
My study abroad program was called “Reporting in the British Isles,” with 14 students from MSU and one from Columbia College. Two MSU journalism professors were deemed responsible for us as we roamed around the British Isles and beyond, each taking lead for half of the six-week adventure. We didn\’t always agree on what to eat, what wine to drink or where to party, but we always agreed on one thing: we loved the music.
Before I left, I loaded my iPod with my favorite music, including a brand new playlist titled Down in London Town. The playlist featured my favorite British and Irish bands like the Sex Pistols, the Smiths, U2, Oasis and the Libertines. It also featured songs set in London, such as Clark Gable by Postal Service. As I flew overseas, the familiar music comforted me as I journeyed to a place I had only listened to others sing about.
Our first stop on the trip was London, a city full of opportunities for great music. Every stop on the tube, the city\’s underground rail, had posters of the Arctic Monkey’s latest CD Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not plastered on the walls. Although they are rather popular in the States now, they weren\’t when I was in the UK. A band I had barely heard of in the United States, but one that had made it onto my playlist, had a monopoly of the best and biggest posters in the tube. London is all about the music.
One night, our entire group ordered food and drinks at a great little bar called Prince Alfred’s. It wasn’t anything too special, but we were in London and excited to get to know one another. The bar had live music from a guy who covered Oasis songs on his acoustic guitar. We soon realized finding music at a pub or restaurant wasn’t a special event in London – it was just a normal occurrence. Quite often, our large group would just happen upon a great live band inside a small bar and it would make for a memorable night. Another night, we would find ourselves dancing to the cheesiest ’80s music at an American Sports pub – yes, we were in an American sports club in England (but the Pistons were playing, so we had an excuse.)
When Irish Eyes Are Smiling
The entire group anxiously anticipated our arrival in Dublin. Since many of us claimed Irish heritage, it felt somewhat like coming home. And it became home in the five short days that we romped around that city. Dublin’s famous Temple Bar district, an area of many pubs in the center of the city, claimed most of the group’s nights. Each evening, several bars had live music covering everything from The Cure to The Cranberries. Most memorably, however, were traditional Irish folk songs and we all quickly learned the words to them. By the end of our time in Dublin, we knew when to clap during Whiskey in the Jar and Finnegan’s Wake. Our favorite band from Dublin, The Folksmen, played a lot of their own music with some traditional Irish music. Between the music and the pints of Guinness, we all realized how great Ireland was.
Linger, a song by The Cranberries, became quite the anthem for our study abroad. We listened to it at bars and on bus tours and even sharing earbuds with each other while traveling. Although we only stayed in the city for five days, the weekend life in Dublin was an explosion of music. Every pub we visited had live music. The music spilled out of the pubs and into the streets, where even more musicians played anything from bagpipes to trumpets to guitars.
After our five-day stint in Dublin, we took off on our first of two bus tours of the program. Our tour guide, a recently graduated journalism-major, like ourselves, was named Aiden. Aiden became an integral part of the trip, with everyone feeling as if he fit right in. He had great taste in American music, playing Jack Johnson to get the entire bus to mellow out and sing. Like any Irishman, he loved The Cranberries and U2, and we did, too. I think that any of my fellow travelers would agree that Aiden’s greatest attribution to the group came when he introduced us to his favorite song, Where’s Me Jumper?, by Sultans of Ping.
The song chronicles a night of partying and “dancing at the disco” only to realize the singer can’t find his jumper (that’s “sweater” in the U.S.) It’s a mix of heavy electric riffs, a thick Irish accent and a comical storyline. I doubt any of the people on my trip can think of that song or of Aiden and not crack a smile. Traveling through the Irish countryside, we would be belting the chorus to our newfound favorite Irish song:
“And my mother will be so, so angry/
and my brother will be so, so angry/
and my girlfriend will be so, so angry/
and my dog will be so, so angry.”
Scotland The Brave
Sadly, Edinburgh didn’t quite have the musical influence that the other cities did. But the music bug had stuck and we weren’t going to give it up. Cheap iPod speakers constantly blasted whatever any of us were feeling at a particular moment, my special playlist making quite the hit among the group.
From our dorms in Edinburgh, we could often hear a faint sound of bagpipes coming from somewhere in the vicinity. While seeing our first bagpiper in London was quite the novelty, it was more like an everyday occurrence in Scotland. Along with the traditional Scottish instruments, many Scots wore their traditional formal kilts and dress shirts while attending special events.
Our second bus tour of the trip took place in the Highlands of Scotland. Our tour guide this time was named “Disco Dave.” He wasn’t nearly as funny or smart as Aiden, but did manage to elbow one of our group members in the face while attempting to dance. We spent that faithful evening at a bar called Saucy Mary’s in the Isle of Sky. When the World Cup game had finished, the band – consisting of some great string musicians – started playing folk music worth dancing to. Unfortunately, Disco Dave wasn’t quite the dancer that his name implied, as my friend Rachel spent 20 minutes in the bathroom bleeding from the mouth.
I just knew. I knew coming home would be hard. I knew my life had changed forever. I knew I had 15 new best friends – and two new favorite professors. I knew that I now I had a taste for wine and a thirst for travel. And I knew that I could never again hear Linger without cracking a smile.