Grainne Humphreys: ‘Not much makes me feel better than a George Michael nostalgia trip’

Soundtrack of My Life: Kate Bush, Philip Glass and more, from the director of Dublin film festival

Looking at my playlist of songs I've been listening to during the pandemic, I realised that I've been stuck in the 1980s. I was surprised because I wouldn't think that I'm conservative in my musical taste.

I suppose music has been a comfort blanket. It is an escape when it’s easy to feel locked in.

The songs on my playlist remind me of the time when you're in college and so much seems fresh and exciting; I remember going to University College Dublin in 1989 and broadening my tastes far beyond my Blondie obsession. I was just discovering artists such as Kate Bush and Prince, who are mythical now but were new in my life. I immersed myself in Purple Rain and Hounds of Love – I played them on repeat in a way that I would never imagine doing now.

The Kinks have that combination of clever songwriting and the ability to make you move

I also started an important love affair with France in the late 1980s. I have been nearly every year, either to Paris or to Cannes for the festival. My French isn't quite good enough to pick up all of the nuances of Serge Gainsbourg, but there's a wit, even in the titles of his songs. I find myself humming and going back to them. I should have included Édith Piaf, but there's something about Grace Jones's version of La Vie en Rose that I love.


Related to the Dublin International Film Festival, I remember seeing the film Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters as part of a retrospective of its director, Paul Schrader. That and its soundtrack, by Philip Glass, just blew my mind. To this day, I still think it is one of the best pieces of music and image that has appeared on screen. If you know it as well as I did, because I was listening to it on repeat, you would spot that Philip Glass recycled it for at least five other films. For starters, it's in The Hours and The Truman Show. It's probably not the most famous Philip Glass soundtrack, but it is the one he seems to return to.

There is a 1990s influence too, especially with George Michael’s Freedom. It is very much a Covid-19 song – there’s not much that makes me feel better than a George Michael/Wham nostalgia trip. His work wasn’t late-night or avant-garde music that was breaking new territory. He was a consummate artist yet so bloody catchy.

That is where I’d put The Kinks too: they have that combination of clever songwriting and the ability to make you move.

There seem to be a lot of long songs on the list, such as La Vie en Rose, but Benny Goodman is probably the leader. This version is nine minutes, but there is a 13-minute version of Sing, Sing, Sing recorded at Carnegie Hall, which is just an incredible piece.

I vividly remember listening to Goldfrapp on a rail trip around Norway and Sweden, watching the incredible Arctic landscapes out the window

It seems I haven’t included many slow or contemplative songs. It feels like I consciously avoided them, which might be to do with our mood in the pandemic. That came into my head when I was programming the Dublin International Film Festival this year, because a lot of films would be dark and dramatic; it can be difficult to find the light and optimistic ones. You see the same trend in television too – a lot of people have gone back to rewatching their old favourite shows, such as Friends.

These days, I tend to listen to music while in the car or walking. Less so in the house, although we re-created the opening of Bohemian Rhapsody with stuffed animals. That was one of those crazy ideas we thought would be funny in April last year.

Usually I listen to music on the move. One song that jumped into my head recently was Lovely Head by Goldfrapp. I vividly remember listening to the album Felt Mountain on a rail trip around Norway and Sweden, watching the incredible Arctic landscapes out the window. That’s when music is at its best – it’s not background, and you can give it the attention it deserves.

Luckily, I got to see The National on one of my last trips to the United States in Los Angeles. Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks is usually sung at the end, and usually by the audience. It is one of the great moments of their show because the audience knows it's the end but want to connect to the band and there's a huge surge in emotion. It is impossible for me to listen to it without thinking of all the times I've seen them, their relationship with their fans and that shared dynamic. The sense of community is something I'm really missing, especially as I work in a job that brings people together in cinemas. – As told to Shilpa Ganatra

Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival runs from March 3rd to March 14th