Soundtrack Of My Life: Jason Isaacs

The star of 'Mass' and 'Sex Education' wants to thank Will Young

The first song I remember hearing

The Beatles – ‘Love Me Do’/’I Want to Hold Your Hand’

“I was born in Liverpool in 1963, so there was only one soundtrack in my house, and every other house, for the first 10 years of my life and it was The Beatles. When I think about my childhood, I feel like The Beatles were playing everywhere. It felt like they were our neighbours – I don’t think they were, but John Lennon‘s auntie lived around the corner.”

The first song I fell in love with

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10cc – ‘I’m Not in Love’

“I’m going to cheat and elide this into the first song which allowed me to be romantic – in dances at people’s houses or youth clubs or community centres there would be the slow dance, and they would always play ‘I’m Not in Love’. I didn’t fall in love with that song, but Pavlovian style, I immediately think, ‘Who am I going to try and snog?’ when I hear it.”

The first album I bought

Bob Marley – ‘Babylon by Bus’

“When I was about 13 I was taken by Bob Marley. He was the first artist I fell in love with. I don’t actually remember whether my records belonged to me or I nicked them off my brothers, but I remember having Marley’s albums, particularly ‘Babylon By Bus’, and playing it over and over again, wanting to live in that concert in Paris. It’s a live album and it starts with this roar. I would turn it up as loud as I could and deafen myself. I do have bad hearing today and I’m pretty sure it’s that one album that did it.”

The first gig I went to

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Earth, Wind & Fire, London

“A friend of mine said: ‘My mum’s got tickets for Earth, Wind & Fire, d’you want to come?’ and I agreed because I’d listened to them religiously. After the gig she said: ‘Do you want to meet [founder and band leader] Maurice White?’ I thought: ‘How the fuck does this person from north London know Maurice White?’ I’d never been to a gig before and certainly had never been backstage before. We went into this extraordinary man’s dressing room and in this fabulous voice, he asked: ‘Hey, kids, do you want to try the costumes?’ He had all these huge spangly costumes – as we tried them on, he and this friend’s mother had a glass of wine in a little antechamber. Years later, I found out they went in the other room and had sex. That’s why we had tickets – they’d met somewhere, somehow, and they shagged in the other room while we were trying on the spangly clothes.”

The song that reminds me of home

Will Young – ‘Evergreen’

“After hours of labour at home during my wife’s first pregnancy we left for the hospital. I grabbed a CD out of the machine to play on a little stereo, and when we reached the hospital I pressed play. After many, many more hours of labour and the birth of my daughter, it turned out we’d listened to the CD single of ‘Evergreen’ about 8000 times in a row. We hadn’t really noticed.

“Whenever I hear that song, which is a beautiful song and he’s a wonderful singer, it falls into two categories. One is that I can’t really ever hear it again. The other takes me back to the night our first daughter came into being and life was about to take a magical turn. On occasions if I’m feeling homesick or missing my family, I can put this on and it works. I’ve never met Will and I’ve always wanted to thank him for the birth of my daughter.”

The song I wish I’d written

Sam Cooke – ‘A Change is Gonna Come’ / Elton John – ‘Somebody Saved My Life Tonight’

“When I hear a song I think might make people feel less alone and make them feel like change is possible, and that change will come, it would be ‘A Change is Gonna Come’.
I had a drug problem for a long time and I’m approaching my 23rd anniversary of not taking drugs, and songs about being lost touch me. I was lost for so long and am so grateful to live this full life, so ‘Somebody Saved My Life Tonight’ always felt so personal and powerful.”

The song I do at karaoke

Queen – ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’

“Mostly what I do is avoid karaoke. One of the great curses of my life is that I love music, I love singing, I love musical theatre, and I’m not an appalling singer, I’m just terrible. I can hear when I’m off. I can hear when I’m slightly flat or slightly sharp. I can hear it, I just can’t correct it.

“If I can, I’ll sing songs which make people sing along. ‘Purple Rain’ always gets the crowd going and ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love’ has a surprisingly small range. When I was 14 there was a nightclub in London for under-16s and you could get in free if you knew all the words to ‘Rapper’s Delight’ – we learned all 15 minutes and I can still recite the lyrics.”

The song I can’t get out of my head

The Fugees

“It’s whatever I’ve just listened to. It can be days and days until it’s replaced by the next song. This morning I think it was The Fugees.”

The song I can no longer listen to

Ed Sheeran – ‘The A Team’

“When I plugged my phone into the car stereo on the school run, it would by default start playing from the first song on the playlist, which was ‘The A Team’. The kids would very sweetly sing along and I wouldn’t notice because we were on windy mountain roads. One time I had someone else in the car and they said: ‘That’s a weird one.” I asked what they meant and they said: ‘Your kids are singing about someone dying of crack and their face crumbling off like pastry.’ Suddenly, like a Magic Eye picture, I heard the lyrics.”

The song I want played at my funeral

Sister Sledge – ‘We Are Family’

“I studied law before I decided to show off in funny clothes and the one area which absolutely came to life, oddly, was testate law, which has to do with whether people have or haven’t left wills and what’s contained in those documents. Fault lines in families snap over a chest of drawers and items that are completely irrelevant, because it’s really more about who has felt rejected.

“Funerals can bring that out of people, and when people who are the centre of a family die, everything else can fragment. After my mum died, we gather much less as a whole family because she was the fulcrum. It’s cheesy, but it’s to remind them all that they’ve got each other.”

The song that makes me want to dance

Stevie Wonder – ‘Higher Ground’

“On set, when it’s not inappropriate for the atmosphere or subject matter, and everyone is sagging from night shoots, I play Stevie Wonder. I defy anyone not to feel happier by the end of it. Everybody’s toes start tapping – it’s like that scene in Almost Famous when they’re all singing ‘Tiny Dancer’.

‘Mass’, starring Jason Isaacs, is screening at the London Film Festival on October 11

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