Saffron Burrows

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Actress Saffron Burrows gets political in her music choices, choosing a rousing and catchy national anthem as well as other songs inspired by her youth in the UK. She revisits the “rare groove” music of her clubbing days as a teen and a surprising song choice that got her into character in the recent release The Bank Job. Appropriately, Saffron also stars in a independent film called The Guitar,

which made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival.

 For more on Saffron Burrows:  Saffron Burrows on Internet Movie Database

 Show Playlist

1. Barbara Streisand-"Guilty", Guilty (Rhino)
2. Linton Kwesi Johnson-"Inglan Is A Bitch", Inglan Is A Bitch (Island)
3. Roy Ayers-"Running Away", Lifeline (GRP)
4. Gil Scott Heron-"The Bottle", The Bottle (TVT Records)
5. Paul Simon & Ladysmith Black Mambazo-"Nkosi Sikelel 'lAfrica" Long Walk To Freedom (Heads Up)

Thomas Golubic: Hi, this is Thomas Golubic from KCRW and I'm here with actress Saffron Burrows. We're going to talk about the music that has inspired her and her work. Saffron, thanks for coming down.

 Saffron Burrows: Thank you for having me.

 Thomas Golubic: Have you ever prepared for a role and found yourself listening obsessively to a song because it seemed to be an entry point into a character and into, sort of, an inner part of their being.

 Saffron Burrows: Mmhmm, many times. There's a movie I've made called The Guitar, and the woman literally saves her life with a guitar and a series of discoveries she makes and, very much, music is crucial to the story. I think I listened to a lot of Woody Guthrie, funnily enough. And absolutely, for every film I do. For The Bankjob heist movie, I as this character Martine, I'll have my playlist on my iTunes, and it'll be Martine's list. I have to confess, in there somewhere is "Guilty," the Barbara Streisand track, which is so good, it iss just so good. The character, Martine, has to be particularly cocky woman, you know. She puts the bank robbery together. It takes a certain kind of "oomph".

 Thomas Golubic: And Barbara gets her into character?

 Saffron Burrows: Barbara gets her into character. (Sings) We got nothing to be guilty.

 Fades to song, Barbara Streisand’s Guilty

 Thomas Golubic: What songs do you want to share with us today?

 Saffron Burrows: I have a selection of tracks, pretty much all from my childhood and teenage years.

 Thomas Golubic: Tell me, a Lynton Kwesi Johnson. Is that right?

 Saffron Burrows: A Lynton Kwesi Johnson. Lynton was very much an artist of the time who my parents played, you know, the vinyls and I adored his music. He particularly sang about social context of the time and what was going on politically, and umm, for me it's probably very much about the Windrush generation who were the Afro-Caribbean men and women who came to England in the late 50s, and who really formed the workforce, to a great extent, in the way the Mexican community has done here in Los Angeles. But, the generations before that who weren't second or third, you know, the people who had actually gotten off the boat, didn’t have an easy time in England, sadly. It wasn't the tolerant place it is now. But in this particular track, Lynton is describing what a difficult time someone might have had when they first showed up in London maybe in the early 60’s.

 Thomas Golubic: Well let's hear a little of this. It's, Lynton Kwesi Johnson, and the song, "Inglan is a Bitch," from the 1980 album, "Base Culture."

 Cut to song, Lynton Kwesi Johnson’s Inglan is a Bitch.

 Thomas Golubic: Now, I assume that a big part of your upbringing was going to clubs, and living in London in the ‘80s and in the ‘90s must have been a particularly fun time to go out. I mean, there was so much music, such an incredible cross-culture of sounds.

 Saffron Burrows: We called the genre we were listening to “rare groove,” and it was very much the DJs -- Giles Peterson, Norman J -- all the guys who are still around now, were like our heroes, and we'd go, and we'd see Norman J play four nights in a row and not get sick of it, but…

 Thomas Golubic: So DJs were heroes back then.

 Saffron Burrows: Oh my gosh, they were heroes. And one of them was Roy Ayers. And one of the tracks, of course, when it would play, we had this thing, kind of a teenage London thing, where we all spoke with West Indian accents, and we'd say, "Tune!" when a good song came on. So this one was one of the tunes, this Roy Ayers track that's coming next, which is called "Running Away."

 Thomas Golubic: Let's step to it, it's a gorgeous track. So this is Roy Ayers, "Running Away."

 Fade to song, Roy Ayer’s Running Away  

 Thomas Golubic: Also, you grew up in a very political family, and one that was steeped both in awareness of local politics and also national politics.  One of the musical heroes you have in here is Gil Scott Heron. Tell me a little bit about how he has affected your life.

 Saffron Burrows: Absolutely, well my dad was a teacher and an architect, but he was also a trumpet player. He taught himself trumpet at age 40, and he started to play, and he was in a band called the Big Red Band, which was kind of a left wing band that would play on demonstrations. They'd play a lot of Latin American music and miners songs, because we had a very long miner’s strike in England at the time. So his musical taste, I realized later, was kind of impeccable. He played a lot of Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Keith Jarrett, and Gil Scott Heron. And so the Gil stuff was probably playing when I was very young, and then it was only when I got to the teenage years that I started to tune into Gil.

 Thomas Golubic: And he, you know, one of the things that's great about this track is that his songs, even they were really funky, and energetic, and exciting, they always had a very serious story behind it. Not always, but generally a very serious story behind it.

 Saffron Burrows: Absolutely, and Gil's ability to riff on something like, "the revolution will not be televised," -- when he performs it now, he entirely contemporizes it, and you know, he takes an idea and runs with it depending on what's gone on that week politically in the world. He will bring them bang up to date when he's performing live.

Thomas Golubic: Well, "The Bottle," which is the track we're going to play next. Tell me a little about that song.

 Saffron Burrows: "The Bottle," yeah, well I suppose "The Bottle" is full of tragedy, and also greatness, because it compels you to dance. So there's a wonderful schism there -- it's not declaring it is a tragedy, it's just sort of living it. So, "The Bottle," for me, has a wonderful combination of those two elements of great life, and then descriptions of death, and then this joy in the middle of it.

 Song, Fades to The Bottle, Gil Scott Heron

 Thomas Golubic: We're here with Saffron Burrows, and we’re talking a little bit about some of the music that has inspired her, lit flames in her soul, and made her the person that she is today. We just talked about Gil Scott Heron, and let's talk about a song that I think a lot of people in the UK were really aware of that many people in the states weren't until Paul Simon came along and popularized it. Tell me a little about the song you've chosen.

 Saffron Burrows: With “Nkosi Sikelele Afrika,” it's incredibly rousing. I don't know if you've ever seen anyone playing it live standing in front of you, but what I particularly like is that it often, when it's at its best, it begins with a single vocalist, and then the choir come in, or then the group of people come in who are assembled, so there's this fantastic rousing energy to it, but it begins with a simplicity.

 Thomas Golubic: And the melody itself is just so distinctive and so affecting. Very rarely do you hear a national anthem that is so catchy. It feels very much like something that just came from the heart of the struggle through apartheid. This sort of new hope, this new peace that came…

 Saffron Burrows: Absolutely, you cannot be present while it's being sung, and have dry eyes. It's very powerful.

 Song, Cut to Nkosi Sikelele Afrika

 Thomas Golubic: Saffron, thank you so much for joining us today here on, and sharing with us your wonderful selection of music. These are very, sort of, emotionally poignant, and funky songs, I hope that they spread the word.

 Saffron Burrows: Thank you, I'd love to come back and choose ten songs next time.

 Thomas Golubic: We'll make it twenty.