Main content

Sue Lawley's castaway is founder of Velvet Underground John Cale.

This week Sue Lawley's castaway is John Cale, a classically trained musician who went on to found one of the most influential bands of the 1960s, Velvet Underground. John Cale was brought up in a strict South Wales household. His maternal grandmother insisted that Welsh was the only language to be spoken in the house even though his father spoke only English. His childhood was solitary - he was an only child and his mother encouraged him to spend hours each day practising his piano playing, and he later took up the viola. He went on to have viola lessons at the Royal Academy of Music while also studying music at Goldsmiths' Teacher Training College in London.

He was talent-spotted by Aaron Copland and awarded a musical scholarship to study in America, where he was part of the contemporary avant-garde music scene there, working with John Cage and LaMonte Young, until he met Lou Reed and the two formed Velvet Underground. Their first album, The Velvet Underground and Nico, remains their best known. Andy Warhol is credited as producer, it features Nico on vocals and the cover is the famous Warhol banana. He went on to produce some of the most influential artists of the time and has made New York his home - although Wales continues to exert some draw over him. He continues to write music and tour.

[Taken from the original programme material for this archive edition of Desert Island Discs]

Favourite track: She Belongs To Me by Bob Dylan
Book: Repetition by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Luxury: Express coffee machine with coffee beans

Available now

45 minutes

Last on

Fri 27 Feb 2004 09:00

Music Played

  • Castaway's Favourite

    • Bob Dylan

      She Belongs To Me

      • Subterranean Homesick Blues.
      • CBS.
  • The Velvet Underground

    Some Kinda Love

    Composer: Lou Reed

    • The Velvet Underground Live In Paris.
    • Sire.
  • Brian Wilson

    In My Room

    • Surfer Girl / Shut Down Volume 2.
    • Capital Artists.
  • The Beatles

    She Said, She Said

    • Revolver.
    • Parlophone.
  • Elbow

    Switching Off

    • Cast of Thousands.
    • V2.
  • Leonard Cohen

    Alexandra Leaving

    • The New Songs.
    • Columbia.
  • John Tavener

    Song for Athene

    Choir: Westminster Abbey Choir

    • Diana, Princess of Wales: Funeral Service.
    • BBC.
  • Peter Gabriel

    Here Comes The Flood

    • Shaking The Tree (16 Golden Greats).
    • Virgin.
  • Book Choice

    • Repetition - Alain Robbe-Grilles

  • Luxury Choice

    • Express coffee machine with coffee beans


Role Contributor
Presenter Sue Lawley
Interviewed Guest John Cale


  • Sun 22 Feb 2004 11:15
  • Fri 27 Feb 2004 09:00

Featured in...

Desert Island Discs Challenge

Desert Island Discs Challenge

Radio 4 is challenging you to share your list online.

The Desert Island Discs podcast

The Desert Island Discs podcast

Subscribe or download individual episodes.

Listen to over 2,000 programmes



Read the surprising things we've learned about some stand-out castaways.

The 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs

The 75th anniversary of Desert Island Discs

Featuring David Beckham, the funniest and most moving moments, animations and quizzes.

The Lark Ascending – The People’s Desert Island Disc

The Lark Ascending – The People’s Desert Island Disc

Why does Vaughan Williams’s masterpiece appeal to so many castaways?