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A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Two

December 12, 2018 22 comments

As promised, here is the second compilation of Christmas songs which I have been posting each day on Twitter and on the Facebook page for my blog (usual plug – eyes right!). This also marks the day when I swap to a temporary Christmas theme for the blog – rather in keeping with the generally happy and festive posts I’m sharing this month (back to the usual misery in January!).

We all have our favourites and it would be very easy for me to post the same songs every year. Whilst the majority of this year’s selection have indeed featured at least once before in the four previous years in which I’ve done this, it’s always good to find something new. Sometimes these can arise from deliberate searches for artists on YouTube – often to see if there is a video for something I’ve heard on Apple Music – and on other occasions I just stumble into them! Day 7 was a case in point. This was someone of whom I’d never heard before, but I was rather taken by this one. It ranks at the Stinking Bishop end of cheesiness but is so much fun that I had to include it:

I was intrigued to learn more about Si Cranstoun, so I consulted the oracle – Google – which led me to a short Wikipedia article. What an interesting character! He had apparently been in ska and fifties revival bands, and had been a busker too, for twenty years before getting his first record deal a few years back. He has since made several albums of fifties-influenced songs, and his sheer exuberance deserves to win him a bigger audience – I hope he finds it, because his music is so much more fun than the dross we get on the radio nowadays! There are a number of other videos of him on YouTube, including some from his busking days, so do check him out if you enjoyed this one.

As the 8th was a Saturday, when many would no doubt have been braving the high street in search of Christmas goodies, I thought I’d choose something appropriate to help them on their way. Or maybe not! Tom Lehrer was a consummate writer and performer of satirical songs, and his Christmas offering is a little gem:

Lehrer only wrote 37 songs and performed just 109 times in a twenty year musical career – his day job was as a mathematics professor – but his fame and recognition grew slowly as people told each other about him. He once described it as having spread ‘like herpes, rather than Ebola’ which gives you an idea of his wit and style! He has long since retired from his ‘proper’ career as well as his sideline, but is apparently still enjoying life at the grand old age of 90. I fear that his style is unlikely to be popular today but he was rather good with words: try I Hold Your Hand In Mine or Poisoning Pigeons In The Park and you’ll see what I mean! Maybe we could get a Lehrer revival going, though I dread to think what he’d write about modern day politics on both sides of the Atlantic!

I usually try to post something more relaxed or traditional for a Sunday, like a carol, for instance. I’ve not shared this one before but it seemed to tick all of the boxes for day 9:

I’ve long been a fan of Alison Krauss – she has a beautiful voice and her brand of bluegrass music is very much to my liking. She has made several sorties into other types of music – notably on Raising Sand, the album she made with Robert Plant, formerly the lead singer of Led Zeppelin. That album won five Grammy awards – just a few of the twenty seven she has won to date! I also enjoy classical crossover as a genre, and this is a perfect example of the blending of styles that seems to come naturally to great musicians.

I marked day 10 with a bit of silliness from the best band I’ve ever seen live. Sadly, they split up in 2016, after more than ten years of making hugely enjoyable music and performing some occasionally outrageous live shows – their anti-Valentine’s Day show several years ago is still the only folk music gig I’ve attended where burlesque dancers were part of the show! This song made the BBC Radio 2 playlist on release, but didn’t trouble the charts – a pity, as it would have livened them up a bit. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the inimitable Bellowhead:

No one sleeps while they’re on!

Although, as I’ve said, I try to avoid chart hits – and my musical taste doesn’t really include many of them anyway – I do make the odd notable exception. This one, which I posted for day 11, is from one of my many favourite bands. It goes back to the 1970s when it seemed that everyone was making a Christmas record, many of dubious and variable quality. This is, I think, the only one of Jethro Tull’s three Christmas singles that charted, and they also recorded an entire album of seasonal music. I love this song, and this special promotional video that was made to accompany it on TV fits it perfectly:

And finally, for Part Two of this compilation, here is the song I posted today:

I bought the Band’s first album, Music From Big Pink, when it was first released, and played it to the point where the vinyl was almost transparent! There was just something about them, the songs they wrote, and the plaintive rawness of their performance that really got to me. This song was released on their album Islands in 1977, and typifies so much of what I like about them. There is a beauty and simplicity in the lyrics and the laid back musicianship that, to me, are very fitting for a Christmas song, and this seems a good point at which to conclude my Part Two. I’ll be back again next Tuesday with Part Three and hope to see you again then. In the meantime, you can see and hear each day’s song on my Facebook page and my Twitter feed, if you’d like to keep up to date – just click the links to the right if you don’t already follow me on either or both. If you do you’ll also see posts shared from my Instagram #AdventCalendar, though maybe the less said about that the better!

I hope your pre-Christmas is going well, and look forward to seeing you again next time.

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#ChristmasSongADay – Part 3

December 18, 2017 28 comments

Continuing my series of the songs I have been posting each day for Advent on Twitter and Facebook, here are those I featured from Days 13 to today, Day 18.

One of my favourite singer/songwriters is Mary Chapin Carpenter. I have every album she has released in her 30 year career and have been lucky enough to see her play live: a magical experience. In 2008 she released an album of Christmas songs, called Come Darkness, Come Light. Six of the twelve songs were written by her, including this one, the title track, which was my choice for the 13th. I think it’s lovely, and hope you like it too:

That turned out to be the start of a three day run of songs from female singer/songwriters. I’ve always had a soft spot for this style of music, going back to when I first became interested in music in the 60s. One of the first to get my attention was the peerless Joni Mitchell. Even after all these years, my favourite of all of her albums is Blue, which was released in 1971. My vinyl copy of that album wore very thin during my university days, and it is still my ‘go to’ Joni album. It is a very introspective album – classic bedsit music! One of the best of a set of fine tracks is this one, which I chose on the 14th. I believe it is complemented perfectly by the Snoopy video:

The third song in this run of three, which I posted on the 15th, is by another artist whose albums all feature in my collection. Shawn Colvin released her debut album a couple of years after Mary Chapin Carpenter’s first record. The two are friends and have played live together many times, although I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Shawn live – there are plenty of videos on YouTube though! She beat Mary to a Christmas album by ten years, releasing Holiday Songs And Lullabies in 1998. This is another fine album, and the track I chose is this one:

Isn’t that lovely, so beautiful in its simplicity? How could I follow that up? I didn’t try! Instead, I took a completely different approach, and went loud:

That dark little song about a department store Father Christmas being duffed up by a bunch of kids was released as a single in 1977. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it didn’t trouble the charts. As far as I know it has only appeared since then on a couple of Kinks compilation albums: they went through a period of making their studio releases ‘concept albums’ and it’s hard to see where this song would have fitted in! Still, it raises a smile of nostalgia for me, and I’d be surprised if you’d heard it before – which is, after all, one of the reasons why I make this selection each year! As a complete aside, you might like to take a look at a much more heart-warming view of a child’s Christmas, written by Enda, a fellow blogger. I think this is a wonderful piece of writing, and I hope you can read it too.

As yesterday, Day 17, was a Sunday I thought it fitting to share a Christmas carol as my song for the day. But, rather than go for a version from a religious setting, I chose this:

You may well recognise Maddy Prior as being a longstanding member of Steeleye Span, who – along with Fairport Convention – were one of the forerunners of the electric folk scene which developed in England in the late 1960s. You may also recall them having a novelty Christmas hit in 1972 with Gaudete, to the best of my knowledge still one of only two chart hits sung entirely in Latin (the other is Pie Jesu). I could have chosen that, but went for this one instead as it is a little further off the beaten track. Whilst remaining a Steeleye Span member, Maddy has regularly undertaken Christmas tours with the Carnival Band, and that is taken from a DVD made of their 2004 tour.

For today’s choice I stayed in the folk music area. I featured Bellowhead earlier in the series, and here they are again, leading a massed folk band ensemble that featured in a one-off special programme shown on BBC4 in 2009. It really doesn’t seem that long ago since I first saw this! This song, although not this version, was the b-side of Bellowhead’s Christmas Bells single (which is in Part 1 of this series – link is on the right). I bet you haven’t seen it done like this before, though:

So, that’s it for Part 3 of my #ChristmasSongADay series. I’ll be back on Christmas Day with the final seven songs, and hope to see you again then. After all, you’re going to need something to take your mind off the eggnog, yet still more gifts of socks, and arguments with the family, aren’t you! Have a great week, and I hope all of your Christmas preparations go well. See you on the 25th 😊

#ChristmasSongADay – Part 1

December 6, 2017 22 comments

With Christmas approaching I’ve decided to keep things lighthearted here for the festive season, so you won’t be seeing any rants until January! As has become my custom – I’m now in my third year of doing it – I have been treating (I think that’s the right word!) my Facebook friends and Twitter followers to a Christmas Song each day for Advent. I have in the past shared an edited highlights package of these but have never shared the full set on my blog, so it’s about time I put that right. It isn’t really my style to post every day, so the current plan is to split this into four parts: three sets of six and the final seven on Christmas Day. But plans can change, so if you’d prefer that I posted here each day in parallel with Twitter and Facebook please let me know.

I try to make this selection a little different from those you usually find on the compilation albums. Only about a quarter of my choices will have featured on a chart listing at any time – so if you’re looking for Slade or Wizzard I’m afraid you’ll be out of luck! But the one thing they have in common is that I like them, which I suppose should really go without saying! So, let’s get this show on the road…..

Having said that I generally avoid the pop charts, Day 1 immediately broke that rule. This has been a favourite of mine and although it was a huge Christmas hit it was actually written as a protest against commercialism. It is also a great song:

For Day 2 I chose a song by the best live band I’ve ever seen. Sadly, they disbanded a couple of years ago but their brand of folk music, blended with all sorts of other influences, brilliantly played with a large dose of lunacy lives on in their videos. This was released as a Christmas single but it made very little impact on the charts, sadly, peaking at no.188:

As Day 3 was a Sunday, I chose something more restful. This is a cover of an Enya song: I could have gone for the original but preferred this version. The fact that Viktoria is a Facebook friend had absolutely nothing to do with that – just listen to this and you’ll be seduced into the song even though, like me, you probably won’t know what the words mean. I understand it to have a seasonal meaning, though. This is one of the most beautiful voices you’ll ever hear:

I went back into protest mode for Day 4. If you haven’t come across him before, Tom Lehrer is a writer and performer of satirical songs. His heyday was during the 1950s and 1960s but he’s still with us, at the grand age of 89. If I tell you that one of his best known songs is called Poisoning Pigeons In The Park you’ll probably get an inkling of what is to come – this is his take on Christmas:

There are some songs which have become adopted as ‘pop standards’ for Christmas. As I said, I tend to avoid these, unless I find a version that gives them a new and, to my taste, a more enjoyable treatment. This is where Day 5 comes in. You will find so many versions of this song, and it’s probably on every pop Christmas compilation album ever, but not done like this. John Mellencamp has long been one of my favourite artists, with his brand of rootsy rock, and I think this is great. Stick with it to the end and there’s an adorable cameo from his daughter Teddi who was probably about 4 or 5 years old at the time. This was thirty years ago, and I hope she still enjoys her performance!

Today’s choice is another of the few that ruffled the pop charts. Again, it’s a long time favourite of mine from one of my favourite bands. Jethro Tull have made several Christmas songs and an album, but this is my preferred choice. This version was used by the BBC for their Top Of The Pops programme. There is also a clip on YouTube of the band performing the song in the studio, but I think this animation enhances the song beautifully:

I hope you’ve enjoyed this first selection, and I’ll see you again for more in a few days. Good luck with all your preparations for Christmas!

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