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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.

#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!

#SaturdaySongs No.8 – Ring Out, Solstice Bells

December 10, 2016 22 comments

Continuing my theme of songs related to this month, today’s #SaturdaySong is this one:

Unlike the other songs in this series, there isn’t a personal story attached to this one. I’m including it because it has always been a favourite of mine at this time of year. It was released in 1976 and was an unashamed attempt by Ian Anderson, the leader of Jethro Tull, to make a catchy, commercial song that would generate airplay and sales in the pre-Christmas period. To an extent he succeeded, as it reached the dizzy heights of no.28 in the UK charts, and I don’t think it charted anywhere else to any great degree either. But it has become one of the pop standards for Christmas and features on many a compilation album. It is actually about the winter solstice rather than Christmas itself, but that’s still good enough for me to include it!

This was actually Jethro Tull’s third Christmas record – they had previously released both A Christmas Song and Another Christmas Song (I kid you not!). Neither of those bothered the chart statisticians, though both are still available on the Jethro Tull Christmas Album, along with Solstice Bells and many others – I commend it to you, it’s a lovely record. The band is still going strong in its latest incarnation, and there is a live recording also available of a Christmas concert they performed in 2008 at St Brides Church in London. Sadly, I didn’t see that, but I did see them in 2010 and they were a delight: a huge back catalogue to draw from, and the wry wit of Anderson in between the music. But as the gig was in summer there were no Christmas songs on the set list.

This song is among many without which my Christmas wouldn’t seem complete, and I really should get round to compiling a proper playlist at some point! The nearest I’ve got to this is on YouTube, where you’ll find my playlist of #ChristmasSongADay for your perusal and delectation. I started this last year, and shared a song a day (just like it says on the tin!) from 1-25 December. I’m doing it again this year, both on Twitter and for those of you who have made the excellent choice of being my friend on Facebook. Links are to the right. And as it’s the season of goodwill and I’m feeling especially generous, I’m going to leave you with a video that was made especially for a BBC TV programme to promote the song. I think it fits rather well.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief stroll through my Christmas Past. See you again next week – it’s a cracker, I promise!

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