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#ChristmasSongADay – Part 4

December 25, 2017 4 comments

Merry Christmas!

If you’re actually reading this on Christmas Day I applaud your dedication to the world of blogging. Either that or I commiserate that you needed to escape the family arguments, sprout-fuelled farts and general horrors that are the staple of Christmas. (I’m joking, really I am – I love Christmas, especially the spirit it engenders in us).

For this final part of my selection of Christmas songs which I shared with Facebook friends and Twitter followers, I’m covering the seven days from the 19th up to today. So that means, of course, that there will be eight videos for you to enjoy. I’ll explain later!

For the 19th I chose a version of the well-known standard The Little Drummer Boy. This was actually written as far back as 1941, by the American classical music composer and teacher Katherine Kennicott Davis, and the first recorded version was in 1951, by the Trapp Family Singers, once they had been coaxed down from the hills and had left the goatherd feeling lonely again. Probably the best known version is the one by the unlikely boy band of Bing Crosby and David Bowie, but I’m not giving you that one. My choice is by the Canadian band Walk Off The Earth, who have made a whole host of inventive videos both for their own music and a wide range of cover versions. I suggest that, if you haven’t heard of them, you visit YouTube and find their cover of Gotye’s Somebody That I Used To Know – that will give you a good idea of what they get up to. And here’s another example:

On Day 20 I again went back to a traditional Christmas carol, in a modern version. This is a lovely carol and is one of my favourites, and I was spoilt for choice as to which version to share. I very nearly opted for the Civil Wars, in a live performance with just their two voices and John Paul’s guitar: it is sparse, simple and spine-tingling. But in the end I went for this one, which I think is slightly more mainstream. But, if you’re interested, I highly recommend that you seek out the Civil Wars’ version too. This is from Enya’s 2008 Christmas album And Winter Came, which also comes highly recommended by me:

For the 21st I shared a version of one of the best known carols, Silent Night. This is taken from Simon and Garfunkel’s Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album. My parents bought this for me as a Christmas present in 1967, although the album was first released in 1966. We played the album on Christmas afternoon, and it was perfect for the post-lunch stupor. Until this, the final track on the album. I would imagine that many of you will know this version but, if not, try to imagine the impact this had on a first hearing, on Christmas Day, when none of us knew what was coming. Sadly, I believe the message in the juxtaposition of the news with the song is still relevant today, possibly even more so. See what you think:

My next choice, on the 22nd, was a song which, in the strictest sense, probably doesn’t really count as a Christmas song. But I included it because I think it is actually a modern day retelling of a similar story, and that’s good enough for me! I featured this one last year in my #SaturdaySongs series, so please click here if you want to find out more about what makes it special for me.

For the 23rd I also returned to a favourite, which has also been featured here before. This is the second of my choices to feature the English folk singer Kate Rusby. I mentioned before that she has now released four albums of Christmas music. This is the title track from the first of these, from 2008, and is accompanied by a lovely animation:

Keeping with the theme of ‘tried and trusted’ I chose another one on Christmas Eve which I’d chosen in previous years. But could I possibly have found anything more appropriate than this? I don’t think so…..

And so, we finally reach Christmas Day. There are still so many I could choose, but this is to me the perfect song for Christmas Day. It is the second time I’ve featured Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Come Darkness, Come Light album, and I really do recommend that you listen to it if you can: it’s beautiful! My (almost) final choice of Christmas songs is this one:

That should be the end of this, right? But cast your mind back to the beginning of this piece and you may recall that I promised you eight songs today. I also said on several occasions throughout this series that I didn’t intend to feature many songs which had been pop chart hits. So far, I’ve kept that down to just the two. But there is one more I’m sharing today as a bonus. Yes, I know its only connection with Christmas is that it is set on Christmas Day. Yes, I know that the NYPD Choir has never existed. But this is a hit every year although, as I said in my Christmas Number Twos post, it has never been a chart topper. But that won’t stop me sharing it again. I leave you with my final #ChristmasSongADay

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and have found some music which is both new and pleasing to you. Whatever you are doing, however you are spending Christmas, I thank you for reading all of my posts this year, and wish you a very

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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 😊

#SaturdaySongs No.3 – Halley Came To Jackson

November 5, 2016 30 comments

Week 3 of #SaturdaySongs and I’ve managed to keep it going this far! Having gone back to the 1970s and 1960s for my first two choices today’s song is much more modern. Well, the 1990s anyway. It is song with a very special, personal meaning for me, although it had not actually been released at the time it always makes me think of. Does that sound weird? Let me explain.

Today’s song is Halley Came To Jackson, by Mary Chapin Carpenter. This song is featured on MCC’s third album, Shooting Straight In The Dark, which was released in October 1990.  She is one of those artists who, during a career which has been thriving since her first album (Hometown Girl) in 1987, has been a conundrum for those who like to pigeonhole their music. Early associations with Nashville meant that she was seen as a country musician, and her albums have enjoyed much more success in the country charts than the mainstream ones, but if you look at Apple Music they seem to put her in a different category every time she releases a new album! To me, she is the writer of classy, intelligent lyrics, which are woven into beautifully crafted songs, all sung with her lovely warm voice. I had the great pleasure of seeing her play live several years ago, and the whole evening was an absolute delight: not only was the music fantastic, but her words between the songs were charming and witty. I’d have expected nothing less of her, to be honest. This is today’s song:

As you can tell from the lyrics, the song relates to the appearance of Halley’s Comet in 1910, and was inspired by the writings of a lady called Eudora Welty, who told a story like this about her own childhood in Jackson, Mississippi. MCC also turned the song into a book for children, and several of the pictures in the video are taken from that. Halley’s Comet is only visible from Earth every 75 or 76 years, so the next appearance was in 1986 – as indeed the song tells us. Realising that I would have to live to 108 to see its next scheduled appearance in 2061, I didn’t want to miss my chance in 1986, even though it was only going to be possible to see it at some unholy hour.

The due date was 9 February 1986, which was five weeks before my first daughter was born. Not wanting to wake my pregnant wife – who needed her sleep! – I stayed downstairs until the time we had been told was most likely for viewing, then crept upstairs into the second bedroom, hoping to see the Comet. This was the bedroom that we had prepared as the nursery, for when our baby came, and was already decorated as such, complete with cot and other baby stuff. Standing in the darkness by the window, I could look round at the room, once my eyes had adjusted, and I felt an enormous sense of excitement and nervous anticipation about the imminent change in our lives, as we brought a new little person into the world.

I stayed there for quite some time, enjoying the tranquillity and silence of the early hours, waiting patiently for the Comet to appear. Several times I saw something vaguely bright in the sky – were these going to be my moment? Sadly, no! These were, apparently, the worst conditions in 2,000 years for viewing Halley from Earth, as they were on opposite sides of the Sun, a mere 39 million miles apart. In those days we lived quite near Stansted Airport, so it was much more likely that what I could see were distant planes. Oh well, it was a nice try, and I did feel a sense of something spiritual taking place, a kind of pre-bonding with my unborn child.

Then, four years later, along came this song. It tells a beautiful little story, and I could relate to the father holding his baby to see the Comet, as that is what I would have been doing if birth date and viewing conditions had allowed. From that moment on, every time I hear this I’m instantly transported back to 9th February 1986 and to what for me was a magical night, even if the two stars (Halley and Katy) hadn’t made an appearance. This is one of my favourite MCC songs, and one of the best narrative songs I know, so I’ve listened to it a great many times. I relive that moment, and feel that special bond again, every time.

That unborn baby of mine is now 30, and had her first book published yesterday. How times change! I hope that by 2061 she will be a mother and there will be a grandchild of mine sharing the next viewing with her. Maybe I’ll be there too, who can tell? 🙂

 

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