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A #NewYearSongOfTheDay

January 1, 2019 19 comments

For the first time ever I’ve been posting songs for the New Year on Twitter and the Facebook page for my blog (if you haven’t ‘liked’ the page yet the link is to the right – go on, you know you want to!). I began on Boxing Day and brought the sequence to an end today with a double, so there were eight in total. This is the full collection – I hope you enjoy them.

The approach of the New Year can be a positive time, when we look forward to what it may bring us, and can also be a time for reflection on the year that is drawing to a close. Both of these moods are represented in my choices. I began with a really positive, upbeat song: I don’t know much about the duo who go by the name of A Great Big World, but anyone who can create a song and video like this gets a thumbs up from me:

For the 27th I went for a long-time favourite song of mine. To me, this is the perfect song to match the mood of looking back, coupled with hope for the future. Counting Crows have long been a favourite band of mine too, since their first album way back in 1992. This song is from their second album, Recovering The Satellites, and includes what is probably Courtney Cox’s best acting performance ever (even better than when she danced with Bruce Springsteen 😉):

It was back to the upbeat and hopeful for the 28th. Semisonic were one of those bands who never got the success I felt they deserved. Their album Feeling Strangely Fine was a little gem, and produced three hit singles in the UK, of which this wasn’t one (!):

Alternating the mood again for the 29th I went for another of my long-time favourite singers and songs. This is from Kate Rusby’s first (of four) albums of Christmas and seasonal songs, Sweet Bells, but is not an original of hers. There are several attributions, including the one erroneously (and lazily) given by the guy who posted this video, but the generally accepted version is that the song was written in 1891 by Will Godwin and Leo Dryden. Dryden sang it in music hall performances and recorded it in 1898. It was also recorded by Peter Dawson (‘Australia’s first man of song’ in case you didn’t know – so not Rolf Harris, then). Dawson’s version is taken a little faster, which I find totally unsuited to what is actually a heart-breaking song from the perspective of a young man looking back at year end, and dreaming of home and family. I think Kate Rusby does it far more justice – this is beautiful:

I marked Sunday 30th with another reflective piece. There is no need for an introduction to Van The Man – like everything he does, this simply oozes class, style and laid-back coolness:

The song which I imagine most people associate with New Year’s Eve is Auld Lang Syne. There are countless versions of this, but none are quite as lovely as the one by Mindy Smith. If you’ve been keeping up with my seasonal music posts you’ll know that I featured Mindy on Christmas Eve – you can find her song here if you missed it. For the video to accompany her version of Auld Lang Syne she asked fans to send her photos of those they loved or had lost, or maybe both. The resulting collage is absolutely wonderful, and is made even better by the number of heartfelt comments from people whose photos were featured. This really does capture the end of year reflective mood so very well:

For today, I marked the New Year with two choices. The first is well-known and an obvious choice: it wasn’t that imagination had deserted me, just that I happen to like it! To begin with, then, here are ABBA:

And to round things off for this time, another selection from the incomparable Mary Chapin Carpenter. She also featured in my Christmas songs collection, on Christmas Day itself, and you can find her by following the link in the paragraph above about Mindy Smith. There is a video of MCC performing this song live, in which she explains the background to the song: it is based on a real life meeting, which she noted down and turned into the most beautiful song. I’m giving you the ‘official’ video from her record company, which is slightly clearer than the live version. As she says,

‘We dwell on possibility on New Year’s Day’

I only had a week to share these New Year songs and could have chosen many more. My YouTube playlist now comprises around 40 songs and can be found here if you’d like to see more.

Having said that I’d finished I’m going to cheat a little now, and add in a bonus just for you: this one wasn’t shared on Twitter or Facebook. One of my earliest childhood memories of New Year’s Day was the televised concert of Strauss family music from Vienna, which my Mum loved and we watched with her, along with the ski jumping from Garmisch-Partenkirchen which followed it. These were both rare treats in the late 1950s/early 1960s, before wall to wall TV took over. The closing delight of the concert was always the final encore, the Radetzky March, during which the conductor would turn to the audience and conduct their hand-clapping. This has always seemed to me to be the epitome of the joy and hopefulness that the start of a new year can bring, so I’ll leave you with this one from a few years ago, during which Daniel Barenboim does eventually keep up with tradition:

I hope that 2019 brings you all that you wish for. Happy New Year!

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Winter Solstice

December 21, 2018 22 comments

Today in the Northern Hemisphere is the Winter Solstice, aka Midwinter, aka the Shortest Day. If you’ve read any of my previous posts you will probably have noticed that science isn’t my strong point, so if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of what that means you’ll need to look elsewhere, sorry! I did try researching this – that is to say, I took a look at Wikipedia – but the article lost me after a sentence or two. Briefly, the Solstice is ‘an astronomical phenomenon marking the day with the shortest period of daylight and the longest night of the year. It occurs when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun.’ Although the day has been given the name of the Solstice that alignment of the poles is actually at 10.23pm UK time. I don’t think there’s much to see though: unlike an eclipse, there is no obvious visible sign. So now you know – don’t say I don’t enlighten you! And I’m pretty sure that those poles to which reference is made have nothing to do with dancing – or maybe dancing is the order of the day? To be safe don’t quote me on that, just in case……

My interest in this day is its significance in a cultural and spiritual sense. Apparently this goes back as far as Neolithic times, when it was seen as the most propitious time for planting their crops and mating their animals – I wonder what those cave paintings were like? This time of year is important in many cultures, dating back long before it was appropriated by Christian faiths as ‘Christmas.’  The Wikipedia article also tells us that the pagan Scandinavian and Germanic people of northern Europe celebrated a twelve-day “midwinter” (winter solstice) holiday called Yule, amongst many names. Many modern Christmas traditions, such as the Christmas tree, the Christmas wreath and the Yule log are directly descended from ancient Yule customs. The underlying theme is how important this time of year is in the natural world, as a time representing rebirth and the beginning of more fruitful seasons.

While I was playing around on YouTube the other day looking for new Christmas songs to share with you, I came across one of their playlists which introduced me to modern day music – some of it pagan – celebrating this time of year. As you might imagine, much of this is what would be termed ‘folk music,’ though there were elements of jazz and heavy metal in there too. I knew nothing of this before, but my interest was piqued. I’ve dabbled a little further and have added some of these artists to my Apple Music library, as I rather enjoyed what I’ve heard so far. I thought this might be of interest to you, too, as I’d bet a fair amount that most readers will know no more about this than I do! So here are just a few examples. Firstly, from a guy based in Brighton, here in the UK, known as Damh The Bard:

There’s a warmth to his voice which I find appealing: his words give a very good explanation of what the pagan midwinter season is about, and draw the comparison with Christian beliefs. An interesting song.

This is far from just being a British thing, though. I also came across an Australian pagan band called Spiral Dance, who played gigs here with Damh The Bard in 2017: small world, eh? This is from their 2006 album The Quickening:

Again, there is a real warmth to the voice of the lead singer, Adrienne Pigott. This style of music is beginning to grow on me!

Moving across the pond to the US I came across this one from Denise Jordan Finley:

That is from an album called Solstice. According to her bio Denise is very much involved with the church, so I think it would be wrong to describe her as ‘pagan,’ but this illustrates well for me how inter-related these apparently different sets of beliefs actually are. And her voice is a thing of beauty, putting me in mind of Jacqui McShee, of Pentangle – in my eyes, that is high praise!

My final selection takes us slightly further north into Canada. The Wyrd Sisters are very much under the radar, selling albums direct from their website and at live shows, festivals etc. The song features on Leave A Little Light, the first of their six albums, all of which were issued independently and seem to be unavailable except via their website. Again, like Denise Finley, I’m not sure that they are fully into the pagan tradition, but the lyrics of this ‘carole’ very much are:

That’s my final selection for this dip into the hitherto unknown – to me, at any rate.  I recognise that this has been a superficial introduction to some music which is representative of customs going back thousands of years, but I wanted to give you a taste of what I had found, and to encourage you to think about the meaning of Yule. As I have said, I have only just got going with this style of music, and have no doubt that someone more versed in it would ridicule my lack of knowledge. But it interests me, and has broadened my musical horizon, and that for me is no bad thing. I hope you have enjoyed this too, and that you also will follow it further: I suspect that we have much to learn. And if you have more than my limited knowledge do please comment and share it.

See you again on Christmas Day, for my final collection of seasonal songs.

A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Three

December 18, 2018 4 comments

We’re getting closer to the big day, aren’t we! This is, as the title suggests, the third part of my compilation of daily song posts, and offers the usual melange dredged from the canyons of my mind (bonus brownie points to anyone who got that reference!). Today, I’m refreshing you on days 13 up to day 18 – which, in case you hadn’t noticed, is today. Time to get those sprouts on!

For the 13th I went back to my musical roots. Deep down, I am at heart a folkie, and have long loved the music of bands like Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, which is where the English folk-rock genre really began, in the late 60s. The driving force behind Steeleye has been their singer, Maddy Prior, and I’ve been lucky enough to see the band (I think) six times, going right back to late 1970. For a good many years now Maddy has also run a side project – Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band – who tour at Christmas. This year is no exception: they are still going strong. A new video popped up on YouTube a few days ago: I’m not sure when the performance is actually from, but it looks fairly recent. This is their version of a well known carol, and it is simply joyous:

This is actually the fifth year that I’ve done this – although only the second here on the blog – and very few songs have featured every year. My choice for day 14 is one of that select group: it is from Blue, one of the best albums ever made, by one of the best singer-songwriters ever. The version I’ve previously shared was accompanied by a video of Snoopy skating, which was a perfect fit, but sadly that one has now been withdrawn for copyright reasons: the word that springs to mind is ‘snowflakes!’ The song is still just as brilliant, though, and this video is a good substitute for Snoopy. Here is the wonderful Joni Mitchell:

Day 15 went down a rather different track. Although they haven’t done it recently, the rock band The Killers produced a Christmas song each year for about eight years. Proceeds were donated to charity – I think that is a rather wonderful thing to do, and deserving of mention in my dispatches. This is my favourite of their collection because, well, nothing says ‘Christmas’ quite like cowboys and robot spacemen, does it?

As the 16th was a Sunday I followed my usual practice of selecting a carol. I’ve featured this one before, but not this version. I really can’t think why, as I loved this duo’s music during their short time together as a partnership. They made two excellent albums plus a one-off seasonal single, which featured this as its B-side. The carol is familiar, I’m sure, but I doubt there are many versions which even come close to the heartbreaking beauty and simplicity of the Civil Wars:

Having regretted the musical demise of one favourite, I think I applied my hex on my choice for the 17th too. You probably won’t have heard of Brynn Andre, and she hasn’t been active on the music scene very much for quite some time, having made two lovely albums and an EP going back nearly ten years. Her Twitter feed describes her as a ‘coach for the modern girl’ with no mention of music in her bio – it has been inactive since 2014 anyway. She did pop up doing some live shows in 2014 with an unfulfilled promise of new recordings, and provided the vocals last year for a song by a band called We Are. I live in hope! It says on the video that the song is from an EP entitled Holiday, but until yesterday I’d been unable to find it, other than in this YouTube video version. Having donned my deerstalker I finally managed to locate it as the title track of a three song free download on Bandcamp, so I’m now a very happy bunny! It’s an old standard, but she breathes new life into it, with a lovely evocative video to match. This is another of the select few songs which I’ve featured in all five years of my #ChristmasSongOfTheDay, and I think you’ll see why:

My selection for today takes us back to the mainstream. This is one of the few of my choices which has appeared in the music charts, reaching no.6 in the US and no.9 in the UK (as a double A-side with My Hometown) in 1985, but it is difficult to leave out the Boss (no, not those Sugar and Numpty Trumpty guys, someone more deserving of the title!). Again, this is a pop Christmas standard, but I think this version is great! It’s happy, and that’s what Christmas should be:

So, that’s a wrap for today. I’ll be back on Christmas Day with the final selection of eight more songs to take us up to the full complement of 26. Yes, I know there are 25 days in the usual Advent Calendar but this is mine so I can do it how I like! I get to a final total of 26 by giving you a bonus extra song on Christmas Day – alright, I admit it, it’s more to do with indecision than seasonal goodwill, but I hope you won’t complain!

There will also be an additional post as part of my musical advent this year. For the first time I’m doing a little something extra which will feature here on Friday, and I hope to see you again then. In the meantime, stay well and happy, and mind those sprouts 😉

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