Tuesday Tunes 4

As you can see from my handy free counter (in the title) we in the UK are now going into week 4 of lockdown. I think I’ve escaped most of the problems so far, the only real change to my lifestyle was having to stay up until midnight to try and book a Tesco delivery slot as soon as they made another day available. It was 10th time lucky, so until the goodies arrive I’ll just have to make do with a full freezer and more tinned and packet meals than I’ve ever seen in my life before. Then, I’ll have to do it all over again to get another delivery slot to replenish the fresh foods, unless a miracle happens and shopping becomes easy again. Who knew it would come to this? But of course I can reassure you that I haven’t been panic buying: I’m just taking sensible precautions in case my home should ever come under siege. It’s at times like this that I could almost yield to the blandishments of all those helpful people on Farcebook, Twitter and in blogs who are encouraging us to use the time we have on our hands creatively, by taking up something new. At my most honest, I would admit that I and ‘creative’ rarely, if ever, appear in the same sentence but I guess I could always think about changing the habits of a lifetime?

Maybe tomorrow…

But this did get me thinking about a possible theme for this week’s two Tuesday Tunes. So, instead of trying something new myself, I’ve chosen a couple of songs that tell the stories of those who aspire to creative greatness. Either that, or the untold riches that success would bring. The first is from 1966, from a little band you might have heard of before:

A ‘dirty story’ of a ‘dirty man,’ whose ‘clinging wife doesn’t understand’ – I think there have been a few of those over the years! But rest assured, dear reader, I won’t be joining those ranks any time soon. It’s all I can do to string a thousand words together, let alone a thousand pages!

My second song for this week is another story of aspiration, which is even further from my abilities than the first. As one who struggles to produce the most simple landscape picture my artistic talents could be deemed to be ‘limited.’ Little wonder, then, that I studied the History of Art for my degree, rather than actually doing it myself! But in my youth I had my dreams, rather like this:

As it says on the video, that is a Bob Dylan song. He and The Band have had a long association and this was far from being the first of his songs that they recorded. It appears on Cahoots, their fourth studio album, and was released in 1971. I prefer their version: I think the late Levon Helm’s plaintive vocals really suit it. If you aren’t familiar with them, The Band made several great albums in what would today be termed Americana-style, and Levon himself also had a successful acting career, in addition to being a solo musician and leading his own band (small ‘b’). And a little piece of additional trivia for you: he was the inspiration for the song Listening To Levon, which is on Marc Cohn’s Join The Parade album. I recommend you check that out: it’s a lovely song of love and reminiscence, on a great album (like everything Marc Cohn does!).

So, that’s a wrap for this week. I hope that, however you are spending the time – maybe working from home or, like me, lounging around doing nothing, as usual – you are taking sensible precautions to avoid the horror that is Covid-19. I see from today’s paper that our esteemed government is suggesting that they will be continuing the lockdown for at least another three weeks and will be announcing their decision on Thursday. We all know that’s coming, so why the suspense? JFDI! But it does mean that there will be at least another three weeks of Tuesday Tunes posts, after which I will, like the government, review whether I can release you from lockdown. I just hope I make a better job of managing that than the clowns in charge here – at least, unlike Dominic Raab, I do know my derrière from my elbow.

Take care, be safe, stay well.

#ChristmasSongOfTheDay 2019 – Part Four

IT’S CHRIIIISTMAS! But that’s as close as I’ll be getting to ‘that’ song, don’t worry. This is being posted on Christmas Day but I would imagine that most readers have far better things to do today than read my blog so, on the assumption that you are catching up after the main event, I hope it was a good one for you.

This is my final post of this year’s Christmas series, and I’m grateful to everyone who has read the three previous episodes and commented on their enjoyment of my musical choices. I’m guessing that anyone who thought they were rubbish just moved on without saying so! This part takes us from day 20 up to today, which should mean six songs – but as I’ve taken to doing, I posted a bonus track today, so there would actually have been seven. No prizes for guessing which was the bonus song, as it has already appeared in another post this month. But then a new video was uploaded to YouTube yesterday, which I just had to include. So, should I drop one of my choices? No, it’s Christmas, so I went a little mad and posted the new one as well! So there are now eight songs in this collection. Oh, and another bonus one too. Are you keeping up?

On the 20th I posted a version of Silent Night. I’ve included this song every year I’ve done this (all five of them) but, as there are so many versions of it, I try a different one each year. This time, I shared a very recent live performance by Sarah Darling, from her concert at the Union Chapel in London. That is one of my favourite venues and it has great acoustics, as you can hear from Sarah’s performance:

I think that is lovely, and is why I made a break from my usual habit of not featuring the same artist twice in this series: Sarah now shares that dubious honour with just four other acts that were double choices in previous years. It’s probably no coincidence that three of them are featured in this post.

One of those was the estimable Mary Chapin Carpenter, whose seasonal album Come Darkness, Come Light is required listening for me at this time of year. I chose the title track on the 21st, as it is a beautiful song and the video that someone has made to accompany it fits it well:

A song that I have featured each year was my song for the 22nd. I try to share a carol on Advent Sundays, and as Kate Rusby has now made five albums of these I’m rather spoilt for choice, as I love her voice and her music. I’ve seen her play live, so I know that she needs no studio trickery to make her sound good. This is the title track of her first Christmas album, Sweet Bells, which was released in 2008. If I’m honest, I still think this is her best of the five, but they are all fabulous. The animated video that accompanies this isn’t ‘official,’ but it is a perfect accompaniment, and the depiction of Kate is extremely good:

On Monday (23rd) I chose one that I’ve not featured before. You may well know Santa Baby from Marilyn Monroe or one of the countless other versions, but you probably haven’t seen the treatment given to it by Walk Off The Earth. This band has also been a double entry in a previous year: you may not know them but they have a very loyal following, get multi-million views for most of their videos – which are often very inventive – and their live shows are always sold out. Here’s a rather different Santa Baby or, in this case, Baby Santa:

And just to confirm, those puppets are very good likenesses of the band members, and the baby is the child of two of them, so I very much doubt that he was trying to drink real alcohol!

For Christmas Eve (i.e. yesterday) I chose the same song I have done every year. This may sound repetitious, but I never tire of hearing it, and given its title there is only one day on which it could be shared! Mindy Smith is another of that select band who have featured twice in the same set in a previous year. I think this video shows why, as her voice is lovely and the song captures what every parent of a small child is thinking on the night before the big day:

I try to vary my choices for Christmas Day itself and, whilst this one has been a selection in a previous year, this was not on Christmas Day. As its title is Christmas Must Be Tonight I may have been missing something! It’s a great song from the best band ever to be called ‘The Band’:

I am by nature a creature of habit and have shared today’s first bonus song every year, though not always on Christmas Day. But it is a fairly obvious choice for today, and has become a pop classic in the 32 years since it was first released. I featured it in my recent post Christmas Number Twos – my Christmas just wouldn’t be complete without Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues:

I once saw a Snoopy cartoon which had the tagline ‘in every programme, Charlie Brown, there are some last minute changes.’ Courtesy of the lovely people who produce the live music show Live From Here, this is one such change. The show is fronted by Chris Thile, formerly of the excellent band Nickel Creek. Another former member, Sara Watkins, is now in a female trio called I’m With Her, with Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, and the three of them are regular guests on the show, either solo or in combinations of two or three. A couple of weeks ago they had a little bit of pre-Christmas fun with a children’s song, and it is so charming that I just had to share it. I never thought I’d hear the lovely Sarah Jarosz singing I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas, but now I have and its fabulous:

I’ve ended the three previous episodes of this series with the wonderful adverts made by Hafod Hardware, a local store in the small Welsh town of Rhayader. Made with love by the family who run the business, on a budget of around £100 each year (for the beautiful backing music by Andrea Von Kampen) these really put to shame the big budget extravaganzas of the large UK retailers. So, as another Christmas bonus, here is this year’s again:

#BeAKidThisChristmas

I think there’s something in my eye….

* * * * *

Well, that’s it for this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed at least some of my choices across the four episodes. Twelve of the twenty seven have been first timers this year: I like to refresh things but it has been very hard to leave out so many good songs that I could have included. I suppose there’s always next year…

From tomorrow until New Year’s Day the daily songs on my Facebook page and Twitter will be #NewYearSongOfTheDay choices. Unless anything pops into my head in the meantime, you’ll next see me back here on New Year’s Day with a round up post of those.

One final word from me for this year: thank you to everyone who has read, ‘liked’ and/or commented on any of my posts this year. I am very aware that we all have pressures on our time, and I’m grateful to you for spending some of it with me and my ramblings.

Enjoy the rest of your Christmas: I hope it is a happy and peaceful one.

A #ChristmasSongOfTheDay Part Two

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.