Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas Everybody!

That's it for another year!

God willing we'll be back to do it all again next December. In the meantime, thank you to all who responded by email or contacted me via one of the other threads. Good luck to you in 2013, 2012 was a special year and let's hope the next is somewhere as good. See you there?

Day 25 - 'I Want You With Me Christmas' - Jesse Belvin

And here we are again..

As I never tire of saying, the Calendar is a collection and not a 'best of' or 'chart' so nothing should be made of the fact that this song is the 25th this year, barring the fact it is rather lovely, eminently suited to the day and probably not the type of thing you're likely to hear much on the radio today.

Jessie Belvin was an aspriring and successful R 'n' B singer and songwriter who life was tragically cut short in a road accident at the age of  - yes, you've guessed it - 27.

This is a gorgeous doo-wop style song from the '50's and it won't surprise you to know the video featues a record going round at 78 rpm. Watch it here - Jesse Belvin - as you keep an eye on the turkey.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Day 24 - 'Merry Christmas, Darling' - The Carpenters

I suspect that bucket over by the sink is for the schmaltz and hanging on the back of the door on a rusty nail is a shrift which is probably shorter than most, but - hey! - it's Christmas Eve, and although your eyes may roll around your head when Karen C sings about the 'logs on the fire filling her with desire', you can't deny she sings like an Angel.

And for anyone who's been in this situation - and I know I have - when she sings 'I've just one wish on this Christmas Eve / I wish I were with you' it just breaks your heart.

Sadly, the video shows how ill Ms Carpenter was to become, and it's uncomfortable viewing in many ways but you can always close your eyes and just listen to that voice. I'm moved enough to not repeat the, in any case, factually incorrect 'joke' about Karen and Mama Cass.

It's Christmas Eve, be with your loved one(s) and count your blessings.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Day 23 - 'Silent Night' - CeeLo Green

From his new Christmas album 'Magic Moment'. Great voice, beautifully handled. Listen loud and don't bother with watching the video.

Saturday, 22 December 2012

A Christmas Wave from Paolo Di Cattio

Day 22 - 'Christmas in Prison' - Petty Booka

The Blagg Christmas Calendar - the gift that keeps on giving!

Petty Booka are a Japanese female duo and I was originally seeking out their version of 'Christmas Island' that I heard on the excellent - and for the last couple of years, sadly missed - Mark Lamarr      Christmas Day show. After trolling the web for ages - I know I should get out more and get some friends, the wife is always telling me - I could only find this version of John Prine's song; his own version has, oddly, failed to find its own entry on the calendar these past six years.

But what was so great about finding these girls on YouTube was to discover the wealth of other wonderful material they have available. Madonna's 'Material Girl' as a Nippon Country and Western classic? 'Do You Want to Dance' as a Hawaiian ukulele tune? 'Summer Breeze' as a kind of early Beach Boys slow harmony song? And - get this! - 'Born to be Wild' as...well, you go and find it for yourself and while you're there look up the magical version of Richard and Linda Thompson's 'I Want To See The Bright Lights Again'. There's not enough hours in the day for me.  

Anyway, I actually think I prefer Ms Petty and Ms Booka's version of 'Christmas in Prison' than Prine's and while you're catching up on the girls back catalogue, you can pen a letter of complaint to the B.B.C. over their handling of Mr Lamarr and, most importantly, his Christmas shows. Surely there is a local station out there that can handle him?

Friday, 21 December 2012

Day 21 - 'That's What Christmas Means To Me' - Stevie Wonder

Great Motown, great artist, classic Christmas song. 'Nuff said!

I've selected this one mainly because I love to see vinyl going round and round.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Day 20 - 'Chrismas Lullaby' - The Popes

Shane McGowan may have been born on Christmas Day in Pembury, Kent, but I consider him to be among the literary greats of Ireland along with the likes of Shaw, Yeats, Behan, Beckett and Joyce.

If there is any opportunity to see McGowan performing with the Pogues then the opportunity should be grasped in much the same way that you’d drop in to see Michelangelo paint a small section of the Sistine Chapel, witness Dickens write the first paragraph of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ or see Shelley compose the first stanza of ‘The Masque of Anarchy’.

McGowan and the Pogues are appearing this very night at the O2. Me? Oh, I’ll be in High Wycombe with the Good Lady B watching ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ with bloody Ann Widdecombe and ******* Craig Revel-Horwood! Bitter? Pah!

This is a bit of an unsung classic, composed by the man in his stint with the Popes. 'Tura lura luray / Tura lura lie' Indeed!

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

London at Christmas 2012

Day 19 - 'Look Around You (It's Christmas Time) - Bobby Goldsboro

Well, here's a curio for those interested in such things (just me then?)

Yep, it's that Bobby Goldsboro, the one who lost his virginity to a MILF - or whatever they called them in those days - in  'Summer The First Time' and who, more famously, "Surprised her with a Puppy / Kept me up / All Christmas Eve / Two years ago" in the Grimmest of the 'Grim Reaper's Greatest Hits', the truly awful death song 'Honey' (which makes Lady B cry every time she hears it). Once heard, who can ever forget "One day when I was not at home / When she was there / And all alone / The Angels came..."?

Anyway, this Christmas ditty is actually a protest song about the commercialisation of Christmas. It's not early Dylan granted - but there's enough of a feel about the thing to date it to around that time, as our Mr Goldsboro bemoans the fact that there's 'Father celebrating Christmas / With a bottle full of Rum / While his Children wait for presents / That they know will never come'.

It's a bit of a surly and curmudgeonly view of the season and I'd suggest the now 71-year-old Bobby gets himself down to Oxford Street this year to see the Marmite sponsored street lights (Pictured) just to show that things aren't all quite like he suggests in his song....

"All the churches filled with nothing / But the quiet of the night / Doesn't anyone remember / Why we celebrate tonight"

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Day 18 - 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' - Sufjan Stevens

I had a track from Sufjan Stevens’ ‘Songs for Christmas’ box set all lined up for the 2012 calendar until I was looking through a list of new releases last week and suddenly discovered the man had just released a second volume of Christmas songs titled ‘Silver and Gold, Volumes 6 - 10’.

My first reaction was that I could see what I’d be doing for most of next November, but then I found myself alone in a tedious hotel with a laptop, the NPR music website's ‘First Listen’ option and a good three hours or so to kill and – Bingo! – by the following morning I’d heard 50 odd songs and the whole five albums in one sitting.

My initial reaction would be, don’t do what I did; listening to the thing in one hit requires a lot of patience and a fair bit of grim determination. The second half of the whole two boxed set, 10 album, 100 song project differs from the first five volumes in that a lot of ‘Silver & Gold’ isn’t particularly accessible. There are a myriad of quirky re-imaginings of well-known festive songs amongst the self-penned stuff as you’d expect, but many employ odd time-signatures, confusing beats, drum machine mayhem and weird noises.

Some are – on first listen anyway – frankly, pretty annoying as they go on too long. It’s all done with love and not a little charm, of course but it seems much darker and brooding than its enlightened predecessor. However, there is much here to enjoy too and I’d certainly urge you to listen to it even if only to show what someone can do with Christmas music if they’re so inclined.

I’ve chosen this track as much for the haunting and disturbing video as the equally troubling song.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Day 17 - 'Lonely Christmas Call' - George Jones

Today's song comes courtesy of the 'Plaza on the River' where I am staying the night with my Company Secretary. As I write this I overlook the Thames with a fantastic view of the Houses of Parliament and the river, down past the London Eye and beyond to the City. Breathtaking.

George is an ex-husband of Tammy Wynette, of course, and considered one of the kings of Country 'n' Western, so you won't be surprised to hear that this song tells the sad story of how George's woman up and left him and the kids a year ago last Christmas.

'If you could see their little faces / As round the tree they take their places / They're looking for the biggest gift of all''

Mr Jones don't say but, this being a prime slab of maudlin C'n'W, I assume she probably left with George's best friend, likely taking his 'orse and dawg with her. You'll be in tears...one way or another.
Oh, by the way, don't bother telling Lady B about the hotel stay, my Secretary and Mrs are one and the same!

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Day 16 - 'God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman' - St Agnes Fountain

For the uninitiated, the Aggies - as they are affectionately known - are a kind of Folk Super-Group who reform every December for a series of Christmas concerts at which they play traditional festive songs, some new self-penned material and Carols re-worked in a way you'll not have heard before.

I saw them just this last Thursday in Ipswich and this was one of the highlights of the evening, done with great affection in the style of 'Take Five' Dave Brubeck. Of course, this was particularly poignant this year as Brubeck's sad demise was announced just earlier this month.

Unfortunately, this track isn't available on YouTube as I heard it and much of the St Agnes stuff to be had on there is poorly recorded live material but if you're interested enough to seek them out - and I'd suggest you do - you can hear it on Spotify.

A word of warning though; 'God Rest Ye' is one of  a kind of 'Best of' compilation available on Spotify but I'd suggest St Agnes Fountain are very much a live experience and I wouldn't want you distracted by the recorded output that pretty much fails to convey the great spirit you get from watching them live. It's probably too late to catch them this year but I'd put it in your diary for next.

Update 2015: Despite reservations, there's an interesting alternative version to the jazz inspired 'Merry Gentleman'  included below where the Aggies all play one guitar. It at least gives a feel to the diversity of the band.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Day 15 - 'Xmas Baby' - Riff Ruffin

I’m always enormously impressed when someone writes to me during the year with a Calendar suggestion; even more impressed when that suggestion arrives in the middle of August. When I’ve not heard the song before and it turns out to be a corker, then I think it’s fair to say my gratitude goes off the scale.

According to my diary, I was enjoying Wheelchair Basketball at the Paralympics when the man who sent this was looking for Christmas hits. So it’s hats off to Ged – yes, chief-he-who-must-be-obeyed from my 'home' site of www.westhamonline.net – and his dedication to the spirit of the Calendar even I can’t manage.

Ged actually sent me two classics, but one of them – 'The Flirtations ‘Christmas Time is Here' (The Flirtations) has already been on the Calendar (check it out if you haven’t already though – it’s stupendous!) – so it’s just left to honour this storming Blues number with some great sax on it.

I know nothing about Mr Ruffin and freely admit I’d never heard of him before this arrived in my Inbox, however I’m looking forward to Ged telling me later.

I’m expecting the email about June!

Friday, 14 December 2012

Day 14 - 'Santa Baby' - Madonna

Ms Ciccone at her coquettish  best sounding like the bastard-offspring of Marilyn Monroe, Betty Boop and Penelope Pitstop – what a party that was! – with more humour and savvy than you might otherwise give her credit for.

This is the song made famous by Eartha Kitt – whose stint as Catwoman is something I’ve never been able to forgive her for - and Madge injects just enough …well, fun!.. .into the whole thing to make this - if not exactly palatable - at least sufferable. It was for charity anyway, and It’s about the only version of this awful song I’d give house room to this season.

Can’t help but wonder though; what on earth do you think you’d buy Madonna for Christmas?

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Festive Frosting

Day 13 - 'Girls All Get Prettier At Christmas Time' - Mickey Gilley

Ain't that the truth, Boy?

Storming old style rocker for another Christmas party night, and if you think that it might sound a little like the 'Killer' himself - Jerry Lee Lewis - well, it's not surprising really as Gilley is his Cousin. Mind you, hailing from just outside Louisiana on the Mississippi River in the late '30's, it's just as likely Gilley is also his brother, in-law and Father too!

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Day 12 - 'Oh December' - Jane Taylor

Jane Taylor was an 18th/19th Century poet whose main claim to fame was writing the words to the song we now know as ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’. She used to live in Colchester and the Hollytrees museum in that town has an exhibition of old Children’s toys on the top floor, where they used to play an eerie and ethereal version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle’ as you entered the room.

Not a fanciful man by any means, the first time I went into this room, heard the music, saw the rather grotesque dolls and other artefacts, I had to leave as I come over all dizzy. Intrigued – I’m not a believer in the spirit world - I returned some months later and exactly the same thing happened! I’ve been back since but was disappointed to find they’d changed the music and somehow the feeling is different....

Anyway, this is NOT that Jane Taylor but rather a Bristol born singer / songwriter who had an iTunes hit late last year when ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris played this track on his Radio 2 Christmas Day show. She’s had a successful year as a result, supporting people such as Jools Holland and Paulo Nutini and her album ‘Compass’ won her a ‘Best Album’ award at the Independent Music Awards. She’s now working on a musical project called ‘Mrs Claus’ which is also set to become a children’s book and an animation. With an idea like that, she’s also likely to return to the Calendar at some point in the future, particularly if, like this little gem, it contains a Colliery Band. I’m a sucker for brass.

This is also in it's way quite haunting and a little magical.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Day 11 - 'Santa's Secret' - Johnny Guarnieri

Here’s one for the kids! All the way from the 1940’s – and NO smart-arse, I didn’t buy it when it first came out – the amazing thing about this is finding out exactly what ‘Santa’s Secret’ actually is. You’ll have to listen to discover yourself, of course. I can’t imagine this garnered much wireless-and-valve time back in the day, although Guarnieri must have been a bit of a known entity having played jazz piano alongside Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw. And to think they banned ‘A Day in the Life’....

Monday, 10 December 2012

Day 10 - 'Joy' - Tracey Thorn

I'm usually mistrustful of those without the 'e'...don't worry, just my little Yuletide joke - I'm sure you'll allow me the indulgence.

This is a new release from an album called 'Tinsel and Lights' from the former 'Everything but the Girl' front-person, that I stumbled across yesterday and it's a really lovely set of songs, beautifully sung by Ms Thorn, with a tasteful underpinning of that melancholia and brooding sentimentality that so suits the season.

The whole thing is available as 'First Listen' on NPR music but 'Joy' - Tracey's own composition - is here: