FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: IT’S CHRISTMAS!!
OK, Noddy, we hear. Shame we can’t get your Nuts in Sainsbury’s any more. It just ruins my fortnightly shopping experience. With the big day looming yet still plenty of shopping days left for those stockings to be filled - physically or digitally - with some musical niceties, it seems as good a day as ever to lay some Christmas tunes upon you. Before you reach for the panic button, I won’t be dusting off my collection of 10 Christmas curios of old again; though if you wish to reacquaint yourselves with gems such as The Vandals’ “My First Christmas (as a Woman)” you can still do so HERE. Actually, it’s not a bad read for all that.
Anyhow on to Christmas 2021. I was going to say it’s beginning to look a lot like last Christmas until Wednesday’s i-newspaper nicked that headline. But before we go down the road of Covid-inspired gloom, of dodgy SPAD parties, of strictly come Michael Gove or anything else depressing, let’s take a brief look at some alternative universe candidates for this year’s Christmas No 1 with ne’re a casual mention of sausage rolls [I told you not to mention sausage rolls – Ed].
Photo of Alex Hall & Denney at The Bedford by Kevin England
We begin with a bold double-A side, neither of which are strictly Christmas songs. Well, I told you this was alternative. What they share, though, is a flavour of the season, which of course is not something you add to sausage rolls. It’s been a real pleasure following the blossoming careers of Alex Hall and Denney individually this year through a string of wonderful single releases. They have now come together to record and release “I Swear That It Was Love”, with a sly nod to a certain Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman who joined forces to have a Christmas No 1 in 2001 that wasn’t a Christmas song either. Here is an exclusive private preview for you with an ironic beach graphic to boot.
Aside from its swirling romantic melody and natural vocal chemistry between the two usually solo artistes, what works particularly well is the bittersweet balance between the two protagonists acting out this story; the defiant male who asserts a love that should not have ended and the female who acknowledges that it has run its course. Between the two, though, there still remains a spark of tenderness which adds a note of Christmas-like cheer. Alex Hall has backed up “I Swear That It Was Love” with the striking “2019” which is a kind of exorcism of both personal and societal distress over the past two years. It is all carefully couched in music that wraps its seasonal goodwill around you, so there is light at the end of any abyss.
Both songs will be available on all major streaming platforms from 23 December.
Last Christmas, the greater than socially distanced pairing of Annie from Sheffield and Cyrus, in Yangon, aka Machina X brought us the enchanted, seasonal reverie of “Wolves”. Earlier this year the duo teamed up with Hereford producer Nature of Wires to deliver an impressive reflection on the nature of objectification, “Within”. Now they have collaborated once more to offer a freshly-fallen take on The Pretenders’ Christmas classic, “2000 Miles”. This retains much of the feel of the song, originally guitar-driven, and now transformed into a colourfully rich, contemporary synthscape with Annie exercising her distinctively melismatic vocals. You can find “2000 Miles” on Bandcamp and on all the usual streaming platforms now.
Last year I highlighted two new songs that I felt had the hallmarks of Christmas classics; one by Liam Gallagher and the other by The Kut, the alter ego of the multi-talented Princess Maha who performs as a band, now formed from a seven-strong collective of female musicians. Beautiful and uplifting amid its melancholy take on Christmas, The Kut’s “Waiting for Christmas” is now back for a second stab at the charts. As an independent release, the song did mightily well last year, spending four weeks in the UK singles chart and reaching #65. This time motivation to go higher comes from a new charitable pledge: 50p from every download and £1 from every Limited Edition 7” Vinyl and CD sold on the official store will go to empowering charity, Girls Out Loud. Please support.
A song title like “It's Christmas Time (we're as miserable as sin)” promises to dial up the melancholia even further although in the hands of the prolific and inventive Midlands trio, The Happy Somethings, you can count on the lyrics being as amusing as they are knowing. That is the redeeming factor, among several, about the song. Operating under the non-de-plumes of Happy, Jolly and Joy, the triumvirate should notionally be cheering us all up. But, no, this is a downbeat song about a lonesome Christmas where everyone else is out having fun and we’re stuck indoors without any lights or even a tree. There are three versions of the song and you can share in the Scrooge-like reverie by downloading all three for the price of none on Bandcamp, or (better idea) chip in the odd pound or two to support THS to make more new music in 2022. 'Tis the season to do it!
From a lonesome Christmas now to a worldwide collaboration; a three and a half minute song with possibly the longest and compellingly watchable set of credits I’ve seen in an accompanying video. Electronica artiste Helen Meissner aka Helefonix has brought together 42 – yes the answer to life, the universe and everything, although I’m sure that’s coincidental - singers and electronic artistes to collaborate on her song, “We're Gonna Have Some Fun”. The contributors include Fifty3 Fridays alumni Emily Zuzik (Woves), Sarah McQuaid and With Sun, while even Handforth Parish Council legend Jackie Weaver has got in on the act. The result is a lovingly crafted explosion of joy and it’s all in aid of the charity, Help Musicians. You can download it at good old Bandcamp of course!
To end today’s offbeat look at the Christmas(ish) song, I will finish with a perennial favourite of mine. Now in its tenth year, “Snow” is a song I revisit every Christmas. Written and sung in her inimitable style by Kate Walsh who fashioned some glorious music in her day, I recall attempting a dismally unsuccessful Rage against the Machine-inspired social media (OK, MySpace) campaign to install it as the UK Christmas No. 1. Kate took a step back from recording and performing some years ago but I still find this song as charming and quietly emotive as I did when I first heard it. “Our love is like snow/It covers all we know” so go stream it, or look for her album The Real Thing where you’ll find it as the final track of ten little gems.
FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: THE ADVENT CALENDAR
Follow me on Twitter - @TonyHardy53 – and you can access our #Fifty3Fridays Advent Calendar of great songs. It’s Day 10 today and the featured song is Jacques Lu Cont’s Thin White Duke Remix of The Killers’ classic, "Mr Brightside", but I won’t tell you what’s coming next.