Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Seasonal Felicitations!

And that's it again.

The good news - if you see it as such - is that if the Government declared tomorrow that January had been cancelled and we're having Christmas all over again, I have another 25 songs ready to go at a moment's notice. Failing that, they will have to wait till Christmas 2014 - God willing.

Thanks as ever for your support this year and hope to see you all next year.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Day 25 - "Last Christmas" - Wham!

Surprised? Can't say I blame am I! But although I usually start off on December 1st with a vague idea of where I'm going and what I'm going to put into the Calendar, the whole thing is intentionally pretty fluid and often ends up going somewhere I wasn't expecting.
This blog was always intended as an addition to the usual fare we hear every Christmas and over seven years - barring the odd foray - it's pretty much nibbled at the crusty edges of the great pie of Christmas music rather than drop a spoon into the mushy centre. But it was never the intention to drive a 10-ton truck through the accepted traditions of the season and I realise not everyone shares my enthusiasm for scouring the WWW every October onwards searching for obscure festive tunes.
Such a person is the Good Lady Blagg who has to put up with me disappearing into the Blagg Acre offices every year, and hearing some strange noises emanating from the PC as I chase up some bizarre web site from out of Wisconsin where someone has loaded some Carols from a Tibetan Nose Flute player.
Never a well-woman, she's suffered from particularly bad health this year and had some further bad news yesterday. 'Last Christmas' is her favourite Christmas song and this is for her, with love.
As an addition, I've been able to get some stats from the blog this year I've never had access to before and I can now see where people have accessed the Calendar from. It makes from some pretty fascinating reading and - although I'm not really au-fait with the popularity of George Michael in some areas of the Far East, some Pacific Islands and Eastern Europe, I'm reckoning there may be a few people out there who've never even heard this before. Possibly.
Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Day 24 - "Bells Are Ringing" - Mary Chapin Carpenter

Christmas Eve: Best day of the year for me (I'm a man who prefers to travel than arrive)  and even though things get unbearably poignant at times, there is great happiness and hope in the day too - there are reasons for this but I'm not going to share them with you surly oiks - and regulars will know that, try as I might, I can't run with a dance tune on such a seismic day even if you do want to don a paper hat and act the giddy goat. So...

This is a simply beautiful song from Ms C - Wherever you're walking tonight / Whoever you're waiting for / Somehow by the stable's faint light / Peace in your heart is restored - that will make you feel warm and comfortable as the storm rages outside.

Peace and Goodwill to you all!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Day 23 - "Gift X-Change" - Calexico

The spirit is broken. the path is overrun / You can't move forward and now nothing gets done
I hope you find some inner peace along the way / Whatever it takes, I pray you'll make it home on Christmas Day
Heartbreaking offering from Americana / Indie band Calexico. Turn off all except the Christmas Tree lights, pour yourself a stiff drink, crank it up loud and count what blessing you have.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Day 22 - "The Wassail Song" - The Albion Christmas Band

One of the unexpected 'pleasures' of the Advent Calendar is opening emails at Easter or in June or September and finding someone, somewhere has sent me a Christmas record to listen too.

There have been quite a few instances where I've removed sun glasses or adjusted T-shirt or logged on to check the Test Cricket score and found myself listening to a festive tune. For the first time this year though, I got a Carol not through email but from the stage - and from no lesser person than Fairport Convention's very own Simon Nichol who - for reasons I found it hard to fathom when you consider the number of albums the Fairport's have had in their history - decided to play 'The Wassail Carol' during their closing set at Cropredy in August.

"It's a warm August night, it's a Carol - must remember it for the Calendar" I thought. And here it is. There is a Fairport version on YouTube but I went with the Albion Band because I'm seeing them in concert on 23rd in Bury St Edmunds. 

"Wassail. Wassail, All over the town / Our toast it is white / And our ale it is brown". Good for you, the ale I got from Morrison's yesterday is a strange red colour...

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Day 21 - "Little Drummer Boy / Silent Night / Auld Lang Syne" - Jimi Hendrix

"The tape recorder still running?" asks Hendrix as the drums strike up for this festive obscurity: it was and here's the result. Seven minutes, thirty seconds of a visceral denouncement of the season or nearly eight minutes of pointless noodling - you buys yer ticket and takes your choice, I guess.

The problem - if problem it is - with Hendrix is the man was a product of his time and the 'Last Post' echoes a couple of minutes into this, just remind us that the Vietnam War was still raging when he shuffled off this mortal coil in September 1970 and everything he did reflected the world that was going on around him at the time.

You can't help but wonder what he'd be doing had he lived. Live sets on 'Strictly' probably. Len Goodman: "Well, pickle me walnuts! I tell ya what Jimi, you still got it son". Who can say...

2016 Update: Sorry, for the 3rd year running the video and soundtrack has been pulled from YouTube. If I find an update I'll post it here. 

Meanwhile, I've found a link to part of the track on a Blog called 'Elsewhere' and you can gaze at a lovely summery scene as you listen. It's here at Elsewhere - Hendrix Christmas

Friday, 20 December 2013

Day 20 - "Santa Claus Is Coming" - Hank Ballard and the Midnighters

A storming Rock 'n' Roll track recorded at a time that Doo-wop was crossing with R 'n' B to form it's own hybrid. In fact Hank Ballard wrote and performed 'The Twist' before Chubby Checker picked up on the whole thing, and there are elements of that in this electric performance from 1959. A wild sax solo, bells and tight harmonies make this an essential for party night.

Wonderful and as rare as those Christmas Tree crumpets that ASDA are allegedly supposed to be selling.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Cats celebrate the news from White Hart Lane

Day 19 - "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" - Amy Winehouse

Originally written by British songwriter Tommie Connor, I'm guessing this was initially called 'I Saw Mummy Kissing Santa Claus' but the recording by 13-year-old Jimmy Boyd  reached No. 1 on the Billboard chart in December 1952 so I guess it will always by Mommy.

Here Amy does it in her inimitable fashion

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

London 2013

Photos: B.Blagg

Day 18 - "Cold White Christmas" - Casiotone for the Painfully Alone

22 year-old woman leaves home seeking independence and freedom but finds herself alone, desperate and miserable at Christmas. You'll feel in a similar mood once you've spent 5 minutes with Owen Ashworth aka Casiotone and his 'lo-fi Indietronica'.

Aunt Beth & Uncle Charlie cut a check for the graduating niece /  And you marked your independence with a signature on a lease / But home was a photograph you taped to your wall / It's gonna be a cold white Christmas in St Paul

Never mind love! Costa Coffee have got a lovely Salted Caramel Latte in this year, one of those and a mince pie and you'll soon cheer up.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Day 17 - "World Of Love" - Binky Griptite

Come on! How could someone named Binkie Griptite not make it onto the calendar? Our Bink - if I may be so bold - has something of a solid soul groove thang going on but, oddly, he doesn't seem to have moved in terms of technology, still preferring the joys of Myspace where he has a number of festive songs under the heading 'A Very Binky Christmas', all of which are worth investigating.

Find it here: 'World of Love'

2016 update: The YouTube recorded version has been pulled but there's now a live version and you can find it here. 

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Day 15 - "We Three Kings" - The Mediaeval Baebes

I saw the Baebes last August at the Cropredy Festival and assumed then they would be good for a Carol or two and so it has proved, this is quite lovely. The fact the video also features six women in long dresses walking barefoot through the sand and into the sea has nothing to do with the choice. Now where did I put my pills…?

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Day 14 - "The Last Christmas" - Brainpool

One of the unexpected benefits of producing the Calendar every year is you sometimes turn over a Christmas stone and find another life underneath to investigate for the rest of the year.
I’ll freely admit I’ve never heard of the appallingly monikored Indie-pop combo Brainpool, but after unearthing this Christmas single, I've discovered that this 2013 release represents something of a welcome comeback for the Swedish band from Lund; there is – to use the latest parlance – quite a lot of love and excitement out there following the release of this track, their first in a decade.
Brainpool - The Last Christmas
Following highly successful releases from 1993 on, their last 2004 release was a double-album called ‘Junk’, a rock-opera about anti-consumerism which was turned into a critically acclaimed stage show which has been playing to packed houses all over the U.S. where the band have something of a fan base. Perhaps I should be getting out more.

So what of ‘The Last Christmas’? Well, it features a cover of a cute kitten playing with a gold Christmas decoration – always a winner in my book even if the ornament is actually a hand grenade – and I’ve been singing it constantly since I first heard it. It might be my Christmas song of 2013. But I’m still struggling with that name...
Go here to hear the song and download it for free: Brainpool-The Last Christmas
It's now on YouTube too

Friday, 13 December 2013

Day 13 - "I Want A Hippopatamus for Christmas" - Lenny the Lion and Terry Hall

Yes, it’s that time again: Christmas party night and the sad inevitability that is the Blagg Calendar novelty record.
This year it’s a BOGOF – although you won’t thank me for it – as Lenny the Lion sings ‘I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas’ hopefully ably abetted (‘cos otherwise I’d be very worried!) by Terry Hall ( NOT the one from The Specials, you doughnut ) on whose arm Lenny used to sit.

During the late ‘50’s and into the ‘60’s, ventriloquist Hall and his lion used to appear regularly on Children’s TV, at one point having their own TV show ‘Pops and Lenny’  on which The Beatles made an early appearance.
It’s quite hard to find a recording of ‘Hippopotamus’ anywhere – unsurprisingly other than some plays on Children’s radio it pretty much sank without trace - but a fellow blogger has it on his site at Lord of the Boot Sale and I’m sure he’d be grateful for the traffic. It’s a popular one for the kids and has been a Blagg Jnr. favourite since he was a small boy and, in fact, we played it in the car just last weekend. Blagg Jnr. is now 72.

2016 Update: The song disappeared from YouTube so - a first here! - I loaded it myself. Thank me later.

There is a link between the Hall / Lenny song and the accompanying ‘bonus’ video though, because during a trip to the U.S. in 1958, Hall made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, as earlier did original singer of the song, child star Gayla Peevy. In fact, the video comes from Peevey’s appearance on the Sullivan show in 1953 where she sang the song as a 10-year-old. It went on to become a U.S. hit and it can be found on - Yes! - Gayla Peevey's own web site dedicated to the song. It just gets better and better, doesn't it?

Listen to Sullivan’s intro, watch the lead in and then marvel when Peevey begins to sing. Does that voice really come from that body? Scary!
There is a fascinating footnote to this whole story too. Oklahoma Zoo capitalised upon the popularity of "I Want A Hippopotamus for Christmas" with a fundraising campaign to "buy a hippo for Gayla", the fund raised $3,000, and a baby hippopotamus named Matilda was purchased and given to Peevey who then donated it back to the zoo. The then 2 year old hippopotamus named Matilda spent 45 years in the Zoo, passing away at age 47 from a heart attack in 1998 while being transferred to the Walt Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
Sadly, Terry Hall passed away in 2007, while Gayla became a teacher and then run her own advertising firm. Now aged 70 she has retired from public life. The whereabouts of Lenny the Lion is unknown, although rumours that he had to enter a drug rehabilitation clinic recently can probably be discounted. 

Now off you go to the 'I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas' web site. The Blagg Advent Calendar: the gift that just keeps on giving.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Merry Christmas.... take this bloody hat away 'for I rip yer arm off!

Day 12 - "Christmas" - Blues Traveler

I want to buy into the benevolent / And I was hoping for a miracle to hold me, wash me / Make me know what it's about

A more cynical look at the season from Blues Traveler, a band who formed in 1987 in Princeton, New Jersey and have released eleven albums, apparently, three of which have gone Gold in the US.

Save me from my righteous doubt as I watch helpless / And everybody sings / If it's Chanukah or Kwanza / Solstice, harvest or December twenty-fifth / Peace on earth to everyone / And abundance to everyone you're with

Meanwhile, my spell checker is still searching for the missing L in Traveller

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Day 11 - "Who Took The Merry Out Of Christmas" - The Staple Singers

Well, I sure hope it's no-one on this blog anyway!

Here's 'Pop' Staples with his children Cleotha, Pervis, Yvonne and Mavis on a Gospel tinged R 'n' B number. "Too busy having fun / Drinking with everyone / Showing no respect for Mary's baby son"  Ain't that the truth, brother!

Sadly, Cleotha passed away earlier this year but Mavis continues to lend her vocal weight to numerous projects and long may that continue.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Day 10 - "Christmas (Comes But Once A Year)" - Amos Milburn

Vinyl junkies will understand it's pretty unusual to have a 'B' side with a different artist from that of the 'A' side but that's what happened with this King Records 45rpm where Charles Brown's classic 'Please Come Home For Christmas' - which featured on the Calendar a few years back (you search for it, huh?) - was coupled with this bell and bass driven cracker from Amos Milburn.
Check out the boogie-woogie piano and chunky ska-sounding guitar and spare a thought for Amos who had something of decent career in pre-Rock 'n' Roll R 'n' B / Jazz but who was left behind once Presley started shaking his hips and curling his lip.
The irony is, of course, that Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino and Little Richard would have all been influenced by Milburn, it's certain they would have heard of him, Amos having a huge string of R 'n' B chart hits leading up to the mid-50's. There was even an attempt to revive the man's fortunes in the early '60's when he cut an album with a fledgling record label from out of Detroit called Tamla Motown but, sadly, it didn't quite make it.
Enjoy it now though 'cos once the Government realises that Christmas comes once a year they are gonna tax the hell out of it.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Day 9 - "Wonderful Christmastime" - The Shins

...And speaking of Lord Macca of Scouse...
No one bends to the genius of Paul McCartney more than me and I think it's a shame, and also rather odd, that some moderno arrivista notion seems to dictate that a cultural icon needs to be hung out to dry for mistakes - even if there are a good many of them - in a career spanning the best part of half a century. "You like McCartney?" they sneer "What about Mull of Kintyre?"
What about it indeed? Up there on a list of one of my worst ever songs - in fact, there are whole swathes of McCartney's '70's output that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy but I'd forgive him anything for a 'Penny Lane', 'Hey Jude' or a 'Let It Be'. Even 'Wonderful Christmastime'!
But time does odd things occasionally, and this 1979 Top Ten McCartney hit with Wings - voted 'Worst Christmas Song of All Time' in an online poll in 2006 and generally regarded as one of the lovable Mop Tops poorest compositions - suddenly finds some hidden substance once the Albuquerque based Indie popsters The Shins get hold of it. Given the full 'Pet Sounds' treatment, in a lovingly re-crafted way, this is really enjoyable.
So good, in fact, I think I'll revisit the original again....Nah! Only joking!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Day 8 - "What Child Is This" - The Fab Four

"Hey Up!" It's 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', it's's the 1865 Carol written by William Chatterton Dix and set to the tune of the traditional English song Greensleeves. But how can that be? The Clapton guitar solo seems to be there, the cries on the fade out, Harrison's voice - but that's the beauty of California-based Beatles tribute band The Fab Four; it is sometimes difficult to know what you are listening too. Regulars will know I think it is touched with genius and if, as rumours currently have it, Sir Macca himself hired them to play for his wife at her birthday party recently, then they really do have a seal of approval. Don't fail to hear it.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Day 7 - "Rocket Ship Santa" - The Bellrays

At 1' 52" this energetic piece of Rock 'n' Roll from U.S. garage rock combo The Bellrays says what it's gotta say and then gets outta there. Nice picture on the video too.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Day 6 - "Someday At Christmas" - Stevie Wonder

Normally I prefer an up-tempo track for a Friday in Advent as it helps to put everyone in an office party mood, but the sad news from South Africa made me think this would be more appropriate


Thursday, 5 December 2013

Day 5 - "Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come To The Ghetto)" - Carlene Davis and Trinity

Carlene Davis is a reggae / gospel singer who carved herself a chart career in Jamaica (via England and Canada) before returning to her gospel roots and the church, following her recovery from breast cancer in 1996.
The version of this superb slice of reggae posted here is significantly different from the version I'm playing as you're reading this though. In the full version lasting nearly eight minutes, there's an excellent dub rap from, presumably, the Trinity mentioned on the label. However, I can't find the full version and although a few YouTube links claim to be it, they are not. There's an obvious ending to the Davis vocal on the extended version though making me wonder if this has been spliced together somewhere. Still the four minutes odd of this is certainly worth checking out.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Day 4 - "I Wish It Was Christmas Today" - Julian Casablancas

Well, if December goes as fast as the rest of 2013, you won't have long to wait Julian, old fruit. Strokes frontman Casablancas on a storming track that tears along and wouldn't sound out of place on any of his band's albums. Let's Pogo!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Day 3 - "Christmas Time's A-Coming" - Jerry Reed

Jerry Reed was a Country music singer, guitarist and songwriter who is probably better known in the UK for his appearances as Cledus Snow alongside Burt Reynolds in the three 'Smokey & The Bandit' films. This is a joyous fiddle-led banjo pickin' slice of Cajun that will surely elicit a 'Yee-Har' in the stoniest of hearts.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Day 2 - "It's Clichéd To Be Cynical At Christmas" - Half Man Half Biscuit

Great song, glorious video and a touching tribute to the season that you might not have expected from the acerbic pen of Nigel Blackwell.  Not to be missed!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Day 1: "Children, Go Where I Send thee" - Nick Lowe

"...And we're off..."

Regular Calendar fans - incredibly there are some who regard themselves as such - will know that there are a couple of bizarre self-imposed rules that apply on this annual selection.

One is that Sunday's should always be a Christmas Carol while two - a nod to those who incorrectly think it's 'too early for Christmas songs'  - is that the first day is usually a tune that is more 'seasonal' than outright Christmas.

Being as Day 1 falls on a Sunday this year, that could have posed a problem but for the welcome help from dear old Nick Lowe who has released his first ever seasonal selection this year. Entitled "Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection For All The Family" it is, to quote the man himself, ' a twinkling blend of traditional hymns, forgotten gems and originals' and, as you'd expect from one of the UK's best songwriter's, it's going to be something of a Christmas classic.

The opening track is a thumping, rockabilly version of the old Gospel hymn / carol  'Children, Go Where I Send Thee', and apart from being a glorious introduction to the 2013 Blagg blog it also gives listeners a chance to visit the Nick Lowe website where there is an Advent Calendar that you can open each day with a Spotify link to the whole album meaning you can hear the whole thing now.

If this doesn't get you into the festive mood then perhaps December isn't really for you.

Catch it all here: Nick Lowe website 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

No Virginia, there is no Santa Claus

It was Christmas Eve, a fine crisp night, and I had just poured myself a large brandy, stoked the fire and settled into the leather chair with my copy of Dickens 'Christmas Carol', when Virginia, my eight year old daughter, opened the door into my study.
"Daddy", she said, rubbing her eyes with one hand while fiercely clutching a teddy bear with the other, "Will Santa still come tonight?". Pausing to place the drink on the leather topped bureau, I held my arms open to her and then placed her on my knee and looked into her little blue eyes. I am not an unsentimental man, though some claim that I do not suffer fools gladly, but I had always resolved to be forthright and truthful with my offspring and answer all questions in the only way I knew how. The Scientist and philosopher in me demanded nothing else. So it was not without a heavy heart that I adjusted my pince-nez and held my darling daughters little hand. "Now, Virginia, you must listen carefully to what I have to say. There are several points you must heed, for me to answer that question....." 
"Point 1, my sweet. No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not completely rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen."
Wot Santa?"Secondly, there are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. But since Santa doesn't appear to handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that at least reduces the workload to 15% of the total - 378 million according to the Population Reference Bureau. At an average rate of 3.5 children per household, that's 91.8 million homes. One presumes there's at least one good child in each" (although readers with children may feel that this stretching the figures somewhat!)
"Point 3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, so, to avoid argument, assuming that he travels from east to west, this works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill up the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about 78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding and chatting to the reindeer. This means that Santa's sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a lowly 27.4 miles per second - a conventional reindeer can run at approximately 15mph."
"The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting point, my darling. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized lego set, about 2 pounds in weight, the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that 'flying reindeer' (see point 1) could pull ten times the normal amount, this amount of reindeer cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer This increases the payload - not even counting the weight of the sleigh - to 353,430 tons."
"Finally, my angel. 353,000 tons travelling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance - this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecraft re-entering the earth's atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy per second each. In short they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer team will be vaporised within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force."
My sweetest treasure looked at me with a glisten in her eye. "Oh Daddy, you mean.....?" "Yes, my darling", I replied grimly "If Santa ever did exist he must certainly be dead now!"
Well, I won't pretend that Christmas Day went well. Virginia did not seem her usual joyful self and I did not relish the sight of next door's cat eating my Christmas dinner. The throbbing from the swelling on my head where my wife broke the bottle of vintage claret subsided somewhat with the alternate distraction of seeing my favourite pipe being chewed by the dog.
Nevertheless, I feel the clarity of science will serve my daughter well in her future years - although I may need to obtain a court order to enable me to see it. However, one thing I can say for certain, I will not forget the Christmas Eve when I said "No, Virginia, there is no Santa Claus".