Wednesday, 25 December 2019

Merry Christmas Everybody (Reprise)

Thank you as ever for the support and song suggestions via email, message, pigeon or whatever. It really is appreciated.

Brexit and Deity willing, I hope to be back next year for another festive slab of fun.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Now do as the lovely lady says and get jolly...

Lady B and Santa - Covent Garden 2018

Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade / Robbie Williams & Jamie Callum / I Don't Know How But They Found Me / The Cure / Tony Christie

So, as you know - apart from last year when the Angels visited and everything was preordained - I normally don't have a clue what will be Day 25 when I start this. Things generally just seem to pan out.

This year, the not-so-big reveal came about because of a late night chat with a Canadian who said how 'envious' he was that Slade got played to death every year in the UK. Apparently, over there, it wasn't a hit, nobody knows about it and it provides not a penny to Nod and Jimmy's pension fund. This bloke loved the song and 'couldn't get enough of it at Christmas'. This staggered me and I tried to imagine what that world might be like. I couldn't manage it.

To be fair, I don't think we in the not-so-U.K. do take 'Merry Xmas Everybody' for granted. Not only has it stood the test of time well, in many ways it sounds better and smarter than it did back then. We are all surely aware that it is a fine tune, but it's astonishing how many seasonal tropes are actually missing from the song making it almost unique in its construction. There's no bells, choir, jangly noises - and that Harmonium! It's just a song about a normal working-class Christmas at a time when the country was in strife and on its knees. Fortunately now we've moved on...Oh wait!

Anyway, as the Calendar is now in its teens, it seemed only right to get a bit bolshie about things, throw a strop and put the biggest Christmas record in. Firstly, I can tell from my stats that a lot of people in other countries visit the Calendar and they might be, like Canada, oblivious to its charms and secondly, a lot of the accepted favourites have found their way in and Slade's absence is, frankly, getting a bit embarrassing. However, as a nod - see what I did there? - to the usual raison d'etre of the Calendar - for the first time I have added four other versions. I think I know which one will be clicked on the most!

And as Sir Holder of Nod proclaimed: Merry Christmas Everybody!
Accept No Substitute

Really? No, Really?

To be fair, they are from Utah and ordinarily, this might have snuck onto the Calendar anyway

I love you Robert, it was Christmas so we'll just ignore this, shall we?

That looks like a great party, Tone!

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

Day 24 - This Ain't New Jersey - Smith & Burrows

Christmas Eve: I'm in town for the duration, hanging grimly onto what little sanity I have left, so this video of the London streets seems appropriate. The song is, of course, from the wonderful 'Funny Looking Angels' album and in it our protagonists, argue, fight, drink too much, disagree and don't say the things they need too. But it's Christmas and they have each other and little else matters. Let that be the lesson.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Morris - 13/9/2000 - 10/8/2019

There's another soul absent from Blagg Acres this Christmas. 

I had to watch Morris go to sleep via Skype as I was in Madeira when he had to go. I'm good at missing the passing of those I love.

Morris had been poorly for some time with a thyroid problem. If anyone asked how the cats were Gail used to say "Oh Morris is dying"'. I used to tell her off about it. "We're all dying, he's getting old and slowing down. He's good for a while yet".

Nobody could believe he survived Gail though. I had a chat with him on the evening of her funeral "You need to hang on Morris, I can't lose you in the same year. It would destroy me". You know, I believe he understood? He lasted a full 12 months and two weeks. I sat and chatted to him before I went away "I'll only be a week, you be here next week ok?" But he gave me a look that said 'I can't.' I'm heartbroken I couldn't be there for him at the end.

Run free Morris and thank you for the good times.

Day 23 - Everything's Changed At Christmas But You - Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors

Ah, Christmas eh? Break open the Cinnamon Vodka, warm a Heston mince pie and wipe away a tear to something you'd not give house room to the rest of the year. 

This slow piano-based, heart-render is about getting old and the kids moving on, just leaving you with your memories and your loved one. If you're lucky. 

I've got a wet Snowdog serviette here if you need one. 

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Day 22 - Joy To The World - Seabird

With a number of alternative versions of popular Carols come Seabird, an Alt-Rock band from Kentucky with a nice line in tunes and a great lead vocal from Aaron Morgan. Their two EP's 'The Silent Night' - from which 'Joy' comes - and 'Over The Hills And Far Away' are both worth a listen.

Saturday, 21 December 2019

Day 21 - December Song (I Dream of Christmas) - George Michael

'Last Christmas' pre-dated my relationship with Gail by three years but she always said it reminded her of me. Was it because she 'gave me her heart'? Or was it because I initially 'gave it away'. I never liked to ask. 

Anyway, her ringtone assigned to me was Wham's opus. This would provoke cries of 'Awww' if I called her when she was out with friends during December, but it would also cause quizzical looks if I rung her during Ascot week in June or at a Barbeque on Easter Sunday. It was a year-long 'treat' for her but one, obviously, I wasn't privy too.

Then they announced the release of the film 'Last Christmas' this November and my heart initially sank. I knew I had to see it, knew I'd be an emotional wreck, knew - probably like 'Love Actually' - it would be a rollercoaster ride I'd almost certainly need to take every Christmas from now on.  Then the huge negative critical feedback began and my heart sank even further; it wasn't even any good! The tears might instead be those of anger and frustration. Even though the sublime Emma Thompson was involved, I just wished they'd left the whole thing alone. But it made no difference; I had to go. So it was with huge trepidation I visited my local World of Cine to catch the film. 

I don't want to review 'Last Christmas' here; the literal translation of the song, the 'predictable plot twist' (that I simply didn't see!) might make your heart skip in surprise or make you groan in frustration, the depiction of friendly, extremely patient London bus drivers and near-empty streets make you howl with laughter at best or shake your head ruefully at worst, but those of you who have followed this Calendar over the years will know who would have loved 'Santa's' shop and probably demanded 'I want one of those!' 

Isn't it always the way that the one bauble you really want and can't replace is the one that gets smashed?

Gail would have loved the depiction of London - we always stayed in the West End over Christmas - the lights, the sights we saw regularly. Is it 'twee, forced, precious, shocking, monumentally bad?' Probably. But as the film ended and a strange sort of excited, emotional clamour descended on the paying audience - something I've not caught in the cinema for many a long year - I felt the person sitting in the empty seat next to me turn to me and say 'I loved that'. She'd have held my arm as we left as she'd have talked excitedly about wanting to visit Santa's shop in Covent Garden and buy all those awful baubles for her kitsch Christmas tree. She'd have loved the soundtrack; she'd have cried. And that's good enough for me.

'Last Christmas' itself - dedicated to Lady B - was on the 7th Calendar in 2013 so I can't use it here but 'December Song' - which oddly didn't appear in the film at all - was a track I bought for Gail on its release in 2010; it's got a nice 1940's type feel to it and a video that strangely seems to have put something into my eye.

As for 'Last Christmas', it will be on rotation on every festive TV listing until there are no more films or TV. Love it or hate it, I can live with that.    

Friday, 20 December 2019

Salisbury Cathedral and The Christmas Prayer Tree

Salisbury Cathedral Tree 2019

Salisbury Cathedral Tree 2019

Salisbury Cathedral Font 2019

Salisbury Cathedral Christmas Prayer Tree


Day 20 - Too Right It's Christmas - Frankie & the Heartstrings ft Edwyn Collins

Raucous fun from this North-East Indie band whose sound has been likened to that of '80's post-punk maestros Orange Juice; perhaps why ex- Juicer Edwyn Collins has been invited to join in the festive jollity here.

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Day 19 - White Christmas - Bob Marley & The Wailers

I remembered the other day that it was a rule on early editions of the Calendar that every year had to have a version of White Christmas on it. I lost that somewhere along the line, but give it a return nod here with this early version from Bob and the boys. Even the Marley Encyclopedia Wiki page isn't able to tell us anything else about when this was recorded, so just crank it up and enjoy.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Day 18 - FaLaLaLaLoveYa - Nikki Lane

Apparently, Ms. Lane wants to 'wrap you up with a big red bow'. God, I used to have Christmases like that, Nikki luv.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Day 17 - Santa's Comin' Down The Chimney - Confidence Man

I often get stopped in town. "Tell me Blagg," they say "when do you start looking for these Christmas songs?" 

Well, the answer is, sadly, long before any sane man should be expected to start, but sometimes I do get some help. For example, I know when and where I was when I heard this one by Australian Indie, electro-pop outfit Confidence Man. 

It was Thursday, September 19th - a good month to six weeks before I'd normally start to think about these things; indeed it was the last day of the English Cricket season. I'd just spent the day watching the mighty Essex CCC clinch the County Championship and was celebrating in the lounge with the cats when this pinged into my inbox from my Antipodean chum Haz. 'I found this little ditty' he said and Christmas had started.

So, having waited a full three months, let's all join together now: 'Milk and Cookies by the tree / Comin' down the chim-er-ney'

Monday, 16 December 2019

Day 16 - Santa Claus Goes Straight To The Ghetto - Snoop Dogg ft Nate Dogg

Well, if it ain't those Dogg brothers (Don't write in it's just another example of my irrepressible festive humour) on a track from the 'Christmas on Death Row' album. 

It's got a killer baseline sample and a refreshing lyric with no cussin' and Ho'ing about how the Doggs discover that Santa is really their Mother. 

Nate sadly left us in March 2011 but he will always be remembered for making the magnificent 'Regulate' the tune it undoubtedly is.

RIP Albert - 18/5/1928 - 3/11/2019

My father passed away in November; quickly and relatively painlessly, I think you could claim he'd had a good innings. 

He'd managed 91 years on this planet, despite being a heavy smoker as a younger man and a pipe-smoker in his latter years, dodging V1's, V2's, TB, being on board a submarine when it was hit by a Royal Navy Destroyer, years of playing snowballs with asbestos in his days as a Marine Engineer apprentice and, of course, living with my Mother.

For five years he was actually Father Christmas at the local church; a slight - some might say skinny - one but the children in the local community seemed to like him anyway. However, this jarred with my memory of him as Santa. I recall instead one Christmas Eve when I was rudely awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of Father Christmas swearing profusely and hopping around in my bedroom as, delivering the new bike I'd asked for, Santa had then fallen over the gift in the dark as he left, stumbling onto the outstretched pedal with his knee. Still, at least I didn't find out about it from the other kids.

If he had a favourite Christmas song then he never told me and his understanding of the Internet was non-existent at best, so I'm not going to dedicate a song to him here, just post this photo of him as Santa. 

Travel well Bert.

Santa Bert

Sunday, 15 December 2019

Day 15 - God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman - Los Straitjackets

Wearing their trademark Mexican wrestler masks, from Nashville, Tennessee here are Eddie Angel, Pete Curry, Chris 'Sugarballs' Sprague and Greg Townson with a track from their 'Tis The Season For Los Straitjackets' album. It's great!

Saturday, 14 December 2019

Day 14 - Rudolph The Red Nosed Reinderr - The Cadillacs

All the way from Harlem in 1956 come The Cadillacs with their Doo-Wop version of the Children's favourite. Worth it for the sax break alone.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Day 13 - Christmas Party - Teddy Pendergrass

It's Christmas party night! There are only two things to decide; do these shoes go with this outfit and - are you ready for Teddy?

December 17th Another Year

He'd asked her to the office Christmas Party he'd organised. It was a huge step to take and he knew it was likely to end in tears either way but, as so often where she was involved, any resolve he had to do the right thing just seemed to melt away.

He rung at her at 6pm, just as he was about to leave to ensure the finishing touches were in place for the party, due to be held in the upstairs of a local West End pub. She'd only just got in from work. If she was coming it will take her an hour plus to get ready and her home was a good 90+ minutes away. She wasn't coming then. She said she was, but he knew. Fair enough, it was always too good to be true and it was probably for the best anyway.

The packed party was in full swing by 8pm; these parties were good - very good - and most agreed they were one of the highlights of the year. He'd got everything just right, everyone was saying it was the best yet, he should have been enjoying himself but his heart wasn't in it. Against his better nature, he'd already gone down to the street and looked for her as if he could conjure her out of the cold December night. He had to pull himself together.

At 9:15 - fashionably late - it happened. A perceptible change in the noise level. If it was an old-style Western, the film producer might have emphasised the moment by having the saloon bar piano player stop. But the DJ kept playing. 

Instead, the crowd parted as if pulled aside by an invisible force. In a way, it was. Years later, he wondered if his mind had played tricks and it wasn't like that. But it was. She could do that and he saw and experienced it many times after. 

Long, curly dark red hair cascading round her shoulders, bright red lips, those beautiful eyes, a stunning low cut, long black dress with a long slit revealing a gorgeous leg, long black gloves with rings over the top, a faux-fur stole and ridiculously high stiletto heels. 'Fuck me!' he heard someone say.

'Take your breath away' is usually little more than an epithet with little basis in fact. This wasn't. His stomach flipped, he caught his breath. She was the most beautiful woman he'd ever seen and ever would see. 

Without a word, she walked up to him, put her arms around his shoulders, her hand on the back of his head, leaned forward and kissed him full on the lips. 

He was lost.

He's lost still.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Day 12 - R2D2 We Wish You A Merry Christmas - R2D2, C3P0 and Chorus

Long, Long ago - well in 1978 anyway - in a galaxy far, far away - well, kinda Hollywood really - there was the release of a Star Wars Holiday Special; a show so awful, so panned by critics, deemed so excruciatingly hideous, that its very existence has become the stuff of legend. Indeed George Lucas - who loathed the whole project - seems to have enlisted the Death Star itself to ensure that no copies are available anywhere either on DVD, VHS or even for download. It has been wiped from existence just as surely as Alderaan. 

Just a year after the release of the original Star Wars, the idea of a story based around Han Solo and Chewbacca returning to Chewy's home planet to celebrate 'Life Day' might have seemed like a good idea at the time; as it was the whole thing ended up as being rated #1 in 'The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History' by writer David Hofstede in his book 'What Were They Thinking?' describing it as 'the worst two hours of television ever'.

From this calamitous show came a series of songs released on an album called 'Christmas In The Stars' sung by artists such as  Diahann Carroll, Jefferson Starship, Bea Arthur and a young singer who accompanies C3PO and R2D2 on the truly execrable  'R2D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas'. 

The Force, however, appeared to be strong in this young man as, riding Skywalker like above the detritus, the singer went on to make a bit of a name for himself.

For, Ladies and Gentleman, this is the first-ever recording by one Jon Bon Jovi. Appalled I am.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Day 11 - Get Down Santa / Funky Jesus - The Jive Turkeys

It's late-night shopping here in town so here's Cincinnati's very own Jive Turkeys with a spectacular GOFGOF (Get one free, Get one free) of their own. Get down with Santa and you get a free funky Jesus. You want it gift-wrapped too? Then check out the Colemine label's green vinyl.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Day 10 - Big Brave Bill Saves Christmas - Kate Rusby

Some people ask me if I have trouble finding these Christmas songs every year and the answer is an emphatic 'No!'. What I do find difficult though, is leaving stuff off by artists who could quite easily fill an advent calendar every year on their own. Such a person in the blessed Kate Rusby - someone I saw just this very eve in another part of town.

Kate has produced a handful of essential and wonderful Christmas albums and could quite easily get on here every year - particularly with her lovely rendition of popular Carols - as it is I've decided to go with BBB not because it's indicative of her usual output - it's not! - but purely because it's not like anything else you'll hear this year, it's got a brass band, a lovely video to accompany it and it is utterly, utterly charming. 

Monday, 9 December 2019

Day 9 - Santa Claus Want Some Lovin' - Albert King

I don't want no Turkey / Don't care about no cake / I just want you to come here Mama / 'fore the Children awake / 'Cos Santa Claus needs some lovin'

The man formerly known as Albert Nelson, latterly Blues legend King - one of the most influential guitarists of his generation - rocks up a Yuletide storm as he demands his conjugal rights. And hey! It's Christmas. Why not?

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Handbags and Gladrags

I'd intended to try and re-design the Blagg Acres Christmas Tree in a more manly, but distinctly Lady B style, this year but, sadly, the loss of my Father in early November meant I never got to the places I'd intended. 

So, running out of time, the Mrs. Claus decorations have returned for another year. Handbags, shoes and fluffy things - Mr Blagg, despite appearances, is heterosexual.

Christmas 2019 

Day 8 - While Shepherds Watched Their Flock By Night - Chas 'n' Dave

Back in the day before the beer ads, the hits, Saturday night TV and the singalong albums your Gran loved, me and my mates used to go every Friday to the Essex Arms pub in Silvertown to watch a duo called Chas 'n' Dave. Wonderfully entertaining, funny but more importantly - and people forget this - wildly rocking', we were often amazed by the number of top-notch musicians who found their way to an obscure East End boozer to play with the pair before a packed and appreciative crowd. Probably because I was young and tended to veer away once someone I liked became famous, I missed out on this album; but with an accompanying silver band, a Carol that surprisingly has not appeared on the Calendar before and the sad loss of Chas last year, I think it's time to make up for it now. 

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Day 7 - It's Beginning To Look a Lot Like Christmas - Chris Kamara

Unbelievable Jeff! 

What in the name of all that is holy is this? And why? Did Chris suggest it? Some marketing man somewhere? "You know, I've had this idea. You what Christmas needs, don't you? That ex-footballer famous for his commentaries, he can put out an album of Christmas standards. Can he sing? Does it matter?"

Or perhaps it's just me. You see, I've a jaundiced eye on this one; I've never forgiven Kamara for the tackle that broke West Ham legend Frank MacAvennie 's leg.

Anyway, for anyone wandering onto this thread who knows nothing about the moment that made Sky pundit Kamara a media superstar - and apparently the man himself was once held at a U.S. airport because a Customs Officer recognised him from the Sky Sports moment that went viral - here's that clip. To be fair, it is endlessly amusing.

And then, if you've had enough eggnog to brave it, here's Chris making a bid for the music to accompany your Christmas dinner.


Friday, 6 December 2019

Day 6 - A Funky Xmas To You - J.Hines & The Boys

"A big black Santa Claus with a funk sack on his back?" It must be the first Friday party night of Advent. Let's go!

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Merry Kitschmas

After a year's hiatus - and not for the reason you might expect; last year I was waiting for a bed delivery until the 23rd and I was sleeping in the middle room where the art installation normally goes - Lady Blagg's kitsch Christmas Tree of Desire has returned to its place in the hearts of the nation. 

I won't add to it - I could never reach those giddy heights of kitsch - but I'll take nothing away bar, I'm afraid, the three sets of pink stiletto shoe lights. Much as I like them Greta Thunberg has been in touch to complain about the number of AA batteries they get through every year so, until I track down a plug-in set, the ever-changing coloured ones will have to do. 

For anyone not up to speed on the original construction of this monument to bad taste then please visit the 8th Calendar here where a bauble was posted every day alongside the songs. Several have been added in subsequent years - all posted in the Calendar - making a sumptuous whole that delights and strikes fear in equal measure.

Merry Kitschmas everybody!

Day 5 - Maizie - Red Plastic Bag

The wonderfully named Red Plastic Bag is actually the equally wonderfully monikered Stedson Wiltshire; the foremost composer of calypso in Barbados. In this Bajan Christmas staple, RPB returns home on Christmas night to find his girl with another man, who she tries to pass off as Santa Claus. I bet a lot of you ladies have managed that one in the past. 

OK now pass the rum and flying fish and let's get this party started! 


Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Day 4 - Merry Christmas Baby - Stevie Wonder & Wyclef Jean

Well, here's someone I saw in Hyde Park in the summer, joining the Calendar with a rendition of the R 'n' B classic originally recorded in 1947 by Johnny Moore.  

Pretty much everyone has had a go at this Christmas staple in the past, with Otis Redding's version probably being the stand-out, but Stevie and Wyclef will surely set your toes a-tapping as they seem to have done to the gathered dignitaries in this live version recorded in the White House - yes THE White House - in 2000. 

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

Day 3 - One Parent Christmas - Saffire The Uppity Blues Women

A slow, blues-tinged, piano-driven ode from this three-women, Washington-based ensemble telling of the difficulties of bringing up a child alone with no money. Thank goodness we don't see such poverty and misery in the UK in 2019.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Day 2 - Here Comes Santa Claus - Bob B. Soxx & The Blue Jeans

Bob B. Soxx was the pseudonym of Bobby Sheen and together with the Blue Jeans -  Darlene Love and Fanita James - they cut this Christmas classic in 1963 as part of Phil Spector's 'A Christmas Gift For You' album. 

Back when this calendar was in its infancy, this might have been considered a bit mainstream but radio airing of Spector's album has dropped off a lot since the producer's incarceration for the murder of actress Lana Clarkson who was found dead from a bullet wound in Spector's home in 2003. After two trials, Spector was found guilty of second-degree murder in 2009 and is serving a 19 years to life sentence, but will be eligible for parole in 2025.

This and the other Sox track on the album 'The Bells of St Mary' are effectively Sheen's total career in music.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Day 1 - In The Bleak Midwinter - Bombay Bicycle Club

Calendar regulars - and there does seem to be an ever-growing number of them - will know I always try to ease everyone in on the first day with a seasonal song, rather than an outright Christmas tune, as there are so many people out there for whom 'it's all too early'. 

The trouble this year is the first day of Advent is a Sunday and - another stupid self-imposed rule - Sundays on the calendar have to feature a carol. 

So from Radio 1's Live Lounge here are Crouch End's very own indie favourites with a lovely take on a traditional tune. 

While this is playing get that loft ladder out and get the Santa hat down.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Another Bloomin' Christmas

December 2019

I've always loved Christmas. Obviously, as a child, it was always magical but I never saw why getting older should stand in the way of that magic so I tried to carry it with me through life. I was always the one seemingly organising the work Christmas party; always trying to keep things seasonal in the workplace, ever the one looking for festive things to arrange at home and, of course, insisting on the songs being played in the car. I've always encouraged my kids to enjoy the festive season to the maximum and always tried to make it important in my relationships.  

It was certainly important to me and Lady Blagg; we first got together in the season and we celebrated it like mad from mid-November on. Almost from the point, I lost her in July of last year, my thoughts turned to Christmas and what I would or could do to get through the season. To say I knew it would be hard is an understatement; I did seriously wonder if I could see it through at all. 

But, by the time December came around, I realised I couldn't do anything bar what I did normally. The West End hotel I'd booked as a surprise six months before she passed away still needed me to stay in it, albeit alone, the Christmas tree she decorated so fastidiously - I wasn't allowed near it except with explicit instructions! - still needed to be bought and put up and 'her decorations' put on it (even though it was only seen by myself and four cats) and the outside lights that she told me every year looked 'gopping' (She was from the North-East) still had to go up. As I mentioned at the time, if I didn't put them up - and driving myself outside to complete the task took reserves of resolve I never knew I had - then I'd just hear her say "Oh so you wait till I pass and then decide not to put those fecking horrible things up do you?' (As I said, she was a Geordie, so swearing became like poetry). I did everything as if she was here to see it and take part in it. I managed. Just.

And now I face my second Christmas without the Love of my Life. I lost my father in early November too so my Mother is facing what I went through last year, although much later in life. It will be harder for her to get out and do what I did last year so my heart goes out to her, but I'm still in post-Gail land. It's not become easier - in fact, in many ways I've found the second year harder - but, as I did last year, I'll do my Christmas-y things and hope to find some festive cheer. I'll pay tribute to those lost through the calendar this year but hope the song selection - and it's still being rummaged through as I speak! - will bring joy and light with just a hint of romanticism and some of the Yuletide ennui we all know and (most of us) love.

Be merry and bright! 

Blagg Acres Decorations

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Christmas 2019

Now in its teens and with hormones raging, let's see how the Calendar copes in its 13th year.