Folk music blog. News from the folk music world plus occasional updates and musings on what's happening "backstage" at FolkCast - the UK's premier folk music Podcast with thousands of listeners all over the world. FolkCast - Our Finger In Your Ear! Find FolkCast at www.folkcast.co.uk - email us via http://bit.ly/mCcMNz
As FolkCast followers will know, every year we put together a collection of seasonal music - the Festive Selection Box - full of songs and tunes about winter, Christmas, Yule and all that kind of stuff. Now, there's plenty of folk and acoustic music around to do with Christmas, but perhaps surprisingly there's not that much that is a) different and b) available to podcast, so we widen our net a little and take in other kinds of music at this time of year, from swing to showtunes, rock to rockabilly.
And that's fine because, with a few exceptions (see below), a good Christmas song can be in any style. But, equally, it's very easy for any musician to make a really bad Christmas song in any genre. Over the years I've heard a lot of attempts at festive music, many of which have been ghastly. Here's my guide to writing the perfect Christmas song.
1) Do NOT start with the lyric "It's Christmas time...". We know it's Christmas time - that's why we've chosen to play Christmas music! We aren't stupid. Only if you're singing directly to Santa, and imagine that for some reason his alarm clock has failed to function, should you even contemplate directly pointing out the time of year.
2) Do NOT by cynical. Christmas is no time for musical moaning. Look, we know it's all too commercial, too cheesy, too impersonal, too corporate, but these observations are neither interesting or original. Charles Dickens complained about those very same things, even as he was helping to imagineer the very concept of what we now regard as the traditional Christmas.
3) DO Consider the true meaning of Christmas. The birth of Jesus? No, sorry, I'm talking about the original meaning of the larger, secular festival that is now called "Christmas", not the Christian festival which attempted (and, for many centuries, largely succeeded) to take it over. The original meaning of the festival was to have some fun at the darkest, coldest time of the year, preferably with your loved ones or, failing that, with your family. It's about food and drink and light and love.
4) DO avoid weather cliches. If you're going to write about snow, you'd better have something original to say or the ghost of Irving Berlin will come to haunt you.
5) Do NOT jingle unnecessarily. Sleigh bells can make almost any song sound a little bit festive - even Black Sabbath's Paranoid sounds quite cheerful with a bell solo - but just because you can jingle all the way, that doesn't mean you have to. Think smarter. Use a gong instead.
6) DO be chilly. For reasons explained in point 3, songs about Christmas in a hot country do not (usually) work. Christmas is about many things to many people, but if to you it's about having a beach barbecue under a scorching blue sky then the rest of the world doesn't want to hear about it. You're just messing with nature.
7) Do NOT record the school choir. There are those who say "Christmas is for children". They may be right (they aren't) or they may be wrong (they're wrong) but a backing track of small children singing along to your song will kill it deader than putting a puppy in a parcel on Christmas Eve and forgetting to unwrap it until New Year. Kiddy crooning is more corrosive to tooth enamel than caramel popcorn washed down by full fat cola. Even kids hate it, and they don't even have any taste.
8) DO be respectful. Sexy Christmas songs are good (Baby It's Cold Outside, for instance) and songs about Santa are good - but sexy songs about Santa are a No No No! And yes, rappers, I'm talking to you. We know what you mean by "Ho" ... and it's not even a little bit funny. Well, OK, just a little bit.
9) Do NOT be miserable. There are already enough songs about Christmas spent in the trenches of World War I. And unless you're actually raising millions for people starving of Africa, don't think you have the right to write about people starving in Africa. Don't use your song to lump your guilt on to the listener. Christmas is about hope, not blame.
10) Do NOT bother trying to write a Christmas song in the following styles: death metal, drum and bass, breakbeat, industrial, light opera, punk, post-punk, nu post-punk, the new wave of nu post-punk, rumba. No amount of jingling bells, snow references or even children's choirs will make it sound any more festive than any other song in those genres.
Remember, you can download hours of carefully selected festive music from FolkCast. Some of it may even stick to all of the above rules...
The West Country shanty singers who rocketed to fame this year are heading to Bristol next spring, to add their vast vocal strength to the revived Bristol Folk Festival, which is returning to the city after 32 years.
Offering brawn, baritones and bonhomie the 10-strong Port Isaac’s Fisherman’s Friends were the unlikely line-up behind one of the biggest music stories of 2010, when they were plucked from their Atlantic-lashed, picture postcard Cornish harbour village and netted a £1 million record deal, with a film also on the cards. (All of this followed FolkCast's own video of the group appearing on YouTube and garnering more than 114,000 views! Yes, we are taking full credit. ;-) )
Now the festival’s headliners for Saturday, April 30 - the multi award-winning Devon duo Show of Hands - have chosen the singers to be part of their “Show of Hands & Friends” evening show at Colston Hall - Fisherman’s Friends having supported them many times, including at the Royal Albert Hall in 2007 and at 2010's Trowbridge Village Pump Festival.
The Fisherman's Friends are brothers John, Julian and Jeremy Brown, Trevor Grills, John Lethbridge, Billy Hawkins, Nigel Sherratt, Peter Rowe, John McDonnell and Jon Cleave. All either fishermen, lifeboatmen or coastguards at some time, they have sung together for the past 15 years including their weekly summer outings to The Platt in their home village of Port Isaac, where fishermen still land their catch.
Their rich, rugged harmonies and resonant shanty-based repertoire has now travelled from the town where TV’s Doc Martin is filmed to a worldwide audience. Having secured the record deal with Universal, they have featured prolifically on mainstream TV and radio and at festivals including Glastonbury.
Show Of Hands will headline the middle day of the festival - acclaimed singer songwriter Steve Knightley and multi-instrumental wizard Phil Beer will be joined on the Colston stage by their regular guest, the striking double bass player and vocalist Miranda Sykes.
Show of Hands have also invited exuberant Irish traditional music band Dervish as special guests for the evening programme. The Sligo-based musicians are led by Cathy Jordan, regarded as one of the finest traditional singers in Ireland today (as well as a fine bodhran and bones player!) and the line up also includes All Ireland Champion fiddler Tom Morrow. At this year’s Shrewsbury Festival, Dervish brought the house down and Steve Knightley guested with them.
The 11-piece folk juggernaut Bellowhead have already been announced as headliners for Sunday, May 1 and top billing on the opening day goes to festival patron and former Mercury Music Prize nominee Seth Lakeman.
Pre-VAT increase Early Bird tickets for the Bristol folk bonanza are now on sale from Colston Hall box office (0117 922 3686) at the special price of £60 for the three days (concessions £50). The festival will feature a multitude of Morris dancers, mummers and maypoles, ceilidhs, “posh loos” and indoor camping!
Following the success of the 2010 event Steve and Phil will be hosting another two day residential bash at Herstmonceux Castle, East Sussex in August 2011 (Arrive Sunday 14th - Depart Tuesday 16th) Part of the 2011 programme will include an open air concert on the Sunday afternoon, (Picnic by the Moat) at which seats will be reserved for you.
Last year's event attracted a maximum attendance of 100 and it will again be limited to this number in 2011
For further information and booking forms please contact Bob Perry at Herstmonceux Castle, Hailsham, East Sussex BN27 1RN. Tel: 01323 834479. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Built during the reign of King Henry VI in the mid 15th century Herstmonceux Castle embodies the history of Medieval England and the romance of Renaissance Europe
Show of Hands’ frontman Steve Knightley is to record his debut live solo album this week - on Thursday, December 9.
Live In Somerset will be recorded at The David Hall in the village of South Petherton – a former 19th century Congregational church where the Exeter-based singer songwriter performed a sell-out solo show in May.
Says Steve: “The David Hall is the perfect acoustic space in which to capture the live sound needed for an album with audience participation. It should be a great evening.”
A mix of Knightley originals and his unique take on some traditional folk songs will form the mix of material to be recorded in front of a capacity audience, all tickets having been sold some months ago.
Says Pete Wheeler of Petherton Arts Trust: “What a tremendous coup for the Hall! We always look forward to Steve’s performances and for him to choose to record his debut live album in our company is a great compliment.”
Knightley writes most of the material for Show Of Hands, including classics like Country Life and Roots. A skilled musician, he also plays numerous instruments from guitar to mandocello and South American cuatro.
Live In Somerset, due to be released in February, follows on from his solo album Cruel River (2007) and Track of Words Retraced (2009) which revisited his first solo album of a decade earlier.
Steve, whose “Songbook 4” was recently published, will take to the road on a 26-date solo tour early in 2011, starting in Rugby on January 27 and ending in his home town of Exeter on February 27. His special guest will be fellow Devon musician Jim Causley, the rich-voiced former frontman of Mawkin:Causley.
A review by Graham Somers, who attended the Great British Folk Festival, which was staged at Butlins in Skegness, Lincolnshire, on the weekend of December 3/4/5 2010.
"Just back from the 'Great British Folk Festival' at Butlins and I have to report that it was not an unpleasant experience, and go so far as to say we might be tempted to the re-run next year.
We foolishly visited Tripadvisor beforehand and were horrified by some of the reviews.......but the accommodation was excellent, clean, modern, well fitted, big flatscreen in the living room.
The festival itself ran like clockwork, nearly every act started and finished on time. There was a shortage of chairs one night , but rectified the following day.
Bit of strange environment, if you are used to the usual field and single stage. Two enormous halls, with concurrent running in the evening, so you had to choose between acts. Three in one 'arena' in the afternoon, then another three in each of the two rooms in the evening.
Even the 'musak' in the pubs and toilets etc was folk themed. The between-act music was also a good eclectic selection of good stuff from the standard traddy folk, folk rock, west coast, Neil Young, etc etc, even heard a bit of Family at one point.
As for the live music ... some notable highlights: Oysterband and The Dylan Project as per usual, a couple of interesting unheard of ones ... Shinjig and Jiggerpipery (not difficult to guess where they're coming from musically), and an interesting singer songwriter duo, Ay Ducayne.
One or two dodgier ones, primarily Donovan (and yes I did like him the first time around) ... I was tempted to walk out after the first couple of songs, although he did improve before the break, when we moved rooms to catch the Dylans, so don't know about the second half.
Three no-shows - Stackridge, The Unthanks and Renbourne/McShee (due to weather/travel problems - ed). One of the very late replacements, Nine Below Zero, however, turned in an excellent blues set.
Phil Cool and Richard Digance were put on in the same room, one after the other, which was a bit strange, as were some of the write-ups in the programme, e.g. citing Part Of The Union as the 'Acoustic' Strawbs' high point. Also not sure why the blues-orientated Sandi Thom (photogenic as she might be) seemed to be the face of the festival. I'm not sure the orgnisers were fully in tune with the prevailing demographic.
Despite the warnings about fizzy, expensive beer there was in fact a real ale bar with a choice of three (ok, it was expensive ;-) ) - so perhaps they were a bit more in tune with the demographic, than i thought.
On the bright side, we didn't succumb to the lure of a pink curly wig, plastic Seventies fancy dress costume or spend too long in the amusements!"
Thanks Graham. Sounds like a good weekend!
Note that the GBFF is set to return in 2011. Details are here.