Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas Everybody!

..And that is pretty much it. Your Christmas starts as mine ends. I'll update the blog periodically over the next day or so with festive photos but, song wise, that's it for another year.

Many thanks to everyone who suggested songs, sent emails or contacted one way or another. It may not seem like it but I always listen to very suggestion and they all go on a list.

Deity of your choice willing, It will all kick off again for the 10th time next December.

In the meantime Merry Christmas and a very happy 2016 to everyone - even the miserable gits - and have fun. 

Buzz says Merry Christmas

Day 25 - Our First Christmas - Alexander O'Neal

As I like to remind everyone every year; the Calendar isn't a 'Best of' or a 'Countdown' and track 25 may just be selected on the day out of a handful of songs. Sometimes something nudges the final track in a particular direction though and this year it was a fantastic coincidence. 

Alexander O'Neal's Christmas offering from 1988's 'My Gift to You' album was always one of the tracks I had on a list and I was on YouTube a couple of days ago looking for the best download and I found that a good Internet friend Vinny - a fellow West Ham blogger who has helped me out at times on ESPN and who'd I'd emailed just a week ago - had actually put this up in 2007. He'd never mentioned it and I never knew.

Even better, further investigation revealed Vinny used to run a web site and My Space page for O'Neal. The chances of this are wonderfully remote, it confirmed 'Our First Christmas' as this year's Christmas Day track and you can find Vinny's download here Vinny's YouTube Download .

Although ultimately, just to spoil the story a little bit, I decided to go for a version that just showed the vinyl going round on it, that was eventually pulled by YouTube in one of their odd purges so I'm proud to present Vinny's download here.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Day 24 - All I Ever Get for Christmas is Blue - Over The Rhine

It sometimes feels as if I worked alongside Charles Babbage on his Analytical Engine and I’ve convinced myself I did some coding alongside Alan Turing; I certainly played some games on Prestel – the forerunner of the World Wide Web - and I once won the League for West Ham on a Sinclair ZX Spectrum; so it shouldn’t come as any great surprise when I get a message via the Internet - but the fact is it occasionally does.

When an email arrives from Calgary, Canada some 4300 miles away – sent by someone you don’t know and are never likely to meet - telling you how much he enjoys your half-baked attempt to post a Christmas song every day over Advent, you can feel kinda humbled. Either that or your head turns around and smoke comes out of your ears like a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

I got such an email early in November pointing me to this husband and wife duo who I might otherwise have never known about. Over the Rhine seem ideally suited for Christmas Eve; Slow, sultry, smoky with dangerously romantic overtones, you don’t so much listen to this as sink into it like a 15 tog duvet.

Strings of lights above the bed / Curtains drawn and a glass of red / All I ever get for Christmas is blue / Saxophone on the radio / Recorded forty years ago / All I ever get for Christmas is blue

With this in mind - whether you go out or stay in this most wonderful of nights – make sure you enjoy whatever it is you do with whoever you chose to be with. It’s Christmas, you're alive and the other options aren't anywhere near as good.  

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Day 23 - Hey Santa Claus - The Moonglows

From far back in the mists of time - 1953 (Gulp!) actually - comes this festive slab of Doo-Wop with a searing sax line and a wonderful vocal. For hep cats everywhere.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Arabella Dorman 'Flight'

Arabella Dorman’s artwork 'Flight' was hanging in St James's Church Piccadilly for yesterday evening's ever wonderful 'Carols for Shopper's' concert. 62 people arrived in Lesbos in this dinghy designed for 15. My beliefs are secular but the comparisons between the story being told in the service and the major news of 2015 were undeniably poignant.

Read the full story here: Arabella Dorman 'Flight'

In answer to Jonathan Jones' points from the Guardian link, surely Art makes you ask questions. The answer's you provide are up to you.


Day 22 - Christmas in the Air (Tonight) - Scouting for Girls

It might just be me but it was the annual Christmas Carol for Shoppers concert at St James's in Piccadilly tonight, 'Love Actually' is on the TV, the Heston mince pies are out, I'm in a most almighty Christmas groove and there's a festive something in the air; Scouting for Girls seem to have captured the mood perfectly.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Day 21 - Dear Santa (Bring Me a Man This Christmas) - The Weather Girls

Did you ever think "You know that Weather Girls 'It's Raining Men' song - well, I'd really like to hear that but with a Christmas theme?" Well, think no longer - here it is! 

From 1983 - what the hell were we all on? - come Izora Armstead and Martha Walsh with that shouty disco thing for which they became briefly famous. Worth visiting for the slightly surreal video.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Day 20 - Joy to the World - Aretha Franklin

'Joy to the World' is an English hymn by  Isaac Watts, based on the second half of Psalm 98 and first published in 1719; Aretha Franklin is the Queen of Soul and could pretty much sing the Highway Code and make it sound good. The result is incendiary. A fast Gospel tinged tour-de-force to make your hair stand on end.

There's a live version available from a Rockefeller Centre concert but Aretha seems to be lip-syncing through it so I prefer the recorded version here. Either are worth checking out regardless.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Day 19 - How to Make Gray - Paul Kelly

In my nine years of doing these Calendars I doubt there's been a single year where someone hasn't suggested this track, many citing it as their favourite Christmas song and most wiping away a tear along the way.

It tells the story of Joe, ringing his brother Dan from prison to tell him how sorry he is he won't be there for the festive season. Joe reminisces as he wishes the family well, advises his brother on how to make the gravy for which the incarcerated man is renowned and, as an aside, asks Dan not to get off with his wife when he's dancing to Junior Murvin.

But you know what? Try as I might, I just don't get it. Is it an Antipodean thing?  I can be as lachrymose as the next big blubbering baby at Christmas but this goes right over my 6ft and rising head.

Still, if this Calendar does nothing it at least throws the net wide so this is for everyone who loves it and Merry Christmas to ya too.

Friday, 18 December 2015

Day 18 - The Man With The Bag - Jessie J

It's the second party Friday of the Calendar and what better way to kick start it all than with this blinding cover of Kay Starr's '50's hit. 
Kay Starr

UK based listeners will have heard this a lot this year as it's been the soundtrack to the Boots the Chemist advertisement on TV but that doesn't diminish the joy a bit.

Original singer Kay is now a sprightly 93 - good on her! Treat yourself and check her version out too.

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Day 17 - Christmas in Vietnam - Johnny and Jon

Again? Well, following on from two songs on the Calendar with the same name - Day 13 Year 4 by Charles Bowen and Day 22 Year 8 by the Soul Searchers - we have another sad, slow deep soul thang. 

Johnny and Jon were John Wilson and John Wessler and this appears to be their only ever track, released in 1966 on Jewel Records at the height of the war. 

Lyrics are what you might expect - 'I'm in a foxhole, baby' - but it shouldn't hide the fact that this is a moving bit of '60's soul and the situation these two find themselves in is still being played out by men and women all over the world this Christmas.

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Day 16 - Santa Claus is Coming to Town - Joseph Spence

Sandy Gall is coming to town? Really?

Sandy Gall
A brief bit of explanation is called for here, I think: Joseph Spence was born in Andros in the Bahamas in 1910 and earned the name 'Folk's Thelonious Monk' for the unique way he sang utilizing a series of grunts and hums. As a guitarist he is said to have influenced the likes of Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and John Renbourn.

Never really widely known beyond the Bahamas and small parts of the U.S. Spence's style is a little...errr... odd and challenging when first heard. There's a good chance that anyone coming to this for the first time - and let's be honest a long time after - may well wonder what the hell is going on. Certainly the words to this Christmas standard seem to have got lost in translation.

And Sandy Gall? For those outside the UK, Mr Gall was an ITN Newsreader for many years.

Rumours that Spence was working on further Christmas records to include the names of fellow news presenters Alistair Burnett, Reginald Bosanquet and Gordon Honeycombe, when he died in 1984 can probably be discounted.

Alistair Burnett 
Reginald Bosanquet
Gordon Honeycombe
This is a Christmas favourite of Lady B so this is for her.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Day 15 - Christmas Is - Run DMC

Apart from 'And on Earth Peace and Goodwill to all Men' is there a more relevant Christmas message than 'Give up the dough! Give up the dough! Give up the dough on Christmas, yo!' I think not.

Not quite as wonderful as 'Christmas in Hollis' (See Calendar 1) but still better than a lot of stuff assailing your ears this Yuletide. 

No snowflakes droppin' / Can't go shoppin' / Rhymes I'm a-poppin' / To keep the hip-hoppin'

Monday, 14 December 2015

Lady B's Kitsch Christmas 2015

Day 14 - All Alone at Christmas - Darlene Love

Ms Love was the woman who made 'Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)' the wonder that it undoubtedly was and she returned to Christmas success in 1992 with this raucous gem from the 'Home Alone 2' soundtrack. 

Blinding sax playing courtesy of the now sadly-departed Clarence Clemons and good to see Macauley Culkin looking cute again.

Annoyingly, the original video has been blocked for some obscure reasons - don't you want the world to see it FFS? - so in the interim (because these things always get reviewed) here's an audio only version, but you'll need to crank the speakers up a bit.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Day 13 - Hark the Herald Angels Sing - Frank Sinatra

It's the Sunday Carol and they don't come much better than this.

Sinatra sings like he has  a whisky in one hand, a cigarette in the other and some dame back in his dressing room; but he still manages to saturate every note with pathos and meaning, like he's pouring his heart and soul into every word of a  Carol that always seems to tug at the heart strings.

Criticising the annual jamboree that is the X Factor is really just shooting fish in a barrel and unfair on a format that represents little more than a Saturday evening  entertainment show. After all, the thing has thrown up some singers and performers with a good voice and a bit of flair, but the worst that can really be leveled at it is that the name is a terrible misnomer. Has there ever been any one performer who really has the 'X Factor'?

When you listen to Sinatra you get the real deal; spine-tingling, classy and effortlessly cool. 

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Day 12 - Christmas is Cancelled - The Long Blondes

A Christmas shopping day for many, so here's the Calendar's very own two for the price of one. 

Back in 2008, Sheffield's Long Blondes delivered a Christmas Song via Elvis Costello's 'Oliver's Army' - unintentionally or not I can't tell - regaling the tragic tale of the Significant Other who left one Boxing Day to move in elsewhere only to return a year later and expect to pick things up where they left off.

The last thing I expected / Was to come and find you knocking at my door / Waiting for a treat in Christmas stockings ( how shocking) / Don't take you jacket off this is not you home / Just raise you glass to two more people spending Christmas day alone

Then in 2011, Northern Ireland's Synth pop duo The Vichy Government produced their own version of 'Christmas is Cancelled' embracing the fact that the tune really belongs to Mr Macmanus - even quoting the 'I would rather be anywhere else' from 'Oliver's Army' at one point - but adding their own stamp on the proceedings in a dystopian finale in which everyone suffers.

Track down that version here: 

Friday, 11 December 2015

Day 11 - Ho! Ho! Ho! (Who'd be a Turkey at Christmas) - Elton John

Of course, 'Step Into Christmas' - covered elsewhere on the Calendar by The Wedding Present - but this is what was on the 'B' side of Elt's 1973 Christmas song and I guarantee that many won't have heard it at all and the former Mr Dwight has probably never played it beyond that one recording session. 

I must admit I've a bit of a soft spot for it though and it was a big hit in Blagg Acres back in the day when a young Blagg quite excited when I slipped it onto the juke box.

As you take a listen and see if you can spot the Watford reference, you'll be astonished to learn this and the A side only reached 24 in the UK charts. I suspect Elton's made his money back on it since  though.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Day 10 - Can't Wait For Christmas - Loose Tapestries

Serge Pizzorno from Kasabian - blissfully unaware that he sat opposite me in a restaurant in Speightstown, Barbados last year - joins Noel Fielding on a Christmas song that features a rap from Idris Elba. No, I've not been on the Cinnamon and Vanilla J├Ągermeister again. It's actually here and it's just as surreal as you'd expect. 

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Day 8 - Cold, Cold Feet - Sofia Talvik

Sophia Talvik is a Swedish Singer / Songwriter who pens songs in the Americana style and she has been hanging around the periphery of the calendar for a number of years. The reason? Well, ideally for us, Ms Talvik releases a free Christmas song for download every year.

I’ll be honest I find these are of varying quality and talk of Sofia as a new Joni Mitchell taking on themes of the everyman like Bruce Springsteen seem a little steep to me, but some will undoubtedly be charmed by the folky quirkiness of the songs and we all know what the Swedes are like for a pop tune.

As the calendar often picks up older songs it seemed sensible to use this year’s Christmas download ‘Cold, Cold Feet’ as an example of Talvik’s oeuvre but ‘Christmas’, ‘A Carol for the Lonely’, ‘One Last Wish for Christmas’ and ‘A Berlin Christmas Tale’ – among several others – can be visited on YouTube or from her website at and are worth checking out.

Better still, you can visit next year and next… See? The Blagg Calendar; the gift that keeps on giving.

Update: Keeps giving indeed! After posting the link to this song on FaceBook, the fragrant Ms Talvik contacted me to thank me for promoting her songs. Bless! 

At the time of writing I have heard nothing from either Elvis or Sinatra...

Monday, 7 December 2015

Day 7 - Christmas is for Mugs - Graham Parker

Graham is having trouble with sex toys that have no batteries, trees that shed their needles too early and cheap tat from Petticoat Lane that falls apart before you get home - and haven't we all been there? - on this anger strewn singalong anthem.

Pull that festive ale out and get singing.

Everybody's talkin' about / the kisses and the hugs / and all the little heartstrings that the festive season tugs / but all I see are lager louts / shoplifters and thugs / so fill mine up, 'cause Christmas is for mugs.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Day 6 - The Holly and the Ivy - Los Campesinos!

Regulars will know the self-imposed rule that dictates that Sunday's on the calendar need to be Christmas Carols and the first offering this season comes from the Welsh Indie outfit's 'A Los_Campesinos! Christmas' EP that came out in 2014.

At five minutes this unique version of a song variously described as 'icicle folk' and 'so beautiful as to be unseemly' won't be for everybody but nobody can complain the result isn't at least Christmasy.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Day 5 - Ding Dong Bell - The Ethiopians

From the men who bought you 'Train to Skaville' comes this 1968 'B side' - ask your parents to explain! - and there's even an opportunity to watch the Crab label serenely as you take in this slab of festive ska.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Day 4 - Christmas Present Blues - Jimmy Reed

Highly influential Bluesman Jimmy Reed on a  less blues-y more funky ode to the season. 

He's a-climbing up her chimney and is going to leave some presents - hopefully not a euphemism in the vein of Clarence Carter (Calendar 1 Day 1) but, with these legends, who can tell?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Day 3 - Feliz Navidad- El Vez

Mexican Robert Lopez - as he is known to his mother - cuts loose on Jose Feliciano's hoary old 1970 song combining it with PIL's 'Public Image' to surprisingly good effect.

If you want to see El performing the song in a PVC Santa suit then look no further: 

For those with more eclectic tastes then there are some YouTube video's where he takes his top off too. I'll let you search for them. 

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Day 2 - Christmas Day - MxPx

This would have found its way onto the calendar years ago but for a bit of misdirection on an old cassette tape - there's a reference for the kids! - which led me to think this was a Green Day track. 

After fruitless seasons of unsuccessful hunting for the non-existent Green Day song, I eventually chanced upon the real offenders - MxPx - a Washington based band who released this track on 2009's Punk Rawk Christmas album.

This excellent seasonal offering drives along in the manner you'd expect from the U.S purveyors of punk but contains a touching message around the 'A Little Goes A Long Way' chorus.

The snow outside covers the ground / And as I watch it falling down / I think of her, so far away / And how much I like to be with her / On Christmas Day

Just big softies really...

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Day 1 - Winter Wonderland - Eurythmics

The traditional Calendar opener for those who feel the whole thing starts far too early - Yes, It's the Christmas song that isn't really.

With no mention of the season or the festivities at all, you could actually play this in January or February but you never would.

I was never a huge fan of the output of the combined talents of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, but you'd be hard-hearted if this doesn't get you at least considering the idea of getting out the loft ladder.

If you're still unconvinced can I suggest you pop off and watch Lennox's previous band The Tourists while you're still coming to terms with it all. It's not at all seasonal but 'The Loneliest Man In The World' is  always worth a listen.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Girl On The Train

Now, of course, it is true that I have always been fascinated by Christmas Eve. 
The mood of the season has always been entirely unique, but never more so than the evening of the great day itself. It has never failed to move me the way even the hardest heart could be reduced to a cheery greeting and a chorus or two of 'White Christmas', even if the heart had been softened with a liberal dousing of alcohol! 
I had always been intrigued by the huddled figure dashing home with bags tucked underneath the arm, those forlorn faces pressed against cold windows on the last bus, as it winds it's way through the city to some far-flung suburb. Where were those people going? What type of Christmas could they look forward to? It intrigued me. 
I had always imagined being able to transport myself so that I could experience different Christmases in every part of the world. I even thought of Christmas Day on Bondi Beach or in the African jungle, for instance - not that I wanted to try it! Oh no! England was my home and here was where I wanted to be at Christmas.
Nevertheless, for such a well seasoned voyeur such as myself it was rather odd to find myself, shortly before midnight on Christmas Eve, on the cold, misty platform of some god-forsaken British Rail outpost. It hadn't been a good year, of that I am certain, but it seemed somehow appropriate that I, a widowed man of two months and entering the 62nd year of my life, should spend his first Christmas alone at a quiet Oxfordshire hotel. Surely better to be waited upon without the worry of a well-meaning relative coming up to me and giving me that 'Hang in there, old son' look and patting me consolingly on the shoulder?. I wanted to be on my own and I didn't want the fuss of having to baste my own turkey. So what finer way for me to endure the festive season than to become one of those that I had previously watched on other, more enlightened years?
Still, Denham Green is not a station I would choose to visit on a frosty night, indeed it is not a station I would wish to grace with my presence during any rush hour. However, it seemed in keeping with the general ambiance of the year that my short stop at the welcoming 'Blue Boar' Inn should turn into a two hour delay when my car refused to start, that the breakdown service should be currently unavailable and that the local taxi cab would refuse to take me any further on my journey than the nearest railway station where, I was informed by the departing ticket office clerk, that the next, and last, train would be leaving at seven minutes past twelve.
I walked restlessly from one end of the platform to the other, stopping only to rest my small suitcase, breath onto my gloved but cold hands and listen to the echoing sound of a distant dog barking. The mist curled like fingers around the station lights and, I surmised, judging by the few lights visible from my raised position on the platform, that if I were a person of nervous disposition I could have become very frightened indeed. Fortunately, the reassuring sound of the rails echoing the rumble of the approaching train, interrupted my gloomy meandering. I glanced at the station clock and noticed that it was midnight exactly. The train was early. 'Merry Christmas', I said to myself as I climbed on.
The first carriage of the train was empty and there was no-one that I could see in the second as I entered it by the connecting door. I had always found myself more comfortable by being toward the rear of the train so I decided to make my way into the third carriage. I was marginally surprised as I entered, however, to see that I had arrived in an entirely different type of rolling stock and this coach had a corridor running the length of it with separate compartments alongside. 
Thoughts of early black and white films that I had so loved when I was younger came to my mind as I admired the style of the carriage. I could not really call myself a train enthusiast but, like most older men, memories of my childhood had a soothing effect on me. Indeed, the last time I had seen such a carriage was on an Eastern Railways Steam anniversary trip that I had taken with my wife some years earlier. Buoyed with such warming thoughts, I gratefully pulled open one of the compartment doors and settled myself into a seat by the window.
The lights of Denham Green station had long faded into the distance, when I was startled by the compartment door sliding open whereupon a beautiful woman, whom I would have judged to be about thirty, entered. She gave me a brief smile which she accentuated by dipping her head slightly to one side. Her reddish hair tumbled about her shoulders and, despite myself, I felt a brief flutter in my stomach as I considered how attractive she was. I nodded a greeting, wished my new companion Seasons Greetings and turned to look out of the window.
I closed my eyes for a time, my mind briefly dwelling on my recently deceased wife before I made the mental effort to dispel my gloomy thoughts. I forced myself to resist sleep and to continue my Christmas vigil from the window but, on opening my eyes, saw in the reflection that the woman was looking at me. "You're sad", she said. Her voice betraying the unmistakable timbre of a Northumbrian accent. I smiled briefly. "Well, it's Christmas, a time for reflection and recollection". I briefly recounted my story of the broken car, embellishing it with some pointed observations on unscrupulous taxi drivers, but trailed off as I noticed that she seemed not to be listening. 
There was silence for a moment before I began again. "Going home for Christmas are you?". When she didn't answer, I tried again. "Where are you going to? Oxford?" . This time she smiled again. "Don't worry, you'll see her again soon". I nodded. Trust me, I thought. Christmas Eve Last train - It's the Revellers Express. I'll have a glass of whatever she's drunk, I thought to myself. I turned to the window and closed my eyes. Despite myself, I must have dozed because I first felt the cold draft before I heard the noise of the door sliding. I turned quickly but only saw the door ajar.
I was deeply upset when I heard about her death. For a young and beautiful woman to waste her life like that is tragic. Several people had seen her jump from the speeding train as it approached Denham Green station and the service was delayed by over an hour while the police searched for her body. In fact, according to the reports, the train didn't arrive in the station until one o'clock that Christmas morning. The old porter who took my bags at the hotel was both fascinated and deeply shocked by my recounting of the journey, as an old steam train enthusiast he know that the line had all new rolling stock and the last compartmented carriage had run in 1962. He seemed to remember a similar incident one Christmas Eve years ago when he was a younger man but the details eluded him and, for myself, I thought I knew what they were anyway.
As for me - well, yes, I did have a pleasant Christmas but, let's just say that I'm not making too many plans for next year. I'm just waiting now. After all, I'll see her soon....