Christmas Alphabet : I for In The Bleak Midwinter (James Taylor)

Christmas opens the door to Hope.

Even in the bleakest of bleak Midwinters.

Though the earth be hard as Iron and Water stands like Stone there is yet, as Snow falls on Snow, Hope in a humble birth.

There is Hope in a Mother’s simple kiss.

Hope brings riches even to the poorest.

Give your Heart.

Give your Heart.

James Taylor recognises the genius of Christina Rossetti’s Poem and presents it faithfully with grace and winning simplicity.

One of the most moving meditations on the mystery of the Incarnation was written in the 15th Century, ‘I syng of a mayden’.

I syng of a mayden
That is makeles,
king of alle kinges
to here sone che chees.

He cam also stille
Ther his moder was
As dew in Aprylle,
That fallyt on the gras.

He cam also stille
To his modres bowr
As dew in Aprylle,
That falleth on the flowr.

He cam also stille
Ther his moder lay
As dew in Aprylle,
That falleth on the spray.

Moder & mayden
Was nevere noon but she:
Well may swich a lady
Godes moder be.

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
For her son she chose.

He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.

He came as still
To his mother’s bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.

He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.

Mother and maiden
There was never, ever one but she;
Well may such a lady
God’s mother be.

Still, still, still as Mary’s and her babe’s Hearts.

Still, still, still.

The choristers of Ely Cathedral still time with this matchless performance.

The author of the Poem remains unknown.

The setting is by Patrick Hadley (1899-1973).

Now for a Poem from a major figure in Irish Literature, Seán Ó Ríordáin (1916 – 1977).

First in English translation and then in the original Irish.

Women’s Christmas takes place on January 6th – the feast of The Epiphany.

By tradition in Ireland it was the day when the heroic efforts of Mother’s, Wives and Daughters were rewarded by a day of rest from household chores.

Women’s Christmas

There was power in the storm that escaped last night,

last night on Women’s Christmas,

from the desolate madhouse behind the moon

and screamed through the sky at us, lunatic,

making neighbours’ gates screech like geese

and the hoarse river roar like a bull,

quenching my candle like a blow to the mouth

that sparks a quick flash of rage.

I’d like if that storm would come again,

a night I’d be feeling weak

coming home from the dance of life

and the light of sin dwindling,

that every moment be full of the screaming sky,

that the world be a storm of screams,

and I wouldn’t hear the silence coming over me,

the car’s engine come to a stop.

Oíche Nollaig na mBan

Bhí fuinneamh sa stoirm a éalaigh aréir,

Aréir oíche Nollaig na mBan,

As gealt-teach iargúlta tá laistiar den ré

Is do scréach tríd an spéir chughainn ’na gealt,

Gur ghíosc geataí comharsan mar ghogallach gé,

Gur bhúir abhainn shlaghdánach mar tharbh,

Gur múchadh mo choinneal mar bhuille ar mo bhéal

A las ’na splanc obann an fhearg.

Ba mhaith liom go dtiocfadh an stoirm sin féin

An oíche go mbeadsa go lag

Ag filleadh abhaile ó rince an tsaoil

Is solas an pheaca ag dul as,

Go líonfaí gach neomat le liúrigh ón spéir,

Go ndéanfaí den domhan scuaine scread,

Is ná cloisfinn an ciúnas ag gluaiseacht fám dhéin,

Ná inneall an ghluaisteáin ag stad.

Next Red Letter Day on your Calendar – 13 December when the next Post in The Alphabet Series will be published, S for ….

 

Christmas Alphabet : R for Bonnie Raitt, Ramsey Lewis & Rilke

The Christmas Dinner has been cleared away.

Shoes kicked off.

Cigar lit.

A very generous measure of hot buttered Rum poured.

Now, you need a smoother than smooth sound to maintain the mood.

Nothing better than Bonnie Raitt with Rhythm & Blues legend Charles Brown with a sultry duet version of, ‘Merry Christmas Baby’.

Now, don’t you feel all lit up like a Christmas Tree!

Kick back and pour yourself another (Eggnog anyone?)

Listen now to the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s perfect yuletide groove, ‘Christmas Blues’ beamed to you all the way from 1961.

 

Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926) wrote ravishing visionary poems which settle in the heart.

His Poem, ‘Advent’ will stay with you.

Recitation by Julia Koschitz.

Production and arrangement by Schönherz & Fleer.

Es treibt der Wind im Winterwalde
die Flockenherde wie ein Hirt
und manche Tanne ahnt, wie balde
sie fromm und lichterheilig wird,
und lauscht hinaus. Den weißen Wegen
streckt sie die Zweige hin, bereit
und wehrt dem Wind und wächst entgegen
der einen Nacht der Herrlichkeit.

There in the wintry forest the wind blows
a flock of snowflakes like a shepherd,
and many a fir-tree guesses how soon
it will be pious with holy lights,
and listens. Towards the white path
it stretches out its branches, ready,
and braving the wind and growing toward
that one Night of Glory.

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Set your Calendar now for December 11th and the next Post in the Christmas Alphabet, I for …

Christmas Alphabet : H for Merle Haggard, Coleman Hawkins & Thomas Hardy

There’s no denying that when times are hard (and someone near you right now is having those hard times) Christmas can be a season of worry rather than wonder.

Sometimes you pray that somehow you will make it through December.

When things aren’t going well the prospect of Christmas can make you shiver more than the coldest Winter winds.

When you’ve got a family to support you’ve somehow got to hang on until the warmer winds appear.

You’ve got to make it through December.

Make it through.

Trust Merle Haggard, the working stiff’s balladeer, to tell it straight.

Let’s change the mood with some more Vintage Jazz.

Don Redman leads an All Star band featuring the imperious Tenor Saxophone of Coleman Hawkins.

I think we can safely say that now we have found those warmer winds!

Throw another log on the fire!

Trumpets : Joe Wilder, Charlie Shavers and Al Mattaliano
Trombones : Sonny Russo, Jimmy Cleveland and Bobby Byrne
Saxophones : Don Redman George Dorsey, Milt Yaner, Al Cohn, Seldon Powell and Coleman Hawkins.
Piano : Hank Jones, Guitar : George Barnes, Bass : Al Hall Drums : Osie Johnson

New York, July 1957

Thomas Hardy as Poet and Novelist proved himself to be a fearless, wintery, anatomist of the human heart.

So, his Poem, ‘The Oxen’ has for me a special poignancy in the heart wrenching desire to believe that there yet may be miracles in the gloom.

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
“Now they are all on their knees,”
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.
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We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen,
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.
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So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
“Come; see the oxen kneel,
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“In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,”
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.
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Here’s a gorgeous setting by Jonathan Rathbone sung by The Swingle Singers from their 1994 CD, ‘The Story of Christmas’.

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Set your Calendar now for December 9th and the next Christmas Alphabet Post R for …

 

Christmas Alphabet : C for Mary Chapin Carpenter, Benny Carter & John Clare

So this is Christmas.

Another year almost over.

A new one about to begin.

A chance to look back at all that you have done and the things you didn’t quite get round to doing.

A chance to look forward and plan for a brighter future.

I hope you and yours have fun.

Take the time to cherish the near and the dear ones and remember those far away in time and space.

Indulge the young and the old.

Be kind to yourself.

Merry Christmas!

The Immortal Jukebox once again celebrates the season with a Christmas Alphabet stuffed with musical and poetic delights.

Let’s begin with a tender meditation from Mary Chapin Carpenter.

‘Still, still, still’ is an Austrian Weihnachtslied a Christmas Carol and a lullaby.

The melody is a mid 19th Century folk tune from Salzburg.

The German Lyric has been attributed to Georg Gotsch.

Mary’s vocal and the arrangement beautifully capture the feeling of vigil, stillness and mystery as the drifting snow wraps us in peaceful sleep while the angels keep their watch.

Sleep, sleep, sleep.

Dream, dream, dream.

Still, still, still.

Still, still, still.

Still, still, still
One can hear the falling snow
For all is hushed
The world is sleeping
Holy Star its vigil keeping
Still, still, still
One can hear the falling snow

Sleep, sleep, sleep
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth
The night is peaceful all around you
Close your eyes
Let sleep surround you
Sleep, sleep, sleep
‘Tis the eve of our Saviour’s birth

Dream, dream, dream
Of the joyous day to come
While guardian angels without number
Watch you as you sweetly slumber
Dream, dream, dream

Of the joyous day to come

Our next selection features a giant of Jazz, Benny Carter, who effortlessly combined wit and elegance in his arrangements and Instrumental virtuosity.

Here he is from 1936 leading his Swinging Quintet with my all time favourite version of ‘Jingle Bells’.

Hop aboard the Sleigh!

Jingle Bells was recorded in London in 1936 with Benny on Clarinet and Alto Sax, Scotland’s Tommy McQuater was on Trumpet,  England’s Gerry Moore on Piano, Albert Harris on Guitar, Wally Morris on Bass and Al Graig on Drums.

Now a Poem from the great English Poet John Clare (1793-1864).

I discovered John Clare in my late teens and have been a fervent admirer of his work ever since.

His Poem, ‘Christmas Time’ is characteristically generous of heart and acutely observed.

Glad Christmas comes, and every hearth
Makes room to give him welcome now,
E’en want will dry its tears in mirth,
And crown him with a holly bough;
Though tramping ‘neath a winter sky,
O’er snowy paths and rimy stiles,
The housewife sets her spinning by
To bid him welcome with her smiles.

Each house is swept the day before,
 And windows stuck with evergreens,
The snow is besom’d from the door,
And comfort the crowns the cottage scenes.
Gilt holly, with its thorny pricks,
 And yew and box, with berries small,
These deck the unused candlesticks,
 And pictures hanging by the wall.

Neighbors resume their annual cheer,
 Wishing, with smiles and spirits high,
Glad Christmas and a happy year
 To every morning passer-by;
Milkmaids their Christmas journeys go,
 Accompanied with favour’d swain;
And children pace the crumpling snow,
 To taste their granny’s cake again.

The shepherd, now no more afraid,
Since custom doth the chance bestow,
Starts up to kiss the giggling maid
 Beneath the branch of mistletoe
That ‘neath each cottage beam is seen,
 With pearl-like berries shining gay;
The shadow still of what hath been,
 Which fashion yearly fades away.

The singing waits — a merry throng,
 At early morn, with simple skill,
Yet imitate the angel’s song
 And chaunt their Christmas ditty still;
And, ‘mid the storm that dies and swells
 By fits, in hummings softly steals
The music of the village bells,
 Ringing around their merry peals.

When this is past, a merry crew,
 Bedecked in masks and ribbons gay,
The Morris Dance, their sports renew,
 And act their winter evening play.
The clown turned king, for penny praise,
 Storms with the actor’s strut and swell,
And harlequin, a laugh to raise,
Wears his hunch-back and tinkling bell.

And oft for pence and spicy ale,
With winter nosegays pinned before,
The wassail-singer tells her tale,
 And drawls her Christmas carols o’er.
While ‘prentice boy, with ruddy face,
 And rime-bepowdered dancing locks,
From door to door, with happy face,
Runs round to claim his “Christmas-box.”

The block upon the fire is put,
To sanction custom’s old desires,
And many a fagot’s bands are cut
For the old farmer’s Christmas fires;
Where loud-tongued gladness joins the throng,
And Winter meets the warmth of May,
Till, feeling soon the heat too strong,
 He rubs his shins and draws away.

While snows the window-panes bedim,
 The fire curls up a sunny charm,
Where, creaming o’er the pitcher’s rim,
 The flowering ale is set to warm.
Mirth full of joy as summer bees
Sits there its pleasures to impart,
And children, ‘tween their parents’ knees,
 Sing scraps of carols off by heart.

And some, to view the winter weathers,
Climb up the window seat with glee,
Likening the snow to falling feathers,
 In fancy’s infant ecstacy;
Laughing, with superstitious love,
O’er visions wild that youth supplies,
Of people pulling geese above,
And keeping Christmas in the skies.

As though the homestead trees were drest,
In lieu of snow, with dancing leaves,
As though the sun-dried martin’s nest,
Instead of ic’cles hung the eves;
The children hail the happy day —
As if the snow were April’s grass,
And pleased, as ‘neath the warmth of May,
Sport o’er the water froze to glass.

Thou day of happy sound and mirth,
That long with childish memory stays,
How blest around the cottage hearth,
I met thee in my younger days,
Harping, with rapture’s dreaming joys,
 On presents which thy coming found,
The welcome sight of little toys,
 The Christmas gift of cousins round.

About the glowing hearth at night,
The harmless laugh and winter tale
Go round; while parting friends delight
To toast each other o’er their ale.
The cotter oft with quiet zeal
Will, musing, o’er his bible lean;
While, in the dark the lovers steal,
To kiss and toy behind the screen.

Old customs! Oh! I love the sound,
 However simple they may be;
Whate’er with time hath sanction found,
 Is welcome, and is dear to me,
Pride grows above simplicity,
And spurns them from her haughty mind;
And soon the poet’s song will be
The only refuge they can find.

Don’t hesitate to share The Christmas Alphabet as widely as possible – spread the Christmas Cheer!

Notes :

‘Still, still, still’ can be found on Mary Chapin Carpenter’s highly recommended CD, ‘Come Darkness, Come Light’.

My favourite Benny Carter compilation is a 4 CD set from Proper, ‘Music Master’.

‘John Clare : The Major Works’ from Oxford University Press is an excellent compendium of both his Poetry and his autobiographical writings.

‘John Clare : A Biography’ by Jonathan Bate from Picador is a superb critical study fully worthy of its subject.

Set Your Calendar now for December 7th and the next Christmas Alphabet Post – H for ….

On Bob Dylan’s Jukebox : Billy Lee Riley – Red Hot

Primal 1950s Sun Records Rockabilly and Rock ‘n’ Roll could transform your life with the shocking power felt by Saul on the road to Damascus.

Reborn.

Changed utterly.

No going back now.

A record is made in Memphis Tennessee in 1957, ‘Red Hot’ by Billy Lee Riley from Pocohontas Arkansas.

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Then it is carried on the airwaves a thousand miles north to Hibbing Minnesota where 16 year old Robert Allen Zimmerman experiences an epiphany for which he would be forever grateful.

Image result for sun records 277 images

‘[Billy Lee Riley} … was a true original. He did it all: He played, he sang, he wrote.

… Billy became what is known in the industry—a condescending term—as a one-hit wonder.

But sometimes, just sometimes, once in a while, a one-hit wonder can make a more powerful impact than a recording star who’s got 20 or 30 hits behind him.

And Billy’s hit song was called “Red Hot,” and it was red hot.

It could blast you out of your skull and make you feel happy about it. Change your life.’ (Bob Dylan)

Well, if that didn’t blast you out of your skull you need a skull transplant!

150 seconds of Bliss.

Pure Bliss.

Billy and his band, the brilliantly named ‘Little Green Men’ explode into your consciousness with the overwhelming impact of a comet crashing to Earth.

Roland Janes and Billy on the searing guitars.

Jimmy Van Eaton on the we will not be denied drums.

Marvin Pepper on the go as fast as you like boys I’ll keep us on the road bass.

Jimmy Wilson on the hold fast here comes the rapids piano.

And Billy’s vocal?

Red Hot. Red Hot. Red Hot. Red Hot. Red Hot.

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen here we have the very essence of Rock ‘n’ Roll!

Now, in any well ordered Universe ‘Red Hot’ would have been a No 1 Hit.

But, as we know, things often don’t work out the way they should.

So, Sam Phillips, the Caesar of Sun Records, decided that he didn’t have the resources to properly promote both ‘Red Hot’ and Jerry Lee Lewis’ ‘Great Balls of Fire’ – well which would you have chosen?

Nevertheless, to achieve some sort of cosmic balance, ‘Red Hot’ is now installed as A80 on The Immortal Jukebox!

Billy’s had one minor hit with the fantastic, ‘Flyin’ Saucers Rock and Roll’ (sure to feature here later) and he made important contributions as a sideman in Memphis with Sun and in Los Angeles.

His career got a welcome boost in the late 1970s when Robert Gordon and the mighty Link Wray recorded dynamite covers of Red Hot and Flyin’ Saucers.

Billy played irregularly but every time he hit the stage he carried with him and delivered the elemental white-fiery spirit of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Here from 2008, just a year before he died, a performance that is a wonderful testament to a true Rock ‘n Roller.

God Bless you Billy Lee!

Notes :

Below, a joyous shot of an obviously delighted Bob Dylan revelling in the rapturous applause Billy Lee received when he joined Bob on stage in 1992.

Image result for bob dylan with billy lee riley images"

My go to CD for Billy Lee is ‘Billy Lee Rocks’ on the estimable Bear Family Label.

Red Hot was written and first recorded by Billy ‘The Kid Emerson’ in 1955.

Image result for billy the kid emerson images"

Billy also wrote ‘When It Rains, It Really Pours’ covered by Elvis himself and ‘Every Woman I Know (Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile) which was recorded by Ry Cooder.

As far as I know Billy is still alive at the age of 93!

Thanks for the songs Billy!

SET YOUR CALENDARS!

The 2019 Immortal Jukebox ‘Christmas Alphabet’ will begin on Thursday December 5th and continue on the 7th, 9th, 11th, 13th, 15th, 17th, 19th and 21st.

Don’t miss out and spread the word!

The Trashmen : Surfing Bird! (Bird bird bird, b-bird’s the word)


Turn on the TV here in Britain these days and it’s non stop Election coverage.

Opinion Poll after Opinion Poll contradicting each other.

Who’s up? Who’s down?

Leaders debates (but not including all the leaders)

Interviews, Hustings. Meet The People. Manifestos.

Dreadful, heart sinking phrases :

’We have been very clear about our policy ….’

‘We inherited a terrible situation …’

’We have had to make some very hard choices …’

Every time I hear one of these phrases I take out my trusty Air Horn and give it a long, loud blast.

 

Somehow it makes me feel better!

A friend said that an Election Campaign heralds an avalanche of Nonsense sure to bury us all.

I disagree.

Election campaigns herald Evasions, Elisions, Diversions, Fantasies, Fakery and outright Lies rather than Nonsense.

I’m in favour of Nonsense :

’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
 Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
*

Give me plenty of that kind of Nonsense!

I find that the best defence against the political pollution relentlessly assailing me is to combine regular blasts on the Horn with loud declamations of The Jabberwocky swiftly followed by my own take on an all time Nonsense Classic, ‘Surfing Bird’ by The Trashmen.

Turn your volume controls to Max and sing along with gusto!

 

Roll over Tristan Tzara tell Roland Barthes the news!

Notes :

Surfing Bird was released in November 1963 and surged to No 4 on Billboard.

Clearly it owes much to two tracks by The Rivingtons : Papa-Oom-Mow-Mow and The Bird’s The Word. Hence the songwriting credit to Al Frazier, Carl White, Sonny Harris and Turner Wilson.

However, i salute Trashmen drummer and vocalist Steve Wahrer for taking the raw material  of two fine songs and through an act of crazed creativity producing an immortal record.

In addition to Steve Wahrer The Trashmen comprised guitarists Tony Andreason and Dal Winslow and bassist Bob Reed.

 

A-well-a everybody’s heard about the bird!
Bird bird bird, b-bird’s the word
A-well-a bird bird bird, bird is the word
A-well-a bird bird bird, well-a bird is the word
A-well-a bird bird bird, b-bird’s the word

Guy Clark : Texas 1947

From The Dean of Texas Songwriting, Guy Clark, a masterclass in songwriting.

A story imbued with loving detail bringing to vivid life a vanished time and place which yet lives on in the memory.

Being 6 Years Old

 

Six is not Five and Six is not Seven.

Now you’re Six you realise you really ought to look out for your little Sister.

Now you’re Six you realise that your older brother may just not be the fount of all wisdom.

Turns out that being indisputably taller is not the same as being smarter.

Now you’re Six you see all kinds of things about the family and the town and yourself that went by in a blur before.

Late afternoon on a hot Texas day

Nothing hotter than a hot Texas day.

Least that’s what everybody says as they sit around sipping drinks and settin’ the world to rights – starting right here in town.

The sun is so bright it hurts your eyes just keepin’ them open.

Trick is to do everything real slow.

Real slow.

Mama always says nothin’ improved by rushing around.

And, of course, she’s right.

Slow and easy gets it done.

Plenty of hours in the day and most everything can wait a little while and all the better for the waiting.

Old man Wileman ..

Lots of old men in town.

Not a one as old as old man Wileman.

Someone said he was born before the Civil War.

Some say he lost that arm at Five Forks and that’s why every April 1st he gets real quiet and drinks all day.

Mind you it seems to me he pretty near drinks all day every day.

But, he does tell a good story.

And, there’s nothing I love more than a good story.

Now, when you’re Six it turns out that if you keep real quiet that the old men forget you’re there as they play Dominos and tell story after story your mama wouldn’t want you listenin’ to.

You learn a lot more from old men’s stories than you do at school.

Trains are big and black and smokin’, louder than July 4

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I love to go to the Depot just to watch the trains roll by.

Trains always been somewhere and they are always going somewhere.

Every train tells a story.

At home, on the radio, there’s different kinds of trains.

Train songs.

Jimmy Rodgers, Frank Hutchinson, Charlie Poole and the new guy, Hank Williams, tell stories in song about trains.

Gonna tell my own story in song one of these days.

One of these days.

Look out here she comes, she’s comin’, look out there she goes she’s gone
*
Now you’re Six you realise that you can’t stop time you can just hold it in your memory.
*
Maybe that’s the whole point of songs and stories.
*
Always gonna keep that nickel and every time I look at it I’m gonna remember the day a red and silver streamliner barrelled right through the town I grew up in.
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Gonna label that memory Texas 1947.
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Might even be a song there.
*

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She left fifty or sixty people still sittin’ on their cars.
And, they’re wonderin’ what it’s comin’ to and how it got this far.
*
Oh, but me I got a nickel smashed flatter than a dime by a mad dog, runaway red-silver streamline train.
*
Lord, she never even stopped.
*
And, in my mind, she’s still rollin’.
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