Christmas Alphabet : M for Maura O’ Connell & Jimmy MacCarthy

Christmas is a time to allow Mystery its proper place at the centre of our being.

There is no master chart for our lives.

That is life’s beauty and its terror.

The older I get the more I believe that the essence of intellectual and spiritual maturity is to understand that each of us is a Mystery surrounded by the Mystery.

We live catching glimpses, if we would but look, of harmonies within Mysteries.

Mystery is a Gift awaiting acceptance.

In deep valleys and high peaks and on grey suburban streets the door to Mystery waits to be opened.

Reports of the Mystery often come from the daydreamers; the madcaps, the geeks with the alchemist’s stone.

In meditation and madness and holy merriment they can hear the grass grow and the heartbeat of the squirrel.

They bring back reports from the other side of silence.

One such voyager is Jimmy MacCarthy, an Irish songwriter steeped in The Mystery.

His song, ‘Bright Blue Rose’ is an invitation to and an invocation of The Mystery.

And it is a holy thing and it is a precious time.

Forget-me-nots among the snow.

It’s always been and so it goes.

For all of you who would discover.

For all of you who seek to understand.

Strike out on your own path.

You’ll find a very special hand.

One bright blue Rose.

Two thousand years and still it grows.

Life and Death Eternally.

One bright Blue Rose.

One bright Blue Rose.

 

Now, if you want to find a singer who can invoke The Mystery, who can make a song a Holy and precious thing, you need look no further than Maura O’ Connell.

She has a voice that can with spare elegance illuminate the Forget-me-nots among the snow.

She has a voice that can with proper discretion usher us towards the bloom of one bright Blue Rose.

One bright Blue Rose.

Two thousand years and still it grows.

One bright Blue Rose.

The Series continues on 19 and 21 December – Don’t Miss One!

Christmas Alphabet 2018 : T for Tom Petty & Tom Waits

Christmas Tide is a time to cherish blessings.

It is also offers us a space to reflect on those, no longer with us through death or estrangement, with whom we once shared Christmas.

Still we can hold them dear in our hearts, our thoughts and our prayers.

Over the last few years we have lost many legendary musicians – Aretha Franklin, Tony Joe White, Hugh Masakela, Denise LaSalle, Otis Rush and Charles Aznavour immediately spring to my mind.

As I decided which musicians to feature under T for the Alphabet Series I thought at once of Tom Petty and his rousing Christmas Anthem, ‘Christmas All Over Again’.

It was with some sense of shock that I next realised that Tom Petty, so vital a musician and personality, had died shortly before Christmas 2017.

Here’s to you Tom – thanks for all the songs and all the singing.

We will all pass on like the melting snow.

Like melting snow.

Raise your voice alongside the cracked croon of Tom Waits and pray that all those we have lost sleep in Heavenly Peace.

Heavenly Peace.

 

 

The Alphabet Series continues on 17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t Miss One!

 

Christmas Alphabet S for Santa Claus Is Back in Town : Elvis Presley

It is a moot point as to when the Christmas Season begins.

December 1st?

First Sunday of Advent?

Well, in my house, it begins the day I walk along the shelves of vinyl and with due reverence slide out, ‘Elvis’ Christmas Album’ which has been for 61 years now the best Christmas Album ever made.

If you want proof of that just cue up your stylus and play track 1 Side 1 – ‘Santa Claus Is Back in Town’ and marvel again at the sheer majestic glory that was the voice and persona of the young Elvis Presley!

The sensuous power of his singing here leaves the pretenders to his throne suffocating in dust!

Elvis don’t need no reindeer nor no sack on his back.

No, when he rolls up in his big black Cadillac – Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!

Here’s a Santa that will always be welcome back in town by every pretty baby the town can hold.

His magnetism, vocal assurance and sheer delight in his prowess shines through every bar.

There will always and forever only be one King.

 

The Alphabet Series continues on 15/17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t Miss One!

 

Christmas Alphabet I for In The Bleak Midwinter : Shawn Colvin & Bert Jansch

We live, now, in a world where, at the flick of a switch, we can be bathed in brilliant light.

But, for millennia it was not so.

We lived in a world lit only by Fire.

Huddled in the darkness we looked with awe and supplication to the celestial lamps in the sky.

The Stars, The Moon and The Sun.

By observation and calculation we learned to predict the movements of these Heavenly Bodies (oft times believing them to be the actual bodies of the gods who bestowed the light upon us).

We came to know that there was a cosmic dance and that, magically, in December, out of the depths of darkness, the first light of the rising sun signalled rebirth for the land, the crops and for the people.

No matter how dark it gets there is hope, belief, that the light and the warmth it brings will always return.

At Newgrange, in Ireland, before Stonehenge or The Pyramids, the Ancients built a stone vault in honour of the return of the light.

In this vault, at exactly 8.58am each December 21st, the light penetrates to the furthest reaches where the souls of the dead abide.

The light comes once more to the dead.

Heaven and Earth are joined once again.

In the bleak midwinter the cosmic promise is fulfilled.

The sun shines along the passage floor into the inner chamber at newgrange during the 2013 Winter Solstice at Newgrange. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

‘First light like share-shine in a furrow

 Steadily deeper, farther available,

Creeping along the floor of the passage grave

To backstone and capstone, to hold its candle

Inside the cosmic hill. Who dares say ‘love’

At this cold coming? Who would dare not say it?’ (Seamus Heaney)

Though the frosty wind makes moan and earth stands hard as iron and though the snow falls snow on snow on snow there is an end to the bleak midwinter.

The light returns.

Hope returns.

Shawn Colvin with a tender version of Christina Rossetti’s great Christmas Carol.

Shawn lets the Mystery Be.

Now, Bert Jansch, has always been able to let the Mystery Be.

His plays the guitar in quest of the mysteries we all feel as we look up at those celestial lamps.

His genius is to conjure from six strings ancient knowings that cannot be expressed in words.

Surely among the tribe at Newgrange there were musicians and singers waiting, with bated breath, for that redemptive first light at all those years ago.

If they were able to hear Bert play now they would recognise, at once, a Brother.

The Alphabet Series continues on 13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Don’t miss One!

 

Christmas Alphabet : R for Rickie Lee Jones & Ramsey Lewis

At Christmas Time we have a tradition that the honour of placing the Star atop the Tree falls to the youngest in the family.

For the last 15 years this has been my son, Tom.

Now, since August when my granddaughter was born, he is an uncle and no longer the youngest.

So, I was especially proud of him when he said the other day as we put up the Tree, ‘Now, Dad, it will be Heather’s turn to put the Star on – I know she’s really small so I’ll lift her up so she can do it.’

So it goes on.

Adding to the store of memories from those golden days of yore.

Hanging that shining Star on the very highest bough so that we are all lit up by its radiance.

And, if the fates allow that’s what we will do at Christmas next year and the year after and the year after ….

Gathering near, with friends and family dear to us, we will sing with lightness of heart:

‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.

‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.

And, for that blessed time, all our troubles will be as nought, miles away, out of sight.

May it be so for you.

‘Have yourself A merry little Christmas now’.

Rickie Lee Jones, in her inimitable way, makes the radiance of that shining Star real for us all.

 

Now, time to kick up our heels and breeze down Santa Claus Lane because here comes a very hep Swinging Santa in his Jazzy Sleigh driven by Ramsey Lewis.

Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, not to mention Rudolph will surely be inspired to put on enough speed to circle the globe on Christmas Eve so that Santa can put a present under every tree!

Did someone say, ‘Pass the Eggnog’?

The Alphabet Series will continue on 11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

Onward.

Christmas Alphabet : H for Emmylou Harris & Francoise Hardy

Christmas is a time when memories cascade – especially for those of us steeped in age.

Christmas, if we surrender to its spell, opens the door for the Child within to breathe again.

Music, in the form of songs we learned in our youth, when we had no sense we were learning them, invites us to be once more, once more, the wide eyed Child of days long past as counted by the turning of the Calendar’s pages.

So, let’s call upon a Jukebox favourite, Emmylou Harris, to stir that Sense of Wonder once again.

Come they told me
Pa rum pum pum pum

Our finest gifts we bring
Pa rum pum pum pum

Shall I play for you
Pa rum pum pum pum
On my drum

Oh, play it please.

Play it please, Emmylou.

 

Now, when I was a teenager, I became, in the way that a certain sort of teenager does, a deep dyed Francophile.

If you had asked me why I would have said, with proper teenage pomposity, it was naturellement, because of the visionary poetry of Rimbaud, the kaleidoscopic brilliance of the mind of Blaise Pascal and the mystical beauty of the films of Robert Bresson.

I would have said less about the allure of the Disque Bleu Cigarette Packet and the taste of Pastis 51.

But to tell the truth, the heart of my devotion to French Culture was to be found in my prized collection of records by the Yé-yé girls of the 1960s – France Gall, Sylvie Vartan and above all, far above all, the divine Francoise Hardy!

I could definitely hear her calling me across La Manche.

And, when she sang, in her uniquely seductive plangent tones, about the falling snow and the north wind blowing, the cool of the evening sky and the falling star, I had my own Christmas Anthem, whether anyone else recognised it as a Christmas Song or not!

It may be, after the two selections above, that some Jukebox Readers, will think the criteria for an appearance on The Alphabet Series is having a melancholy voice combined with being extremely photogenic.

Long time Readers will know that my taste is somewhat broader than that!

And, to prove it, here’s the wonderful Stanley Holloway, with one of his inimitably great recitations – masterpieces of comic character and timing.

Embed from Getty Images

At the same time as I was assiduously practicing the Yé-Yé Twist I was learning by heart party pieces like, ‘The Lion and Albert’, ‘Sam, Sam, Pick oop thy Musket’, ‘One Each Apiece All Round’ and ‘It’ll All be the Same (A Hundred Years from Now).

Of course, when Christmas rolled around, with a hat cocked on the side of my head and fortified by some fine fortified wine, I would launch, unstoppably into, ‘Sam’s Christmas Pudding’ in homage to the great Stanley.

I might well do it again this year!

Come on! Join In!

It was Christmas Day in the trenches
In Spain in Penninsular War,
And Sam Small were cleaning his musket
A thing as he’d ne’re done before …

 

Now, weren’t that reet grand, Reet Grand.

The Alphabet Series will continue on 9/11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

Onward.

Christmas Alphabet 2018 C for : John Cale & Chet Baker

Who knows where the time goes?

A couple of blinks since the start of another year and suddenly, shockingly, it’s Christmas Time again.

That distant train in the distance is now gliding into the station – ready to go!

And, for The immortal Jukebox, where Tradition is prized, another celebration of the Season in song.

So, without further ado, let’s start another Christmas Alphabet with a Welsh Wizard and one of the most intriguing figures in popular culture – Mr John Cale.

John Cale was, of course, a founder member of The Velvet Underground which alone would ensure him an honoured place in History.

But, the fearless avant garde seeker, the manic viola player, was, is, also the singer in the Chapel Choir, the organist lifting the old hymns to the celestial rafters.

The devotee of William Burroughs and John Cage was also steeped in lyrical Welsh Poetry.

John Cale knows the power of mystery expressed in rhythm, rhyme and ritual cadence (perhaps intuited from hearing the stories in the great Welsh treasury of Mythology and Romance, The Mabinogion).

‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ is a signature Cale song from his 1973 masterpiece record, ‘Paris 1919’.

 

Now, a Christmas we can all recognise is in there :

‘With mistletoe and candle green’

‘The cattle graze bold uprightly’

‘The hallelujah crowds’

‘The prayers of all combined’

‘Good neighbours were we all’.

But, this is John Cale!

So, we also have the ten murdered oranges, the references to Sebastopol and Columbus and the long legged bait.

There’s a fevered dream here as well as nostalgic memory.

The child, the adult and the dreaming psyche containing both, uniting to produce glowing beauty.

Continuing the theme of glowing loveliness and dream let’s invite the seductive Horn of Chet Baker to still our hearts and set us all waltzing towards Christmas.

Did ye get healed?

Chet’s Trumpet is joined here by Wolfgang Lackerschmid on Vibes, Nicola Stilo on Guitar and Flugelhorn, Gunter Lenz and Rocky Knauer on Bass, Peri Des Santos on Guitar and Edir Des Santos on Drums.

The Alphabet Series will continue on 7/9/11/13/15/17/19 and 21 December.

Underline those dates in your Calendars!

As a special gift for this initial offering here’s a standout solo Live version of, ‘A Child’s Christmas In Wales’ to fortify us all.

Onward!