Advent song for December 5: Love Is Everything

I liked Ariana Grande even before awful things kept happening to (or almost to) her, and I like her even more for her bold, honest, trip-up-and-try-again attitude to tragedy, which makes her infinitely more useful a role model to the millions of young people who adore her than is the icily perfect otherworldly veneer that most twentysomething superstars project. Also, she’s got a GREAT voice. This is a single from her 2013 EP Christmas Kisses and it’s a banger, so turn the volume up.

Advent song for December 4: Mistletoe

If you are young and hip like me you probably read today’s song title and thought aha! that Justin Bieber song! But although I like Justin Bieber and it is Christmassy, that song is also rubbish so I haven’t chosen it.

This song is an entirely different and much more delightful number by the Indigo Girls, whom I first encountered in my first term at university, which was also about the time I discovered that you could be gay and politically active and in a band and a GIRL. Heady days. In that first term we had a flatmate on a – secondment? Internship? What do you call it when you study somewhere else for a term? Anyway she was doing one of those – called Leanne, who was kooky and left-wing and a feminist and from somewhere like, but not actually, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin (which, I’ve just discovered, is a real place and not just from Annie Hall) and she was super cool. And she used to play us the Indigo Girls, which meant they were super cool too. And twenty-something years later, they still are.

This song is from their 2010 Christmas album Holly Happy Days (all American musicians make Christmas albums, I have discovered, even the super cool ones) and it’s really a love song rather than an overtly Christmas-themed one, but it’s called “Mistletoe” and it’s on a Christmas album and more importantly it’s great, so we’re having it anyway.

Advent song for December 3: Boots

Did you know that for years and years The Killers released a charity single every Christmas? When I was compiling this list I spent a happy hour comparing them all, and narrowing it down was a tough job, partly because the videos are at least as good as the songs (and sometimes better). What I like best about The Killers is that I never know how much of anything is a joke.

For today’s pick I’ve gone for Boots, from 2010, partly because it has a singalong chorus, excellent drums and East 17-esque bells, and rhymes “television” with “kitchen”, but mostly because I love the video, which is the most Vegas thing you’ll ever see, if you are looking for the Vegas beyond Elvis and wedding chapels. It looks like scenes from a film but it isn’t, and I have no idea what’s actually going on in it, although the fact that it stars Brad Prowly (aka Super Bad Brad), a much-loved New York City street performer, sort of gives us a vague nod at a plot, if you squint. But don’t squint too hard, otherwise you’ll miss Brandon Flowers singing on a roof overlooking the Strip at sunset, and that’s a sight we should all feast our eyes on as often as possible.

Advent song for December 2: Wrapped In Red

There’s an accidental symmetry about the songs I’ve picked for December 1 and 2 and those I’ve picked for December 23 and 24 this year, but you’ll have to wait three weeks to find out what it is. (Unless you are brilliant and can guess, in which case let me know and I’ll send you a prize.)

Anyway, here’s Kelly Clarkson, who won American Idol back when you had to be able to sing to win singing competitions, and who has gone on to become one of the most successful talent show winners ever, with 25 million album and 45 million single sales worldwide, three grammys and countless other accolades and through it all she seems to have remained basically normal, which is probably her greatest achievement of all.

Wrapped In Red is the title track from her 2013 Christmas album, although the hit single from it was Under The Tree (but I don’t like that as much as I like this). In the same year she had a TV Christmas special called Kelly Clarkson’s Cautionary Christmas Music Tale which sounds like it should be good, doesn’t it? But I haven’t watched it because who has forty minutes to watch a video in 2018? Not me. If you watch it, do let me know whether it’s as good as it sounds like it should be.

 

Advent song for December 1: Kindle A Flame In Her Heart

Hello and welcome to advent 2018! We start with a band with an exclamation mark in the name! No, not Wham! or the Go! Team or Panic! At The Disco but Cardiff’s own Los Campesinos! who have names like Neil and Gareth, had their tenth anniversary this year JUST LIKE US, and in 2014 released the EP A Los Campesinos! Christmas, featuring among others this song, which is properly good and makes me think of the guitar bands of my distant youth.

Today is also a good day to listen to a band from Cardiff, because I should be in Cardiff but I’m not, so <waves> to everyone in Cardiff,  and I’ll see you next year FOR SURE.

It Was Ten Years Ago Today

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Actually it wasn’t, because I only had the idea for a musical advent calendar on December 10th. But here we all are ten years and eleven musical advent calendars later, having enjoyed the highlights (Christmas songs from around the world, twenty-four versions of White Christmas, Christmas songs by Phenomenal Women) and, let’s be frank, lowlights (Christmas number ones from my lifetime, everything By Ringo Starr) together. So it’s only fitting, this year, to celebrate hitting double figures by enjoying twenty-four Christmas hits written (or in a couple of cases released) since December 2008: songs which I didn’t include first time round not because they weren’t any good, but because they didn’t exist yet. I made this list a month ago and I’ve been listening to it on rotation ever since so I can tell you with complete confidence that there are some crackers here.

In the meantime, to get you in the mood, here’s Cliff, whose last hit was in September 2008, meaning [spoilers] he WILL NOT FEATURE in this year’s line-up (except for now).

Happy Advent!

The Royal Ceil

Quick! There are only ten days left to see the ceiling of the Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich up close before they take the scaffolding down and you won’t be able to get near to it for another hundred years, by which time your knees will probably be too tired to make the climb.

The scaffolding is there to facilitate a restoration which has been going on since 2016, which is also how long I’ve been living up the road, so of course I left it until it was almost too late to go and have a look. But I’m so glad I did! Completed under the direction of James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726, the Painted Hall was once the dining room of the Royal Hospital For Seamen, which went up in 1694, was designed by Hawksmoor AND Wren, and was (the name notwithstanding) a retirement home for old and poorly sailors. Its vast interior mural covers all of the ceiling and most of the walls, and features a festival of scenes from mythology, history and allegory, all of which are intended to be seen from 100ft away, rather than up close, which is exactly what makes a visit so interesting, because you (well, I) expect eighteenth-century paintings to be perfect, the toil and sweat involved in their creation to be hidden behind a glassily flawless finish, but here, because they knew that nobody would be looking too closely (surprise!), the artists employ an impressionistic approach, hinting at details rather than perfecting them, and using broad brush strokes which you can see perfectly plainly. And the fact of having to crane one’s neck at odd angles to begin to even see some of the scenes depicted brings a painful awareness of the extraordinary amount of effort that must have gone into painting them.

I took A LOT of photos but the below is just a selection and doesn’t even begin to convey the experience of actually being there. If you are in or close to London you must go immediately before it closes on September 30th. And if you can’t make it, the hall will reopen next year once the rest of the renovations are complete, with the most exciting part of that work being the opening up of the undercroft, which was also designed by Hawksmoor AND Wren and which nobody has seen since it was closed up a hundred years ago. Isn’t that exciting? Although also a bit scary, because there is almost certainly a becurséd creature sleeping down there and they are about to wake it up.

Oscar predictions

Happy Oscar Eve! I had to hold back my predictions until today because I wrote about them for MostlyFilm, so rather than me writing them all out again, you should go on over there to check them out.  And then come back tomorrow evening, where we’ll be liveblogging it again, and I’ll be very stressed and irritable. It’ll be fun!

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“Boy, I hate how it looks”

I’m going to be writing MostlyFilm’s Oscars Predictions again* this year and although I will do it under my own name and so can be as partisan and opinionated as I like, I just need to get the following rant out of my system beforehand. Feel free to look away now. There be spoilers ahead for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, so you may prefer to look away for that reason. Whatever, just don’t read what follows, under any circumstances!

*If you look carefully, you’ll notice that I got all the important ones right last time.

On Sunday night, Three Billboards won Best Picture, Best British Picture (it isn’t, but the rules are weird), Best Original Screenplay, Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell. It was a veritable sweep, only spoiled by losses to Guillermo del Toro for The Shape Of Water in Director, which everyone knew would happen, Roger Deakins for Blade Runner 2049 in Cinematography, which everyone hoped would happen, and Jonathan Amos for Baby Driver in Editing, which just goes to show that Edgar Wright could plop out a big poo on the red carpet and people would still defend him. (I haven’t seen Baby Driver.)

Anyway, I saw Three Billboards at its LFF premiere, in October. I’d been excited about it for months and as I settled into my seat I was prepared to laugh, to cry, to be thrilled and to be shocked.

No, wait. Actually, I was hoping for all those things, but I was prepared to be disappointed:

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What I mostly remember was that Frances McDormand was amazing, that the plot made no sense and that there was a scene where McDormand’s and Rockwell’s characters throw the n-word around which made me feel uncomfortable. I did laugh and I did cry and I seem to have come out happy enough:

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By the next day, I wasn’t so sure:

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I know it’s weird and self-indulgent of me to retrospectively analyse my tweets, but the thing is, Three Billboards doesn’t deserve three of its five BAFTA wins because it is a bad, badly-intentioned film that treats race horribly, and there is an argument circulating that people only started to view it that way once “activists” began complaining about it, and that the rest of us are lily-livered liberals who can’t bear to be thought of as on the wrong side, and so we’re all jumping on the bandwagon. Maybe we are, but I didn’t need to read Ira Madison to have a problem with it from the get-go, and if it’s true that the longer I think about it the worse I think it is, that’s just because I’ve had more time to think about it. In a world where black people are regularly murdered by the police, where Donald Trump is president, and where white kids can shoot a dozen people dead and be excused as “bullied” and “misunderstood”, you don’t get to make a film that uses racism as a subject for glib, wisecracking, slapstick. You earn the right to write about a difficult subject by making an effort to understand it, and McDonagh big fat didn’t bother. It’s the only bad thing about the film (if you ignore the plot), but it’s BAD ENOUGH BY ITSELF that the rest of it doesn’t matter. And no, adding a couple of peripheral black characters who do and say nothing that isn’t the barest “will this do?” version of screenwriting doesn’t solve the problem.

Also not an excuse: that he didn’t mean it, it’s not central to the movie, he’s British and they don’t really have racism there (I have genuinely heard this). You don’t have to be racist on purpose to be racist! It’s like nobody’s even SEEN Get Out.

Talking of which, I will be sooooooo angry if this film beats Get Out to Best Picture. But don’t worry, it won’t. I won’t spoil you for the official predictions post (which I think is happening on Oscars weekend itself), but even if I thought Three Billboards would win I wouldn’t predict it, because I still believe in a world where good things happen to good people, and last year it totally worked, apart from the whole envelope thing.

Advent song for Christmas Eve: River

This had to be our final choice just for the video, although it is also a beautiful song. But there’s nearly nothing more Christmassy than Christmas Peanuts, and Snoopy is obviously the best character of all and Snoopy ice skating is just about the best thing there has ever been, and even though this is a poor-quality video it’s still lovely to watch. But not so lovely that you won’t also be struck by the purity of Joni’s voice or the simple perfection of the song and arrangement.

Before I leave you to your preparations I would like to note that this wasn’t, in the end, a list of songs by my favourite women singer-songwriters, because some of my favourite women singer-songwriters simply never went near a Christmas song, so with apologies for the lack of Nina Simone, Joans Baez and Armatrading, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin, Dolly Parton, Barbra Streisand, Laura Nyro, Sheryl Crow, Amy Winehouse and Taylor Swift, I will be posting a playlist later today of all the songs we’ve had that are on Spotify, and maybe some extras just for fun. Merry Christmas! I have high hopes for 2018, you guys.