Help! I need somebody

musical santa

It’s around this time of year (after Halloween and Guy Fawkes are out of the way) when I usually start to plan my musical advent calendar*. I list possible songs, and listen to them over and over and decide what will go where and, especially, what will go last, because while I can get away with having some filler at the beginning of the month, the last few songs, and the Christmas Eve song most of all, obviously have to be killers. I watch different versions of videos and listen to different recordings and all in all, put in a large amount of effort in order to do justice to the year’s theme.

And here, reader, is where I have come unstuck! I can’t think of a theme for advent 2015. These are the themes we have already had:

  • 2008: My favourite Christmas songs (I hadn’t decided, at that point, that this would be a Thing.)
  • 2009: More of my favourite Christmas songs (Clearly I had decided it would be a Thing, but I still wasn’t planning ahead.)
  • 2010: Christmas number ones (This was the year I realised I needed a theme.)
  • 2011: I asked my Facebook and Twitter friends to pick the songs, then wrote about the people, rather than the music.
  • 2012: Christmas songs from around the world (My secret favourite.)
  • 2013: Twenty-four different versions of White Christmas (My other secret favourite.)
  • 2014: Sad Christmas (Although that was quite awesome too.)

…and here are the themes I have considered and rejected for 2015 so far:

  • My favourite Christmas carols
  • A Country and Western Christmas
  • Crooners at Christmas
  • Twenty four Christmas songs by the same artist (There are only a few people this could be, and none of them is exciting enough to pull off a whole advent unaccompanied.)

The years I liked best were the years when I had to do some research, and ended up listening to songs I’d never heard before. So I would like another theme that I will have to work at a little bit. Please send me your suggestions, here, via Twitter or Facebook or email, or even in real life. Whoever provides me with a winner will get a special prize and my undying affection.

*I am aware that I haven’t written anything since the last advent calendar, but that will All Change in 2016, for sure!

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Advent song for December 24: and the winner is…

OK, there isn’t a winner, I just couldn’t resist the headline. As I said before, I didn’t really have a plan as to which song went where on the advent calendar this year, but I did promise myself that if anyone voted for my personal favourite, they’d get the Christmas Eve slot. So I was delighted when Donna plumped for Mistletoe and Wine, because Donna is completely lovely and utterly deserving of the final place.

Donna and I used to work together, in the first proper job I ever had. Well, second, if you count four months doing 20 hours a week in Streatham Under Fives Centre, which I’m not sure I do. This job was in a bookshop, and in the late nineties and early two thousands Donna and I had the most fun anyone has ever had at work, because she is the sweetest, silliest, most genuine, forthright and hilarious person in the world, and spending eight hours a day in her company was sheer out-and-out delight.

When good things happened to Donna she would fill the room with beams of joy so intense they felt tangible. When bad things happened to Donna she would cry, then find a way to feel better about them, usually with the accompaniment of a lot of laughter. If I was in a bad mood, I would sit and glower silently. If Donna was in a bad mood, she’d announce it, explain it and within a few minutes we’d have talked around it from every angle and both be feeling better.

Everyone should have a Donna, especially if they are occasionally inclined to unhealthy levels of cynicism and negativity. Donna was so open and so engaged that I couldn’t sustain my sneering teenage posture, and had no choice but to become nicer, and for that I will always be grateful to her.

Happy Christmas, Donna! And happy Christmas to everyone who has read any of this year’s advent calendar. It’s been a lot of fun to do, and I’m only sorry that there wasn’t room for all the songs people nominated. But, you know, there’s always room for Cliff.

Advent song for December 23: Happy Christmas, Niamh!

Niamh is my sister-in-law, as of thirty-four days ago. She said:

I love Driving Home for Christmas by Chris Rea. I love to hear it on the days leading up to the main event, when you finish work and all the shopping is done!

For most of us, today is hopefully one of those days. I finish work this afternoon, and I have done all my shopping already, although some of it isn’t coming until tomorrow, EEK.

I expect Niamh finished all her shopping a month ago, because Niamh is incredibly organised, which I think you probably have to be if you’ve got a house and a job and a husband and two teenage sons, who are not only involved in about twenty out-of-school activities each, but are two of the nicest teenage boys you could ever imagine meeting. When I first met them they were 9 and 13 and they were lovely, and now they’re 13 and 17 they are, unbelievably, still lovely, and also very funny and grown-up. I don’t know how she does what she does, but I hope it runs in the family, because if we can one day raise children half as nice as Niamh’s, and if we can do it with as much wit and warmth as she does, we’ll be doing well.

So happy Christmas Niamh, to you and all the family. Christmas has crept up on us a bit this year, but we’ll be back in Dublin soon!

Advent song for December 22: Happy Christmas, Lucy!

Lucy gave me several songs to choose from, but she will forever be associated in my mind with George Michael, and since we were both supposed to see him sing this year and neither of us did, I have chosen this, which I also know is lots of other people’s favourite Christmas song too. It is an excellent Christmas song, and although you have to sit through an ad to watch it, it’s worth it because the video is even better. It has the best hair – and the most hair – of any video I can think of, not including November Rain.

(Goes off into 9-minute November Rain reverie. God, I love November Rain, about as much as I love Phantom of the Opera, and for most of the same reasons. I still can’t believe we didn’t have it as our wedding song. It’s set at a wedding! And we got married in November!)

<Cough> Sorry, where was I? Oh yes, George Michael. I love George Michael, but not as much as Lucy does. Lucy and I were at university together. We weren’t in the same year or doing the same subject, but we were both subversive leftie troublemakers so we got to know each other anyway, and then we got to like each other because – I hope nobody takes offence at my saying this – not ALL subversive leftie troublemakers have much lightness of heart or sense of the ridiculous, and Lucy had, and has, both, and was, and is, one of the funniest people I know.

(I think I treasure funny above almost anything else, when it comes to my friends. I mean, always assuming they’re not actual murderers or Tories or anything.)

Lucy lives miles away now – or else I do, or else we both do – so I never see her, but we are still in touch and we have a shared history that means a lot to us both (marginally more to her, perhaps, since she is married to a part of it) and I know that if we bumped into each other tomorrow we’d pick up exactly where we left off. I’m not sure where that was, but I’m fairly certain that wine was involved, and I’m almost sure that it would be again. Ah, good times.

Happy Christmas, Lucy!


Advent song for December 21: Happy Christmas, Mum!

Mum wanted “When Santa Got Stuck Up The Chimney – with actions”. I can’t imagine it’s actually her favourite Christmas song, and at one point I thought I might actually have to record myself performing it, but then this little girl came to my rescue.

Which is not to say I don’t know the actions. I know the actions to every song, because I am the daughter of a mother who ran music groups for children through most of my childhood. She is also the reason I know proper Christmas songs as well as Wizzard and Slade, because when I was little she used to play LPs of real choirs singing in Latin, in between Dad playing Roberta Flack on the piano or Davy Graham on the guitar. They also sang in a choir (“Oh MUM, do we HAVE to come to your concert?”), and at the summer camps we used to go to in Wales, and at our wedding (and at their wedding), so if you have enjoyed any bits of any of the Gladallover musical advent calendars over the years, you really have my parents to thank for it.

Happy Christmas, Mum!

P.S. Dad doesn’t do Twitter or Facebook, but I am reliably informed that he enjoyed this clip very much recently, and as it’s Christmas I don’t see why there can’t be two songs today:

Advent song for December 20: Happy Christmas, Krista and Mike!

I have a confession to make. Weeks ago, as I was putting this selection of songs together and trying to determine the order, and deciding whether it was ever OK to have two songs for the same person (no!) or two people for the same song (no!), I thought to myself what I will do, though, is put Krista and Mike on the same day so I can write about them together, but I’ll give them a song each.

And then last night I went back through the song list, ready to write this post, and I realised that Mike’s “O Come O Come Emmanuel” is, of course, the same song as Ed’s “Veni Veni Emmanuel” from three days ago.

So instead of doing the same song three days apart, I will refer you back to Ed’s post for Mike’s choice, and here treat you to Krista’s, which is, I think, the happiest song so far, and since Krista might just be the happiest person I know, that is entirely appropriate.

Mike and Krista are our longest-married friends, and if we can do it half as well as them we’ll be delighted. They are one of those couples who exude warmth, and everyone who meets them can’t help but fall in love with them. A few months ago Krista and I were at our friend Kate’s house and Krista was telling us about a job interview she’d had. “They seemed to like me”, she said, and Kate and I looked at each other and laughed, because the idea of anyone’s meeting Krista and not liking her is so ridiculous. She is, they both are, two of the loveliest people you could ever hope to meet, and I feel very lucky to be their friend, because we figured out the other day that the reason we know each other is that my ex boyfriend’s brother’s best friend’s wife’s sister’s husband used to work with Krista, which is the kind of connection that won’t always sustain for years. But this one has, and for that I am super grateful.

Happy Christmas, Krista and Mike!

Advent song for December 19: Happy Christmas, Niall!

I gave quite a lot of thought to who went where on my advent songs countdown. I wanted to make sure it didn’t look as though the most important people were going last, because they aren’t – it’s sort of half random and half based on how much I like the songs, with a vague effort not to have people who know each other well on consecutive days, in case it gets boring or repetitive.

But it was easy to figure out where to put Niall, because today we have been married for exactly one month. What is the month anniversary? If there isn’t an official one-month-married present, I hereby declare one month the champagne and sausages anniversary.

There’s lots I could say about Niall, but it would be cheesy and naff, so I will just say that he is in every possible way the exact person I want to be married to, even though he picked this song, “if only”, as he put it, “for this magnificently drunken rendering”.

Happy Christmas, Niall! I’ll get the sausages if you get the champagne.

Advent song for December 18: Happy Christmas, Verena!

Do you have a former flatmate who was your best friend, who liked the same stuff as you, introduced you to new stuff that you loved, picked up the pieces when your life fell apart and was always available for a cigarette or a rant if you needed either, even in the middle of the night? I, fortunate woman that I am, have lived with two perfect flatmates. They are both called Martin and I would live with both of them again in a heartbeat, were I living in a commune, which at present I am not.

But that’s OK because both of them let me visit from time to time. Before Sweeney – which is what we call the second Martin for reasons none of us seems to know – met Verena, we used to meet in pubs. But now they live in a beautiful flat and they lay on lavish parties and give people vast amounts of food and booze, because Verena is an exceptionally accomplished hostess, as well as being charming, funny and very elegant. So three cheers for Verena, both the Martins and everyone else who somehow became a grown-up without me noticing.

Happy Christmas, Verena!

Advent song for December 17: Happy Christmas, Ed!

We sang this at our family carol-singing bash last weekend, but we sang it in English, and without quite as many twiddles. It is a very beautiful piece of music either way, and Ed nominated it because his choir sings it, so I expect he knows the proper version.

Ed is a person who knows the proper versions of things generally. He and his partner Jo are an inspiration to me, because they are so good at being grown-ups. They’ve got a house, and a shed, and even a cat. We went to theirs for Christmas dinner one year, serene in the knowledge that we would get a proper version of Christmas dinner, which we duly did. Coincidentally, we are also going over there tonight for what I have no doubt will be the best-organised party of the season.

And if that all sounds a bit sensible, it isn’t supposed to, because they are also two of the wittiest, sparkiest and most switched-on people I know. Children should have parents like Jo and Ed.

Happy Christmas, Ed! I hope there will be singing later.

Advent song for December 16: Happy Christmas, Kate!

There was never much doubt as to whom Kate would pick for the advent calendar (not that she knew that that was what she was doing, at the time). Kate is a woman of reliably excellent tastes, as is clearly demonstrated by the number of events we’ve attended together which nobody else would have dreamed of going to. If you have – as I like to think of it – especially refined and rarefied tastes, it always helps to have a friend who shares them, so that you don’t have to go to things like Kristina från Duvemåla alone. The only tragic aspect of all of this is that I didn’t meet Kate until I was thirty, so I missed out on all those years of potential arty companionship. Still, we have made up for it since then and I look forward to many more evenings of unlikely pleasure and the quiet joy, as intense at thirty-five as it was at fifteen, of having a friend who loves the stuff you love.

Happy Christmas, Kate!