A Taste of British Roots at Christmas
In honour of the season and all the traffic hereabouts about Christmas songs, I thought I would revisit an article I wrote a year ago about The Albion Christmas Band. There is actually a degree of guilt in this – I was supposed to see them again last week, as their guest, but couldn’t due to unforeseen circumstances.
As its name might suggest, the band has a limited sell-by date musically speaking. There is little demand for songs celebrating holly and ivy in August. But this is a special collection of musicians who do a lot more than roll out during Advent. Including some of British folk-rock’s best-known performers, they have got together for more than a dozen years to blast of a seasonal dose of Anglo-Celtic roots.
The line up is guitarist and vocalist Simon Nicol from Fairport Convention, bassist Ashley Hutchings, who was a founding member of Fairport and Steeleye Span, singer Kellie While and Simon Care, a rollicking melodeon player who started off with ceilidhs and Morris dance bands and was a member of The Albion Band.
If the latter sounds suspiciously familiar, it is because the Albion Christmas Band is a surviving combo from Hutchings’s various Albion groups – The Albion Country Band, The Albion Dance Band and the plain old Albion Band (and the new Albion Band run by his son Blair Dunlop).
So what of the music? It is soaring folk rock with visions of frosty mornings, a rejoicing Earth, burning logs and berries, all delivered with professional flair mixed with tones redolent of a rustic English village. Just the stuff to listen to in front of a fire, sipping port, munching mince pies and wondering what that guitar-shaped box under the tree might be. But I fantasise. Back to the band.
Their 2011 album – “A Sound in the Frosty Air” on Rooksmere Records – takes you deep into Britain’s winter festival, from the 19th century “Sans Day Carol” to “The Calling On Song”, which traditionally welcomed the arrival of Mummers, colourful traditional street theatre often performed at Christmas and celebrating the triumph of good over evil.
My favourite song on the album is a magnificent rendition of the Tears for Fears classic “Mad World” – not a Christmas special per se, but certainly in the spirit of the thing. It is taken to gorgeous vocal heights by While, a more-than-worthy successor in her mid-30s to folk-rock divas from the late 1960s/early 1970s such as Maddy Pryor and Sandy Denny.
There you have it. Some British roots for Christmas.