Wednesday, 9 November 2011


My early childhood was spent in the 60’s.
However, it wasn’t the “swinging”, psychedelic, “groovy” 60s of the contemporary, imagined, remembrance that seems to have got itself lodged into the collective psychie.
It was all dark mornings, short trousers, grey woolly socks that fell down your shins and damp duffle coats that smelled like wet dogs when they were drying on the school radiator. As an aside – anyone who longs for the clocks to stay on BST obviously cant remember walking to school between 1968 and 1971 when they tried that particular experiment before!!
My childhood was neither "swinging" nor indeed "groovy".
I think there had been a meeting in Musselburgh (where I was brung up) in the late 50’s and the town council decreed that the “swinging 60s were simply going to cost too much” and it was more fiscally prudent to simply recycle the 50s and go through another 10 years of austerity. Garish psychedelia was not for our town council who viewed anything that contained more than three hues of grey with suspicion anyway. *. Also, as anyone will tell you, the 50s in Musselburgh probably weren’t that much different from the 40s anyway!
Then; no sooner was this elongated age of austerity coming to an end than we were plunged full-on into the 3 day weeks and power cuts of the early 70s.

I only mention this to “set the scene” and explain why Dylan Thomas’s “A Childs Christmas” manages to strike a chord with me. I know it isn’t based in my “Christmas past” but, then again, my own private past always seems a bit more distant and long ago than it really is.

Anyway. The jazz event of the year occurred on Saturday and I got my grubby wee mitts Stan Tracey’s jazz suite “A Childs Christmas”. Fan-bloody-tastic.
The linear notes and the inside photography alone – never mind the source inspiration– make one issue quite clear. This is the follow up album to “Under Milk Wood”. And it’s every bit as good.
It follows a very simple structure. Tune, bit of narration, tune, bit of narration, tune etc. etc..
Now. The narration does really help here, and given that A Child's Christmas isn’t really a massive work the entire thing is delivered in 7 or so episodes, with each tune being a musical interpretation of the episode. The narration is, rather happily, set aside as separate tracks so that they can be included or excluded from your player or “playlist” as the young un’s put it. If the narration had simply been tagged onto the start or end of each track it may have been a bit more problematic.
The music is a lot cheerier and less brooding than Milk Wood (unsurprisingly), but Tracey still uses sparing piano solos to set the scene while childish capers and manic postmen are portrayed by frantic, fast flowing runs on the keyboard that replicate the playfulness of the narrative, while Simon Allen’s sax is as crisp as the snow that covers the town streets. While Andrew Cleyndert on bass and Clarke Tracey on drums get to stretch their legs on the track "Trolls".

The music is sentimental, but not overly Christmassy - if you get my [snow] drift, so this is one “Christmas” album that can be played 12 months of the year (no cheesy sleigh bells etc.). And I’m pretty sure it will be.

* NB: Some of the earlier parts of this post may be fictitious.

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