Monday 16 December 2013

Making Christmas bearable

Ruth writes:

Ah, Christmas. A time for giving, a time for receiving, the time when every Santa has a ball

Except, being serious for half a minute, it’s not always great for everyone. At least Mud acknowledged this, but listening to most Christmas songs you’d think Christmas was a laugh-a-minute affair, celebrated by everyone in the UK (if not the world) which every extended family spent together, living, as they do, all on the same street, possibly all in the same house, having an absolutely wonderful time.

But no. There are many people who find Christmas hard going.

Some people don’t celebrate it at all, and it must feel a bit weird and frankly a tad off-pissing to walk the aisles of supermarkets decked with CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS CHRISTMAS in bright red and green fonts if it’s not your celebration.

Here in the UK, although only about 60% of the population considers itself Christian enough to put it on a census, Christmas is ubiquitous; so much so that church campaigns focus on remembering the “true meaning” of Christmas out of fears it has become too secular. Basically, if you’re not excited about celebrating Christmas you can feel like a bit of a weirdo.

There’s a fantastic article on coping with Christmas over at The F Word, which I’d recommend everyone to go and read.

I just wanted to add my two-pence worth about an issue close to my heart: not being able to celebrate on Christmas day itself. 

If you love the idea of Christmas, but for whatever reason (you have to work, or perhaps your child or children are at their other parent’s for much of or even the whole the day, other family members or friends not living nearby and so on) there’s nothing wrong with having your Christmas celebration on another day. It doesn’t have to be on the day itself. You could opt for giving presents on St. Nicholas’ Eve/Day (though without some of the other traditions associated with gift giving then), or perhaps celebrating the winter solstice, instead. Boxing day might be good too; a more relaxing celebration with turkey butties and less pressure.

Making a big, special deal of the day or days when you can all be together, rather than being miserable on the day that you can’t, is a good option. It seems slightly silly, in fact, to try and limit Christmas to one day in a year. If you were organising a meeting, you’d give delegates a range of dates and choose the one where most people were available. You might even put on more than one meeting if there were quite a few delegates. You wouldn’t tell them there was one day, and only one day, when the meeting could be held and if they didn’t attend, it somehow made them in the wrong. Why is Christmas somehow different, just because supermarkets, television and TRADITION tells us there is only ONE day?

And of course, if you do the whole “Father Christmas” thing, it makes more sense that he spreads his workload out over a few days, rather than trying to get it all done at once. You could even tell your child/ren that FC makes an extra special trip, just for them, because they’re having Christmas on a different day (if, like me, you feel uncomfortable about telling an out-and-out lie to your child/ren, there’s some pretty good advice here on how to give them the best of both worlds when it comes to Father Christmas).

And if you are celebrating Christmas, whatever day you celebrate it on, have a look at our free (or pay what you want) collection of Christmassy songs. We promise some of them are a bit miserable.

Sunday 15 December 2013

Our gig at the Kazimier Gardens, by Marc

Marc writes: Last Friday, we played the second of our two Christmas gigs, this time at the Kazimier Gardens. Whereas our first seasonal performance had taken place in the reasonably sedate environs of Mello Mello, our Kaz show saw us braving not only the elements, but also by far the biggest audience of our career to date.

There’s a quote by Robert Fripp that I spent a large part of this morning trying to find online, without success. It says something along the lines of: ‘An indoor concert is a musical event. An outdoor concert is an event at which music is taking place.’

This sage thought resonated with me as we awaited our call time on Friday - there was no way in which the vast majority of the crowd had come out to hear us (or to hear any music, in all probability). Was our carefully-wrought and rigorously-rehearsed set going to go ignored by the Quite Drunk (and rapidly getting drunker) audience?

Once we took to the tiny timber-built stage and started playing, these fears were allayed. By some mixture of luck and Ruth’s pre-gig schmooze with a couple of audience members, there were a fair few people in front of the stage who seemed pleased to see us and cheered and clapped between songs. Add to this the touching presence of a good few friends and wellwishers and it’s fair to say that although most of the audience weren’t paying that much attention to us, a vocal minority were.

Things We Learned, pt 1: An outdoor gig is not the best environment for subtlety. The songs which got the best audience response were the louder and pacier elements of our set, eg Gaudete fared better than I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm and the biggest cheer of the set was reserved for the end of Adam Lay Ybounden.

Looking out from the stage and taking in our surroundings, I had the thought that this was the nicest venue I had ever played - the outdoor space, which has a kind of Mediterranean feel during its summer season, was decked in fairy lights, and scented by a gorgeous combination of mulled cider and woodsmoke (Incidentally, I’ve seen sound engineers desert the desk during a set before, but never seen one returning with an armful of wood to burn.) The whole place combined the very best bits of a summer festival with a Bonfire Night party and outdoor Christmas drinks. I think as more and more venues, like this one and Mello Mello, put such care and imagination into their decor and ambience, the harder it will be for the lazy ones to keep being as bad as they are.

As the gig continued, all those who were with us at the beginning stayed attentive, and a fair few others seemed to be enjoying the music. This being a Christmas-heavy set, there were quite a few well-known songs and it was lovely to hear people joining in.

The highlight of the set, for me, came when Ruth sang her a capella solo piece, Adam Lay Ybounden. Not only did the audience listen during the first verses and join in enthusiastically with the speedy-up clapping in the song’s second half, but two audience members executed an elegant (if slightly pissed) pavane right in front of the stage. I watched this, and listened to Ruth’s beautiful, clear voice and felt very happy.

Things We Learned, pt 2: We need some kind of pick-ups for those ukuleles. Playing the ukulele while singing, and managing to keep the instrument anywhere near its mic was a a feat which evaded me for large chunks of Friday’s set. In addition to this, at both Mello Mello and The Kaz, the mics had to be turned up so much to pick up the ukuleles that there was occasional bouts of feedback. Research is going to be conducted in the new year into various amplification options. [MJ to action.]

So overall I think it’s fair to say we were both very pleased with how the gig went. The past week has been fascinating, performance-wise, as we’ve played very similar sets in two completely different environments; an indoor gig with people sitting down and listening, and an outdoor one with lots of rowdy drunk people. Personally, I think I enjoyed The Kaz more, if only for the novelty of the environment. Equally, I have a feeling that the delight of playing to audiences that plastered and numerous could pall fairly quickly. For that one night, though, it was very special indeed.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Last night, Sunday 8th December, at MelloMello

Last night we played at MelloMello for the first time. Having attended quite a few gigs there over the last year or so (and even having hazy memories of the time it was the venue of choice for a few bevvies pre-Cream, very different place back then mind you!) it was a wonderful feeling to take to the stage ourselves.

When we arrived, we found our name up in lights, which was a lovely touch!

The staff at MelloMello were all very lovely, and the sound man was brilliant, got on with sorting everything out for us and knew exactly what he was doing.

There were quite a few people in the bar we didn’t recognise, and quite a few who had come along especially to see and support us, so it was a lovely mix of people.

We played two sets; the first included some old favourites like Sally, Solemn Macramé Owl and The Stonecutter’s Boy, but also a gig exclusive; Learning a Language, a song written and played on the piano by Marc (Jones) and sung by the pair for one night only! After that, there was an interval during which the pair sampled MelloMello’s fantastic drinks (Fentiman’s Dandelion and Burdock, mmm)!

The second set was more Christmas focussed, and included our original song In the Bearable Winter, our original carol Something about Mary, and our cover of a Christmas classic. Again, there were a couple of gig exclusives; Adam Lay Ybounden and O Come O Come Emmanuel. We finished the set with our ukulele duet of Gaudete.

We gave out some free CDs containing a handful of tracks from the last year, so hopefully people will listen to and enjoy them.

We had an amazing time, and we hope those who attended enjoyed the gig too; everyone seemed to, and we certainly got some loud applause (and audience participation)! We would absolutely love to go back to perform again if MelloMello would like us to (childcare permitting, although we could always bring the little one with us; he’s dead good at gigs now, an old hand at it). We’ll be popping in now and again anyway (Anchor Porter, fentiman’s soft drinks, lady grey tea and lovely food too, mmmm!) so hopefully we might bump into one or two of you.

Our next gig is this Friday at the Kazimier Gardens in Liverpool; we’re not sure yet exactly what time we’re on but we’re one of three outfits playing and the whole evening looks like it will be brilliant, so get on down and come and hear some live music! This is probably our last gig of the year, so do try your best to get down and make it a good one!

Friday 6 December 2013

Old footage of Ruth singing

Before Moss & Jones, Ruth (Moss) used to sing unaccompanied folk at various open mic events. Here she is in Liverpool, in the gardens of Sudley House (country home and art gallery), Summer 2012, singing her version of Scarborough Fair.

Monday 2 December 2013

A Very Cherry Christmas (Volume Nine)

Every year, Cherryade records puts out a really cool Christmas compilation… and this year, we’re on it! Why not buy a copy? Some fantastic musicians/groups/bands on there (including the legendary John Shuttleworth) so easily worth the six quid!

(To clarify, we’re not personally making money off this, but you’re more than welcome to pay for our Bandcamp music if you like…)

The song of ours which features on the CD is our ukulele duet version of Gaudete.

If you’d like to know a bit more about our take on Gaudete, read on… if not, go and take a look at who else is on A Very Cherry Christmas, or take a look at our own Christmas Collection, Gaudete!, or both…