Monday, December 30, 2019

My Christmas album

This year I had a lot of fun making minor Xmas gifts for family and friends. Everyone got a jar of rowan and apple jelly and a copy of this Christmas album. Actually it's a fair old mixture, and only a couple of the tracks are definitely Christmas-related.

Here are some notes.

1. Prelude in E minor.

This is my own composition. It's part of a very long-running and un-serious project to make a set of preludes for guitar in all of the twenty-four keys, as the Mexican composer Manuel Ponce did. For this exercise the capo is banned, so most of those keys are pretty awkward if (like me) you are not very good at playing the guitar. E minor, however, is as simple as it comes.

2. I Won't Let You Down.

This is a song I've known and loved since I was fourteen. It was written by Albert Lee and was on the much under-rated final album Old Soldiers Never Die by Heads, Hands and Feet. Like many great songs of that era it has an "upside down" chord progression: formally in C, but mainly using the chords of F.  I tried to emulate the scintilations of the original band version with a couple of overdubbed electric guitars. The song's about the mysteries of influence, change, memory and identity. And love, of course.

3. Julmelodier.

This is a medley of popular Swedish tunes, as heard in every household at this time of year. Some are specifically Christmassy, others are suitable for any season or festivity. Originally I intended to sing them,  but they worked better as guitar tunes. Swedes will know all the words and can sing along!

Tre små gummor. The words come from a children's story by Anna Maria Roos. Three little old women are off to the market and talk about what fun they'll have riding on the carousel and eating sweets.
Kring julgranen.   After the long dark autumn, it's finally Christmas and the place lights up with snow. Then comes spring and summer, and by autumn we'll be longing for Christmas again. Words and music by Alice Tegnér (who reappears in Track 7).
Vi ska ställa till en roliger dans.  An unsymmetrical polska, heard just as often at midsummer as at Christmas. For group dancing. "You're lovely when you dance and smile, you're lovely when you look at your sweetheart."
Nu är det jul igen. Another polska. The words are delightfully inconsequential: "Now it's Christmas again, now it's Christmas again, and Christmas lasts right up to Easter. But that's not true, but that's not true, because in between comes Lent."
Hej! tomtegubbar.  A Christmas drinking song. "Hey Tomtegubbar fill the glass and let's make merry! A little time we live here, with much trouble and much care. Hey Tomtegubbar fill the glass and let's make merry!"
Karusellen (Jungfru, jungfru skär). Another children's song about a carousel, from the early twentieth century. "Maiden, rosy maiden, here's the carousel which will run this evening. Ten for the big ones and five for the small, hurry up, hurry up, now the carousel is off! Ha ha ha, we're having such fun, with Andersson and Pettersson and Lundström and me!"

4. You Wear It Well.

Song by Rod Stewart and Martin Quittenton, a big hit for Rod back in the day. The protagonist trying to ensnare a former love at a distance, with a heady mix of honesty, blarney and humour. But a further subtlety is the flitting awareness that he may be talking only to himself.

5. Get Set For The Blues.

A song by Joe R. Karnes. It was on Julie London's magnificent 1957 album About the Blues.  Her version is definitive, but for a song about depression it's a lot of fun to play and sing.

6. America.

One of Paul Simon's un-rhyming songs. I got interested in the meaning of the song, and then in its guitar intricacies.

7. Betlehems stjärna (Gläns över sjö och strand).

A Christmas carol. The words were a poem by Viktor Rydberg, the music, with constantly modulating keys, is by Alice Tegnér. It's about the star over Bethlehem, the tired shepherds and the sleeping baby. I worked the overdub feature to turn myself into a rather small male voice choir.

8. Fryksdalsdans nr 2. 

A traditional Swedish dance tune (it's a schottis). I wrote a bit more about this in an earlier post.

9. Fridolin's Folly.

A 1901 poem by Erik Axel Karlfeldt, freely translated by me and turned into a rudimentary song. I wrote some more about it here.

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