God Jul! I love Christmas, I do; you can probably tell from my deep, deep interest in the philosophy behind Christmas songs. Ok, so philosophy is probably too grand a word but there is clearly more behind why some of us are moved by certain songs during this festive period. To quickly sum up an earlier post: to me, good Christmas songs sit on a warm introspection/drunken knees-up axis. As a theory; it’s not been particularly thought through and is woefully inaccurate but it does go some way to explain why ‘Fairytale of New York‘ is so lauded (repeatedly, incessantly). The Pogues got it right. ‘Fairytale’ is a proper Goldilocks of a song with just the right amount of introspection and just the right amount of last-orders singalong. But there is an irrational in my theory; your individual love for a song is tied to the circumstances in which you first heard it. This irrational knocks ‘Fairytale’ fairly low on my list of top Chrimbo tunes. It hovers behind Paul McCartney and considerably behind Donny Hathaway. Of course the song that tops my list has as much alcoholic reverie and Yuletide warmth as anything; but nobody agrees with me. Not even my sisters. Not even my closest allies. Maybe you’ll agree with me. Probably not. I submit for your listening pleasure; Jethro Tull.
I can clearly remember the first time I noticed this bonkers, bonkers piece of awesomeness; the sibs and I were causing havoc, dancing like idiots to ‘Christmas Wrapping‘. You see, we’d recently discovered that the family owned *ahem* ‘The Best Christmas Album In The World… Ever!‘ and were giving it a test run. Time slowed down as we bopped to the funky, funky beats. Mum yelled something about helping with decorations so my beloved, noble sisters left to watch TV whilst the muppet that I am put up the cards; the CD ever plodding on in the background. Jethro Tull started playing. My mind melted. Actually melted. A Christmas song in oscillating irrational time signatures? Yes, please. More, please. Rich yet subtle arrangement including flutter tongued flute? … Hand claps!? You had me at ‘oscillating’. Ok, so that basically makes me sound utterly pretentious. That I only like this song because of it’s academic complexity and I suppose part of me does. But this song is better than that. It’s so warm and welcoming. The rhythms are so organic that they resonate with my being. I have no shame, it’s Christmas!
So how does this song fit with my much confused theory of Chrimbo music? Well, for the same reasons as ‘Fairytale’; it’s construction is rooted in the folk tradition. Discussions about genre definitions will be held until the new year but at it’s most basic, Folk is music made by the people. Compare this with Popular music which is made FOR the people. Folk is communal; a group of people getting together and playing for the joy of playing. The soul of folk is warming and welcoming. The home of folk is the pub. Jethro Tull were not major players in the 70’s Folk-Rock scene (having roots in Blues) but they did have strong connections with more authentic folk acts like Maddy Prior (even briefly becoming her backing band) and Fairport Convention. They knew the philosophy behind the movement. They knew all about the communal joy. It’s this that I hear when ‘Solstice Bells’ plays; a group of musicians welcoming the passing of winter with glee and everybody is invited!
Isn’t that all that we want at Christmas? To come together with no motive other than to send off the passing of Winter? No, we want John Lennon berating us from beyond the grave and Band Aid; again. Now before you complain, I like John Lennon (after many, many years on the fence), I like the original Band Aid. I just love Jethro Tull. It sounds like nothing else. I love that occasionally you’ll hear it in a shop and everyone will dismiss it because it’s vocal line is awkward to sing. That it’s tempo causes you to lurch in a troll-like manner. I even had this exact discussion the one time (ONE TIME!) it came over the PA of the ‘Finest Toyshop in the World’ where I happened to be working. My future sambo must’ve thought I had lost the plot as I danced and sang and dropped my customer service levels down to ‘adequate’ as I explained it’s magnificence. I was just so energised. I am still so energised. I find it exhilarating that this one song has such power over me. I freaking love music, man. Life is cool. Merry Christmas!