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Christmas Carolyn!

Now this might come as a surprise to some of you younger folk but back in the day when you telephoned someone you had to actually input each individual number, one at a time.

The Production team still smiling at the end of the night filming at Murton Farm.

Our first family phone had a dial.  We thought we had moved into the realms of science fiction when the GPO upgraded us to a button phone.  But whether it had a dial or a button you still had to have the number written down somewhere for the person you wanted to call. 

If you didn’t know the number you could thumb through a massive tree eating tome called a telephone directory.  Hopefully the person you wanted was listed in that directory, but if they were it would be in tiny writing with tiny numbers.  Even as a teenager I would often have to use the magnifying glass, which was always kept next to the phonebook, to double check.

What that meant was that you actually got to remember the telephone numbers of your friends and family by heart. I can still recite the numbers of about a dozen people from the 1970s.  Of course, these days with such clever mobile phones you only have to know people’s numbers once.  Then you save them to the phone’s memory and from then on all you do is type some letters into your contacts page and up they come, often with a picture, email and house address and any information you like associated with that person.

On the flip side, so long as someone has your number stored against your name, when you call them your name appears on their phone.  In the old days people often answered their phone by telling the caller their name and number, these days I’m often greeted by ‘Hello Mal’.

Whilst that might be their greeting, for a number of people I know, I’m sure at the back of their mind they are worried that after the formal niceties they are going to hear those words…’So I’ve had an idea’.

Most things in life have to start with an idea, its just some ideas are bigger and more complicated than others. Mind you I’m not the only one.

Packing Christmas Hampers Swansea.Com Stadium 2019

I’ve been involved with Carolyn Harris’ Hamper appeal for a number of years. Carolyn knew that lots of families might not have everything they needed at Christmas, so she started putting together some special hampers on her kitchen table to give away.  The idea grew year on year needing spaces like The Swansea.com Stadium or Mecca Bingo to house all of the donated produce, boxes, as well as the staff needed to pack the hampers.

You’re never fully dressed without a smile.

I’m not sure if it was Carolyn or I who came up with the idea to put together a Christmas Album.  Whoever it was we must have agreed with the other because this year that’s what we’ve done to raise awareness and funds for the Hamper appeal. 

That’s when the phone calls started with ‘I‘ve had an idea’.  First stop was with the musicians, telling them about the project and the types of sounds I’d like to use for the various carols and songs.  Then there was that phone call to Steve Balsamo asking would he be available to sing a duet on ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’. 

Steve Balsamo in the video for ‘Little Town of Bethlehem’

There are certain things you have to have on at least one of your tracks on a Christmas album.  I already had the sleigh bells from a pack of toy instruments I had bought my granddaughter.  Next we needed a good children’s choir. 

Harry’s Youth Theatre Choir with Jonathan Lycett and Kathryn Wheel

Back in 2019 I had recorded a song with the Harry’s Youth Theatre Choir who are based at the Swansea Grand. It was terrific so I decided to call Jonathan Lycett, their musical director to see if we could work together again. I called on a Friday. The following Monday I was at the Grand recording the choir. 

A Salvation Army Band is for life, not just for Christmas!

Of course, every Christmas album needs a brass band and who better than the Morriston Salvation Army band.  When I called the band master Chris Lear I’m sure he must have had a sense of déjà vu. We had been there before.  It was about 25 years ago that we stood outside St. David’s Hall in Cardiff one wet evening in November filming one of my carols for a Welsh TV show.   Maybe that experience hadn’t been too bad, or maybe time is a great healer, or maybe Chris is just enthusiastic like me, but he immediately said yes and committed another 5 band members to the project.

Mal chatting to Ian from Murton Farm at the start of the day’s filming

Having got all of those sounds on the recording, next my mind turned to a video.  Could I get everyone together in one place at the same time, could I do it inside the next 10 days to make sure the video was completed in time?  Also, where would we shoot it?

It was Dan Evans, the camera man I had roped in to film the video who suggested maybe a Farm Shop.  Now I have lots of different relationship but the one I have with Ian from Murton Farm goes back years.  Its an on off relationship.  Its on for a couple of days in December when I collect my Christmas Tree and then off again for 11 ½ months until the following Christmas when I arrive to find Ian has reserved a tree for me already.

It was a week last Wednesday I drove up to Murton Farm and found Ian working in the Farm Shop.    I told him all about Carolyn’s project, about the album and about the video.  Before I could really ask, Ian had said yes, yes to anything we needed to use or to move. Nothing would be a problem.

Ed and Nathalie Thomas (I even persuaded Nath to be the Production Manager)

My next call was to one of my oldest friends, Ed Thomas.  Ed is the Production Designer who made the return of Dr Who look great.  He has designed 2, maybe 3 different versions of the Tardis.  He has made films all around the world and for most of this year he has been working on a Stephen Spielberg film about vampires called ‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’. Luckily for me he’s been home for a couple of weeks.  I explained the project and he immediately offered to help.

Ed and Nath Thomas giving out Lanterns

Last Wednesday I took Ed and Dan the cameraman for a final recce.  I had thought we would film in the Farm Shop but in the meantime Ian had totally decorated a much older rustic barn with fairy lights and Christmas trees.  Ed said, this is where we need to film…and he was right.

With so many people coming to the shoot I thought we would need refreshments, so I rang Nick Jones from the Plough and Harrow in Murton.  I explained and he offered mulled wine and mince pies, all on the house.

Thursday was a bit of a blur. As night fell the barn literally turned into a Christmas Grotto.  We even had a snow machine.  As I write Dan is editing the footage.  As well as the main video shoot Benny Griffiths from the Ospreys media team was there shooting what we call ‘B’ roll; footage of everyone meeting, chatting and drinking mulled wine that we can use for a ‘Behind the Scenes’ video. It’s downloading as I type.

I think this story might run on to next week as well because as I type I’m getting messages from Carolyn Harris about things and people she would like us to include in the final video.  What do they say in the films…’Suddenly the monster was bigger than both of us’.  In the case of these 2 kids from Manselton who like a big idea, never was a truer word said.

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