So when should Christmas start? Is it when the monsters, ghosts and ghoulies return to the dressing up box, when the final sparkler fizzles out or when the Christmas adverts start appearing in between ‘I’m Celebrity… Get me Out of Here’?
For me Christmas started back in January.
Launching Everyone Deserves a Christmas 2022 in Swansea Market.
Over the past number of years I have been involved in the ‘Everyone Deserves a Christmas’ Hamper Charity. What started off with Carolyn Harris, MP Swansea East, packing some packages of Christmas treats on her kitchen table has now turned into a ‘military style’ campaign. It starts with collecting the money, buying the bits before packing them to deliver to hundreds if not thousands of people who otherwise wouldn’t have a traditional Christmas.
Packing Hampers at the Swansea dot com.
It was a couple of years ago, when we were at the Swansea dot com stadium packing hampers that Carolyn Harris asked me what I was going to do next year. If I’m honest I thoroughly enjoyed being there for the packing, passing packs of carrots to others who would put them in neat rows for others to collect and put into the next available hamper. It actually made you feel as if you were doing something positive, it made you feel good.
It soon became clear that Carolyn had something else in mind. We have been friends since school days, and I knew if she had a plan it would be hard to say no.
‘What about a record?’ said Carolyn.
In the past Charity records like Band Aid have made millions but with the advent of streaming making music pay has become harder and harder. But what music and music videos can do is raise awareness for a charity and maybe if people like the project they will then go to the JustGiving page and send some cash.
Christmas came and went, and it was probably the summer of 2021 when Carolyn called to check on progress for the record. In times like these I always think it’s best to lie. Yes I had lots of ideas… yes I had plenty of potential collaborators… yes the record would be ready in time. Well it wasn’t a complete lie I was more like a politician being economic with the truth. I did have a few ideas and I’ve got lots of great musical friends, but I knew I had to get my skates on.
Recording a new upbeat version of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ went pretty smoothly. I managed to get Steve Balsamo to pop over to record it as a duet and soon added the Harrys Youth Theatre and Salvation Army Band.
What about the video?
Finding the right location is always the first step. I always get my Christmas Tree from Murton Farm Shop and I knew with a bit of lighting we could make it look really special for the video. As luck would have it my friend Ed Thomas the Film Designer was back from working with Spielberg on a Vampire Movie and he took charge of the set.
Ed and Nath Thomas giving out the lanterns
We brought in lights and a snow machine and gave the kids choir lanterns. It looked amazing. We did have a bit of a setback when Steve Balsamo caught COVID and said he couldn’t be there on the night. With the wonders of modern technology and a green screen we manged to add him later.
Then Carolyn said she had asked Michael Sheen if he’d lend a hand. Days later I received a video of Michael from the set of ‘Good Omens’ reciting the first verse of the carol dressed in Dickensian costume. With extra video clips from everyone from Max Boyce to Catherine Zeta Jones I went to bed on Christmas Eve that year feeling rather smug.
It was probably Summer 2022 when I got the call from Carolyn again…what are we doing this year? Now I know ones’ work is never done but with a video featuring Hollywood A listers I did wonder what I could do next.
During Covid I had presented the late night show on BBC Radio Wales starting at 10pm and finishing at 1am. I found it impossible to go straight to sleep so every night I spent hours in my studio writing. One night I came up with a little tune on the guitar which I thought with a bit of fiddling would work with the words to ‘Away in a Manger’. I did a demo and sent it to Bronwen Lewis, a singer I had admired for some time.
I suggested she might sing her verses in Welsh. Next I approached Valley Rock Voices, a choir of 200 ladies and also the Fiddlesticks String Orchestra and managed to record them both at their rehearsals.
Now for a location? With that many people you need a big venue. Over Covid I had recorded a session for the BBC TV Show ‘Songs of Praise’ at the Liberty Church in Landore, formally New Siloh. I spoke to Mark Richie the pastor and he literally flung wide the doors to his church. I was so grateful he did because when the choir started arriving from all over the region I wasn’t sure we would fit them all in.
Obviously by now I’d learnt my lesson. It was during a quiet week this January, with the tinsel and fairy lights still up, that I started on this year’s song. I needed a title to start with…. after hours of thought it came to me…’Everyone Deserves a Christmas’!!!
Mal & Andrew Griffiths recording the City of Prague Philharmonic in June.
That phrase has quite a bounce to it and by the end of the day I had the song sorted. Next the arrangement? I’ve always loved the 70’s Christmas classics with sleigh bells, kids choir etc but I also knew that later in the year we planned to record the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. I rang my friend Andrew Griffiths in Ystradgynlais and within days he had sent me back his strings and brass arrangements.
I managed to find a time to get my band the Jacks into a studio for the backing track and over the past few weeks I’ve been out recording various choirs and groups to add to the mix.
Filming at the Parc Le Breos Cabin.
Now for the video. I remembered how wonderful Parc Le Breos looks at Christmas, a perfect location for a festive video. I rang Nicci Spencer who helps run the hotel and explained what I was after. The first requirement was getting the cover photograph.
Some years ago the film company I run with Ed Thomas had made a film about Dylan Thomas called ‘Set Fire to the Stars’. It starred Elijah Wood and one of the scenes was filmed in the Parc Le Breos Cabin. I thought it could be perfect and no sooner had I asked than Nicci and her team set up fairy lights and a roaring fire to provide the perfect backdrop for me, Santa and Mrs Claus.
Next week we will be back at Parc Le Breos to film more scenes inside the hotel itself.
Tomorrow we will be performing the song outside the Dragon Hotel as part of the Christmas Lights Parade. We will have some cameras there too filming us but also filming the crowd. It would be great if you could sing along so that we can add you to the official video.