For the last 6 months I’ve been presenting the Late Night Show on BBC Radio Wales. The invitation to look after this really important programme came out of the blue with the passing of the irreplaceable Radio force of nature that was Chris Needs.
The first few weeks were filled with so many different emotions. I felt sadness at the loss of a dear friend and a responsibility knowing that so many of his dedicated listeners would be grieving. I also had a professional desire not to destroy a unique radio experience because I knew the ‘Chris Needs Friendly Garden Show’ had a connection like no other on radio.
I have loved every minute and when it ends I’ll really miss it and the lovely audience, but I have to say for the last few months I have once again been walking around in a bit of a daze completely jet lagged.
My sleep patterns have been irregular to say the least for most of my adult life. My first proper job was as a travelling musician. That meant I was used to starting my working day late afternoon as everyone else was getting home from work. While ‘civilians’ would be getting ready for their tea I, like so many other entertainers, would be packing up my gear and travelling to my gig.
Then came the excitement of the performance, then came the load out and the drive home. So many nights I would find myself trying to stay awake, the car windows open, loud music playing and intermittently pinching my legs or slapping my face to make sure I didn’t fall asleep.
My circadian rhythms were completely turned on their heads when I got a job working on early morning radio. All of a sudden I was getting up in the middle of the night, driving to Cardiff and presenting a show that meant my working day was done before most people had had their breakfast. I tried my best to continue with making music during the day but by mid afternoon I could often be found fast asleep in charge of the mixing desk.
I did have an afternoon radio show for a couple of years but on the whole for most of my life its either been up like a lark or propping my eyes open like an owl. Now I think my body clock needs a reset.
The trouble is that as what I do is a performance, whether that’s on stage or on the radio, and at the end of that performance I’m still buzzing, the adrenalin is still pumping, and my brain won’t stop. In the early days of the Late Show I tried winding down by watching some TV with a night cap, but I still found that once I got to bed I was still tossing and turning for another hour…so I made a decision, I wouldn’t fight it. After the show I decided I would carry on working, making preparations for the following day’s show or more often than not writing music.
Six months on and now my day starts at 11am, I go to bed at about 4am the following day and I’ve managed to write a whole new album of songs.
A week or so ago at around 3am I was just starting to wind down when I picked up my guitar. I just absentmindedly played 4 chords and then put the guitar down again. I turned off everything in the studio and got up…. then I stopped, I sat down and played the 4 chords again. An hour later and the 4 chords had turned into a 3 minute piece of music. By 4am I was starting to get a little tired, but I forced my self to spark up the studio and record everything I had written before I had a chance to forget it.
Which comes first the music or the words?
With the music written, the following afternoon I started to think about what I could write about. Over the past few months, I have spent a lot of time with my new granddaughter. I think I’m supposed to be the one teaching her about life but to be honest I’m learning so much more from her. Everyday is an adventure. She has no pretentions about what she wants to be, she just is. She laughs a lot, she’s a little bit scared of new things but is nosey and wants to learn and she loves rainbows.
Truth be told I’ve never been a particularly tough nut, but I can feel she is making me even softer than I was. Then I see pictures of other families not so fortunate. The nightly reports on TV of Refugee families with children the same age as my granddaughter fleeing war zones and it hurts. I’m sure they love their children and grandchildren as much as I do…but what can I do to help?
The last verse in the Christmas carol says,
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what can I give Him: give my heart
With a melody already written I decided to write a Christmas Carol for Advent, #darknessintolight.
It was almost by accident that I realised that the words to Away in a Manger fitted perfectly with my new tune. I’ve always loved the innocence of that carol; it seems to be the most childlike carol of all.
From memory I sang the carol as best I knew it for the first 3 verses. But as I recorded I realised I had so much going on in my head. As I sang about the baby Jesus and his family I saw my granddaughter and I saw those pictures from TV news. It almost took me by surprise when I found myself singing
Away in a Manger, no crib for a bed
The refugee Jesus, lays down his sweet head
With the song recorded I decided that I needed to create a video that takes people on a journey.
The video starts with a traditional Chocolate box Christmas, dark skies and snow and shooting stars and a stable that looks as if it is been hoovered and polished to within an inch of its life.
But as the final verse begins I choose footage of modern day refugees, kids who through no fault of their own are homeless and running away from people who would hurt them.
That’s the rest of the real Christmas story, a family with a new born baby fleeing their own country and having to take refuge far away from home because people wanted to hurt them.
We have all suffered this year and 2021 and the vaccine and a return to normal life can’t come quick enough, but as you try your best to celebrate this Christmas, whether its on your own or with a small bubble of friends or family, maybe spare a thought for those seeking refuge because that’s something the baby Jesus knew about all too well.
If you would like to use the video for an online Church service or a community project please use the YouTube video link https://youtu.be/PAfrGG1YzOE with my blessing or email firstname.lastname@example.org for other download details.