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What starts with Michael Sheen and ends with Catherine Zeta-Jones?

The thing about working with creative people they just can’t help but be …creative!  To be honest I was feeling that we had probably gone as far as we could with filming a video of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’.  The idea was to raise awareness and funds for the ‘Everyone Deserves A Christmas’ Hamper campaign but we hadn’t gone far enough, not for Edward Thomas the Film and TV Production Designer. 

Production Designer Professor Edward Thomas

We had just redecorated, with the help of the folk at Murton Farm I should say, redecorated the outside barn at Murton Farm shop turning it into a cross between the stable in Bethlehem and Santa’s grotto.  I had managed to arrange for Harry’s Youth Choir, The Morriston Salvation Army Band and various ‘faces’ from the local community to turn up on a cold November evening to perform for the camera and they were all on their way… it was then Ed turned to me and said ’Why don’t we make it like Thriller?’

The set…a cross between the Stable in Bethlehem and Santa’s Grotto.

I was already worried about the moves I would be making just standing there singing with my guitar but now he wants Thriller…I mean, I can’t dance.  What Ed had in mind wasn’t a lot of dancing kids and Salvation Army band members, no, what he had in mind was a little bit of a story before the actual song itself.  It wasn’t as if we had lots of time to go back to the drawing board to create a new shot list.  We were where we were, and we would have to be ‘creative’, and that’s where people like Ed come into their own.

Let me take a bit of a step back to how exactly we had got to that conversation.

I have known Carolyn Harris MP since we were kids.  We went to the same school; the same Sunday school and my mum was her teacher.  If fact when I mentioned Carolyn to my mum recently the first thing that came to her mind was Carolyn as a little girl with curly hair, standing on a table singing.  When my mum asked me how she was I said… she hasn’t changed one bit!

So last year during Covid we had chatted in December about ways to help her Hampers Campaign and I think she suggested we record some Christmas music.  Time beat us and I had forgotten about the idea until she got in touch sometime in early autumn. I still had a couple of rough tracks from the previous year, so I dug them out.  I have always been a massive Steve Balsamo fan.  We have written songs together and sung on radio and TV shows but have never made a record.  I sent him the backing track to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, he said yes and a week later popped over to add his vocal.

 

It’s really difficult to make money from records these days.  Streaming makes next to nothing and its really hard to sell CDs. I thought it might be a good idea to film videos of the songs from the album, make them available free of charge online and ask people to make donations to the JustGiving site if they wanted to use them or if they just liked what they had seen and wanted to support the charity.

My son Jackson has been making lyric videos for lots of bands lately including the new video for West End star Lee Mead.  He was a bit busy, but he said he would try to make one for ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’.  I had a video from last Christmas of ’Away in a Manger’ and the Warm Wind track recorded back in 2019 for Swansea’s 50th anniversary of becoming a city had never been released online or CD.  I thought I’d include that, and the good news was it already had a video. How was I going to make a couple more videos of the other songs?

Professor Edward Thomas on the set of Resident evil with Milla Jovovich

It has been a busy couple of years for Edward Thomas.  Firstly working on Resident Evil in South Africa, then The Escape Room 2 and finally this year designing the new Stephen Spielberg vampire film ‘The Last Voyage of the Demeter’. As luck would have it he was home for Christmas, so I gave him a call.

My new version of ‘In The Bleak Midwinter’ was pretty straight forward, just a voice, a piano and a cello. We decided to go guerrilla style and film the video on an iPhone.  By the time I got to the set Ed had spent the whole budget, and more, on candles from the Range. I got my friend Andrew Griffiths to film himself playing the cello and with a bit of editing it all came together quite quickly…which left ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’.

There are certain elements you need on a proper Christmas record. They include Sleigh bells, a kids choir and a Salvation Army Band.  Our version of ‘Little Town’ had all of these elements but how would we film a video.  I rang Dan Evans who makes lots of films in Swansea and told him we wanted to make a video and where should we film it. He said, ‘What about Murton Farm Shop?’

When I called in Ian and the family couldn’t have been more welcoming and helpful.  With time at a premium we decided on a date the following week.  I rang Harry’s Youth Choir, the Salvation Army band and Steve Balsamo and all were free the following Thursday.  I then tracked down a lighting company and Ed went back to the Range to spend more money on candles.

The remarkable thing was everyone was available, and everyone said yes.  I checked the weather forecast and it was cold but dry. Now over the years I have this habit of always saying ‘What could possibly go wrong?’.  I think it’s my way of trying to break any possible jinx.

It was probably the following Tuesday I got a call from Steve Balsamo saying he had tested positive for Covid. Its amazing how many thoughts go through your mind in a split second.  We could cancel but maybe people wouldn’t be available, and time was running out…but this is a duet with Steve Balsamo, and it needs Steve Balsamo. I put the phone down and thought for 5 minutes.  I decided cancelling was not an option as we might never be able to reorganise.

Although Steve was really unwell he managed to get dressed up in a big coat and scarf and film himself singing his parts against a blue wall in his house.  At least we knew we had Steve in the video.

I suppose I was feeling pretty pleased by the way things were coming together when Ed Thomas mentioned the ‘Thriller’ idea. 5 minutes later we had a plan.  We would film everyone packing hampers or drinking mulled wine, then we would have a section where Carolyn Harris and I packed the last hamper in the car before we started the song properly.

It starts with Michael Sheen…

When I showed the rough edit to Carolyn she said, ‘Wouldn’t it be good if we could get Michael Sheen to do a bit of a monologue at the beginning?’.  Over the following days my phone would ping and yet another video would arrive of people saying ‘Everyone Deserves a Christmas’…Davina McCall, Max Boyce, Bonnie Tyler and Catherine Zeta Jones.

…it ends with CatherineZeta-Jones

The video was launched this week and has already been seen by thousands of people.  What’s more it has prompted people to send money to the JustGiving page.

https://justgiving.com/campaign/hampers2021

We have even had some CDs made and are selling them through Derricks in Swansea, Spillers in Cardiff, Andy’s In Aberystwyth and Diverse in Newport.

Creating something like this video takes a lot of goodwill and a lot of creativity and knowing that it is really helping to promote this wonderful charity makes all the hard work worthwhile.

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