Greg Lake, Seasonal Tunes and “I Believe In Father Christmas”

Well, I’m just back from a work “do”, part Christmas and part farewell for someone who is retiring, and realise that if I don’t post something Christmassy soon, the big day will be upon us. I had until last weekend felt distinctly un-Christmassy, but darling daughter (who is back at home with us) wanted the tree up a week earlier than is usual, so we obliged. What with that, and the fact I have been busy writing cards and playing festive music, I have at last been imbued with the Christmas spirit. (The cocktails I have just consumed this afternoon were of course also imbued with spirit, but of a very different, tasty kind.)

Christmas in glossy mag land!

But what on earth of all the many Christmas songs should I feature? I think it is a given that Fairytale of New York by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl is the best Christmas song ever – A bittersweet folk ballad that really has stood the test of time. Instead however I have been thinking back to the mid-1970s when just about all the mainstream artists of the day released a seasonal ditty. Ironically they are, on the whole, the songs we still hear today on the radio and on compilation CDs. Why is this I wonder? First of all we consumed our music in a very different way back in the ’70s with whole families sitting down to watch Top Of The Pops every week – A few slots on TOTP pretty much guaranteed you the coveted Christmas No. 1 position and boy must those royalties still be rolling in for Slade and Wizzard, who between them assumed blanket coverage of December 1973’s airwaves with both Merry Xmas Everybody and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday.

But no, I am going to roll forward to Christmas 1975 when an artist I had not really taken much heed of until that point released a very satisfying seasonal record called I Believe In Father Christmas. His name was Greg Lake, first of King Crimson and then of Emerson, Lake and Palmer. I only discovered last weekend that Greg had passed away a few days previously, yet again (like Bowie and Rickman) at the age of 69, and yet again of cancer.

I Believe In Father Christmas by Greg Lake:

Greg wrote this song as an objection to the commercialisation of Christmas which in the intervening 40 years just seems to have got worse. Back in 1975 it reached No 2. in the UK Singles Chart but unlike some other Christmas songs from that era I feel it has stood the test of time. Something that I wouldn’t have known then was that the instrumental section between verses comes from a Suite by Prokofiev. If I had been a fan of prog rock back then this might have made sense, but being a teenage girl I really wasn’t. Those of us who had older brothers were a bit more au fait with artists such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer who were attached to that sub-genre, but I didn’t, so was far more interested in my teen idols at that time, who often went by the name of David.

Thinking back to Christmas 1975, this song coincided with a very busy time for me school-wise as it would have been the year I sat my important Scottish “O” Grade Prelims (all 8 of them), in the build up to the holidays. Listening to a bit of festive music on our little kitchen transistor radio, whilst having breakfast before yet another big exam, would probably have been a bit of a tonic that set you up for the day. Also, thinking back, the ’70s were a bit of a grim time in Britain, so maybe the public took to buying seasonal tunes in their millions to make life just that little bit cheerier. Other big-selling records from that time were by Mud, Johnny Mathis, Paul McCartney, Mike Oldfield, Boney M and even The Wombles. Sadly, other than something by Jamie Cullum (who I think would make a really great Hobbit), I haven’t heard anything else new being released this year and somehow I can’t imagine Kanye West “Wishing It Could Be Christmas Everyday”.

So, “What’s It All About?” – I think I’ve just made myself sad and that was not the intention of this post at all. Sad because I think the heyday of the Christmas single is behind us; sad because I am reminded of the people I would have listened to this song with back in 1975, and most are either no longer with us or are no longer part of my life and finally; sad that all these years later Christmas still seems to be primarily all about “stuff”. Time to head off for a strong coffee I think to counteract the comedown from the afternoon cocktails, and perhaps time for another listen to Fairytale of New York, as for some bizarre reason that song always cheers me up!

RIP Greg – He will be looking down, “Wishing us a hopeful Christmas and a brave New Year”.

I Believe In Father Christmas Lyrics
(Song by Greg Lake/Peter Sinfield)

They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
But instead it just kept on raining
A veil of tears for the Virgin birth
I remember one Christmas morning
A winters light and a distant choir
And the peal of a bell and that Christmas Tree smell
And their eyes full of tinsel and fire

They sold me a dream of Christmas
They sold me a Silent Night
And they told me a fairy story
‘Till I believed in the Israelite
And I believed in Father Christmas
And I looked TO the sky with excited eyes
‘Till I woke with a yawn in the first light of dawn
And I saw him and through his disguise

I wish you a hopeful Christmas
I wish you a brave New Year
All anguish pain and sadness
Leave your heart and let your road be clear
They said there’ll be snow at Christmas
They said there’ll be peace on Earth
Hallelujah Noel be it Heaven or Hell
The Christmas we get we deserve