tommy sands: to shorten the winter
To Shorten the Winter: an Irish christmas with Tommy Sands
Tommy Sands opens this collection with a song of hope and celebration for peace in Ireland at the holidays. Called Like the First Time It’s Christmas Time, it’s a piece he wrote at the request of fellow musician Dolores Keane (who turns up as a guest later on in the program). It forms both an opener and, in a way, a center piece for the music and the ideas here. One might even take the winter to be shortened in the title to be a wish for lasting peace across the island of Ireland.
One of the ways Sands celebrates that idea is, oddly enough, or maybe not so oddly, by including the 60s classic A Whiter Shade of Pale. “At Christmas time when all barriers, musical and others, melted in the wake of a few sods of turf, we threw back out heads and sang,” he says, and this was part of such evenings of singing north and south of the border. Liam O’Flynn adds pipes to the song, a very Celtic touch that works very well.
Down by the Lagan Side is another Sands original, written to welcome the beginning of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Sands is from Rostrevor, in County Down, literally a stone’s throw across Carlingford Lough from the Republic, and he’s felt and seen the worst of the troubles and been part of the best of the healing. In part to celebrate that healing, he pairs Patrick Kavanagh’s A Christmas Childhood with his own A Call to Hope, and offers his own recollections of happy Christmases in Heart of Love.
Sands has often put his music where is politics are, so it’s not surprising that he might write a song seeing Jesus as a revolutionary -- which, of course, He was. That song is called The Bushes of Jerusalem. The Mixed Marriage is an amusing song about divisions political and personal, for which Dolores Keane joins in. Sands’ storyteller’s voice is well suited to the stories he tells, including his take on another Kavanagh song, Raglan Road, which has been recorded by many including Luke Kelly and Mary Black. Sands gives a nod to the courage of emigrants and immigrants in Welcome Kind Stranger and brings the personal and the political, the music and the songs home with Slan Abhaile, safe travels, safe home. It’s a seasonal recording well suited for listening the year around.
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