Tuesday, November 30, 2010

listening to Christmas: Aoife Clancy, Tommy Sands, Matt Heaton

 christmas door cambridge copyright kerry dexter
Those who make music for a living enjoy listening to music as well, and that’s especially true at Christmas time. A number of your favorite musicians chimed in with their ideas this season, and quite a varied lot they choose, from The Chipmunks to the monks of Glenstal Abbey, from surf music to American folk to Latin hymns. They had so many interesting things to say that this lively conversation will fill several posts.

To begin, here are Christmas favorites from Aoife Clancy, Tommy Sands, and Matt Heaton.

Aoife Clancy calls on memories of family this time of year:

"You’re not going to believe who I listen to during the holidays...The Clancy Brothers Christmas Album! I know, I know...I was almost going to say Bing Crosby, but that wouldn't really be the truth. That album brings back such lovely memories of Christmas day for me at home in Carrick-on-suir. I was always the one in the kitchen with my mother preparing dinner, while the rest of the family set the table or just hung out in the kitchen and chatted.

We'd always put on that CD because it wasn't the usual Christmas songs. It had some really lovely carols on there along with the Wren song, and Christmas in Carrick, written by a relative of mine, Seamus McGrath. Actually myself and Robbie use quite a few of those carols in our own Celtic Christmas show.

It was kind of funny. If anyone saw us they'd think we were a bit mad, serving food while dancing and singing around the kitchen to the Clancy Brothers Christmas
album! Then it was off to my grandmother’s house in Ring, County Waterford where the rest of the relatives would congregate for a few drinks and sing songs till about three o clock in the morning...And believe me, everyone sang...that's why it didn't end till three AM.

Now my father has passed on, I live in the States and my other siblings have their own families to celebrate Christmas with. Ah well, at least I have my own copy of the Clancy Brothers Christmas CD to dance around to in my own kitchen this Christmas. Not quite the same...but it's still comforting to hear their voices, and I'll always have the memories, wherever I spend Christmas."

In his music, Tommy Sands considers ideas of peace and justice as often as those of love and of Irish history, and sometimes all in the same song. He has a seasonal album out called To Shorten the Winter. Here’s what he is thinking of just now about the holidays

"Christmas can rouse us around a common hearth of humanity so that the wintery elements, some of our own making, can be more easily chorused against. I tend to be drawn to songs that shield us from the onslaught of the jingle jangle commercialism and nudge us towards the warmth and needs of shared humanity.

I find inspiration in all sorts of songs, from John McCutcheon's Christmas In The Trenches to the Weavers line "Why can't we have Christmas the whole year around," from Patrick Kavanagh's Christmas Childhood to Louis Armstrong's Wonderful World.

Christmas can also gather us well beyond the borders of category and season to throw back our heads and sing whatever we feel like singing, like 'whack fol the daddio whack fol the daddio there's whiskey in the jar.'"

Matt Heaton often performs in a duo with his wife Shannon.Together with her he’s recorded a holiday album called Fine Winter's Night,which includes original songs and tunes of the season and traditional music they like for this time of year, as well. Matt says of his holiday choices

"Singing wise, it's all the stuff from Fine Winter's Night, which is always fun to bring out once a year. Recording wise, we have a box of Christmas cds. Favorites include:

Tuck Andress--Hymns Carols & Songs About Snow--genius solo guitar recording.
A Very Froggy Christmas--late 80s, kind of lo fi samples of frogs doing the hits. really tacky but we love it.
Dwight Yoakam--Come on Christmas--'cause there's nothing like a country Christmas record.

We also love listening to the service of Lessons & Carols from Kings College England. Best choral singing you'll ever hear.

and I'm putting the Los Straightjackets Christmas CD on my wish list for this year. Surf guitar versions of the classics!"

The Heatons and Tommy Sands have holiday albums out, and Aoife Clancy often does a series of holiday concerts in the New England area with her cousin, songwriter Robbie O’Connell. Sands and the Heatons tour at Christmas time as well. All worth hearing. Stay tuned here along the music road for more Christmas listening choices from your favorite artists, and other holiday music ideas to come.

you may also wish to see

Music Road: Another Fine Winter's Night: Matt & Shannon Heaton

Music Road: 6 of the best Christmas Songs

Kathy Mattea: Mary Did You Know?

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posted by Kerry Dexter at


Anonymous Alexandra said...

Matt and Shannon are among my favorites. Interesting idea: knowing what speaks to musicians at Xmas! We listen to an old tape my kids liked in the 1980s, that was sent to me in France by a radio station PD in Boston as a Xmas gift.

7:31 AM  
Anonymous NoPotCooking said...

I love this idea! Very neat. I know I have some specific albums that mean Christmas to me, things that we played when I was a kid. I'm very interested in learning what musicians are listening to.

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi said...

How lovely to be able to hear your own relatives singing Xmas songs on an album. I'm not much for Xmas myself, but I do manage to hear "The Fairytale of NY" by the Pogues, of course.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Kristen said...

I wish some retail stores would take a look at this. I'm getting so bored of hearing the same songs over and over again when I'm out shopping.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Stephanie - Wasabimon.com said...

I'm interested in learning about Christmas music from other places, so thank you for this!

3:45 AM  
Anonymous Alisa Bowman said...

I love this suggestion. I'm always looking for different stuff to listening to this time of you--beyond the usual Jingle Bell Rock.

10:31 AM  
Anonymous kris bordessa said...

Funny that in spite of so many holiday music options we seem to hear the same ones over and over on the radio. Wouldn't it be great if the stations would stretch the limits a bit?

1:55 AM  

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