Wednesday 21 August 2019

Radio review: Christmas isn't music to everybody's ears

Shane and Kirsty in the video for Fairytale of New York
Shane and Kirsty in the video for Fairytale of New York

Eilis O'Hanlon

Christmas music can be bad for your health. One can only hear Jingle Bell Rock so many times before wanting to shove the festive season where the northern lights don't shine.

In a report for Monday's Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk, Jonathan Healy looked at the inspiration behind some of the most famous seasonal songs, including Shane MacGowan's punk 'n' Irish classic Fairytale Of New York - written to win a bet, apparently. Some back stories were darker than others. Cheesy boy band East 17's Christmas Number One, Stay Another Day, was apparently written about the suicide of the brother of one of the members.

Lyric FM offered little refuge from the deluge of kitsch either, as Marty "make the place festive!" Whelan insisted on playing a remarkably awful little ditty called I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas on Marty In The Morning. His New Year's resolution should be to stop this nonsense.

So it's always a pleasure to tune into Christmas Around Europe on BBC Radio Three, the annual day devoted to live seasonal concerts from abroad.

This year began at lunchtime on Sunday in the Finnish capital Helsinki, with a largely unfamiliar repertoire of traditional Nordic carols, and ended, after a few breaks along the way, in Budapest after midnight, with choral works by contemporary composers Javier Busto (Spanish) and Levente Gyongyosi (Hungarian) - both new names to me.

There were some wonderful highlights - the Catalonia Musica radio station's contribution included Francesc Civil i Castellvi's El Nostre Nadal (Our Christmas), a lovely 20th century cantata based on favourite Catalan carols; and admittedly there were some lowlights too. Organ music is an acquired taste at the best of times. A whole hour from Germany was definitely stretching patience.

RTE's classical station made amends next night on The Lyric Concert, with a recording of English composer Bryan Kelly's light orchestral entertainment, Scrooge, narrated with full bodied richness by actor Simon Callow. At last radio was getting in the right Christmas mood.

So was The Documentary On One, which wasn't a documentary at all, but a so-called "mockumentary" called The Reindeer That Santa Left Behind. This imagined what might have happened had Father Christmas been forced to leave Blitzen to convalesce last year on a farm in Co Wexford after injuring a hoof.

News At One's Aine Lawlor provided the narration; there were interviews with Santa, and Andy Moore from Astronomy Ireland - and "the moral of the story, in case you were wondering, is that magical things do happen on Christmas Eve".

It's a pity, though, that, having come up with the original conceit, the "two ginger elves" in RTE Radio One who were credited with creating this seasonal curio didn't go the whole hog by roping in a host of other stars from Sean O'Rourke to Joe Duffy and Marian to flesh out the joke.

Sunday Independent

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