At this time of year I find I have to rush out of a high street shop as another seasonal ditty pumps out the shops speakers. It usually happens with Wizard’s glam-tinged I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day and Slade’s over-the-top Merry Christmas Everybody, songs that lose any quality that may possess in the maddening overplay in a two-month period ending only when the bells chime for another year.
And yet, here I am listening to said Wizard track and not feeling the urge to kick in the stereo, because the version I have on is by Nick Lowe, from Quality Street: A Seasonal Selection for All The Family (Proper records). Lowe has found creativity easy to come by as his hair whitens and he goes beyond the age of 60, not an age usually conducive to musical integrity.
In the past six years he has released At My Age and The Old Magic, both of which have featured in Porky’s annual best of year lists. Quality Street won’t achieve that, well, it is a Christmas album after all, but it’s a superior effort for a collection from a period dominated by the likes of Mariah Carey and Cliff Richard. On Quality Street, Lowe has recorded oft-forgotten seasonal cheer that have hints of rockabilly, blues and folk.
Among the festive non-hits given the Lowe-down are Roger Miller’s Old Toy Trains and Ron Sexsmith’s Hooves On The Roof. In one of his own creations, the languid and beautiful Christmas Can’t Be Far Away, Lowe paints a scene of harmony and expectation, where “even the landlord smiles and says good day”. Another Lowe penned number, Christmas At The Airport, retells a familiar theme, of the horrors in getting anywhere in the run-up to the holidays, with a “terminal seething” with fellow travellers, “all the planes are grounded and the fog is rolling in,” Lowe bemoans, before falling asleep in one of the airport’s crannies and wakes up wondering where everyone has gone. Lowe and co turn the traditional Children Go Where I Send Thee into a rockabilly knockabout, and the 1950s feel continues on the North Pole Express, as Santa makes his way around the planet.
How can anyone hate Christmas music now?