Monday, 19 December 2011

My Favourite Xmas Album



My favourite xmas album isn’t a xmas album, but it has bells in it (both tubular and cow), and because I was listening to it most intently up to and around a long ago xmas I cannot untangle it from that time of year.

Although it was released in the summer of 1968, it was probably 1971 before a fifteen year old me had my own copy. By then I knew it included some top class writing and play
ing, but I didn’t realise it had reached no. 3 in the UK’s charts, no. 1 in the US’s and become the world's first platinum-selling double album. I played my copy on what was nominally the family’s Bush record player which, without consultation I had moved from the sitting room to the top of my bedroom wardrobe. With a cunning born of desperation I’d connected two skinny wires to the back of the stylus arm and run them into a recently acquired bass guitar amp and a big fat speaker. This double album was Cream’s “Wheels of Fire” and on the slow and darkening run up to xmas it still seems to me appropriate that the first song was tied to a night when “Silver horses ran down moonbeams in your dark eyes” and “Dawn light smiles on you leaving my contentment.”

Hungry for information I read and re-read the sleeve notes and label. Back then I didn’t know that C. Burnett was Howlin’ Wolf, but I was impressed that he’d “Had to take Christmas in [his] overalls.” Passing the Time is entirely a wintertime song; in As You Said “the sun is out of reach” and in Deserted Cities of the Heart “… the sun is black, The winter life is coming back.” Nothing in the other tracks lessens the feeling I had, and still have, that this is an album centred on winter.

Rumour had it that Ginger Baker was the greatest drummer, that Eric Clapton was still “God” and, even at that age, I could tell that Jack Bruce was a real musician whose singing, song writing and playing were intelligent, powerful and enormously varied. What I didn’t realise then was that no other musicians would ever again compel Clapton to perform beyond what seemingly he considered to be the limits of his ability. For that reason this third album by a successful and confident trio stretching out and better matched in musicianship than even Jimi Hendrix’ Experience, is going to be memorable for at least as long as I am able to remember anything.