15th December – The Hardy Tree and Dave Watkins

One of the highlights of my year has been discovering Frances Castle, aka The Hardy Tree and Claypipe Music. Not only because she’s great company and fast becoming a new friend but also because she made my personal favourite album of the year.

A lot of my favourite music at the moment seems, to me, to deal with memory. The Hardy Tree sound instantly familiar but also strangely remote and exotic. Also in a world of dwindling record sales and bespoke, boutique releases, Frances really does the most beautiful limited, handprinted record sleeves.

Me and Frances will be releasing a record together with WIAIWYA records next year.

Go and buy something now and support one of the good guys. – Darren

www.thehardytree.co.uk

www.claypipemusic.co.uk

The Hardy Tree – The Fields Lie Sleeping Underneath

Dave Watkins has played with me for years in both the Secondary Modern and Hayman, Watkins, Trout and Lee and I was delighted that he has decided to make his songwriting debut on the Christmas advent. I was shocked that it was a six minute prog opus. Here Dave explains.

Dave Watkins: vocal, ukulele, banjo, electric guitar, children’s shakes
Dave Sheppard: parlour guitar, drums, children’s glockenspiel
Steve King: electric guitar
Ruth Atkins: electric bass

Recorded by Jon Clayton at www.onecatstudio.co.uk

When Darren suggested contributing to a musical advent calendar, I immediately thought of Dave Sheppard. I haven’t recorded that much stuff on my own, and I wanted to partner with someone I like and could trust to help. With us were Ruth and Steve, who both work with me. (Ruth also plays bass in Crumbling Ghost, one of Stewart Lee’s album choices for the year.) We had a really fun Friday afternoon with Jon Clayton making this.

For my two daughters, snowmen, Christmas and winter are synonymous. My daughters are three and a half years old, and for weeks they have been asking me when The Snowman is coming to visit. They want him to live in the sitting room. Raymond Briggs is responsible.

Being a father has given me licence to love Christmas again. I once felt an obligation to be dismissive of its tinselly rituals. But now I believe they are magical – truly. And, because my own childhood was spent in the West Midlands during the 1970s, that sense of magic has found its expression in prog-inflected hard rock. – Dave Watkins

(and remember it’s 6 minutes. It’s not over until you’ve heard the Glockenspiel – Darren)

Dave Watkins – Snowman Parts One and Two

14th December – Emma Kupa from Standard Fare and The Dream of Horses

I didn’t listen to Standard Fare because of their name. Seriously, I’m that stupid. Emma Kupa, who writes and sings for Standard Fare is a truly ferocious talent. She has a completely natural musicality about everything she does and, like all the best singers, is completely unaware of the oddness that makes her unique. I can’t think of anyone that sound like her and that’s the biggest compliment I can pay anyone these days. – Darren

Here’s Emma on her song. – This is the second or third time I’ve been asked to write a Christmas-themed song, and having succumbed the last few years, I didn’t want to write another song about Christmas or snow. I’m Jewish and this year Channuka coincides with Christmas, so that gave me an opportunity to sing about something different. The story goes that a flame in the temple lasted 8 days which was a miracle because they only had oil for one day. So I wanted to take this message (which is easily as good as how great some baby boy is!) and transfer it to the current political and economic situation. It feels like all hope is gone, but maybe we can keep the flame burning! – Emma Kupa

Emma Kupa – Channuka

Rebecca Evans is one of several new friends I made during January Songs. She played clarinet on the song, ‘Staying In.’ She became an even better friend this summer when she took me to an old steam railway in the North East this summer. – Darren

One of the nicest things about this project has been people forming bands especially for the project. Here’s Rebecca on her song.

We put the band “The Dream of Horses” together just for the purpose of this project and recorded it all at home. My younger sister, Sophie Evans, wrote the majority of this song and tells me that the lyrics are all loosely based around people who think that they’re too cool for christmas.

We invited Jon Melvin in to do some of the vocal parts, Jon and me are in band together called The Union Choir and we’ve just released a christmas song with this band for another project – http://thechristmasproject.bandcamp.com/ – Rebecca Evans

The Dream Of Horses – Dress It Up In Tinsel

13th December – Moustache of Insanity and Ardie Collins

The were a few acts that both me and Tom Fika wanted on our advent calendar so much so that we had to fight it out as to who ‘presented’ them. A swift kick to the shins and Moustache were mine.

Moustache of Insanity are funny. Not ‘smirk’ funny but smacking-the-floor-with-your-fist-in-pain funny. Here is Nick to tell you all about their song. – Darren

“Here’s our song. Hope you like it. It was recorded professionally, by professionals, using nothing but professional tools in a very professional manner.

Moustache of Insanity…raising the bar!

oh sweet mama.

Mary Eksmess!”

Woah! Tom Fika Recordings here. Before I limp away to nurse my bruised shins (hm, cheers Darren) and you download the Christmas joy that is Jingle Moustache, let me put in my 2ps worth on Moustache Of Insanity. They were one of the bands involved in the first batch of Fika cassettes back in February (which sold out super quickly – luckily you can download it from their website). There’s something about MOI that never fails to make me smile; their live shows always get me dancing and giggling like a fool. That, for me, makes them awesome.
In August I was lucky enough to put out their Album Of Death on blood red 12″, which you can buy from here (and I really think you should, its one of my favourites of the year). Good times were had finger painting bloody messages of doom/terror/hiliarity stolen from all our favourite horror movies, dragging Bill and Nik out to old railways lines for photoshoots and the blood soaked album launch party in Brixton. I love the Moustache.
Tom

Moustache Of Insanity – Jingle Moustache

www.moustacheofinsanity.com/

Back in January I tried to write a song for every day of the month. You can find out about that here januarysongs.tumblr.com/ At the end of the project I was made aware of Ardie Collins who is writing a song for every day of this year.

Think about that a little, he will have written 365 songs this year. At least some of them must be bad right? This one isn’t though. Ardie will play with me at my two special January Songs shows in January that coincide with the physical release of January Songs and please support Ardie. I like stupid ideas that involve hard work.

Ardie Collins – Happy Christmas, I Suppose

Here’s Ardie.

I’m a novelist and singery-songwritery type person from Cardiff who has been undertaking a project since the 1st of January 2011 to release one original song every day for a year. It’s called The Cooper365 Project and I’m still on top of it as it moves towards its completion. The nature of the project has meant having to put out an entire year of things I’ve created, whether they’re good or bad or average, and it’s something I would highly recommend doing. This will undoubtedly be the thing I’m most proud of having done, and it’s mainly the prospect of being able to look back with a big, stupid grin on my face that has kept me going.

 

ardiecollins.com
cooper365.tumblr.com

 

12th December – Rotifer and Yucca

I play bass with Rotifer, but not on this. Rotifer have a new album out on Edwyn Collin’s AED records and produced by Wreckless Eric. Let’s let Robert explain his song. – Darren

Robert Rotifer: Guitar, bass, keyboard, percussion, Elgam Carousel
Written by Robert Rotifer
Mixed and recorded by Ian Button

http://www.robertrotifer.co.uk

Rotifer – December 12 2021

I’ve got a morbid fascination with Bluewater Shopping Centre, I love the way it’s such a blown-up Potemkin village, and it’s got the closest John Lewis to where I live. I was there shopping for a clothes rail recently. The whole place now feels like a desperate attempt to reenact the bygone boom times, and it made me wonder what it will all look like when the pretence collapses. Bluewater was only opened in 1999 and will make an interesting ruin. I decided to write my song about two young lovers in the shopping mall ten years from now when the decline of Western capitalism will have run its course. – Robert Rotifer

Yucca is Jacob Mayfield, brother of Dan from Enderby’s Room and the Secondary Modern. Jacob is also half of Victoria and Jacob. – Darren

Following on from Enderby’s Room’s ‘At Christmas Part One’, ‘At Christmas Part Two’ is an instrumental piece built around synthesiser and field recordings which attempts to recall vague memories of past family Christmas’s.
The recordings were taken in Christmas 2010 and include sounds of the indoor table game Bagatelle (Mayfield family tradition), a crackling log fire, Christmas dinner and the local pub. – Jacob

Yucca – At Christmas Part Two

11th December – Les Étoiles / Petter Seander / Monster Bobby

Today we’ve got three songs for you, with two of those (rather quite different) versions of Silent Night.

The first is from Les Étoiles. I first came across Dave and his music via the creative commons label Records On Ribs, set up and run by two of my best friends in Nottingham. His albums (available to download for free from RoR) are beautifully sparse and intimate, almost whispered in delivery, as is this track.

Les Étoiles – Silent Night

Recorded by Dave Fitzpatrick
Mixed and Mastered by Tim Wright
Ghost Noises by Tim Wright
December 2011
Photograph by Lisa Marie Kingo Hostick
Tim Wright
Lisa Marie Kingo Hostick
Les Étoiles

The second track today comes from Sweden’s Petter Seander. He released an EP on Fika Recordings back in the spring, complete with elderflower tea and a special Swedish recipe for hazelnut cookies. Lisa Bouvier, who helped set the label up at the start of the year, had played live and recorded with Petter back in Sweden, so it seemed natural to get him involved with the label, and now, with the advent calendar.

Petter Seander – How I Feel For It

Buy Petter’s Destroyer cassette on Fika Recordings
Petter Seander

On to our second version of Silent Night today from Monster Bobby. You might know Bobby as the man behind The Pipettes or as the founder of A Little Orchestra. Or you might know Bobby as the man who seemingly spent most of Indietracks this year climbing through, under and over hedges (don’t ask). He’s a lovely chap though; here’s his contribution to the advent calendar…

Monster Bobby – Silent Night
Monster Bobby

10th December – Papernut Cambridge, Wooden Walls and a short story by Natalie Hudson

Both of today’s bands are projects convened especially for this project.

I’ve known Ian Button for years, he’s been in a million bands. He’s on a record in your collection you just don’t know it, most recently he plays in Rotifer on drums alongside me on bass. Although if you want to hear more of what Ian does on his own try googling ‘Anthony Anderson’.

Papernut Cambridge – 93 Million and 1

Here’s what Ian has to say…

Ian Button – vocals, guitar, harmonium, programming
Will Twynham – organ, synths
Mary Epworth – percussion, whistling
Robert Halcrow – baritone horns

When Darren first mentioned this project I didn’t have any thoughts of doing a song myself…but I let the idea gnaw at me for a bit, and one day I finally did come up with a song. I wanted to get some friends involved too so I sent the basic song to Will, Mary and Rob who came up with some great synth/perc treatments and brass lines, recorded them and sent them back to me.

Papernut Cambridge is the name of a band I dreamed about once. They were playing a gig with another band called Elvis Breakdown. I wrote a song about them in 1996, but this is the first actual incarnation of them in the real world. – Ian Button

Rob Halcrow also plays in the excellent Picturebox who can be found here http://picturebox.bandcamp.com/

Here are Wooden Walls. It’s Christmas in their universe too. – Darren

Here’s what Wooden Walls have to say…

Sometimes simple things stick, whether it’s long dark nights or philosophy from the mouths of babes. We might not have heard it right. Springs’s around the corner, but you can still enjoy the cold. Honest.

Wooden Walls – Winter’s Not So Long

http://woodenwalls.bandcamp.com/

When I originally asked my friends for contributions to the advent calender I was asking friends for any creative contribution. Not just songs, Natalie Hudson has written us a story and Kendal Gaw (what a name) has illustrated. – Darren Hayman

The Bet

Words: Natalie Hudson

Pictures: Kendal Gaw

The four of us met every Christmas Day for lunch – Steve, Emily, Alex and me. It was a tradition that started the year after Emily and Alex got married. Steve and Emily were my oldest friends. I had first met them at Manchester University ten years ago, when we lived together in halls. I was a typically sullen English Literature student, and they were the only ones who seemed to tolerate my frequent withdrawals from social occasions and insistence on playing terrible goth records every time they came to my room.

I had expected that the three of us would lose touch after university but somehow we never did – Christmas was the day that bound us together. My parents had both died when I was much younger and Steve, who was resolutely single, maintained that at nearly 30 he was too old to spend Christmas Day with his parents. After graduation, Emily joined a small publishing firm and met Alex, who she married four years ago. And now – well, they always joked that if they had to spend Christmas Day with just each other for company, they would probably end up killing each other. They all lived in London, but I had moved to Moseley, just outside Birmingham, for a quiet life and a steady job at the local council. For most of the year I felt alienated from their London lives and the steady stream of gossip about former university mates. Christmas was the only time when the roles reversed and they all gravitated towards me, if only because I was only one with a flat and dining table big enough to host the mountains of festive food.

Each year they would make a fuss about travelling up on Christmas Eve on inevitably delayed car and train journeys, and I would quietly look after the cooking, with a little bit of help from whichever recipe book I thought might impress them that year. There is something innately satisfying about seeing a proper meal come together and watching your friends eat it. Most days I subsist on ready meals and toast, and this was my annual opportunity to show the others that I wasn’t a total failure at life. The predictable “So why haven’t you got a girlfriend Dave?” questions would usually start to roll as soon as the first glasses of sherry had been drunk. Producing a master-basted turkey, or the Turkey Shield as Steve christened it one year, was a helpful way of making everyone forget their embarrassing questions and instead coo over my cooking skills.

Of course, they never asked Steve the same question. He was a self-proclaimed “lad”, an (imaginary) bedder of women and a drinker of beer. If any of us asked him about future plans, he would proudly state that he was married to himself, his X-Box and the pub. It would have almost been funny if he wasn’t such a faded cliché. In comparison, I suppose I looked like a more hopeful bet for future commitment.  I didn’t drink, visited my nephews and nieces regularly, had a Sainsbury’s Nectar card and – in high-profile situations such as Christmas – could cook an edible meal. In their eyes at least, I was a veritable catch for someone.

This year’s Christmas was set to be no different than usual. The plan, as it was every year, was to scoff down Christmas lunch, chase it down with several large leisurely brandies and then indulge in a little snooze through the Queen’s speech while Emily and Alex did the washing-up. At some point, Emily would eventually drag Alex off to the bed in the spare room, and Steve would reluctantly go out in the cold to retrieve his sleeping bag from the car, before bunking down on the couch for the night. The only non-drinker, I would make my usual appearance early next morning with a cooked English breakfast and an assortment of hats and gloves for our Boxing Day ramble around the park at the bottom of my garden.

My garden. In reality it was a large communal grassy area accessible to the three houses immediately bordering it, of which mine was one. It housed a small lake and a couple of benches, and then, adjacent to this and separated by iron railings, there was the larger, public park which hosted a folk festival every summer. The residents – myself included – took great delight in sneaking into the festival for free. I think, technically, that we were allowed to attend for free anyway, but it felt like a greater thrill to try and sneak through the gate when no-one was looking.  Unbeknown to my Christmas guests, there was apparently due to be some sort of Boxing Day fete or concert in the park this year. I was looking forward to seeing their faces when I took them down to the garden, unprepared for their hangovers to be shattered by the sound of chatter and poorly amplified music.  All told, everything was shaping up for it to be a classic Christmas – Steve had promised to bring some of his new, home-brewed beer and even Emily and Alex had seemed to be getting on better than usual during the year. There was even talk of a baby, according to Steve.
Looking back, I should have spotted the tell-tale signs when Alex and Emily arrived. Her normally round face was drawn, and his was set with a grim determination as they carried their bags from the car. But this wasn’t unusual, they were always bickering – and besides, I felt confident that things would improve once Steve turned up. How wrong I was. If anything, his boisterous arrival, flagged by a crate of beer and a torrent of bad jokes, seemed to make things worse. He was in a typically exuberant mood but, rather than laughing along, Alex glowered at him as he launched into his annual jokey routine about them being an “old married couple”, and the joys of his “freedom.”

Eventually, I managed to drag Steve away to help me prepare drinks, but each time we returned to the living room the atmosphere seemed to have cooled a few degrees. Emily and Alex were simply sitting there, not even looking at each other, in awkward silence. Emily pretended to look through my John Lydon photo book, while Alex stared moodily into his glass of wine, making a swirling motion with the stem.

When we finally sat down for dinner, with several glasses of red wine having already been consumed, I feared the worst.

“”So how are things with the flat for you two?” Steve asked. I could see his right cheek twitching, a sure sign that he was feeling uncomfortable.

“Fine. If you’re asking why we haven’t moved yet, the fact is that we haven’t found anywhere. We don’t know where we’re moving to yet.” snapped Alex.

We all winced slightly at this one. Emily and Alex had been planning to buy their own place since before they married, but hadn’t been able to find anywhere they could afford. Emily was a PA and John had left publishing for post-graduate study, supposedly studying for a PHD and writing a book on Jane Austen. Money was always a sore topic for them.

“Anyway, how about you Steve, how’s the bachelor pad?” I asked. I had never felt so uncomfortable at my own dining table before.

“Yeah it’s OK, “Steve offered timidly. He had bought his own flat that year. “I mean, I’ve had to make lots of sacrifices to pay for it, but it will be worth it. I mean, it is worth it already.”

I nodded along. I knew there was no chance I would ever be able to buy a flat of my own, mainly because I wasn’t prepared to make those sorts of sacrifices. I liked my records and travelling too much. Besides, I knew that no tiny new-build I managed to scrape together a deposit for would ever match the space and majesty of what everyone called my “bohemian” flat, with its extravagantly tiled floors, winding corridors and 70s décor. The rent was ridiculously cheap, and I was still harbouring a secret wish that the old lady landlord night leave it to me when she died.

Alex’s vitriolic response shook me out of my daydream.

“Oh yes, you would know all about sacrifices wouldn’t you?” spat Alex, accusingly.

“Al”, Emily was reproaching him, resting her hand on his forearm, but he continued, unabashed,

“What have you really ever sacrificed eh Steve? Oh yeah, staying in for a few weekends is really going to help you save thousands and thousands, isn’t it? Don’t tell me you bought that place yourself. The bank of mum and dad clearly helped out didn’t they?”

I looked at his glass and the empty bottle next to it. Had he really drank an entire bottle of red wine himself? Like me, Alex’s parents were dead, and he seemed to bitterly resent anyone who got financial hand-outs from their family. “Trustafarians” was what he called them. I could sense the millionth rendition of his speech about trustafarians coming up and groaned inwardly. Alex could be boorish and obnoxious at the best of times, but the wine just magnified it.

“Have you really ever sacrificed yourself Steve? Properly? To someone you love?” This was getting embarrassing. I raised my eyebrows at Emily, who by this point was looking down at the table, her cheeks burning. Why wasn’t she stopping him, or trying to calm him down? This wasn’t what was supposed to happen at Christmas. The nearest the four of us had ever got to arguing before was when Steve tried to cheat at Monopoly.

I looked at Steve, expecting him to try and laugh his way out of it, his usual trick. But no, he was looking at Alex quite intently now.

“What are you saying?” he said quietly.

“You know what I’m saying. I’m not an idiot – I know what you get up to.” I saw Emily make a slight shrugging gesture at Steve.

This was getting weird.

I stood up.

“Anyone for dessert?” I asked, trying to lighten the mood. Unsurprisingly, I was ignored.

“I don’t know what on you’re on about mate. I think maybe you’ve had too much to drink. We all have,” Steve was joking now, and relief fleetingly passed across his face. He did a fake yawn.

Casting an apologetic look in my direction, he added:  “Sorry Dave, maybe let’s have dessert later yeah?”

We started to clear up the dishes, but Alex stayed sitting, staring at Steve for a minute, before picking up his glass and swigging the last bit of his wine. He set down the glass and looked round intently at all of us.

“Sorry guys, got a bit intense there, I think it must have been the wine talking. Me and Em will wash up, and then let’s go outside yeah?”

“Actually Steve, I have a little proposition for you, if you’re game?” he added slyly.

His voice sounded odd, and it was an odd thing to ask. No-one seemed to breathe or move for minutes, almost as though we had been captured in a freeze-frame, and I certainly didn’t expect what came next.

I didn’t expect Steve to say, albeit somewhat nervously, “Sure mate, you’re on.”

__________________________________

Alex and Emily washed up while Steve and I sat in the living room. Or rather, I sat while Steve paced nervously around on my Moroccan rug.

“What was he going about? He sounded crazy.”

He wouldn’t look at me.

“Come on Steve, tell me. If there’s going to be a fight, I need to know. I don’t want anything kicking off here, I could get thrown out.” Actually, I was thinking more of my collection of 12 inch records, stacked neatly next to the sofa and in a ripe position for angry people to pick up and throw at the nearest wall. I bit my lip anxiously at the thought.

“I’ve been sleeping with Emily.”

It came out so quietly I almost didn’t hear it.

“What did you say?”

Steve whispered again, slightly louder this time.

“I’ve been sleeping with Emily, and she’s leaving him for me. She wasn’t going to tell him until New Year’s Day, but I’m presuming he’s found out somehow.  God knows what he’s on about now. If he tries to fight me outside I’m off. I won’t get into it, don’t worry.”

I flopped back in my beaten-up leather chair, suddenly feeling as deflated as the cushion beneath me. So this was it. After ten years of friendship, my so-called urban “family” were about to split up and do a runner on me. Well, I wasn’t going to let it happen.

“I’m sorry Steve, but you’re going to have to sort it out. Go into that kitchen right now and talk to him. Confess, whatever it takes. I’m not having another Christmas ruined like this.”

Just at that point, the door swung open and Emily and Alex were stood there, wrapped up in the brightly coloured woolly coats, hats and gloves I had laid out for tomorrow. Emily had wrapped her scarf so tightly around her neck and face that only her eyes and a few strands of her blonde hair were visible.

“Come on then you two, let’s get outside.”

Alex’s voice still sounded odd. It was artificially cheery, bordering on manic. I exchanged a scared glance with Steve as we trundled through the corridor to my kitchen patio doors. John had somehow already found the keys and unlocked them.

Pulling on our coats and boots, we followed them out onto the patio and into the garden. It was around 3pm, almost dark but still with a hint of the day remaining. There were a couple of concrete lampposts near the lake, but they didn’t cast much light.

Unconsciously following Alex in a line, we walked in silence for a minute or so through the wet grass until we came to the lake. He stopped suddenly, gesturing at us to do the same.

“Let’s stop here. Steve – you know how I said I have a proposition for you? Well, here it is – do you want to make a bet with me?”

Even in the dusk I could see that Steve’s face had paled.

“Not really Alex, sorry – I don’t do bets.”

“Hold on – you play computer games, play around, drink loads – but you don’t do bets now?” he answered sarcastically. “Well, I want to make a bet, so I’m going to. And it’s up to you whether or not you take part. I’m doing it anyway.”

“See the water?” He pointed at the lake, which was perhaps twenty metres across and completely covered with ice.

“I’m going to walk to the middle, and stand there for a minute, and then walk back. When I stand there, I want you to come and join me.” His eyes were fixed firmly on Steve’s, a slow smile spreading across his face.

“That’s stupid,” I heard myself say, “It’ll crack and you’ll fall in, don’t be such an idiot. No-one ever walks on it. Look, I know there’s something going on but can’t we just-“

“Let me finish my bet Dave”, Alex’s voice was dangerously low.

He continued. “If you don’t walk and meet me, then I’ve won. If you do come and meet me, and dare to come on the ice, then you’ve won.”

“What’s the prize?” Emily asked weakly. I had forgotten she was there.

“You know what it is, Em. It’s you. I would literally do anything for you – let’s see if our Steve here is willing to do the same. If he is, he can keep you. If not, then he has to promise to back off. I know what you’ve been doing with him, but I know it’s not what you really want.”

Steve and I looked at her expectantly, expecting her to deny it, to shout back at him or to do anything than what she actually did, which was to simply say:

“Go on.”

Steve was indignant. “You are joking, you can’t seriously be expecting me to do this? Come on, we’re not at school!”

By the point, Alex had already started to gingerly make his way across to the middle of the ice and was now standing there, looking jubilant, his arms outstretched in a victory gesture. My heart was in my mouth, I knew the water beneath the lake to be at least several feet deep and riddled with knotted weeds. If he ever fell in, he would literally have to be winched out.

“He’s got a point though,” To me, Emily’s voice sounded whiny and pitiful, but Steve was looking at her adoringly.

“What would you really give up for me Steve? You haven’t acted any differently since we got together, you’re still such a lad. How do I know you’re going to change, really?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. What was this, some kind of sixteenth century duel? I made a mental note not to ever get myself into such a ridiculous situation, not even if a girlfriend was the end result.

Shaking his head, Steve walked slowly to the edge of the pond. He put one foot carefully on the ice, testing its firmness beneath his heavy boot. I squeezed my eyes shut and prepared myself for the sound of a crack, but none came.  He added a second foot, held his arms aloft and prepared his right foot to take another step forward.

Emily was biting her thumb nervously, her eyes firmly fixed on Steve. No-one was looking at Alex. Just then, the crack came. It appeared by Steve’s foot, and slowly, sharply spread out to the centre of the lake. Panic ripped across Alex’s face as Steve stepped quickly backwards onto the verge, his boot tangled in some rushes.

The cracking sound came again, only much louder this time, and we all stood, rooted to the spot, watching in horror as the ice started to break up around Alex. The main crack grew, branch-like, into dozens and dozens of little cracks around him. I could see the water moving underneath the ice, greedily licking the surface, as though preparing to swallow him up. I had seen the water moving when I came to the lake yesterday, why I hadn’t I intervened when they made the stupid bet?

Before we could do or say anything, the ice gave one last final cracking sound and gave way beneath Alex. There was barely even a splashing sound, It was as though he had been sucked into the water. He didn’t even have chance to properly scream, it happened so quickly. We saw his head bob up as he presumably tried to lift himself up, but the hole was so small, he wouldn’t have even been able to get his arms properly up and over it.

Within seconds, there was no sound at all, and Alex had disappeared. We all continued to stare at the lake, eyes fixed on the spot where he had been standing just moments ago. I imagined looking down at the water from my window – it would look like a giant cake with ice-white frosting, and a hole where someone had dipped their finger in the middle of it. I started to scramble for my phone in my pocket, but Steve and Emily both held my arm. There was a moment’s silence as we turned to each other, hardly daring to meet each other’s gazes, and I knew what they were trying to tell me. I looked up nervously around at me, at the windows of the two other houses. They were darkened – I knew the owners had gone away. In my house, I was only the flat owner to have stayed around for Christmas. Everyone else was at least ten years younger than me, or students, and had gone back to their real homes for Christmas. But this was my real home, and I liked to stay here.

Reluctantly dragging my eyes back to the ominous hole, I thought of the recriminations, enquiries, and fuss that would result if we helped John out of the lake.

“I don’t think anyone has seen what’s happened, “I whispered, “Everyone’s away.”

There was a gulping noise, like a small strangled cry, and it took a second to realise it had come from me.

____________________________________________________________

The three of us silently made our way back into the house and sat around, watching it grow dark outside. I poured out huge whiskies, including one for myself, and that night we all slept in sleeping bags in the living room. I don’t think any of us wanted to be alone.

The next morning, holding each other’s hands for comfort, we walked down to the lake. I kept half-expecting Alex to jump out at me, or scream “surprise” at us. The hole was still there, but if you stood on tip-toes you could see that the water beneath it had started to freeze over again, and the large crack leading up to the hole had almost melded back together. I remembered some tarpaulin that the landlady kept in a shed and, standing timidly near the edge of the water, the three of us shook it out over the cracks, slowly sliding it along the ice as far as the hole. The shouts and music of the Boxing Day fete rang out from the park, and we worked quickly and efficiently, hearts beating fast in case someone should peek through the railings and ask why we were covering up a lake with an obvious hole in it.

Later that day, they travelled back to London, Steve driving them both in Alex’s car and, in a fit of paranoia, I threw out every item of crockery that Alex had used during lunch. Surprising though it sounds, we didn’t talk much about what had happened in the weeks that followed. With his parents dead, and no other close relatives that he hadn’t already alienated, Emily simply told their friends that Alex had discovered her affair and moved away. It was scary how little anyone seemed to care. A couple of months later, Spring came and Steve and Emily, now living together, came to the house.  We stood together, peering out at the lake, as we had done just three months previously. The ice had melted, but of course Alex was nowhere to be seen. I tried not to imagine his cold, white body tangled with the weeds below the surface and knew that Emily and Steve were doing the same.

___________________________________________________________________________

Christmas this year is going to be completely different. How could it not be? Steve and Emily have the baby now and this year we’ve got a new tradition – no more boozy afternoons and pointless television watching.  After lunch we’re going to go down to the lake to say Happy Christmas to Alex.

__________________________________________________________________________________

9th December – Enderby’s Room and 30 Pounds of Bone

Dan Mayfield, who is Enderby’s Room, is one of my best friends. He takes care of my dog sometimes.

We found Dan when a whole gang of us played in a big line up of Ellis Island Sound. He was a music student and we were supposed to be teaching him, he taught us. He has since become the longest standing member of my band, The Secondary Modern. Playing music with him is easy, natural and uncomplicated.

The thing about Dan is, that in a world of fake folkies and impostor accents, he is the real thing. He learned the violin playing with his parents in Morris bands. He knows folks standards by heart. I can’t think of anyone else that melody comes so easy to, he always underplays, he is always generous in a group setting. He sometimes pretends to be unfazed by music and that he prefers football. Nobody believes him.

I believe this song is about a Mayfield Christmas and is called ‘At Christmas Part One’. Dan’s brother Jacob will provide ‘At Christmas Part Two’ on Monday.

Enderby’s Room – At Christmas Part One

These are the credits:
Music and words by Dan Mayfield
Beat by Jacob Mayfield
Photograph by Mayfield Parents.

http://www.enderbysroom.co.uk/

Johnny Lamb is 30 Pounds of Bone. There is something linking Johnny Lamb and Dan though I only just realised it. Like Dan, Johnny is steeped in folk, though justly wary of the word.

I met him when he interviewed me for a thesis on location in song and itinerancy. If you want to interview me, say it’s for academic purposes. It flatters the shit out of me.

Johnny lives down in the south west. He drinks in a pub that gives him a tab and he has his own tankard. He sits by the sea and records trawler ships and records songs in the same key as them.

Johnny says his song is a reaction to East 17s ‘Stay Another Day’.

Thirty Pounds of Bone – You Can’t Break Up At Christmas
http://thirtypoundsofbone.bandcamp.com/

– Darren – 9th Dec 2011

8th December – The Mountain Parade and Two Fingers Of Firewater

After yesterday’s seven song extravaganza, we’re back to normal split single service today, with tracks from The Mountain Parade and Two Fingers Of Firewater.

I always find it hard moving to a new city. I like the adventure of discovering new places but always find it hard to meet the right people at the right shows for a new place to start to feel like home. Even more so when the place you’ve just moved to is Swindon, where you’re lucky to get anything more than the local builder playing Led Zeppelin covers acoustically in the dodgy pub down the road. So it was a relief to be introduced to The Mountain Parade by a mutual friend, Rose, and get to know them and their side projects in both Oxford and Bristol during my time out west. Bands and people like these make these places special.

The Mountain Parade (2008-2010) were a middle-sized band from Oxford. They toured with The Middle Ones, recorded an album and then split up. This is their Christmas song.
Roxy currently plays as herself, Jamie is in The Cooling Pearls, Ric and Mark play with Matt Winkworth and Steve is in Boxcar Aldous Huxley and I Know I Have No Collar.

The Mountain Parade – Salvation Army Band
The Mountain Parade

The other side of today’s split single comes from Two Fingers Of Firewater.

Here’s what they have to say about it:
“Sometimes it feels like Christmas is a tree to hang the months from. The rituals and traditions may remain unchanged from year to year, but the people we celebrate it with are both temporal and fragile. Maybe a sibling will leave their spouse, maybe another will have a baby; one enters as another leaves. But there are changes beyond our mere numbers. As we compare one another to the people we were twelve months previously, we can spot differences that aren’t explainable by circumstance or fortune.”

Two Fingers Of Firewater – Douglas Fir
Recorded and Written by Two Fingers of Firewater on the 19th November 2011 at the Packhouse.
Two Fingers Of Firewater
@tfofmusic

7th December – Where It’s At Is Where You Are – Seven Swans

Today we hand the reins over to John Jervis, of WIAIWYA and Hangover Lounge fame. He’s gone the whole hog with seven Christmassy selections… over to you John…

HELLO visitors to Haworth!

It’s 7th December, so why not sit back and tuck into SEVEN SWANS – the wiaiwya selection box, a CELEBRATION for HEROES on QUALITY STREET…

First up let’s unwrap the caramel swirl of David Tattersall, with a beautiful instrumental blues hymn, YES! Jesus Loves Me and then, because they’re moreish, the peanut cracknell of Jeff Mellin playing a South Carolina Spiritual, Ain’t That A Rockin All Night
World of Fox and Clair Horton will have you chewing on the toffee penny, a gold wrapper for their cover of the Waitresses’ Xmas Wrappin’ next up the Werewandas are the purple one, these rockin’ boys and girls Love You Santa Claus what’s in the blue wrapper?, ah, yes, it’s the coconut eclair of Liverpool’s Meow Meow, desperate for a film they haven’t seen This Christmas we’re nearing the end of today’s treats, but there’s always room for Coming Soon, and the vanilla fudge of Last Christmas and saved for last, the strawberry creme of Clemence Freschard, but sadly she’s had a Bad Year

Make sure you don’t put the empty wrappers back in the tin, and hope the christmas shopping is going well… thanks to all the bands and Darren & Tom for having us along…

HAPPY CHRISTMAS

john
wiaiwya.com
wiaiwya-7777777.blogspot.com/

6th December – Slottet and MJ Hibbett & The Validators

When I started Fika Recordings, the goal was really just to get music I enjoyed out there for other people to hopefully enjoy too. I discovered Slottet (based in Sweden) about the same time as the label got going, and having enjoyed a few mp3s they’d sent out to blogs, thought maybe I should take the plunge and help them get something physical out there. It was the first time I’d approached someone out of the blue and was slightly apprehensive – would they shoot me down or laugh at the prospect of putting something out on cassette tape?
I needn’t have worried – Marcus was delighted to have been asked and a pleasure to get to know once we started forming plans for Fika’s 6th cassette release in the spring.
This track brings a welcome dose of warm synths to the advent calendar; if you enjoy it, please do consider buying one of the remaining copies of the Servants cassette, which comes with download, tea and a cake recipe.
Buy the Slottet – Servants cassette on Fika Recordings

Slottet – A Cold Christmas
Written and recorded by Slottet November 2011
Special thank to Per Jonsson for the drums
Slottet / Facebook / Spotify

Today’s second track comes courtesy of MJ Hibbett & The Validators. When Darren and I first started talking about putting together this advent calendar, Hibbert was the first person I thought of asking to get involved. He’s not released anything with us yet, but I can’t fail to love a man who writes songs about science, dinosaurs and indie discos. He’s a bloody treasure that man, which all made me a little bit too excited when he sent over his track – another Christmas corker.
Here’s what the man himself had to say:

Hello, Hibbett here!
The idea for this song came many years ago when I was sharing an office with a South African. She’d never had a Christmas in the Northern Hemisphere before so was initially dismissive of the whole idea. To her it meant grumpy family barbecues and cards of snowy scenes exchanged on a beach, just fake emotion and pointless present exchanges. However, as November got darker and colder she began to see the point of a massive festival of twinkly lights to keep everyone going during months of gloom, and gradually began to appreciate that there might be a point to it all. By the time advent began she had her own calendar and when we broke up for the holidays she was bedecked in tinsel, singing carols, and necking a big old mug of mulled wine. I didn’t necessarily learn the true meaning of Christmas that year, but by golly I realised why we need it!
I had every intention of making a video for this song, but The Validators were all in different parts of the world (everyone recorded their parts at home, so we have piano from Loughborough and backing vocals in Mauritius!) and I was occupied on various attempts to get our new album made properly, so we didn’t quite find the time. To make up for it I present a picture of a happy Leytonstone snow man, taken by The Pastry On My Mince Pie a couple of years ago. Merry Christmas!

MJ Hibbett & The Validators – Thank Goodness For Christmas

M.J. Hibbett & The Validators