It’s 1984 and the Christmas no. 1 song is Band Aid’s ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’, the song written by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise awareness and funding for the people living, or dying, in the Ethiopian famine. The great and the good in the British and Irish music scene belt out the tune and white Europeans slap themselves on the back for making a difference.
It’s years later, St Stephen’s Night and I’m in a night club, known locally as 'The Shed', one of 7,000 people. It’s near the end of the night and the place is full of sweaty men. Everyone seems pissed. Arm in arm, they sway, roaring ‘Feed The Woooooo –R-R-L-DDD .....’ and it’s a world away from the starving black children with bloated bellies, vacant eyes, with flies on their beautiful faces that stared out from the TV. The sweaty men buy chips on the way home and puke them up on the bus, the tune long forgotten.
It’s 1984 again, New Year’s Day. I’m in my second cousin Ailbhe’s house, the house where I first experienced a birthday cake made out of raspberry ripple ice-cream blocks, decorated with Smartie’s. I’m there to play with Ailbhe, accompanying my Granny Russell, invited, in acknowledgment of our strong family ties. There are other guests there too, in the other room. I think they are all at least 100 years old. Ailbhe’s older brothers discuss Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s song ‘The Power of Love’, when the video comes on TV. I’m pretty sure that it’s MTUSA. The brothers speak with confidence and enthusiasm about this song that isn’t really a Christmas song, but yet it is. They are unaware that I am listening. I don’t understand what they are saying, but it awakens a new curiosity in me. I examine the singer Holly Johnson later, in the same way that I have already considered Boy George.
I’m driving and East 17's ‘Stay Now’ comes on the radio. I’m transported back to Christmas Eve 1994 where i am standing in the clothes shop in Kingscourt where I have worked at weekends and holidays throughout college. Now on my twelfth pairs of trousers to be altered that day, men come into the shop on their way to the pub, on their way home from the pub, or on their way to midnight mass, requesting bespoke alterations. None of them seeing the lateness of the day, and the day that it was, as a reason why their trousers shouldn’t be stitched, while other customers needed serving. As we sew, myself and the owner chat. She tells me about her niece in England who is dating one of the guys from East 17. I’ve seen them on TV, London hipsters. Street. Wide-boys from Lun-Dan, real life East Enders. Parka jackets and baseball caps. Oozing confidence. Dressed in white. So frigging cool. I’ve seen photos of my bosses niece. She looks so beautiful and sophisticated, not much older that me. I can see why yer man fancies her. I feel every inch of the chubby country girl that I am. In hindsight now, I surprise myself that even after two years in art college, how my self-esteem then was so low. I’m a dab hand at the hem-stitch all the same, I’ll give myself that.
The Cheesy-Song-Christmas-Amnesty allows me to hum along to the likes of Cliff Richard’s ‘Mistletoe and Wine’ and Mariah Carey’s ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’, while ‘A Space Man Came Travelling’ allows me to admit that Chris De Burgh isn’t all bad.
David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’ was recorded in 1977, when I was 3 years old. I’m not sure when this song first comes to my attention, but it must be years later. I do not know who either of these men is as I have never once heard their names mentioned at home or seen their faces. It is the song that catches my attention first - one of my favourites at school- but it is the Bowie/Crosbie duet that has me captivated and I decide that they must be famous. Last night, my children hear this rendition on TV, and turn to watch the tune so familiar to them. They too recognise the other worldliness of this and we share a moment.
The pair ‘shush’ me when Picture This’s new tune ‘This Christmas’ comes on the radio now. They are the band’s no 1&2 fans since I brought them to a free concert by the band in their home town of Athy the summer just gone. It is their first proper outdoor gig. In time, I hope they will look back and remember the fear in their throats and the exhilaration in their bellies from that day and all the stuff that music has the power to unleash.