Vancouver musicians share fond memories of holidays past
A few of our favourite local musicians share their cherished Christmas songs and gifts of years gone by.
Ever heard the classic holiday song “Lovely Christmas” by Jason Ringenberg and Kristi Rose? Because the answer to that is probably a resounding no, let us sum things up for you. The tune basically swings back and forth between a sweeter-than-sugarplums country ballad and a thrashy exercise in frenetic punk rock. Rose handles the wonderful part of the song, the singer backed by sweeping pedal steel while crooning “Christmas is a lovely time of year/Sitting by the fire with a cup of cheer.” That crashes into Ringenberg yelling “Christmas Christmas what a stress/All the presents all the mess” over blitzkrieg guitars and wildly hammered drums.
As much as we enjoy getting our frustrations out in an old-fashioned circle pit, guess which side of the song we’re with when it comes to the holiday season? If you guessed Rose, take a bow and grab a complimentary bottle of Avalon Dairy eggnog (the only brand that matters around the Georgia Straight offices).
That’s right, we love Christmas and everything that comes with it, from the crazy last-minute shopping to the annual viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life to the three hours of sleep that we inevitably get before the big day because we’re up wrapping presents until 3 a.m.
And we’re happy to report we’re not alone. Well aware we’re not the only Christmas crazies in this town, we canvassed some of our favourite local musicians about their most cherished holiday songs, and that all-time favourite present they’ll never forget. Not only that, in the spirit of the season, we also forgave them for never having heard “Lovely Christmas”.
Jill Barber explores the many complicated aspects of love on her at times elegant, at times soulful latest album, Fool’s Gold, a record that not only landed her on the cover of the Georgia Straight, but secured her status as one of the country’s favourite chanteuses. Gorgeous and tasteful both work as starting descriptions for the record, whether you’re talking dark-heated Muscle Shoals gems like “Broken for Good” or the swooning throwback jazz of “Lucky in Love”.
Favourite Christmas song: “I am an unabashed lover of Christmas music and for one month of the year I go strong and listen hard to a steady stream of seasonal faves. Though I love all the classics, I am especially drawn to the more sombre numbers in the minor keys. ‘Huron Carol’ is uniquely Canadian, trading a stable for a lodge of broken bark and swaddling clothes for rabbit skin. I love the imagery. The melody is based on an old French folksong, and it always starts out so beautifully: ‘ ’Twas in the moon of wintertime.’ But as a schoolkid I just loved singing the line ‘that mighty Gitchi Manitou’ and still do.”
Best gift ever: “My parents gave me my first guitar when I was 14. That same year, my older brother slipped a copy of Joni Mitchell’s Blue under the tree for me. I spent the next year of my life in my bedroom writing songs. Unlike the telescope that I had begged and pleaded for the year before, my passion for music really stuck. Now I sing songs about the moon and stars.”
Joseph Hirabayashi sings and plays guitar, keyboards, and sometimes ukulele for Sprïng, in which he and bandmates Elliot Langford (guitars, vocals, sitar, piano), Ridley Bishop (bass, vocals, sax), and Kevin Romain (drums, vocals, guitar) combine music-school chops and punk-rock spirit into something psychedelic.
Favourite Christmas song: “ ‘Skating’ from A Charlie Brown Christmas. Me and Kevin from Sprïng are doing a house concert playing all of Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas this year and this tune is hella my jam. I kind of missed it when I was a kid, I guess. It’s so light and cheerful, then kind of turns a little heavy for a moment, and then it’s back. Plus, Vince Guaraldi’s solo is awesome. So is his mustache.”
Best gift ever: “Kisses.”
Tim Chan sings and plays guitar for China Syndrome, a quartet with more than a passing affection for the golden age of chiming power pop. The new year will see the quartet—which includes guitarist Vern Beamish, bassist Mike Chang, and drummer Kevin Dubois—release its third full-length, The Usual Angst, highlights of which include the infectiously jangly “It’s Happening Over Again”.
Favourite Christmas song: “Frankly, I’m tired of many Christmas songs, but maybe I’m just becoming a bit cantankerous. But I always like hearing rock musicians come up with fresh new Christmas songs. Local rocker Paul Leahy of Polly put out a fantastic one last year, ‘Rumble on Christmas Eve Night’, a rockin’ combo of Link Wray’s ‘Rumble’ with a tall tale about Santa emancipating King Kong. His Bowie-esque vocal and slashing [Mick] Ronsonlike guitar elevates this one right up there for me. Paul’s one of our city’s hidden musical treasures.”
Best gift ever: “My uncle lived with us when I was a kid—he’s the one who got me into music—and he had a bunch of friends who gave me and my brother a whole bunch of stuffed animals over at least a couple of Christmases. Obviously, they had a lot of success winning these at the Jaycee Fair. We thought they were the best things and eventually we amassed a closetful of them: teddy bears, some snakes, koala bears, and a dog or two. We gave them all names and I made up a serialized comic strip about them. I showed the comics to a teacher at school and she loved them and took them all away to publish in the school newsletter. I think one got published, but then she never gave them back to me—who knows what she did with them. First disappointment of my life.”
Kaine Delay is the singer and frontman for high-voltage cyberpunk quartet Left Spine Down, which also features Jeremy Inkel (synths, programming), Matt Girvan (guitars), and Galen Waling (drums). We suspect he might be a Doctor Who fan.
Favourite Christmas song: “‘The “Priest” They Called Him’ by Kurt Cobain and William S. Burroughs. It’s the ‘Junky’s Christmas’ tale set to a backdrop of Kurt’s caterwauling guitar, awash in reverb, phaser, and tremolo. While it is a sad tale, I usually have a less depressing runner-up, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol as read by Tom Baker. But that’s a three-hour story and not a song. ‘Make It So’ by Jean-Luc Picard?”
Best gift ever: “Another tie. The 11th Doctor’s green coat, or a present I bought myself last Christmas: the 10th Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver remote. I can literally turn off televisions in public now. Going to Best Buy has never been so exhilarating. P.S.: I’ve a small obsession with the popular BBC science-fiction show about a time-travelling alien who consistently saves the universe from sudden doom.”
Jody Glenham makes the sort of music that ought to be in your collection, if that collection happens to include albums by Mazzy Star, the Cowboy Junkies, or any other act that can do smoke-hazed atmospherics just as well as it can do midnight-jukebox twang.
Favourite Christmas song: “I like the moody slow burners: ‘What Child Is This?’, ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’, and ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ are some favourites. I love the eeriness of the spookier ones; the voice leading and chords are always so melancholic and pretty. The holidays are just as much about being sad and alone as they are about family and good cheer. And I like that these sentiments are represented.”
Best gift ever: “Books. I always woke up before everyone else on Christmas Day and so there’d be a book in my stocking, usually of the Sweet Valley Twins variety. I’d sit in front of the tree lights and damn near finish that book by the time everyone else was awake. I’d say smart move on Santa’s part.”
Andrew Dergousoff bangs the drums for Shimmering Stars, a band that lives up to its name by crafting glittering, reverb-heavy guitar-pop gems. The group’s Bedrooms of the Nation made the year-end top-albums list of one Straight music scribe. (The really smart and good-looking one.) While Dergousoff hits the skins, Rory McClure and Brent Sasaki play guitars and Elisha May Rembold plays the bass. Everybody sings.
Favourite Christmas song: “Since the entire Boney M. Christmas Album was already spoken for last year, I have to go with ‘Scrooge’ from The Muppet Christmas Carol. Bork, bork, bork!”
Best gift ever: “Drums! At age 13, my parents gifted to me my drum set in stages—piece by piece, as long as my grades stayed up and I helped out around the house. I received the floor tom first—and I’m still using it.”
Dan Mangan has carved out the kind of career most musicians—local or otherwise—only dream about. A decade ago, he was playing open-mike nights and gigs where the venue staff sometimes outnumbered his fans. Today, as he gets ready to release his much-anticipated fourth full-length, Club Meds, Mangan has no trouble filling soft-seaters like Vancouver’s Orpheum and Toronto’s Massey Hall. One listen to the dark-hued new single “Mouthpiece”—recorded with his backing band Blacksmith—and it’s obvious that Vancouver’s favourite singer-songwriter has never been more on top of his already impressive game.
Favourite Christmas song: “ ‘I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus’—the bohemian in me appreciates the free-wheeling, antiestablishment nature of Mommy’s open marriage. It’s not for me, personally, but whatever. Good for her for knowing what she wants and having the courage to make it happen. I just hope they were safe, as I hear Santa goes chimney to chimney.”
Best gift ever: “One year, my parents paid Marlon Wayans to follow me around and be my friend for an entire year. I even got to be an extra in the film White Chicks. I played the role of White Dude #14. I totally nailed it, too. We don’t talk much anymore, which is a shame, but he was a pretty needy friend, anyhow. Everything has a way of working out.”
Leora Joy is half of the duo Winsome Kind, which also happens to feature her husband, Scott Perrie. Together, the two make well-crafted roots pop of a particularly winsome kind. (See what we did there?)
Favourite Christmas song: “It sounds a bit obvious, but ‘The Christmas Song’ has always been my favourite, particularly the Nat King Cole version. It has a simple, beautiful message, and makes you take a deep breath during a busy time. It reminds me of a still and snowy day in Saskatchewan, where I grew up as a kid.”
Best gift ever: “Experience gifts are where it’s at for me. One year, I was gifted Air Miles to anywhere from my mom, and went on a solo adventure to Thailand for a month. Scott surprised me with tickets to my first Cirque du Soleil show a couple years ago, which was totally awesome. So many great memories!”
Shawn Hall handles vocal and harmonica duties for white-hot blues deconstructionists the Harpoonist and the Axe Murderer, a duo that also includes guitarist Matt Rogers. Based on the band’s breakout release, A Real Fine Mess, one might rightly conclude that the excellent Blues, Blues Christmas compilations receive plenty of airplay around their houses during December.
Favourite Christmas song: “James Brown’s classic ‘Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto’. Recorded in October of 1968, I’m sure this gem went straight to… ummm… well, the ghetto. Nothing quite warms the heart while stuffing one’s face at yet another awkward Christmas mingler more than hearing the Godfather of Soul shoot to the top of his pipes about Santa’s ultimate delivery from his big red sack.”
Best gift ever: “Best gift ever hands down goes to my Grandma Hall, R.I.P., for giving me a harmonica with a book and tape for the musically hopeless. This wonderful gift led me down a path to several filthy blues joints and booze cans during my teens and many years later to having the fortune of my gas and phone being cut off, one failed marriage, and getting canned from my job in TV… However, that silver lining came shining through and my gifted ‘tin sandwich’ now supports my livelihood.”
Lindy Gray is known as the Murder Ballad Queen to her fans, which speaks volumes about the brand of sepia-toned country that’s served up on the 2014 EP Ripe for Revival. Along with her backing band, the Crow’s Nest—bassist Wynston Minckler and accordionist Katheryn Petersen—the multi-instrumentalist transports Americana fans to an authentically old-timey world where every home has an expansive front porch and rocking chair, every icebox comes complete with a pitcher of whisky-laced lemonade.
Favourite Christmas song: “Definitely, John Denver and the Muppets’ version of ‘Christmas Is Coming’. Miss Piggy is such a bossy-pants know-it-all and she rocks! When I was nine I dressed up as her for Halloween. Plus, I’m a sucker for anything you can sing in a round.”
Best gift ever: “When I was 20 my parents gave me an acoustic guitar that they bought at Costco. I grew to love it and learned how to play from my boyfriend at the time. I travelled the world with it strapped to my back, and wrote a lot of really cheesy songs. By the end, it had bloodstains on it from the time I got a bloody nose while playing and didn’t notice. A few years ago, I sold it on Craigslist for $20 to a girl who was just starting out.”