Three years living in Germany had done little to prepare me got the horror of a British winter.
I had had a taster when my mum my sister and me came to visit my grandparents one November. We stayed in their terraced house which had neither central heating or an inside toilet. I would be woken in the dark by the sound of my granddad going downstairs to light the fire. This would mean that within a couple of hours one room would be warm. It wasn’t the toilet of course but we had a pot under the bed if we couldn’t face the early morning dash outside, but I soon discovered those pots don’t empty themselves.
In our tiny bungalow a couple of years later things had improved a little. We had an inside toilet for a start combined with a bath in an impossibly small bathroom. We still had the one coal fire for heating which necessitated trips to the coal bunker to refill the scuttle. This soon became my job and a skilled one it was too. Coal, like beetroot, seems to get everywhere, the smallest spill of the black stuff necessitated a clean up which could last most of the morning. The fire itself worked well up to about three feet so we would fit there with our fronts glowing unhealthily and our backs frozen. One year my Dad, in an effort to make our heating more effective, fitted a thick industrial sheet of polythene up at the window which meant the outside world was a blur until Easter.
Not that there was much to see, I really had not anticipated the mist and murk of the British winter.
In Germany the temperature would sink to -10C but we would be toasty in our centrally heated flat. In the morning the sun would rise on a winter wonderland. Back in Norwich the temperature would plummet to 5C and we would still be freezing in front of the fire. By about 10am you would realise it was day because you could just make out the bungalow across the road (this was before the polythene was fitted obviously) but by 3pm the mist would close in and that would be it for the day. Rather like an X Factor contestant we had won the war but the runner up seemed to be having the better career.
However, unlike Germany we had good music and glam rock seemed to be in the process of reinventing Christmas and the Christmas record was as much part of the proceedings as that baby Jesus stuff.
It’s pretty easy to write a bad Christmas single. There’s the ‘say what you see’ school of song writing look no further than Shaking Stevens, snow falling, check,children having fun, check etc etc. On the other hand Slade managed to interpret the event as a family gathering
‘does your granny always tell you that the old songs are the best
while she’s up a rock and rollin with the rest’
Which is why its lasted forever.
My Christmas offering is ‘Step into Christmas’ by Elton John just because I like it
Welcome to my Christmas song
I’d like to thank you for the year
So I’m sending you this Christmas card
To say it’s nice to have you here
I’d like to sing about all the things
Your eyes and mind can see
So hop aboard the turntable
Oh step into Christmas with me
Step into Christmas
Let’s join together
We can watch the snow fall forever and ever
Eat, drink and be merry
Come along with me
Step into Christmas
The admission’s free
Take care in all you do next year
And keep smiling through the days
If we can help to entertain you
Oh we will find the ways
So merry Christmas one and all
There’s no place I’d rather be
Than asking you if you’d oblige
Stepping into Christmas with me
I would never be a big Elton fan. He was old school, if glam hadn’t happened he would probably have ended up writing musicals or teaching music in a public school. I’m always a little suspicious of songwriters who don’t always write their own lyrics (see Brian Wilson) but my idea of a proper song writer is Bob Dylan, other options are available.
On the plus side, at this point Elton had his own band Davey Johnstone on guitar, Dee Murray on bass and Nigel Olsson on Drums who were all very capable of making a rock band sort of noise. They were joined by Ray Cooper who was to crop up again and again as must have rock star percussionist for the likes of Eric Clapton and George Harrison. Unfortunately Cooper was over useful and Elton found when he toured Russia with just Cooper that perhaps the rest of the band were not needed.
Just prior to this his 1974 Christmas concert was broadcast on TV and this gave me a much needed fix of Rock at a time when there was very little around. Here’s the concert in full and very enjoyable it is too from a time when Elton was at the height of his powers, he had his opportunity and he was going to make the most of it.
At the end a couple of his rock star friends make an appearance namely Rod Stewart and Gary Glitter. Bear in mind that here were three guys who had been slogging around the circuit for the last 10 years and there was no guarantee that any of them were going to have what amounted to a career. Glitter has been written out of history but at this point he was a contender and considered fit to share backing vocals with Rod.
But he was a very nasty man indeed. Rod and Elton are nice and they are still famous and loved by millions today.
And on that warm festive note
HAPPY CHRISTMAS !