Songs for the longest night
Saturday, 15 June 2019 17:58

As we approach the Winter Solstice, Radio NZ is already thinking six months ahead to the Summer Solstice with a competition to write the perfect New Zealand Christmas song.


There’s a fine tradition of Christmas songs. Regular readers of this blog will know Neil Miller is massive fan of Canadian music, especially Michael Bublé. Bubbles has made a career of knocking off Christmas albums so you can give another CD to Gran cos she hasn’t figured out streaming.

There are Christmas classics like Bing Crosby’s White Christmas, but, for me, the peak of Christmas albums came in the 1960s when just about everyone you can think off was mass-producing an album of Christmas specials. Motown, James Brown, Otis Redding, all the usual suspects did one then did another the next year.

There’s a simple but consistent formula for writing a Christmas song. Importantly, it turns the usual rules of creative writing on their head.

A principle we creative writing types are encouraged to remember states, ‘Show Them, Don’t Tell Them’. So rather than writing ‘Martin was angry and confused’, you’d write ‘Martin slammed his glass on the bar and chewed his lower lip’. Let the reader do some thinking for themselves, and form a visual image.

This principle does not apply to great Christmas songs. These must constantly tell you that they are Christmas songs. If the first line is ‘This is a Christmas song’ it wouldn’t be too obvious. Christmas is a time for giving and Christmas songs give constant reminders they are Christmas songs.

Perhaps the very best of those mid-1960s Christmas albums is ‘A Christmas Gift to You From Phil Spector’. Spector, the mad genius, had perfected his rumbling, steam-powered Wall of Sound recording technique and every short, punchy song on the short, punchy album chugs along like a locomotive.

Perhaps the very best song on the album is Darlene Love’s ‘Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)’. Look at that title – the first word tells you what this is about, and if that’s not enough, the backing singers sing ‘Christmas’ at the end of every line. Tell them, tell them and tell them again.

So here’s the formula:

1           Start with a generic tune that is obviously in the style of the particular artist. So a James Brown Christmas song screams James Brown, a Motown Christmas song is by-the-numbers Motown. Use Christmas to reinforce your brand.

2           Intro – use bells. These make the clear and ringing statement: ‘What you are about to hear is a Christmas song’. You can chuck them into the chorus too for a reminder.

3           Outro – use jingles to fade as Santa is riding away on his sleigh. Your tambourine will do in a pinch. Chuck them into the verses too.

4           Say Christmas as many times as you can in between.

Done!

If you would like to enter RNZ’s Christmas song, go to www.rnz.co.nz/christmassong. But fair warning – you will not win. Because I’ve taken the formula, added another rule (5 Nothing is too OTT) and work is well under way for ‘What Santa Gave to Jesus’. It has winner written all over it.

Which links us obviously and directly to Darkest Days on Saturday 22 June.

For just as Christmas is one way of celebrating the Northern winter solstice, here in the Southern Hemisphere we have a tradition of celebrating the longest night with a dark night of dark beers. This year it’s Saturday 22 June.

By my calculation, this is the 7th annual Darkest Days at the Malthouse. But fair warning – my source for this is the Malthouse Blog, a notoriously unreliable thing.

But you can trust me when I tell you there are at least 25 porters, stouts, imperial stouts and barrel aged brews on the tap list this year. Many are new, some are limited to just one keg, and some are the very last keg existing of some favourite vintages.

Check out this for a line up:

8 Wired iStout Affrogato

North End Baby Grand Cru

Fork Brewing Murder of Crows 2018

Lord Almighty Ursus Stout – Last Ever Keg

Kereru Night Spirit 2016 – Aged for 10 months in New Zealand’s own whisky barrels

Garage Project Strong Imperial Dessert Stout – NEW

Epic Imperium

Boneface Crazy Train Scotch Ale

Deep Creek Lord Lamington Stout

ParrotDog LB White Stout – NEW

Moa XO Barrel Imperial IPA

Tuatara Midnight Sun Baltic Porter

Baylands Glasgow Slasher – 2017 Vintage

Black Dog Bean Me Up Mocha Milk Stout

Stone Brewing Woot Stout – imported from California

Tiny Rebel Imperial Stay Puft 2018 – imported from Wales. ONLY KEG

Tiny Rebel Orange Mocha 2018 – imported from Wales. ONLY KEG

Liberty Prohibition Porter – 2017 Vintage

Epic/Sparks Imperial Stout 2018

Coopers Vintage Ale – imported from South Australia

Behemoth Chocolate Fish Stout  

Sawmill Chocolate Stout

Three Boys Imperial Oyster Stout – 2019 vintage, brewed in the first week of the oyster season

Duncan’s Chocolate Stout

Cassels & Sons Double Cream Milk Stout

Renaissance Heritage Imperial Porter – brewed to celebrate Renaissance’s 1000th brew


Don’t be afraid of the dark!

Martin Craig

Malthouse Events

Saturday 22 June – Darkest Days, our annual celebration of the darkest beers on the longest night

Thursday 4 July – North End tap takeover

Friday 26 July – 12th Annual West Coast IPA Challenge. Yass!

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