The Albion Christmas Band features the combined talents of Simon Nicol (founder member of Fairport Convention) on acoustic guitar and vocals, Kellie While (Albion Band), acoustic guitar, vocals, Simon Care (Edward II), melodeons, and the Guv'nor himself, Ashley Hutchings (founder of Fairport Convention, Albion Band, and Steeleye Span) on bass guitar and vocals. They are joined on several tracks by special guests Blair Dunlop, vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, Ruth Angell, violins and Holly Brandon, fiddle. The nights are drawing in for the Northern Hemisphere, thoughts are turning to Christmas, which means it is time for the four members of this band to gird their loins and hit the road yet again, as they have been doing for nearly 20 years. There is no doubt in my mind, and that of many others, that The Guv’nor is probably the most important single person in the folk movement for the last 50+ years, with the various incarnations of The Albion Band being incredibly significant to boot, and just one play of their latest album is enough to hear why.
A special mention must be made of Ashley Hutchings’ son Blair Dunlop, as this sounds as if it was recorded by the band together in the studio, yet Blair had to record each band member’s contribution in their individual homes. After this, he literally had to gather in all the different elements, so the title is a play on those words as well as meaning the end of the harvest (over here harvest is at the same time as Christmas, and I have spent a few Boxing Days gathering in the hay and putting it in the barn).
The album is a collection of traditional seasonal songs and tunes, inspired arrangements of several contemporary songs along with new compositions by various bandmembers and other guest artists and spoken word. One of the last is a version of Marriott Edgar’s poem “Sam's Christmas Pudding”, which is 100% true to the original and is just spellbinding. It inspired me to investigate further, only to discover that Marriott was half-brother to Edgar Wallace, an incredibly prolific novelist (I now own my mother’s collection of more than 100) who is probably now most remembered for being the author of King Kong.
But while that is a delight, it is also somewhat different to the rest of the album, which finds these wonderful singers and musicians combining their talents to produce a Christmas album which is far better than any of the latest collections of the same old songs which will be played to death on the radio. These days Christmas is a shallow plastic affair which has changed dramatically in my own lifetime, but this album reflects the majesty and spectacle of days gone by, when it truly was a special part of the calendar. You lucky people in the UK will have the opportunity to see these guys in concert and feel the true Christmas Spirit, but I will keep playing this as yet again this is a delight from beginning to end.