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Live Music Review Classy formula entrances Christmas audience

Albion Christmas Band         
Kings Place, London

THERE can be few better ways to usher in the festive season than an evening in the company of the Albion Christmas Band, who have been warming up audiences ahead of yuletide for 18 years now, though with a changing line-up over time.

This incarnation — featuring the combined folk talents of Simon Nicol, Kellie While, Simon Care and the band’s founder, Ashley Hutchings — has been one of its longest running, and has honed its traditional offering of Christmassy tales and readings, seasonal songs and amusing chat to perfection.

It’s a simple idea but one that’s finely executed. In the wrong hands many of the non-singing exploits might drop on stony ground — Simon Nicol’s humorous “drunken” reading of a Keith Floyd recipe for Christmas pudding, for instance, could easily have fallen flat, but he pulled it off with actorly aplomb.

Similarly, Hutchings’s poetry and written word selections, often drifting in and out of song, could have appeared trite, but were delivered with just the right amount of sentimentality and emotion.

Particularly affecting were renditions of an article on midwinter written by Angela Carter for the Radio Times in 1977, and of Mike Harding’s World War I poem, Christmas 1914.

Then of course, there was the music — a well judged selection covering the overtly Christian (The First Noel) to the vaguely pagan (Calling On/Hogmanay), as well as the old (Julian of Norwich) and the new (a recent band composition called The Royal Dog). Here the overriding force was While’s entrancing voice, which, in passages, brings to mind Sandy Denny.

Some of the songs — including a Christmasified version of Tim Hardin’s Carpenter and a superior cover of Tears for Fears’ Mad World (a Christmas No 1 in 2003 for Gary Jules and Michael Andrews) — came firmly from left field, while others — the Sussex Carol and In the Deep Midwinter — might have been expected at any seasonal bash.

The unifying strand, however, was an old English, wintry feel to proceedings that had the audience sitting at an imaginary log fire, mulled wine in hand.

Hutchings and co will be back touring the country next December, no doubt, so look out for them well in advance and assure yourself of a properly atmospheric build up to Christmas, far removed from anything that the piped music in department stores can offer.


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