I love Christmas. I love everything about it. I love the smells, the sounds, the sights, the weather; I love the reason there IS a Christmas, and people being kind and friendly with each other and with strangers. I even love Christmas cake, and I love Christmas parties.
The Christmas party with its informal gathering of friends and relations, and generous helpings of victuals and libations, is the ideal setting for the performance of the "party-piece." Ah yes, the "party-piece." In Ireland, the "party-piece" is an old and respected tradition. It can be a song, a poem, a recitation, an instrumental piece or a dance-step which one performs for the assembled company, usually to calls of “Quiet, now! Order for the singer! Away yeh go!" and which finishes to a round of applause and “Good man! (or girl!)" After which, someone else is called on to "do a wee turn." Some folks become famous for their particular party-piece and as a consequence are invited to a lot of parties. Tadhg O’Carroll, the uncle of my friend and onetime partner Tom O'Carroll, had as his specialty the Co. Cork song “The Hold Thady Quill," — sung entirely in French. Once, in Colorado, I met a lovely, dignified Scots lady who told me that they have the same tradition in Scotland, and she proceeded to prove it by reciting and acting out her party-piece, “The Shooting of Dangerous Dan McGrew," by Robert Service.
When Americans come with me to Ireland on my Pub Tours, they are impressed by the average men and women who, while not professional entertainers, can perform and entertain themselves and a roomful of visitors with song and story. It's a great night’s craic (pronounced ‘crack) altogether, as we say at home.
So this year, when you have your Christmas party, shock the other guests by bursting into a song or poem, and when you're done, call on someone else.
If you don’t have a party-piece, listen closely to this album; there's a poem, a recitation, several fine Christmas songs, a couple of novelty songs, an instrumental, and a few old favorites. Learn one or two of them, and then take the plunge!
You’ll be the hit of the party, and who knows?, you might even start a new family tradition.
Mary Christmas, or as we say in Ireland, Nollaig shona daoihh go léir.
Gaudgte — A few years ago, a recording of Monks in a Spanish monastery singing Latin chants made it onto the pop-music charts in Europe and the U.S. I thought it fitting to start off a Christmas album with a Gregorian Chant celebrating the Reason for the Season. Here are Brother Seamus, Brother Dave and Brother Brad, the Monks of Arbillo Abbey singing Gaudete.
Mary's Boy Child — An Irish Calypso Christmas Carol! I've always loved this song, and so here's my version with the Arbie o! All-Star Calypso Conga & Steel-Drum Band providing the backing.
Shepherds Arise — A fine example of a traditional English carol which I got from the singing of The Voice Squad. That's Dave Teeple and Brad Hayford singing bass and tenor harmonies behind me. Please feel free to add another lead or harmony of your own.
Goodwill To Men — These words were put to the tune of the old Scottish ballad, "The Loch Tay Boat Song," and this was the result. I like the haunting quality of Mark Hillman's uilleann pipes and Mike Auldridge's dobro and this song expresses a lot of what Christmas means to me.
The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy — The Chad Mitchell Trio was the source of this delightful carol. I love the simplicity of the lyrics which still tell the whole story. Brad Hayford sings the harmony behind me and takes the solo on the nylon-stringed guitar. Just jump in anywhere and sing with us.
The Mortal Sin — Larry Murtaugh of Dublin, and Takoma Park, Md., a prolific versifier if ever there was one, was good enough to send me the words of his epic saga which I first heard on Pat Troy's long-running Irish Radio Show, in Washington, D.C. It has the makings of a fine party-piece, and I know quite a few grown men who will be reduced to tears by its sentiment.
Miss Fogarty's Christmas Cake — Here's an old vaudeville favorite, popular with the Irish-American community in the 1920's and 30's. In keeping with the Christmas cake theme, you'll notice that this song is almost a recipe, with just the eggs, flour, butter, currants, sultanas, chopped nuts and whiskey missing. The jig at the end is called The Cook In The Kitchen, appropriately enough, with the musicians all having a high old time.
The Holly She Bears a Berry — Another great carol I learned from the The Voice Squad, one of Ireland's finest a capella traditional singing groups. I'll let you in on two secrets: 1. it's an English song from Sussex, and 2. it's actually an Easter carol, but it sounds wonderful and it fits right in with the spirit of Christmas.
Scarlet Ribbons — Some folks think that this is an old traditional song, but it was written during the folk-revival of the fifties, popularized by the Kingston Trio, and recorded by various performers. But I think that it captures perfectly the parental love and the mystery of Christmas. And of course, we all know where the ribbons came from …
Jogging Along with My Reindeer — I learned this song from an old tape someone gave me years ago. I think John Kirkpatrick wrote it, but I'm not sure. However, it's nice and bouncy and cheerful and easy to sing along with. P.S. Father Christmas is what we call Santa Claus in Ireland, Britain and some other parts of Europe.
Adeste Fideles — I have a soft spot for traditional Christmas carols, Gregorian chants, and the like, and this is one of my favorites. For those of you without the benefit of an Irish Christian Brothers' education and the concomitant eight years of Latin (which would help you to know the meaning of "concomitant"), the familiar English translation is completely acceptable, so throw back your heads and sing out!
O Holy Night (Cantique De Noel) — Written in France in 1847 by Adolph Adam and. Cappeau de Roquemaure, with the English lyric by John S. Dwight, this is my favorite Christmas song. I thought it would sound nice played on a couple of mandolins, so Brad and I came up with this arrangement.
Giving Your Love Away — My friend Steve Kritzer, a fine singer/songwriter/picker from California, and his friend Kathi Elliott, wrote this song about one of the finest gifts you can give at Christmas — your love.
Auld Lang Syne — Although not strictly a Christmas song, Auld Lang Syne has become associated with New Year's Eve which falls within the Twelve Days of Christmas. I really like this version which I got from my friend, musician and luthier, Mason Sebastian, of Robbie Bums' classic about reminiscing over a few jars. The footnotes are by. another pal, the fine Scottish singer, Ed Miller.