Depending on who you are and what you’ve been through, ghosts can linger at Christmas.
Sometimes, they take the form of a lost love, or a long-gone relative. They can come in a sense of disconnection from the festivities – or in a yearning to feel closer to someone, or something, or anything in particular. And in a season that encourages togetherness, we can feel so wrong to feel apart.
A festive antidote to carols and Cliff, ‘Ghost Stories’, is a gift-wrapped Christmas miracle, delivered by two big indie Santas, Scotland’s unofficial Makar, Aidan Moffat, and its finest flamenco export, RM Hubbert. Their second collaboration this year, it examines the other side of the holiday– exposing the darker bits, the lonely parts and tiny vulnerabilities magnified by this time of the year. It’s the Gaviscon after the turkey dinner; the strategic nap to escape the family. Like the best sort of present, I didn’t know I needed it until it arrived.
‘Lonely This Christmas’ strips back the silly original to reveal the sad little joke at the heart of the cracker, whilst ‘Only You’ re-imagines Yazoo to devastating effect. Though it’s far more than the sum of its heart-wrenchingly ironic covers, as gorgeous and glittering as they are. Famed as he is for his delicious miserabilism, Moffat’s identity as a father comes through too, songs peppered with references to his children – his stance informed by their need for joy and wonder, their lovely wee voices joining his own at the end of the record.
The stories he tells, like his reading of Hans Christian Anderson’s ‘The Fir Tree’, about a young tree seduced by the promise of adornments of silver and gold, often come with a cautionary tale. Forgotten in a flash by the family who took him in, our little tree soon finds himself confused and cold in the woodshed, as sinister whispers warn him that he’ll “soon be warm enough” These songs hold up a mirror to us.
Santa’s sack is perhaps lighter than we’d hoped it would be – with ‘The Recurrence Of Dickens’ reflecting the “reduced circumstances and straitened incomes” felt by too many in the age of austerity. But it isn’t all tears under the fairylights. “Let’s toast the trees with cider, and watch Dr Who…Call it Christmas, call it Yuletide…call it love” we’re urged.
Christmas, after all, is a ritual – and the small joys of our secular celebration are as sacred as any ceremony. There may be ding-dongs round the dinner table, lonely hearts and absent friends.
These songs remind us to find comfort in the warmth – to cherish what love we have, and hold it close.
Words: Marianne Gallagher
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