In 1843, what is probably the most famous Christmas story (the nativity aside) was published: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. After seeing the plight of child workers in mines and the conditions the poor were forced to spend their lives in, Dickens sprung into action – he had been considering writing a pamphlet on the subject for some time, but instead swiftly generated a novella to increase potential readership (and help his family’s dire finances into the bargain). Last year Simon Callow’s one-man show (emulating Dickens himself) ran at the Arts Theatre, and he has now captured that for posterity in a newly recorded album.
To add to the festive spirit, Callow has joined forces with the celebrated Brighouse and Rastrick Band; the double album features the five-stave narration (backed by the band) on one disc, with the full versions of the carols played featuring on the second CD.
Fittingly, the first carol to be heard is God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen – this is the song a young boy regales Scrooge with through the keyhole, and met with an aggressive response. The music is never intrusive or distracting when Callow is speaking, with it playing quietly for a while in the background before fading out, often bookending a section (be it chapter or stave). Brass bands are very evocative of the Victorian era, so adding in this extra aspect is a clever way of immediately immersing listeners in the history of the piece. This, and the inclusion of a few key sound effects, elevates it from a straightforward audiobook to something a little more theatrical.
The fact that Simon Callow is such an authority on the writer makes it particularly special, lending it an extra sense of authenticity – seemingly as if Dickens himself were speaking. Callow’s voice is as rich and full of character as ever; it is always a genuine pleasure to hear him speak. As the narrator he teases the listener, eking out the details and revelling in Dickens’ potent descriptions. He also manages to distinguish all the individual characters, making it incredibly easy to follow.
Then on disc two The Brighouse and Rastrick band take over, with 19 carols played out in full. The selection contains a host of highly recognisable tunes, including In Dulce Jubilo, Silent Night, In The Bleak Midwinter, Coventry Carol, Good King Wenceslas and The Holly and the Ivy.
Playing the double album in its entirety would make a wonderful Christmas Eve event (the story is set on that day, after all), as well as a fantastic addition to the rest of your Christmas celebrations. The story is more relevant than ever, so it’s great to have another means of enjoying it and carrying its message forward – a perfect seasonal treat.
A Christmas Carol was released on 1 December 2017 on Island Records. You can buy the album online.
Tags:#MTBChristmasCarol2017, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens, Christmas, music, review, Simon Callow, The Brighouse and Rastrick BandCategories:all posts, Christmas, music, review
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