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Alexander Armstrong: “Christmas is the most musical time of the year”

With Ball & Boe, Tom Chaplin and even The Big Issue’s Phil Ryan all releasing Yuletide tunes, Alexander Armstrong gets in on the act with his own compendium of festive favourites plus a couple of self-penned tracks. He tells us what makes his perfect Christmas…

Christmas is all about using as many props as you can to conjure up something: a state of being where you’re cosy in this beautiful, comfortable, hibernation-style state. We go back to our burrows in the festive season so you want to surround yourself with things that are going to trigger as many memories of Christmas past as possible.

You always imbue things with a more wistful spirit as you look back on them. Every Christmas throughout childhood I would always look back and think it doesn’t feel very Christmassy this year, then the next year you look back and think, ‘Damn! That was a brilliant Christmas!’ Like all things it’s prose in the present and poetry in the past.

In my day if you wanted music you had to remember what the song was and had to be lucky enough to hear it on the radio or go and buy it

It’s funny how we cling to things that weren’t even part of our Christmases but part of an imagined amalgamation of every Christmas that has ever been. We’ll watch festive stories from years ago, films that were released when our parents were little and yet they’re in this bundle of Christmas triggers. Music too is a key part of shoehorning ourselves back into that little place that we love.

From the age of about seven I was in a choir. At that age it’s all really good fun. When you went off to sing at a carol service it would always be followed by a massive tea – there would be sausages and jelly.

No other time of year has music written for it like Christmas. The Bing Crosby flavours are every bit as important as the slightly spookier, ancient cold starkness of Christmas. There’s a lovely yeasty, Medieval strain in carols. Lovely old English carols you come across like The Holly and the Ivy borrow from the ancient Pagan mid-winter festival and then splice it together with the Christian to yield an interesting vibe of Christmas.

But I think every kind of Christmas music is valid and I very much include the kitsch in that as well. Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You has every Christmas element you could want in there. The Wombles’ We Wish you a Wombling Merry Christmas is another absolutely cracking song.

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I always make an almost-religious point listening to the Carols from King’s every Christmas Eve. You know it’s being sung by flickering candlelight in this huge cavernous gloom. That setting is a great starting point for Christmas Eve.

When I was growing up, all sorts of personalities would bring out albums. It is quite an old-fashioned idea. Our listening habits are very weird at the moment. I worry a little bit for my children; music is ubiquitous and so easy to access. In my day if you wanted music you had to remember what the song was and had to be lucky enough to hear it on the radio or go and buy it.

I hope that for our children’s generation the availability of music has not cheapened the experience and made shallow the relationship they can have with music. When we were little, in a literal and spiritual sense, it was an investment.

In A Winter Light by Alexander Armstrong is out now. He tours the UK from May. Alexander was speaking to Steven MacKenzie

Images: James Hole

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