A deserving, if dubious, honour

The British have an odd Christmas tradition. For some reason, massive importance is attached to the song that achieves number 1 status in the charts during the week before Christmas Day. I really don’t get it – especially when you look at the list of songs that have acquired this honour and realise just how much dross it includes (I offer you Exhibit A: Mr Blobby and Exhibit B: Bob the Builder.) 
When thinking about this post, I was fairly sure that I’d only ever contributed to one Christmas number 1 (and even then, when I say ‘I’, I mean my sister bought the tape from Woolworths) – that being the Christmas classic Stay Another Day by East 17. (It is Christmassy because the band wore fur edged parkas in the video and there’s some nice tubular bell work, and that is all.) However, looking at the list reminded me that I’d also bought the 20th anniversary recreation of Do They Know It’s Christmas (don’t judge – my Godson was born they day they recorded it and I was feeling sentimental). Anyway, the point to this post is that I think I’ve probably just bought this year’s too…
No, not Dominick The Donkey (though it has been a Christmas highlight for several years and I was tempted), but the Military Wives singing Wherever You Are. If you’d told me a month ago that I’d do this, I wouldn’t have believed you.
If you’re reading this on the blog itself, on the right-hand sidebar you’ll find a list of my most popular posts. Number 1, by a long way, is a four year old post about Gareth Malone, specifically, the amusing ways in which people had googled him, resulting in their landing upon my original blog about his second TV series. Every time he reappears on our screens my stats spike – in fact this has become almost my default way of discovering what he’s up to (well, that and his Twitter feed). For a little while this blog was almost the top entry if you googled his name – terrifying. Anyway, as much as I dislike what he does for my stats, I do love him and his work. Watching him bring people together in singing is utterly inspiring and I think his passion for community singing is infectious.

However, his latest series had me conflicted – in fact, I didn’t begin watching it until it had finished. (I know that doesn’t make sense, but that’s the bonus of iPlayer.) This time he was working with military wives and it was the ‘military’ bit I had an issue with. Being a pacifist, I find the media’s obsession with the military difficult. I don’t believe that we ought to have troops in Afghanistan and I think that the waste of human life is atrocious. But, I read brilliant reviews of the show, so thought I’d give it a go. 
What I discovered was three hours of the most moving TV I’ve seen in a long time. Military life is by no means glamorous and those left behind by soldiers serving overseas have a miserable time – often left on bases miles away from their families, with little support. Moving bases regularly also makes it difficult to build any kind of community with the other families, even when you’re all going through the same hideous experience of having loved ones fighting in a war zone. The show captured this perfectly and I was moved to tears on more than one occasion. Think I’m a sap? [You’d probably be right.] What about this clip of the women and children welcoming the soldiers home:

Plus, the project also demonstrated just how transformative singing can be. Several of the women featured didn’t believe that they could sing, or that they had anything to offer to the choir – but through Gareth’s determination not to let them give up, and ensure they felt valued, they realised that they did have worth. Take Sam, for example (she’s the lady with the tattoos in the above video) – she was amongst a minority of wives who had previous choral experience, yet genuinely didn’t seem to believe that she had a voice worth hearing. Any time she sang on her own there was a flurry of apologies as she felt she was messing up, it was heartbreaking to watch. In an amazing triumph over adversity (nerves, low self-esteem and family illness) she came to sing the solo in the choir’s Royal Albert Hall performance – a performance that I defy anyone to sit through dry-eyed.

The song they sang had been written by Paul Mealor (he’s the John Rutter of the 21st century), based upon letters written between them and their husbands. It’s simply beautiful and in the best tradition of choral singing. Within minutes of the final programme finishing I was humming the melody to myself. Thus, when I discovered it was being released in time for Christmas Number 1 I was actually pleased – this song, more than almost any other (except the original Band Aid single) deserves the strange honour, and so does the lovely Gareth Malone. Yesterday’s mid-week chart had it at Number 1 and I suspect it will stay there, an excellent antidote to the dross of previous years.

Eclectic Friday Fun

I’m not even going to attempt tenuous links between today’s offerings – they’re all utterly unrelated, but their diversity should provide you with some entertainment, even if your taste in fun doesn’t precisely match mine…

First up is a bit of culture. Earlier this week, the Hairpin linked to a gallery of Life magazine’s most boring covers, which proved to be much more entertaining than you might imagine it to be. (Surprisingly, many of them were Christmas editions.) Then it emerged that there was also an online gallery of famous magazines’ first covers – very intriguing. The two galleries will probably divert you for at least 5 minutes, so that’s a decent Friday morning distraction.

That’s Vogue and National Geographic – both have come a long way since they began.
Picking up the ever amusing subject of cats on the internet, I also offer you Louis Vs Rick, the story of what happens when a man teaches his cat to IM – delightful. Here’s a sample of their conversation to whet your appetite:
RickDickens77: Well, it’s not really.. I mean, you can use it for certain things, but usually people don’t use it because it looks like yelling.
RickDickens77: Well keep it to yourself, I’m trying to get things done so I can bring you dinner.

Thirdly, it wouldn’t be Friday without the opportunity for some frivolous dancing, so I offer you an interesting take on the ‘choreographed first wedding dance’ thing, this time with the Father of the Bride burning up the dance floor…

It also wouldn’t be a proper Friday of Fun without some singing – or, given the end of last week’s fun, some Lady Gaga. How about a group of older people singing Bad Romance in a Chinese dialect, accompanied by Beijing’s Crystal Orchestra? It’s both sublime and ridiculous!

I’m beginning to wonder if I should make Gaga a regular Friday feature – there appears to be enough random interpretations of her work on the internet to keep this blog full for quite some time to come…

Have a delectable Friday!

Further Friday Fun of an a cappella nature

Discovered on Tuesday, via a colleague’s hysterical laughter, is a video gem that is doubly fun because it includes comedy outtakes that are longer than the original feature. My colleague was whooping, shrieking and nearly crying with laughter, so of course I had to ask what she was watching. Soon I was shrieking too and let me tell you, such noises echo when you emit them in the balcony of a Georgian church. It’s good – really good – though you might not expect something entitled ‘a capella dubstep’ to be that funny:

Turns out Tuesday wasn’t the first time my colleague had seen this beauty – it’s so good that the funny just keeps giving!

If that’s a little too crazy for you, or you want something calmer as you get your breath back, how about some lovely Peter Hollens? A friend of the Swingle Singers (and previously featured in Friday Fun), this is actually less calm (and certainly an assault on the eyes given the amount of neon clothing featured) than I may have initially suggested, but it’s definitely fun…

Any friend of the Swingles is a friend of mine… [Incidentally, they have a gig in London next month – anyone want to join me?] In fact, another musical gem is their performance as backing vocalists for Labrinth & Tinie Tempah on Radio 1’s Live Lounge yesterday:

[Ok, yes, I may still have a teeny-tiny Swingle crush…]

Earlier this week the Swingles also posted a special ‘Welcome Back’ video for troops returning from Afghanistan (including one of the Swingles’ brothers) which I only just got round to watching as I wrote this post. It’s rather lovely and also includes a brief glimpse of a couple of friends from church, which is always slightly exciting. (In fact, the presence of my wise friend’s husband Juan would suggest it was recorded in their studio which I’d have visited a couple of weeks ago were it not for a small car versus motorbike incident that wise friend got us involved in…)

If none of that musical fun floats your boat, how about a complete tangent and some photos of dogs in Star Wars costumes? It made me giggle heartily, and long to own a dog that agrees to dressing up. Megan the Labrador has sadly always considered herself above such things – she removes the bow I place on her every Christmas with enormous haste. Spoilsport.

Friday Fun with confident musical dinosaurs

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’m quite a fan of musicals and singing in general. Obviously, there are hours and hours (in fact months) that can be whiled away in musical pursuits, but some are more fun than others. My first piece of Friday Fun for this week is an old skool game – it involves no computers or phones, just honest-to-goodness musical skill and a similarly skilled friend.

The ‘sing alternate words’ game was taught to me by Morv (my companion in deeds of spectacular musical geekiness) and I have no idea where she found it. It’s very simple – one person sings the first word of a song [if you’re really on the ball, the other half of the pair will have to guess the song from its first word and notes] and the second person sings the next word – so on and so forth until you tire of the ridiculousness (or you forget the words). You can play with more than two people, but it gets very tricky. Personal favourites (unsurprisingly) for playing this game with include For Good and Defying Gravity from Wicked – though the latter can get quite confusing given that many of its lines are similar, yet subtly different, making it very easy to get lost.

Somehow, I ended up sharing this game with a colleague at work. She caught on very quickly and we were soon singing I Have Confidence with much mirth. Afterwards, she shared a video with me which had me in awe – if you’re a lover of The Sound of Music (which of course is where the aforementioned song comes from, if you didn’t know that, shame on you!) this will amaze and inspire you:

Yes, that is the Captain’s house; and yes, she’s running (and singing) up the same road that Maria runs up while singing that particular song. I particular love the rucksack standing in for a guitar case and Hannah (my colleague) running backwards, trying simultaneously to film and not laugh. Impressive. Unfortunately, the girls were trespassing (and luckily got away with it) which means it may be difficult for others to emulate. But, on the off chance that it’s possible, who’s up for a trip to Salzburg?

In case you’re not at all interested in musicals set in the Anschluss, how about some dinosaurs? In fact, how about some animated, singing dinosaurs on the banks of the River Thames? I think you might agree that this video is genius in all kinds of ways:

One final piece of fun. You might be aware that the Rugby World Cup’s currently being held in God’s Own Country. If you’re really up with your rugby, you may also be aware that France (possibly Europe’s best team at the start of the tournament) were beaten last Saturday by the ‘Ikale Tahi – the Tongan team – 19-14. I was very proud (and gutted that it was on while I was asleep). Sadly, France qualified for the quarter-finals over Tonga on points scored (but will be beaten by England this weekend), but I was very proud of my national team. In their honour I share a flash-mob haka – and before you point out that a haka is a Maori war dance, let me point out that all Polynesian tribes have their own version of this, including the Tongans. How scary would it be to suddenly find yourself in the midst of this?!

Wizard Friday Fun

Today is an auspicious day.

Today, the final curtain will fall on a saga that has kept me occupied for a good many hours over the last 11 years. 
Today, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 is officially released (henceforth known as HP7b) and I, for once, will see it the very day it opens. 
The media is full of Harry Potter retrospectives at the moment – and with good reason. The final instalment of an eight film franchise is a momentous occasion. Yes, not all the films are superb, but, as a general rule they do the books good service – especially Prisoner of Azkaban (the discerning Potter fan’s favourite book and film). The first film came out during my final year of university and now I’m on the cusp of another big change. To this day, parts of Hogwarts are still the room where I had choir rehearsals as a teenager and I will forever be indebted to Alan Rickman for making Snape a much more bearable character to read as the later books were published. [Coincidentally, right at this moment my parents are on holiday in Alnwick – location of Alnwick Castle, the main set used for Hogwarts. Wonder if they’ve realised?] 
Anyway, for those of you that consider this an important event, I have some fun for you. Those that couldn’t give a toss about Harry Potter can come back next week – I make no apologies for what I like… 
Firstly, a fantastically creative interpretation of all the films, via cartoon. The Summharry parody comic by Lucy Kinisley is utter genius and you’ll have to follow that link to see the full beauty of it. One cartoon for each film now turned into one massive cartoon covering all eight of them. The comedic detail is fabulous! 
Continuing the spoof theme and returning to my favourite blog written by a bookseller, Jen Campbell (of ‘weird things customers say in bookshops’ fame) has written some seriously fabulous spoofs. Yes they’re long, but to anyone who knows the books in a certain amount of detail, they’re hilarious. Books 1-4 have been done so far, and if this extract from the opening chapter of Harry Potter and the Cup of Pretty Blue Flames is anything to go by, they’re well worth reading:

Chapter One: Some dude called Frank

JK Rowling: Once upon a time there was an old man who lived in a house…
Readers: WTF Jo, where’s Harry?
JK Rowling: Shut up, I am SETTING the SCENE.
Readers: Oh. Well get on with it then.
Nagini: Hissssssssssss.
Frank: You’re not a pesky kid.
Voldemort: So, David Tennant, what will you bring to the story?
David Tennant: An amazing cool leather jacket.
Voldemort: Fabulous. Fashion is my number one priority right now.
Nagini: Hisssssssssss.
Voldemort: Ooo, Nagini says that lunch is standing just outside the door.
Wormtail: Oh, fabulous, I was getting rather peckish. AVADA KEDAVRA.
Something I didn’t think I’d manage to include in this week’s fun was my traditional standby of comedy a cappella YouTube video, but, remarkably you can get a Harry Potter themed one of those too – superb! This is Overboard Vocals (friends of the ever-wonderful Swingle Singers) performing Hedwig’s Theme, complete with wigs…

Yes, I realise that you’ll now have quite an irritating piece of music going round your head for the rest of the day – but imagine what it’s like working in a bookshop on a Harry Potter release day and hearing nothing but that for many, many hours from very early in the morning. I have no sympathy.

Back to dear Alan Rickman. So Snape is perhaps not a role in which I’m able to swoon over him as I would in Truly, Madly, Deeply or that Texas video that I love, but he is utterly fabulous and thank goodness JK Rowling was able to persuade him to take the part. I love him even more ever since I read the letter he wrote to fans, published in Empire Magazine in April:

Finally, just in case you need a reminder of what’s happened in the last films, here’s a handy round-up of all that has gone before:

And with that, I’m off to enjoy a screening of HP7b in a classy cinema (which serves booze), with good company and no children. Awesome!