December 2017: Musical Advent Calendar

December 31st
“Looking Back” Highlight Of The Day: The Quiet Window. I guess this is a day for looking back over the year. I see people doing that on the internet and on the TV so I do a bit of it myself. And in amongst all the harrumphs at having not made our garden the Eden Project of my dreams and still not sorted out the ailing bathroom, and still only half way through the filing cabinet sort-out and still not having any of my music performed at The Proms or by The Kings Singers, I have worked in some amazing places, composed some characterful music, directed a wonderful choir, spent all my time with funny, supportive, lovely friends and family, and live in a beautiful place. This song is the work I’m most proud of this year: I composed it for my exceptional, hard-working, up-for-anything, laugh-a-minute choir, The Bridge Singers. This is them performing it at Brinkburn Priory in July.

December 30th
Song of the Day: Belle, qui tiens ma vie by Arbeau. This morning we went up to the Village Hall for a rehearsal of Tudor music for next weekend’s Twelfth Night event in the village with the redoubtable and marvellous Alison Rushby. This is one of the songs we sang and my personal favourite from the selection. The rest of the day was spent eating chocolate biscuits and watching episodes of Endeavour on the ITVPlayer.

December 29th
Weather of the Day: Snow.
9.19am: I went down the stairs to fill up my hot water bottle – the one that sits on my lap as I work – and as I gazed absentmindedly from the kitchen window waiting for the kettle to boil, a solitary snow flake fell through the yard. It startled me into the present and as I pondered upon it, more floated through the scene. I am now back up at the composing window and silent, relentless snow is falling on the bridge. There is not enough traffic to prevent it from settling on the road so there is the soft start of a build-up. The ground is frozen. The flakes are fatter. It is very pretty.

10.04am: The snow is still falling, and almost all is white. The phone box has a hat. There is not much bridge action to report on except for a family taking selfies with a stick, up the river with the twinkling fairy lights to their left.

10.41am: Jamie’s taking the car out onto the road before it gets snowed in. Vehicles are struggling to get up the hill. A bus just came through, though, but for how long will this continue, I wonder. A posse of snowballers have just gambolled by – the father of them had an umbrella. The rest had vibrant hats. Richard’s on the bridge taking photos.

12.12pm: There’s snow-chaos outside the window. The 11.30 bus is trying to inch up the hill. There’s standstill traffic in both directions. Pedestrians are out frolicking with their dogs, children, sleds and cameras, and still it snows. Meanwhile, inside, I have potato peeled my left-hand thumb nail and it hurts a bit, but I have the startings of two shepherd’s pies to see us through the long weekend. I’m away to the bathroom to get a band aid.

12.40pm: There’s a man with a very large-lensed camera out there now grasping at all the close-ups, plus lots of traffic which is going very slowly indeed. It’s still snowing, but that’s also slowed down. Maybe things are on the turn. Thumb has been kissed better and a band-aid applied.

13.05: I am reading on my information feed that the A1 is at a standstill and as a result, drivers feel that Felton will be an excellent detour. They are wrong and are the cause of the current issues outside. People are abandoning their cars in the new bridge’s snow, local villagers are helping with shovels and muscles. A Mum is cheerily changing her baby’s nappy outside my window, while Dad keeps its twin happy in the car. Just behind a man in white plimsolls applies some sort of snow-cagoule to his front left-hand tyre while his companion, with precisely-tweaked hairdo, gazes at her phone. Shall I call from the window, “There’s no signal down here, duck!”….?

13.46pm: We’re now a tourist spot with all sorts stopping for photos. The traffic seems to be running smoothly now, and our car, which is out on the road, is losing its cloak of snow – the temperature must have risen a little. The snow has stopped and all is merriment out there.

15.00pm: We have eaten our first shepherd’s pie and delicious it was too. Outside things have calmed down considerably as the evening draws in. We are now optimistic that our trip to Alnmouth later will go ahead without the use of further salt, shovels or pickaxes.

18.55pm: I’m about to go two doors down to Anne’s for a Fingers Adrift practice for Twelfth Night. I have my Lionheart Harmony gear on, plus wellington boots (gumboots) as the pavement twixt here and there, and twixt there and the car is still full of snow and now possibly ice.

22.30pm: I played my recorder. We sang at Alnmouth and were kindly appreciated by the gathered holidaymakers with smiles, applause and cheering comments. We are home. We all had dramatic snow or no-snow stories. It hadn’t snowed at all on the coast, but those from Alnwick understood and there was much snow camaraderie with the guests who are on a walking holiday, it turned out. I have learned that at one point today there were 35 buses trapped in snow in and around Morpeth. Outside it still looks very pretty, but the road is clear and it is evidently above freezing as dripping was happening on our heads as we tip-toed from our car to our house. We’ve left it out on the road as it will take a bit more energy than we have available to us to clear the parking area of snow and ice. Goodnight, and welcome to the last weekend of 2017.

December 28th
Song Of The Day: Henry Hotspur Percy. I don’t know why, but this has been popular today with number of views and even some feedback: “Great!” “Cool!” and “Howay, wor Harry!”. In other news, I’ve pottered about.

December 27th
Sporting Hero of the Day: Alastair Cook. I woke up this morning to the news that Alastair Cook was in the 80s, listened to him get to his 100. He’s such an excellent cricketer, and a quiet, thoughtful, determined, no histrionics sort of fellow. (And as I gather photos to illustrate this from the BBC Cricket website he’s passed 200 the next day. Wahoooo!). Also today, it snowed, we watched the very clever and funny Muppet Christmas Carol on the telly and drove home to Northumberland.

December 26th

Canal chum

Canal Strolling

Album Of The Day: Worksop to Shireoaks Marina and back along the Chesterfield Canal, during moonrise and sunset with Michael​ and Jamie.

The Shireoaks Three

Tree ripple

Boaty Stuff


Warehouse roofline


Canalside Cottages 1901







Fence, bin, twigs






December 25th
Song Of The Day: Where’s My Jumper by The Sultans Of Ping. What do you do when the Musical Advent Calendar’s finished and it’s Christmas Day? You have a break from the internet, that’s what, but I can tell you that in the midst of all the family merriment and yumptious food and giftwrap mountains and lolling about and good deeds and napping, my brother and sister, Michael and Frances, launched into this song, which the rest of us did not know and the merriment levels were cranked up another notch. Now my machines are back on after two days off, I’ve listened to the whole song and thereby backdate it to Christmas day as my stuff of that day.

December 24th
It’s my most performed song of any type, which just happens to be a Christmas number. Yesterday evening when I was driving to Alnmouth to sing with Lionheart Harmony at Nether Grange Hotel for the last sing before Christmas, I had a message from my wonderful NZ friend Richard telling me that this piece was at that very minute being sung on TVNZ and there was a picture of me in the background during the introduction to the piece. At the gig LH sang In The Bleak Midwinter as well as several of my arrangements, and my new sleigh bells got a good work-out too. That’s the third sing-out in three days and now we rest our voices for a while.

December 23rd
It’s a song about Christmas, performed here by Rock Festival Choir with pictures of some lovely bits of my hometown, Worksop. Today, I’ve been doing tasks. I also bought a festive phone box with Santa in it and snow flakes and some liquid and when you put the batteries in, the snowflakes swirl about and a light comes on. It’s complete tat, but it makes pretty patterns on the wall and it’s a K2 phone box, so I feel it’s OK on the whole. I shall put it in the window, so if you’re passing do stop and admire it! This song in its unison version was sung on Thursday at the Christingle service I mentioned yesterday Two songs in five minutes. Christmas Bonus.

December 22nd
It’s a song about Christingle. I went to Alnwick yesterday to hear this performed by the entirety of Swansfield Park Primary School in their Christingle service. By the time I got to the massive St. Paul’s, it was jam-packed. I stood at the back leaning anonymously against a handy pillar and so could see and hear the whole thing. It was excellent and made me smile very widely. A lovely atmosphere too with so many supportive family members willing them on and the Christingle oranges flickering gamely on all the window ledges and every other available surface. I wrote this song for them three or four years ago and they’ve performed it every year since, thanks to the very wonderful Anne Marie Grimes. We sang it in The Bridge Singers too this year on account of the oranges. This recording was made three years ago by Anne Marie and her choir with me on piano. Yesterday they sang it with my original learning track booming out through the speakers to keep them on time – so the oddest part of yesterday was hearing myself singing along with them.

December 21st
It’s a festive drinking song, performed here in its Felton and Thirston version by The Bridge Singers.
Yesterday, I went on a bus to Newcastle and did some shopping before the crowds built up too much, then I came home and found myself still sleepy so I cut bananas out of paper while I caught up on Masterchef The Professionals from last week and ate chocolate biscuits. One by one my favourites have been eliminated from this competition, so now there are three left, none of whom I care much about, but all of whom are excellent and it really doesn’t matter to me any more who wins.

This video is also my review of the 2105-16 (and the first) season of the choir, which as you can see was a jolly affair. I also have a review of the 2016-17 season – also jolly and quite busy, so if you haven’t yet had enough of The Bridge Singers, here’s that one too!

By the way, the original version of Magical Glass was about Sunderland’s glass-making heritage and can be heard here.

December 20th
It’s a sad song about a robin. And pictures of our dreadful garden last January. Yesterday I slept, then did a bit of stuff then slept some more, then practised a bit of music, then lolled about in front of the telly, then went to a short, relaxed rehearsal for Rock Festival Choir, then slept come more. This morning I feel quite perky and have a list.

December 19th
It’s a classic and a sign that I’ve got nothing new to offer after three days of complete full-on gallivanting and music-making and the realization that today I need to stay put so that I can catch up on sleep and recoup some of the sapped energy, in readiness for more music-making every evening and some more daytimes this week. I made this arrangement way back when I worked in Bedlington. It’s been done a lot since. Such a jolly carol.

December 18th
It’s another song about bananas, which really doesn’t have much to do with Christmas normally, but this year bananas have played a central role in The Bridge Singers’ Christmas preparations, particularly songs about them, and we sang this yesterday at the beginning of the 2nd half of our concert in Felton Village Hall. I don’t have a recording as yet of any of the concert, but here we are earlier in the term in rehearsal. The performance was fairly similar in character!

December 17th
Cantate Domino – yesterday we drove to Manchester for the launch of a CD with this on it. I haven’t got time to expand on that because we didn’t get home until 2.35am and today it’s The Bridge Singers’ concert in less than four hours and I’m still in my pyjamas and have programmes to fold! More anon!

December 16th
It’s another carol, but this time I wrote it. It’s about a coal miner who is underground on Christmas Eve and is looking forward to a day off tomorrow. The images are of Woodhorn Colliery Museum which is near here.

December 15th
It’s a carol from Yorkshire. It’s a song we’ve sung for the last two years at Christmas, but not this year. I see the video is put together with photos from Budapest. That was a nice holiday. We haven’t been on any long holidays this year on account of all the work, but still, it’s nice to have these memories. Jamie came back from London in the night, which is nice, so I went off to Lionheart Harmony on my own. What an exceedingly merry rehearsal it was with everyone’s mood high and an all-Christmas line-up of songs. No matter which choir you go and sing with it puts your properly in a good mood, and no mistake.

December 14th
It’s a song about a lamb, as performed by The Bridge Singers earlier this year, put together with lovely August watercolours by choir member Dawn Minto. We did sing this song at last year’s Christmas recitals and also in the Magical Glass concerts as it fitted well with the Lamb Of God and Rose windows. Here and now, I’m deep in with Robert Burns. I’m hoping to come up for air tomorrow.

December 13th
It’s a Christmas Fanfare with pictures that make me laugh. This particular performance helped win this particular choir the much-coveted platinum award at the prestigious Big Sing choir competition in New Zealand that year. I had my hoped-for extra sleep yesterday and today I’m up early to take Jamie to the train – London again. Apparently he’s staying in Edgeware overnight so we can add that to the seemingly endless list of London boroughs he’s visited.

December 12th
It’s a carol. French. It’s short and jolly, and I first did this arrangement for St. John Vianney’s School in Brisbane and all the exceptional flautists we had there. I am weary this morning after an exhilarating and rather brilliant concert by The Bridge Singers in Longframlington last night. It ended late, and then packing up and then calming down and then tossy-turny, thoughtful sleep…it all results in Tuesday weariness. I will crack on with preparing Robert Burns music later, but I think this morning I might do extra sleeping.

December 11th
It’s an early 17th century motet performed in one of the most beautiful places to sing around here, performed by The Bridge Singers.

I’ve spent quite a bit of the day with them in fact, as we performed at Heighley Gate Garden Centre near Morpeth in front of a branch of Peacocks to passing shoppers, perfecting our fruit repertoire for tonight’s first concert of our Christmas season. There were buckets for the collecting of money for St. Oswald’s Hospice at our feet and a steady clunk of coins accompanied our songs. Our in-concert collections this season are also for them. Jenny and I wandered through the aquarium sales room in the break between performances. The variety of fish and other creatures available is remarkable these days. I was particularly taken with some purple splatted snailish creatures out of which a suckery protuberance snaffled its way along the surface. Anyway, we sang with gusto and according to one watcher we were “tight and I could hear every word.” It all bodes well for tonight: 7.30pm Longframlington Memorial Hall

December 10th
It’s a 14th century song about the Angel Gabriel. We sang this version of this song earlier in the year with The Bridge Singers at our Magical Glass Concert in St. Michael’s Church, Felton.

The pictures on the video are of the windows in that church which feature Gabriel, and the video itself was designed to help the singers with their Medieval English pronunciation. Yesterday, I spent the day dipping in and out of the various activities on offer in Felton Music Saturday, which is the 2nd Saturday of every month, organised by my friend and exceedingly energetic and inspirational village resident, Alison. At the Tudor Music Taster Session (for the village’s 12th night revels), she presented us with a song which uses this very tune. I also partook of the small group sight-singing and the madrigal session.
If you live nearby and fancy a bit of extra music-making have a look at the website

December 9th
It’s a poem about some nativity camels, spoken by my mate Sid, with music from my brass quintet in the background I’m not very chatty this morning as we had a very exhausting rehearsal last night for The Bridge Singers. I used so much energy and I don’t think I ate enough during the day to provide me with sufficient fuel for such exertions. When we got home at 10.30, Jamie had to make me a fried cheese sandwich before I could relax into sleep. Cheese before sleep is a bad idea of course – the stuff of nightmares, they say. But it warmed me up and after a bit of TV snooker I did nod off, but still awake too early. I’ll have to go back to sleep again soon, I feel. The rehearsal was brilliant, I might add. First concert on Monday at Longframlington. It’ll be good – come along and hear us, why don’t you

December 8th
It’s a traditional carol, albeit in a slightly modified version. This is the Silent Night (with some moons) that we sing in Lionheart Harmony. We had a rehearsal last night filled with Christmas numbers for a gig coming up on 23rd December. There was much laughter as usual and much swapping of ailment stories. Another highlight of the day was the enormous moon, a little bit orange and with one quarter hidden from view as it rose on the way home, cavorting with the clouds and generally being silently gorgeous. It’s been pretty spectacular all week what with its supermoon-ness. I see that it is still out there and this time there are no clouds. We’re heading for a maximum temperature of 1°C today on account of the no-clouds and the northerly winds. Brrrr

December 7th
It’s a song about Medieval wintry pursuits. I composed it for Yew Tree Youth Music a few years ago as we contemplated the previous uses the land around Lupset in Wakefield might have been put to in the past. We rode with the word Lupset and made the connection with lupine which refers to wolves. I spent the entire day yesterday (and many a day afore it, with Robert Burns, arranging and composing for a concert in January. This is my current all-consuming pursuit. There are worse things to be obsessed by, I guess. This verse struck me particularly: Auld Nature swears, the lovely dears/Her noblest work she classes, O: /Her prentice han’ she try’d on man, /An’ then she made the lasses, O.

December 6th
It’s a song about Gabriel, performed by The Bridge Singers in Brinkburn Priory in July, accompanied by one of the many sets of workmen who’ve worked on the bridge and on the road surface outside our window during 2017. The choir like me to send them updates on the workmen on the bridge, and reading through them all this morning to send to my emailly friends I find that I have written extensively about them from the beginning of the year until the end. This particular team in the video were here in August.

December 5th
It’s a song about Santa…no really it is. You have to listen to the words carefully to get it, but it really is. It is being sung by The Bridge Singers in our festive concert two years ago. Indeed our inaugural concert. We just had a rehearsal tonight for this year’s recitals, which are coming up next week and I think it’s going to be a good ‘un. My favourite line in this particular adapted John Dowland number is “A man at arms must now serve on his sleigh, and feed on mince pies and small tots of sherry” (originally, A man-at-arms must now serve on his knees, And feed on prayers which are Age’s alms.)

December 4th
It’s a song about bananas. Bananas are big news here this Christmas! On an unrelated matter, we had the Rock Festival Choir Advent recital yesterday and it was splendid. My piece sounded stunning – such great singing from the tenors and basses, and was well received by several audience members who commented afterwards. In the morning, I did composing and arranging (Burns), in the evening I did post-concert merriment with the choir and friends and then Howard’s End on the telly – the new BBC adaptation – worth watching, I’d say.

December 3rd
It’s a Christmas fanfare. I see that this video was made in 2011, which means that I’ve been collating these Musical Advent Calendars for seven years. I do get lots of cheering feedback which is why I’m here again! This particular song is being performed by Rock Festival Choir at one of their Advent recitals. Today is the day for this year’s recital which includes my In The Bleak Midwinter as well as several delightful pieces by our leader Peter, and other festive fare. My favourite in this year’s recital is an arrangement of Lo, How A Rose Ere Blooming arranged by David Blackwell. It’s at 3pm in St. Paul’s Alnwick, if you’d like to hear it. Sublime is what it will be.

December 2nd
It’s a Yorkshire carol about an ancient building you can see from the Hepworth Wakefield. My lovely choir The Bridge Singers did the world premiere of this two years ago and are singing it again this year in our festive recitals later in the month.

December 1st
It’s lots of Jamies singing my setting of “In The Bleak Midwinter”. This song is currently in rehearsal with the two choirs that we sing in, Rock Festival Choir and Lionheart Harmony. In fact the latter of these sang it in our house last night and it sounded grand. RFC will be performing it on Sunday at 3pm in St. Paul’s, Alnwick amongst lots of other yummy stuff, so do come along and join us. Also, there’s the first snow of the season on the ground from yesterday!

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