“You Scumbag, you Maggot, you cheap lousy Faggot, Happy Christmas your arse - I pray God it’s our last.”
Go the lyrics to the inebriated Pogues classic “Fairytale In New York”; voted the UK’s favourite Christmas record. And the reason we Brits love it so much? Possibly because we’re a nation of binge drinkers, who love a flare up when we’ve had one drink too many – especially at Christmas. We can identify with the Celtic lead characters in the song (the lyric above is a girlfriends’ retort to a drunken insult) just like, a study said, that Brits identify themselves with the slovenly, flawed, often drunk Homer Simpson, unlike Americans who aligned more with the rebelliously cool Bart Simpson. That’s how the British roll, especially at Christmas. But wouldn’t it be nice, just one year, in a nightclub or at the office Christmas party for everyone to attempt to enjoy themselves alcohol and argument free? Getting down on the dancefloor, sober as a doorman, to fresh, killer soul tracks, with ‘80’s good time grooves and lyrics on the positive – would that work? I’ll do it if you will (nothing worse than being the designated driver) - in fact there’s already a perfect brand new Christmas song ready to set the jamboree off right: “I Love Christmas” sung by Eugene “Gotta Get You Home Tonight” Wilde and produced by Rob Hardt of European soul duo Cool Million. Before the beat kicks in the intro begins with just voice and keys…
“It’s cold outside and everyone’s waiting for Christmas to …” (deep breath for the “arrive” lyric) “arr a iii yaaa iii aa yaaa iii AA YAA IIIIIVE!!”
That’ll do … Joyful, fun, soulful Christmas music - the ideal soundtrack for friends and family to revel in each others company. It would certainly make a change from seeing someone get bottled at the Taxi Rank, or hear two girlfriends catfight over a Chav. Fun and festive is just the tonic for a hard year and the UK dance scene’s 80’s Gecko kids (who love their uptempo soul music) have been lapping the “Christmas At SedSoul” album up. Just like they devoured producer Rob Hardt’s last album “Back For More” by Cool Million; voting the duo “Group Of The Year” at the 2010 Soul Survivor awards. Rob’s partner in the group Frank Ryle is on hand for 2 songs on the compilation, including the liquid bass grooved, Latin funk of “Let The Christmas Spirit In” (featuring a fantastic Esther Phillips-esque vocal by Lene Reibau).
“As I’m a DJ first, I always needed something to dance to and this is really important, because there’s not much danceable Christmas songs out there. So I had the need for myself to put out some dancefloor Christmas tracks,” explains Rob from his home in Bremerhaven Germany, continuing, “so I had the idea to produce a Christmas album for my record label SedSoul at the beginning of this year. But I actually had less time than I thought, and I was under a little bit of pressure. But I had wanted to do it for years, always thinking about it in December when it was six months too late.”
Rob began recording “Christmas At SedSoul” last summer. You don’t see a lot of snow in June. “I was totally not in Christmas mood, you know? So I lit some candles with a cinnamon smell,” laughs Rob, “and I tried to think of all the memories I had from Christmas and I could recreate it with the inside feeling, but actually outside it was twenty-five degrees! I had my shorts and a T-shirt on. It didn’t feel like Christmas at all! But I actually watched the Chevy Chase “Christmas Vacation” movie - that got me in the mood.”
The project was begun at the same time Hardt was working on US artist Ann Sexton’s debut for SedSoul Records (due out 2011). They don’t come much better than Ann Sexton, who is a real soul singer, one of those early 70’s small label heroine’s (she did the excellent “You’re Losing Me” on 77 Records) who sounded like their man was either off at war shooting at the Vietnamese, or was still in the neighbourhood but sneakin’ round, shagging Barbara Mason (of “His Woman To You” fame). You know, one of them hard, talk to the hand, “I been through some shit” voices. Rob had the perfect song in mind.
“I said to Ann, “Are you able to sing ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town’ tonight?” And she looked at me like it was a big joke, because we were sitting outside in the garden at the time, and we had the barbeque on and she pulled a face like, “Are you serious?” And I said, “I’m damn serious.” Then we went up to the studio and I put the chords and basic beat to it and Ann started singing right away. We just jammed the track. And after this, she really said she was into it.” It’s one of the best cuts on the album – recorded in the style of Ann’s solo project, which is set to be a departure from the Cool Million sound. “It’s more soul-based and has got that seventies appeal as opposed to the eighties stuff.” Another standard that works well is Peggi Blu’s reading of “The Christmas Song”, sped up with a slight jazzier-bossa nova lilt. The tempo adds to the pre-Christmas excitement. But that doesn’t mean there are chestnuts roasting in the Hardt household. Christmas in Bremerhaven has its own charm.
“We actually have the celebration on December 24th - this is when the kids get their gifts from Weihnachtsmann (Father Christmas in German), of course we have the Christmas tree and in my case my parents live right across the street in a bigger house so we go there. And on the 25th it’s a time to go out and party, meet friends who don’t live in the city anymore and they come back home to their relatives. We meet in the city hall and have a big party with at least 5,000 people. For Christmas dinner we eat anything that flies like chicken or turkey, but because we’re on the north coast of Germany, fish is a big thing for us too. So we have smoked fish. My Dad loves it because he was a sailor. So he’s completely into fish (laughs). And if I don’t put fish on the table, he’s really angry with me. I let him cut it because he’s the best at doing it. He can do it, with shades on, and still get everything out! The drink that is really popular with us is Gluhwein, which is a hot wine; we heat it up with the spices, put some sugar in it and drink it. And all the British people I had over here want to take it home because they love it so much. So I thought about opening up a little Gluhwein booth, somewhere in Oxford Street next year [laughs].”
With so many alternate traditions, it would be understandable if Rob wrote and recorded some soulful Christmas songs that reflect his own German heritage - “I Saw Mommy Kissing Weihnachtsmann”?: “Americans we’re a huge influence on me growing up. Because my city was surrounded after the Second World War, there were two U.S. Army bases stationed here. They had their own radio station, American Forces Network, playing all the great soul music all day. And they we’re running around in big Buicks and Cadillac’s through the street and I was a kid wide eyed kid. I could here the Americans passing by in their cars with all this beautiful music. So I satisfied my own needs with this album, just to be pure. This is what I expected from a Christmas album and I always wanted to do it like this. With different kinds of music from Eugene Wilde who was doing more of a boogie style to it; then you have Ann Sexton with a more Motown-ish southern soul sound to it.”
So now that Christmas is just around the corner is Rob in the mood yet? “Actually, I was sitting in a traffic jam listening to my own CD which was a nice experience. Because normally, I don’t have the time to listen to my own albums from track one to eleven. It’s the first time that I could enjoy my own album, even before this I had done the cover for the CD, arranged the PR and everything but none of it was direct with the music. It was heavy snowfall, and the heating was on, you know? And I was listening to the album and just expecting Santa Claus was coming with a sleigh in a few minutes,” Rob laughs.
In London, “Christmas At SedSoul” was being played on the loud speaker by the record shop assistant. The punter, hearing it for the first time was giving “I Love Christmas” some serious head nod and a white man overbite. He looked across at the store assistant and he was just the same. Just the same.