Saturday, 20 December 2014

Christmas Songwriters' Club

Central Hall, Edinburgh - 20th December

The Christmas Songwriters' Club is an annual event promoting original Christmas songs, festive jumpers & charitable donations. 

For one night every year (just before Christmas Day) a variety of musicians are brought together to write and perform original Christmas songs. There’s just one rule to this club: "No bloody covers – all original songs", and of course the dress code is Christmas Jumpers.

The Club started in 2008 at the Leith Docker's Club, moved to the Queen's Hall in 2012 and 2013 and this year is hosted in the newly refurbished Methodist Central Hall in Edinburgh's Tollcross.

Central Hall - looking good

Proceeds from the event go towards supporting charities that carry out meaningful work – both locally and globally. The Vine Trust and The Stuart Lawtie Memorial Foundation.

I was first introduced to the Christmas Songwriters Club (CSC) last year in the Queen's Hall, drawn by the presence of Kid Canaveral and Siobhan Wilson, both of whom I'd seen and liked at Kid Canaveral's Xmas Baubles IV. It was quite a good night, despite the slightly "slit your wrists for Christmas" nature of one or two performers.

This year the lineup looked even better, with Broken Records, Teen Canteen, Book Group, Discopolis, The Heartland Flyers, The Lonely Together, Supermoon (the latest alter ego of Neil Pennycook) and Eagleowl. Unfortunately Siobhan Wilson (now known as Ella The Bird) was unable to perform after losing her voice.

Book Group

First on were Book Group. They were up-tempo and fun - a good start to the evening. 
Their recently written Christmas songs were memorable for some good guitar, singalong tunes and a real indie rock feel. Enjoyed this set.
Book Group


Not your typical bass, drums and guitar setup, Discopolis – comprised of Fergus Cook, Laurie Corlett-Donald, Dave Lloyd and new drummer Cat Myers confidently provided some good new songs with synthesiser driven sounds.

In particular, Cat the drummer was really great, underpinning some lovely keyboards and vocals. Nice set - just too short.

Teen Canteen

Veterans of recent touring and also at last year's CSC, Teen Canteen were on form.
Teen Canteen
Teen Canteen are Amanda, Sita, Carla & Debs. As usual Carla Easton (dressed for this event in elfin green) led with cheery chat - explaining the new Xmas songs. She explained that the first song 'Christmas Eve Alone' was written from the perspective of their drummer Amanda's boyfriend Rory. Amanda works as a nurse at Yorkhill and often has to work Christmas, so the song was written from Rory's view - alone at Christmas. This first song, although tinged with angst was a fine example of their infectious brand of singalong indie pop. Carla kept the chat going between songs and the whole set was really entertaining. Sadly only 3 songs, must see them again on their own.

The Heartland Flyers

Before the interval, on came The Heartland Flyers, a Scots bluegrass outfit with original Xmas songs called ‘Santa Claus is Taking Christmas Off This Year’ and 'Right Around Christmas Time' in their repertoire.  

The Heartland Flyers
The Heartland Flyers were impressive, did a real fun set and had great sound.


The interval was next and it was an opportunity to judge the Christmas Jumper competition ...

..the woman in the Christmas tree dress won - no prizes, just kudos.

The Lonely Together

The Lonely Together strolled onto stage wearing matching furry animal hats and sang a ‘love story about Edinburgh’ called ‘Hometown Christmas’.

The Lonely Together
Quite a rock feel to their songs, with good sound and some excellent guitar and bass made their set extremely entertaining.

Eagleowl and SuperMoon 

Bart Owl was up first, with Neil Pennycook acting as lyrics prompter and backing vocalist (since Bart's song was only just finished in time for CSC and Bart wasn't sure he would remember all the words). Bart explained the tradition - write a song specially for the CSC and perform it once, and once only. This year he said, he had decided to take Christmas back to its roots and recount the greatest Xmas story ever - Die Hard - told from the perspective of the Nakatomi Tower. So we were treated to seasonal lines like ‘why is it okay to tell your life story on a police radio to a cop you've never met?’ and ‘if you shoot all the bad guys your ex-wife will see you in a new light’ and ‘you've taken off your socks, that’s not ideal.’

Neil and Bart - Die Hard, the greatest Xmas Story ever told
This was excellent stuff and the audience were well impressed
Neil ‘Supermoon’ Pennycook, keen to stress that this next song was of course a work of complete fiction, then provided his trademark full-voiced and slightly unnerving songs about "Our guy who is stranded at Amsterdam airport at Christmas gets a skinful and hires a prostitute". 
This was probably the most entertaining set of the evening. 

John Mackintosh

"Ladies and gentlemen, Christmas's John McIntosh", the penultimate act played cheery and authentic folk in his seventh consecutive appearance at CSC

Broken Records

Broken Records were the least Christmassy of the bands, and their specially penned song "My Beer Drunk Soul Is Sadder Than All The Dead Christmas Trees In The World" was enthusiastically received by the crowd, who by this time had been cajoled to their feet and were actually dancing between the tables to the very loud rock-driven sound.

Broken Records
They finished their set with a cheery "See you in the bar" and they were off. This was a great conclusion to the music for the evening.

The obligatory raffle prize draw was next, and finally it was time to go home - or to the bar to mingle with the acts.

My personal opinion is that the Christmas Songwriters' Club is an acquired taste. If you go expecting a full-on music concert with a series of bands, you will be disappointed. It is more of a fund-raising and slightly self-congratulatory party of like-minded musicians. The audience is largely made up of friends and relatives of those performing, and therein lies one of the problems..the level of loud chat during many of the performances was distracting and downright rude. Each band set was only a couple or three songs long, with adequate time to chat between acts. There were also multiple areas in the venue that these people could have gone for a chat without talking over the live music. Sheer thoughtless ignorance.

That said, this was quite a fun evening and I actually enjoyed most of it - especially Bart Owl's Die Hard Christmas Story.

I might just go again next year, if perhaps they can advise the audience to avoid chatting throughout the performances!

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