December 22, 2011 / 9:08 AM / 6 years ago

British folk group mixes rural traditions with Christmas

MAIDENHEAD, England (Reuters) - As its name might suggest, The Albion Christmas Band has a limited sell-by date musically speaking. There is little demand for songs celebrating holly and ivy in August.

That said, the band - which includes some of British folk-rock’s best-known performers - is currently on its 12th seasonal tour, proving that there is little more Christmassy than a blast of Anglo-Celtic roots music.

A recent performance at Norden Farm, a rural-ish venue some way out to the west of London, was a case in point.

From the opening 19th century “Sans Day Carol” through the medieval “Cherry-Tree Carol,” the band took the audience deep into Britain’s winter festival with visions of frosty mornings, a rejoicing Earth, burning logs and berries.

All delivered with professional flair mixed with tones redolent of a rustic English village

“We have shed a light into every little dark corner of Christmas that we can find,” said guitarist and vocalist Simon Nicol, enjoying a side-project with the band from his full-time job at folk-rock group Fairport Convention.

Along the way was a magnificent rendition of the Tears for Fears classic “Mad World” - not a Christmas special per se, but certainly in the spirit of the thing.

The song was taken to gorgeous vocal heights by singer Kellie While, a more-than-worthy successor in her mid-30s to folk-rock divas from the late 1960s/early 1970s such as Steeleye Span’s Maddy Pryor and Fairport’s Sandy Denny.

Which is just as well given that as well as Nicol, Albion Christmas features bassist Ashley Hutchings, who was a founding member of both bands and is something of a godfather for the genre.

The band was rounded off by Simon Care, a rollicking melodeon player who started off with ceilidhs and Morris dance bands and was a member of The Albion Band.

If the latter sounds suspiciously familiar, it is because the Albion Christmas Band is a surviving combo from Hutchings’s Albion groups - The Albion Country Band, The Albion Dance Band and the plain old Albion Band.

A new Albion Band is starting to do the rounds with a new generation of musicians, including Hutchings’s son. British folk rock can be a fairly incestuous affair.

Care, who got his start playing in a Morris dance band at age nine, reckons there is a synthesis between Christmas and folk culture in Britain.

This stretches from music to dance and to Mummers plays, colorful traditional street theatre often performed at Christmas and celebrating the triumph of good over evil.

The Albion Christmas Band, which has a new album called ”A Sound in the Frosty Air on Rooksmere Records paid homage to this culture with “The Calling On Song,” welcoming the arrival of Mummers.

“The folk world embraces Christmas because of the traditional aspect of it all,” Care said.

Reporting by Jeremy Gaunt, editing by Paul Casciato

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