A Festive Discussion with The Albion Christmas Band

Everyone’s favourite Christmas collective, The Albion Christmas Band, return to Band on the Wall on Thursday 15th December to get the festive proceedings underway, with an evening of traditional English Christmas music, carols, spoken word and much more.

Described by The Guardian as “the perfect antidote to the corporate Christmas”, this is a night of Christmas fun like no other, marrying Christmas tradition with folk music from some of this country’s finest folk musicians.

Ahead of the show, we spoke with Simon Care on the group’s conception, love for folk music and plans for the new year…

How did the Albion Christmas Band form, what was the initial concept behind it and how has it developed into the group it is today?

Back in the late eighties, The Albion Band decided that a seasonal tour might be a good idea and we performed for three years over the Christmas period.  It then took a back seat for a few years until 2001, when, after the Albion Band ceased, I suggested the idea of pulling together a Christmas show that included ex-members of the Albion Band. That line-up of Ashley Hutchings, Kellie While, Simon Nicol and myself have toured every year since, and are now described as the longest surviving ‘Albion’ line-up ever.

Are there particular albums which are touchstones for the Albion Christmas Band; ones that may have informed the project or have been topics of discussion among the band; perhaps The Seeger Sisters’ American Folk Songs for Christmas for example? 

I wouldn’t say that we have any particular albums that we used as touchstones/influences. Each band member has brought along material over the years, be it traditional or contemporary, which reflect our varied musical interests. Over the years we have included diverse material from artists such as Jackson Brown, The Copper Family, Thea Gilmore, The Watersons, Alan Hull and Tears for Fears. 

What was your first encounter with folk music? Was it early enough that it formed the basis of your musicality or did folk music shape/inform a pre-existing skill set?

My first encounter with folk music came from my Father forming a morris team in our village. Through that in my early teens I encountered albums such as ‘Morris On’, early Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the Albion Band. This kickstarted my interest and my choice of melodeon, as an instrument, comes directly from hearing this material.

Morris On

You play with other groups in addition to the Albion Christmas Band. Can you tell us about the other musical projects you’re involved in and how they’ve helped you develop as a musician?

My main interest is in English traditional dance music. I am currently working with a number of bands including my own ceilidh band Banter, playing folk dance music with a jazzy twist. I have also been a member of roots reggae outfit Edward II, with whom I have toured the world over the last two decades. Other bands I regularly play with are the award-winning Whapweasel, The Morris On Band and Tickled Pink. I think the band that has influenced my playing the most is Edward II because of my exposure to other genres of music, especially reggae and jazz. 

Your bandmate Ashley Hutchings has been in music for a long time and has been a part of some incredibly influential projects, like Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and of course The Albion Band. What’s the most enjoyable thing about playing with him?

Interesting question. I have worked with Ashley for 31 years, after joining The Albion Band at the age of 20. He is a remarkable bandleader who, and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying, is quite restless musically. He has always been a catalyst for new directions and projects. He has always promoted new and young talent in his bands for a lot longer than anyone else. Probably the most “enjoyable’ thing about working with him is not quite knowing what direction he will go off in next. 

Bob Dylan described Ashley as “the single-most important figure in the history of folk rock”; a quite remarkable comment from a man who has himself been so influential in the same field. What have you made of Dylan’s winning of the Nobel literature prize and are there particular Dylan lyrics that you feel encapsulate what is great about his writing?

Indeed, to receive a quote from Bob Dylan is truly humbling to Ashley. Having recently listened to a Radio 4 documentary about Dylan, I find it difficult to pick particular lyrics. But I will pick a favourite Dylan song that we recorded with The Albion Band in 1989 – the song Seven Curses is a particularly dark set of Dylan Lyrics. 

What’s on the horizon for you in 2017?

2017 is already shaping up to be quite a busy year and I’m particularly looking forward to lots of festivals and recording our first album with Banter. I will also be working with Edward II and The Morris On Band at a few key events. All this alongside delivering music workshops across the UK.

You can pick up tickets for The Albion Christmas Band on Thursday 15th December here.