#120 – I Believe In Father Christmas

21 Dec

pulp-for-you

Pulp – I Believe in Father Christmas (live 23 December 1992, Powerhaus, London)
Greg Lake – I Believe in Father Christmas (original music video)
Item on I Believe in Father Christmas (from Top Ten Christmas, Channel 4)
I Believe in Father Christmas at Pulpwiki

Every group have a Christmas cover version in them somewhere, and Pulp are no exception. Only just about, mind – a single boozy live run-through doesn’t count for much, and the only reason this gets an entry and ‘I’m Not Your Stepping Stone’ and ‘Wild Thing’ don’t is that an audience recording is available.

Written by Greg Lake (of prog-rock stalwarts Emerson, Lake & Palmer, whose ‘Fanfare For The Common man’ they would later ridicule in the round of interviews around the release of ‘Common People’) ‘I Believe in Father Christmas’ began life as a series of major-key acoustic guitar variations around the theme of ‘Jingle Bells’. Words were added by Peter Sinfield, the lyricist behind I Talk To The Wind, The Land of Make Believe and Think Twice and concern the usual sentimental paean-come-requiem to the lost innocence of Christmas past – a hallmark of seemingly every Christmas-based work from ‘A Christmas Carol’ to this year’s John Lewis ad, only here presented as a startling revelation. Musically it’s not that bad, but it’s a bit too po-faced for my liking, especially the threat of “be it heaven or hell / At Christmas you get what you deserve” incongruously jammed in at the close. It’s as pompous at ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’, only without the ‘charity’ excuse, and therefore seems to have been excluded from the usual Slade / Wizzard / Shakin’ Stevens mix pumped out by every 99p shop in the country for the last two months of the year.

Anyway, enough with this negativity, it’s Christmas after all, and that’s the way the Pulp approached it when they launched into the song near the end of a performance at the Smashed Christmas party. Actually ‘launched’ isn’t really the work, ‘meandered’ is more like it. The song sounds almost entirely unrehearsed, and the band play like they’re trying to remember the chords, leading to a stripped-down sound that I probably don’t dare to compare to The velvet Underground. For Jarvis’s part it’s little more than a drunken sing-along. He forgets the lyrics, repeating the first four lines and the last two, skipping the rest, and la-la-la-ing his way through the orchestral break at the chorus.

As a cover, it’s barely even there, but at least it’s significantly less annoying than the original. Somehow the Christmas spirit pulled them through, and then they seem to have sworn never to do anything like this again, which was probably for the best.

I don’t want to end this on a sour note, though – while the group have never really gone in for Christmas songs, they did have a habit of putting on huge festive Christmas shows in the early-to-mid 90s, and the show in Sheffield last year was the ultimate example of this, a celebration and a reward for sticking with them at the darkest time of the year. Just because it’s Christmas it doesn’t mean we have to suddenly be into naff lyrics and sleigh bells on everything – and as can be seen from the card above, this can be a Pulp time of year too.

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