Christmas is the time of year when everything is supposed to sparkle and there’s joy and laughter all around. For many people, it’s become pretty much divorced from any connection to the original Christmas story and it’s now an opportunity to catch your breath and take a bit of time out as winter begins to set in, or a chance to celebrate with friends and family, and, increasingly, it can be just a rather unholy festival of consumption, excess and acquisitiveness.
For many families, the pressure to celebrate Christmas with fancy food and presents puts them under enormous financial pressure which can leave them with months of debt. Consumer counselling agencies in the US typically see a 25% increase in the number of people seeking help in January and February, driven by holiday bills that haunt consumers like the ghost of Christmas past. People in the UK spend more than anywhere else in Europe on Christmas presents and, unsurprisingly, there are more people in debt after Christmas here than anywhere else.
Jimmy Witherspoon’sHow I Hate to See Christmas Come Around brings us face to face with someone doing their best to scrounge up the money to buy a few Christmas presents. He checks his bank account, but finds only 15 cents. He tries the loan company and gets no joy there. So he goes to the pawn shop to pawn his radio, but gets refused. The result? “No chicken, no turkey, no cranberries, no Christmas tree.” When Christmas comes around, “It always bring me down.”
Funny how the Christmas story which was set in the most humble of circumstances – a baby laid in a cattle trough – and where some of the lead actors were poverty-stricken shepherds, has been twisted to become an excuse for a blow-out of commerce and indulgence, isn’t it? For sure Christmas is an occasion for hope and joy – the birth of a baby, through whose life, death and resurrection the world can be transformed – but perhaps it’s time to resist the tide of advertising and the sale of a particular type of “traditional Christmas” and to replace it with a focus, not only on friends and family, but on those in our society and world who need a little hope. Here are some organizations that might help you do that:
Compared at times to Bonnie Raitt, hailed as a “unique talent,” and “the real deal” in the music press, Irish artist Grainne Duffy has been wow-ing audiences all round Europe. Her superb recent album, Test of Time, has been described as having “soulful tone and real depth and emotion.” Down at the Crossroads caught up with her for this interview:
DATC: Hi Grainne – you’ve had a busy year, touring around Europe and the UK? You’ve played some places for the first time – how has all that gone for you?
Grainne: Hi! It’s been a flat out year indeed. But we have really enjoyed it. Playing new countries to new audiences and spreading the musical word…! Just great and meeting some lovely people and bands along the way which is always cool too.
DATC: You’ve two albums out, one from just last year. How would you describe the difference between them and how has your music evolved over the past 3 or 4 years?
Grainne: Well the first album, Out of the Dark, was mostly rootsy blues & Americana I suppose, while the second one was more pop & rock based. I think the main difference between them was that the second album was very song-based mainly. I try to keep evolving musically by listening to as much as I can and trying to improve musically all the time. So I hope my music just reflects this and I suppose my life experiences in my song-writing are always growing. The more you live, the more you learn.
DATC:Test of Time has 11 of your own songs on it – all very strong songs, very accessible, hugely enjoyable. Do you see yourself primarily as a songwriter or a guitarist or a singer? Or would that be a false distinction to make?
Grainne: Well thank you! I am glad you think so! I suppose I try to just be a musician expressing myself in songs. I don’t try to get too caught up in whether I am a singer or guitar player or songwriter. The reason I got into music was because of the way it made me feel. So I started to sing and then learned to play the guitar to accompany myself and then started writing songs to express myself. So I just see that as a natural evolution as opposed to being separate things. I hope I am all of these and at the same time just one person expressing myself through music.
DATC: As a guitarist, you moved from playing a Strat some time ago to playing a Les Paul – what does the Gibson add your music; why do you particularly like it? Tell us about the sort of sound you are striving for.
Grainne: Well I started playing the Gibson Les Paul after I was given it as a gift from my boyfriend. I just loved the feel of it, particularly how it feels for the slow melodic style of playing which I love. I always adored Peter Green’s playing and he was a Gibson player so I suppose anything near the tone and sound he creates would be amazing to me.
DATC: We can hear echoes of a lot of classic blues and rock in your songs – what have been the formative influences? And what are you listening to now that moves you?
Grainne: Well I started out listening mostly to old blues like Albert King and B.B. King and later artists like Peter Green and Eric Clapton and Rory Gallagher. So these were my early guitar influences. Nowadays I try to listen to as many varied influences as possible from The Kings of Leon to Gary Clarke Jr to The Common Linnets or Citizen Cope. Yet I still cannot put away my favourite records like Carole King’sTapestry or Fleetwood Mac’sRumours. These still inspire me, after 1,000’s of listens. Melodic songs are really what inspire me.
DATC: The sort of music you play has been dominated in the past by men. Thankfully that’s changing. But how has it been, making your way in this business as a woman?
Grainne: Yes it has been. Thankfully lots of great women have paved the way. One of my heroes is Chrissie Hynde. I like her attitude in the industry as a women. She never makes a big deal about being a woman, yet she is a very strong woman, and has a great energy and presence and is highly respected in the industry. I think this is the best way to be as a woman in the industry. Do your best and work hard. Let the music do the talking and you will get along just fine!
DATC: You’ve played on some big stages and have been on the same bill as a lot of major artists. But there’s clearly a lot more for you to achieve and do – what are your ambitions? And what’s up ahead in the immediate future?
Grainne: Well yes, we have been lucky to do some lovely gigs and festivals with some great bands and artists. My main aim is to try and continue to be the best I can be and to enjoy making music with those around me. In the near future we will be releasing some new material and touring more and this will be the main goal for over the next year but I am also looking forward to maybe collaborating with some new people in the future which I hope will be exciting also.