We didn’t specifically set out to have a ‘Vintage’ Christmas – that would be awfully contrived – but a mixture of opportunity and natural inclination propelled us through the festive season on a wave of retro joys.
For me, a last working week in London gave me the chance to escape the round of office parties and introduce a couple of pals to the delights of the Fitzrovia Radio Hour team performing their Christmas special at the St James’ Theatre. We’ve seen the Fitzrovia team a few times before, and loved their glorious spoofing of 40s steam radio drama, enlivened with meticulous and energetically choreographed sound effects and stage work. The seasonal offering maintained their standard, with a programme featuring slightly off-the-wall takes on Christmas favourites including ‘It’s a Passable Life’, ‘The Boxing Day Champ’, ‘The Woman Who Didn’t Prepare’ (a cautionary tale for any housewife tempted to take it easy), and culiminating in ‘The (Xmas) Day They Stole the Eiffel Tower’, complete with a series of outrageous stereotype foreigners. The Fitzrovia Radio Hour team change their performance on a regular basis, and the nature of their act (the sound effects for which always seems to include the necessity to smash a watermelon in close proximity to the front row of the audience – be warned!) makes it ideal for touring small venues, so keep an eye open. Check their Facebook Page or Website for latest details.
Home, and the appearance of a good James Brown documentary, followed by a bad Northern Soul film – Soul Boy – had us reaching for Elaine Constantine’s 2014 production to remind ourselves how a film about Northern Soul – or, indeed, any youth cult – should be done. Everyone in Soul Boy is trying really hard, including all the folk from the scene who gave their time to be extras, but everything’s a bit too clean to look anything like the 1970s I remember. Besides, any film that reaches its climax in a ‘dance-off’ risks inviting ridicule. Elaine’s film, by contrast, captures the griminess of 70s life perfectly, has a storyline recognisable to anyone who defined themselves by the music they listened to, and took immense pains to get those deep into the Northern Soul scene to teach young actors and dancers how to look totally authentic. Leaping forward, but staying with a theme, we ended the Xmas break with a visit to Tewkesbury’s own Northern Soul club, one of a series of events in the Gloucestershire area. The scene there is thriving, with attendances well over a hundred for each occasion – and it’s no wonder with a series of DJs playing a succession of great records, both standards and lesser known tracks, in true Northern Soul style with decks set up in full view on the stage. It’s great to be welcomed into a scene that isn’t the one I’ve immersed myself in since youth and to hear great 60s soul music, much of which is very closely related to the R&B from the back end of the 50s scene. They have their own Facebook page, though you’ll need to ask to join if you’re interested.
Anyway, to the big day itself and, despite my annual pangs of nostalgia for the drunken delights of the Phoenix Xmas Eve party (which I don’t have the stamina for these days, even if I had the means of recreating it and getting there!), we indulged in a bit of childhood TV with a Morecambe & Wise Xmas special to get us in the mood. We were determined, though, not to allow Christmas Day to be dominated entirely by food and telly, so after pressies and a walk, sat down to some of our old family table-top games, retrieved from the back of my Mum’s wardrobe. Some games are interesting more for their nostalgia value than true ‘playability’ (did anyone ever actually get the Mousetrap to work?), and we didn’t quite have the mental focus for a game of Cluedo, but numerous games of MisFits, KerPlunk and Battling Tops took care of much of the afternoon. All live up to their 60s TV advertising, with none of us quite being able to master our stick removal to avoid getting a tray full of KerPlunk marbles, and the veteran Battling Tops spending far too much time flying out of the ring to be good for a 40 year-old fighter. As for the images in MisFits – they immediately evoke an era and will appear on here as soon as I remember to transfer the images! A break for Mrs M’s traditional Christmas dinner and a wee bit of good telly was followed by a return to the games table for cards and Moustache Top Trumps. There might have been the odd glass of Ginger Wine and Sherry consumed somewhere along the line, too, and our home-filled crackers are guaranteed to deliver sweeties rather than gifts destined straight for the bin, even if we do only know one decent cracker joke (What did Snow White say when she took her films to be developed? Some day my prints will come – which, when you think about it, is a pretty analogue joke in a digital age).
Santa was nice to me and brought not only the Thunderbirds Vault 50th anniversary book, full of unseen behind the scenes photos and mouth-watering Gerry Anderson merchandise, but also a copy of Hell Drivers on DVD, with stunt driving by Gloucestershire veteran stuntman, Dick Sheppard, alongside classic performances by Stanley Baker, Sean Connery and Patrick McGoohan – and Sid James. We crammed in a cinema visit to see ‘Bridge of Spies’ – wonderful evocation of Cold War Berlin, and a trip to Highgate Cemetery that deserves a post in its own right.
So a great vintage Christmas without even trying. I wonder what we could do if we put our minds to it…