Thursday, 5 December 2013

LISTEN: Melksham Town Sound live at the Christmas Fayre 2013

Broadcasting a live radio show from the annual Melksham Christmas Fayre on Saturday November 23 turned out to be most enjoyable. As usual we had to deal with lots of technical problems, but soldiering on with that unique British spirit and pursuing our aims made it even more rewarding. Listening back to our three hour broadcast was truly hilarious. 

After spending a couple of days carefully planning the music, and even sending a picture ad around social network sites, I was really looking forward to kicking off our town's festive celebration with an hour of the finest quality Christmas songs, many of them unknown to most people. Something a bit more special than the same old tiresome Yuletide standards heard in shops since October. So after planning the perfect selection, all I had to do was wander down to the Market Place with the three homemade Christmas compilation discs that I put together last year. The guys in charge of Melksham Town Sound are still in their teens and were brought up in the digital age, so I knew they might not have brought the bulky CD players with them, but since most computers and laptops have CD drives, I didn't think there would be any problems. Surely nothing could go wrong...

After wandering round the Assembly Hall, battling through the crowds in search of the radio station's temporary location, I finally found them outside positioned not far from the massive town tree. Just in time for my show to begin at 3pm as planned. "So where's the disc drive on this laptop?" I enquired, only to be informed that the laptop had a detachable CD drive. And horror, it turned out that it had been left behind at the MTS studio! Thinking quick, my only option was to hook up to the internet and stream all the planned music from YouTube... But of course operating on BT Openzone means that we didn't have a powerful enough connection to stream music AND broadcast simultaneously. By this point frustration had started to creep in, and admittedly I was on the verge of throwing a tantrum when one of the others suggested "couldn't you just play the music we have on the laptop?". Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. They should know me better by now. Expecting me to make do with ANY music with a festive theme is a big no no. 

Among the twelve tracks programmed into the laptop were the usual suspects Slade, Wizzard, The Pogues, and a number of less great songs, some of them seemingly plucked from a children's Christmas album. While trying to think of a solution I had to play SOMETHING, so a bit of Slade had to do. Followed by Wizzard, Coldplay and then 'Fairytale Of New York'. Listen to the first 20 minutes of the show and you can sense that I was uncomfortable with it... Telling my listeners to expect a selection of special tracks and then playing the same old tedious standards. Embarrassing. Struggling to find anything else suitable, I queued up 'It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas' by Andy Williams. At least I presumed it was the Andy Williams version. Of course, it wasn't. "Hang on a minute, this isn't Andy Williams! It sounds like Michael Ball or something!" (reaching for the fader) "nah, I'm not playing that! Sorry!"

After a bit of research, it turned out to be the Johnny Mathis version. Sorry Johnny for mistaking you for Michael Ball. What an insult!

Playing anything else from that selection would have been crossing a line, and on the other side of that line was Shakin' Stevens. And that's definitely not a good line to be crossing. So off I went for half an hour or so while I nipped back to my old house to get my desired tracks onto a USB stick. While I was gone, William and the others returned on air for a while, announcing that "his show will now be on at 4 o clock due to his taste in music." Not sure why, but I thought that was pretty funny. In fact all of their half hour segment was chuckle-raising, as they did their best to hear each other over the surrounding noise. Meanwhile I was trying to quickly copy my chosen tracks from 2 of the CDs, not too difficult I thought. With these being homemade compilation discs, none of the titles appeared, but since I had written tracklists for them I thought it would be ok. Of course, I didn't realise that an unlisted track on one of the CDs had thrown the rest of the numbers out of sync, leading to some of the wrong songs being copied. Oh bugger...

So me and my radio sidekick Jason B made it back to the Market Place, even more determined to give the listeners the very best. After reintroducing myself and welcoming everyone, I lined up James Brown to begin with but The Beach Boys played instead. Oh well, I had planned to them anyway. "This next track... could be anything. Let's see what we've got... Oh it's Elvis! Take it away Elvis!". It was a tad annoying that the assembled crowd in front of us couldn't hear any of the music we were playing due to the fact that we had no speaker system, but knowing that others could hear us via the radio softened the disappointment. Experiencing more difficulty with the digital playlister led to me having to "cover the cracks" with some rambling, and the Lead Belly track I had lined up turned out to be something else. Damn. "Apologies listeners, but we are dealing with digital equipment instead of analog and of course analog is always best, as my mate Jono Podmore tells me...". Treating my annoyance with a humourous dig at our unfamiliar equipment felt good in that instance. And having lost confidence in the system, I decided that it might be best not to introduce the tracks unless I was certain what they were... "It's track 21... And track 21 is... Oh it's Noel Gallagher! Let's have some, Chief!". Let's have some, Chief? Classic. 

Luckily most the songs I had planned were aired, but not before more amusing technical problems. Well, they were amusing when I listened back to the broadcast... I was really looking forward to subverting people's ears with The Fall's version of 'Hark! The Herald Angels Sing', but like Lead Belly and James Brown, it wasn't to be. Instead we got an unintentional mash-up of Elvis and Arab Strap. I kid you not. Truly hilarious. Then there was my 'pre-Christmas message' which I had written the night before. It didn't seem that long written down, but reading it was a different matter. It didn't help that I cut bits out and tried to replace them with supposedly less long winded parts that ironically turned out to go on for even longer. I even used my festive speech to have a dig at The X Factor. How could I not? Aware that my message was overrunning, I ended up reading it faster and more urgently, until it ended up sounding like more of an angry rant... "LET'S START CHRISTMAS!!!!!". The Strong-o-meter positioned next to our little tent meant that the sound of a bell being whacked interrupted our show every so often, which also added more amusement. In a way it adds to the atmosphere of the show when accompanied by the sound of the brass band and choir in the background, as well as the chatter of the growing crowd. 

In all, a superb recorded document of a day that turned out to be hugely enjoyable, highly festive and a bloody good laugh too. Have a listen, go on. It could be THE funniest thing you'll hear this Christmas. It'll take some beating, that's for sure. Listen to the show below, and underneath that you can read my now infamous 'Pre-Christmas message' as it was originally intended... Below that, there are more photos from the event.

Ben P Scott's Pre-Christmas Message
When I was a kid, Christmas was always the most exciting time of year. When you're young, it's all about looking forward to that big day when you rush downstairs, and as if by magic, all the things you'd wished for were wrapped up under the tree. It was all about the family going to my Nan and Grandad's house in the evening, where my aunties and uncle would also be, and where we would exchange gifts, watch festive telly, play board games and enjoy the epic feast my wonderful Nan used to lovingly and proudly prepare. Even before the big day itself, it was all about making the most of school for a few weeks while all normal lessons were suspended in favour of card making, carol singing and nativity plays. Everything and everyone seemed happier and a great deal nicer when December came. That magical feeling was still something that thrilled me in the glorious mid 90's when I was a few years away from my teens, but by then I had come to appreciate the joy and warmth of Christmas songs and the sparkle of the decorations a lot more. So much so, that by this point I was turning my tiny bedroom into my own comfy little grotto-type place, sitting in the warming glow of my many fairy lights and basking in the optimism of my Christmas hits compilation tape (mostly recorded off the radio). 

There was also an element of looking forwards as one year comes to an end and the next one begins... This is often mirrored in the lyrics of familiar festive favourites: "look to the future now, it's only just begun..." When you're young, you have your whole future in front of you... And as a man in my late 20's, I now know how that future has turned out so far... No wonder that song makes me feel so nostalgic now. So it's somewhat ironic that for me, Christmas is now largely dedicated to memories of years before and the people who made those days so special. It's probably the same for many when they reach their mid to late 20's. 

During my late teens and early 20's, I was attempting to make up for the previous years spent as a loner in my bedroom, by over-socialising and "living for the moment" like a lot of people do at that age. In fact between 2001 and 2008, every Christmas was spent drinking myself into oblivion and not remembering much about it afterwards. 2004 was so bad, I class it as the year that I didn't even have a Christmas. But those years made me realise that family, memories and tradition were essential ingredients for the festive season, and for the last four years my love it has been majorly rekindled. The Melksham Christmas Fayre and the switching on of the town's lights is another thing that I have rediscovered over recent years, and makes for a lovely, comforting blast from the past. It's where I used to go each year to drop my letter off to Santa, and to meet the man himself in his grotto. Add to that carol singers, jolly folk giving out mince pies and hot mulled wine, an Assembly Hall packed with excited families, as well as a big crowd gathered to see the acclaimed Melksham lights being turned on, and you have a traditional event that our town always excels at. It's even more heartwarming to know that our town doesn't enlist z list celebrities to switch on our lights, like others do. It's only right that our display is always launched by one of Melksham's very own, and a nice reminder of the community spirit that makes our town so special. This year there has been a spot of confusion over the switch-on, after one source mistakenly reported that a "winner" of trashy karaoke show The X Factor would be turning on the lights. Hell no! Steve something (nope... can't remember his surname, he's a nobody) is singing Xmas-themed cabaret at The Kings Arms hotel on the same day. The organisers of the Christmas Fayre have confirmed that this karaoke singer isn't going to be switching on our lights and thankfully has nothing to do with the event whatsoever. They don't need him, and they don't want him. Maybe this reality show "star" assumed that our town would, but we don't. We deserve better, and do you know what? We already have better!

So it's a pleasure and something of an honour to be playing a small part in today's celebrations, broadcasting a live edition of The BPS Broadcast from the Fayre, bringing joy to the ears of the public with a specially chosen selection of underrated Christmas classics. And don't worry... You'll be completely safe from X Factor non-entities.

I hope all the kids of Melksham are as excited as I used to be about this most wonderful time of the year and I hope that their Christmas turns out as magical as the ones I was lucky enough to enjoy when I was young. To everyone else: have fun experiencing new memories, don't forget the people who made your past Christmases so special, and enjoy every second of the time spent with the loved ones that are still here to share it with you. So with that, let's start Christmas!

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