Song Talkings #5 (Christmas Edition): Coldest Night of the Year

I went out to the studio tonight to work on a song, but unfortunately my studio heater wasn’t turned up high enough to deal with how cold it’s been the last couple days here in Boise. I took that as a sign and decided instead to write a blog post about our cover of Vashti Bunyan’s “The Coldest Night of the Year” featuring Duglas T Stewart and Mel Whittle. First off, here’s a link to Vashti and Twice as Much’s brilliant original version:

Vashti Bunyan, for those of you unlucky enough to have not heard of her, is a pop and folk artist who started her career in the mid-60s. After releasing my favorite folk album of all time, Just Another Diamond Day, in 1970, she retired from music-making for decades, disappointed by the lack of attention that album got at the time. After interest in Diamond Day was revived in the early 00s, she returned with a new album, Lookaftering, and hasn’t done a whole lot since, as far as I know.

Anyway, as I’ve already alluded to, I love her music intensely, so, when the time came for me to make a Christmas EP, it was a no-brainer to cover this track. One thing I wanted to do on this EP was to use a lot of guest vocalists. So, I asked Duglas T Stewart, the leader of one of my favorite bands BMX Bandits, to do the male lead, and I asked my Baffin Island bandmate, and leader of The Hermit Crabs, Mel Whittle, to do the female lead. Luckily they both said yes. I arranged for a recording session in Glasgow, since Mel lives in Glasgow and Duglas lives in nearby Bellshill. My friend Jo, who plays keyboard in Baffin Island, arranged for a bandmate of hers to record them in his home. I guess it was more of a student flat, and he didn’t have the best mic, but it worked out just fine, and they each did a wonderful job. Even though they came up with their parts completely independent of one another, they did a superb job of blending and playing off of one another.

For the backing tracks I wanted to use a lot of non-standard instruments. I felt that, in doing so, it would lend the production an almost antique quality, something that would contrast with the kind of super-slick production that’s associated with many Christmas songs. The final instrument list is as follows:

  • drums (by Sam Counsil)
  • electric and acoustic guitar
  • bass guitar
  • upright bass
  • Rhodes electric piano
  • Jaymar toy piano
  • glockenspiel
  • saw (by Allison Ward)
  • the extremely rare medieval instrument the douçaine (played by Br. Niels Aage Nielsen)

The thing I am most pleased with, aside from the excellent performances by my friends, is the fancy glockenspiel runs I somehow pulled off. It sounds like I actually know what I’m doing in this song, but the truth is I just practiced, A LOT. Overall, I’m really pleased with the feel and atmosphere this song conveys. It’s respectful of the original, but doesn’t sound all that much like it, in my opinion.

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