A little story first: One year, a book/CD set turned up in my family's house, entitled The Forgotten Carols. It turned out to be a Christmas story which incorporated an album of purpose-written songs, which disappointed the excessively nerdy kid with the little black XMAS tape, who had hoped it was a collection of Christmas songs from Olden Tymes which had been left behind by popular tastes. (I was a hipster before hipsters were cool.) It took twenty years, but to my immense delight, Radio 4 has dropped in my stocking a series resembling what I wanted The Forgotten Carols to be: A Cause for Caroling looks at the history of the Christmas carol in Britain from its earliest record through the various forces which have acted on the holiday over time.
Episode 1 gives us an overview of the carol tradition 'that has always had one foot in the pub and another in the choir stalls' and tries to revive the first recorded British carol.
Episode 2 looks at the role of Franciscans in popularizing the use of music to celebrate the Nativity, and the repurposing of popular secular tunes for religious purposes.
Episode 3 takes us through the development of professional music, the place of carol-singing in medieval popular culture, and the context of The Coventry Carol (as we know it today).
Episode 4 explores the effect the Reformation and Puritanism had on the singing of carols in and out of church. The Puritans banned Christmas! That had some effect.
Episode 5 hasn't aired yet but when it does I'll update the link.
Every so often you run across one of those stories you just know is going to stick in your head, and this afternoon I added The Morpeth Carol to that library. It starts with a boy from a housing estate finding the crashed wreck of Santa's sleigh, and turns into one of those half-tragic, half-whimsical Christmas tales. A cup of grit and a whiff of Pratchett round out the pudding.
In a less seasonal vein, I've only listened to the first half this week's Sunday Edition, but for a show that's always worth checking out this one is especially excellent: the essay on the moral courage of Mandela and those who stood up for him around the world is brilliant, and the interview with the NSA whistleblower who preceded and inspired Edward Snowden is particularly fascinating.
And last but certainly not least, for dessert, That Mitchell and Webb Sound is back – the link is to Episode 2 which is my favourite so far but only lasts till Tuesday; Episode 3 you'll find linked at the bottom of that page and is also good fun.