20 December 2020

The Ants - Christmas Star/ Wandering

 Joe Meek-esque festive 45 from Don Powell of Slade's future wife
Label: Parlophone  
Year of Release: 1963

Good God, I can only imagine Joe Meek's face when he first heard this Christmas instrumental. He wasn't a big lover of music business bigwigs ripping off his style at the best of times, but this single is practically a Meek parody. All the essential features are present and correct - the compression, galloping rhythm, buzz of distortion around the edges, and the ambitious yet faintly mend-and-make-do broom cupboard arrangements.

As soon as you spot that this is a Robert Stigwood production, it all begins to make sense. Stigwood had a passing association with Meek thanks to his management of John Leyton, and had actually worked alongside him as co-producer on Leyton's "Girl On The Floor Above". It doesn't take much of a leap of the imagination to assume that perhaps he paid close enough attention to his methods to know exactly what to do when it came to recording this single.

"Christmas Star" sounds like you'd expect a festive single from the The Tornados to sound, just far too late in the day to have any impact. By the end of 1963, slightly more than a year since their monstrous success with "Telstar",  the group were very much yesterday's news, putting out single after single to increasing public disinterest. Cashing in on their sound was never going to be a very bankable proposition by the time Merseybeat was exciting the nation, which makes me wonder why Stigwood bothered - if anyone was going to score big with a Meek-styled festive instrumental hit, it was probably Meek himself.

Equally strangely, the author of this song appears to have been Joan Kilshaw, an NME journalist who later became Don Powell's wife, making this the first Christmas single with any Slade connections (however tenuous those may be). It wouldn't be her only songwriting credit on vinyl - she also wrote the B-side "That Way Too" for the group Winston G and the Wicked in 1965 - but she certainly had more success as a journalist than as a songwriter.

Don't be put off, though, because "Christmas Star" has a glittering, cheerful prettiness about it that a lot of sixties instros just don't have, and one listen could leave you with a warmth in your belly you just didn't have before. Clearly it leans on somebody else's production and arrangement style rather heavily, but the tune itself is pure Eastmancolor joy, and must have sounded like Santa's Grotto bursting out of everyone's record cabinets and cheap Dansette players at the time. It probably would have been a hit if the music world hadn't moved on significantly since 1962. 

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rntcj said...


Thanx for this one. When 1st saw artist's name thought it was "Adam & The..." Quite wrong, eh?!

Ciao! For now.

john111257 said...

Total Meek style, i bet this is a hard one to get..i don't like it..i love it

23 Daves said...

It's taken me years to find a copy of this, John, and I was utterly delighted to find one for sale this month!