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A Christmas No 1

Some strange magic makes Davitt Sigerson’s “It’s a Big Country” my favourite Christmas record, narrowly ahead of Booker T and the MGs’ “Winter Wonderland”, Elvis’s “Merry Christmas Baby”, Leon Russell’s “Slipping Into Christmas” and James Brown’s “Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto”.

I met Davitt in 1977, when he was a charming 20-year-old New Yorker just down from Oxford University and deeply immersed in soul music, and I was editing Time Out. He suggesting contributing a weekly column of disco listings: a great idea, although there was stern resistance from a majority of the rest of the editorial staff, who were basically into pub-rock and a bit of punk. Anyway, we went ahead. The following year I moved to the Melody Maker and he wrote pieces for me there, too, including a terrific early piece on Chic, for whom we shared a great admiration.

In 1980 he started making records himself, for Michael Zilkha’s Ze label. His first single, “I Never Fall in Love”, seemed bound to be a hit, and I’m not the only one who still finds himself humming it, savouring the witty lyric, and wondering why the hell it wasn’t. (And somewhere I think I’ve still got a box of the 45s, just in case its time comes around.)

What neither “I Never Fall in Love” nor “It’s a Big Country” — which was featured (alongside the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping”, Alan Vega’s “No More Christmas Blues” and Cristina’s “Things Fall Apart) on The Ze Christmas Record in 1981 — shows is that he had a great feel for a white-boy version of street-funk. When he didn’t get a hit he moved on to writing songs for other artists and to producing, his credits including the Bangles’ third album, Everything, which included the hit “Eternal Flame”. In the ’90s he served briefly as president of Polydor and EMI/Chrysalis, and as chairman of Island in the US.

At some point I remember him telling me that he was writing speeches for politicians, and in 2004 he published a novel called Faithful, which was probably intended to make him the successor to Jay McInerney and Brett Easton Ellis. That was the last I heard of him.

So what is it that I like so much about “It’s a Big Country”? It’s the way the writer, like Chuck Berry and Hal David, uses American place-names to signpost the narrative, which is then guided by a very nice jangling rhythm track at a tempo that is not exactly hurried but suggests that the protagonist might still have more cards to write and calls to make. It’s the conversational tone, and the mention of “me and Ann” (I’ve spent quite a lot of time over the years trying to decide whether she should have an e, like L. M. Montgomery’s Anne Shirley, or not, like Ann Sevier in Hans Koningsberger’s An American Romance). And it’s the fact that whenever I hear “Got an uncle in Los Angeles / Beverly Hills, to be precise,” it makes me smile.

If you’re out there, Davitt, merry Christmas. And to everyone else, as well.

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21 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thanks for your fantastic blog entries over the year, Richard – looking forward to more enlightenment in 2017.

    December 23, 2016
    • Oh, and for the record – my favourite Christmas song is The Wedding Present’s cover of Elton John’s ‘Step into Christmas’.

      December 23, 2016
      • Cnn Diamond #

        I too never fall in love
        You didn’t miscalculate
        I worried if I am too late
        When I’m getting there
        It applies to me!

        I never fall in love too
        You are the most affectionate
        I know you cry
        So do I

        Yes, I never fall in love
        I never lose control like this
        I’m happy with you
        I never give my soul like that
        Because in time I learnt
        It is ever us
        I’m through with getting burned, too

        And I’m sorry sorry sorry
        Of course I made silence too long
        Cause I am too stupid to read your heart
        I worry if that’s too late
        To answer

        I never fall in love
        I never cry in front of another person
        I never happily play the fool

        I never fall in love
        I never cry except in your arms
        I was never a fool

        Dear Ben,

        Thanks for your wishes that warmed the whole winter.
        Happiness abound in the coming enlightenment!

        Bestest,
        Cno

        February 24, 2017
  2. The Jimmy Smith Christmas album always gets a spin in our house. Its not officially Christmas until the Hammond kicks in on We Three Kings. Merry Christmas Richard and thanks for all the great posts in 2016.

    December 23, 2016
  3. Richard Harris #

    And a very merry Christmas to you and yours too Richard, and thank you for some really excellent and informed pieces over the past twelve months.

    My Christmas “joints” (as the youngsters say on YouTube) are:

    1. “Rudolph” by the Cadillacs (tenor solo, Sam the Man Taylor?)

    2. “White Christmas” by Charlie Parker and (a hero), Kenny Dorham*

    And er that’s it. Ah, “Skating in Central Park” by the MJQ for New Year Eve.

    *KD ain’t just for Christmas.

    December 23, 2016
    • Mick Steels #

      Second the Bird choice with his perfect rhythm section, I’m a Fats man but KD is good. For anybody who has never heard this dig https://youtu.be/JrIHEdKa0x0

      December 23, 2016
  4. As ever, a wonderful piece… interestingly (or maybe not?) working my way through some old MM scans from 1969 and came across your ‘phone interview with James brown which, sop it seems, had to be wound up when the cost of the call to Atlanta hit the $50 mark (cheapskates, Polydor UK!). Davitt – nice to be reminded of that ZE Christmas LP (Tony Wright sleeve too); all round nice chap… wonder what became of him?.

    December 23, 2016
  5. Chris Cox #

    Dear Richard, thanks for all the great emails throughout the year! Merry Christmas too from Cape TownJ

    Kind regards

    Chris Cox

    December 23, 2016
  6. Tim Adkin #

    Always loved this track and the Ze Yule LP as a whole pretty much. Good to see the Jimmy Smith festive platter get a mention too in the comments section. I’m off to play The Roches which always makes me cry….compliments of the season RW and keep up the good work in 2017!

    December 23, 2016
  7. Joseph Cotter #

    Merry Christmas,

    Merry Christmas Baby by Otis Redding tops my list

    White Christmas by Otis is pretty special too.

    December 23, 2016
  8. Maurizio Comandini #

    My preferred Christmas song is, by far, this smoky rendition of Santa Claus is Coming To Town by Patricia Barber. Have a listen. https://youtu.be/XlarPKl9pck

    December 23, 2016
  9. Paul Crowe #

    Many happy returns, Richard.

    Thanks for all the insightful, informative and eminently readable pieces throughout the year.

    December 23, 2016
  10. WILLIAM BROWN #

    I well remember Sigerson’s articles for both the MM and Black Music magazine as being a great pointer towards the best disco releases. His description of the the blistering Rodgers solo on “Spacer” got me excited, even before I had heard it.
    Laura N’s coupling of “Let it be me” & the “Xmas Song” from the Mountain Stage album does it for me in the Xmas song stakes.

    December 23, 2016
  11. timothy hinkley #

    Merry Christmas Richard but don’t forget Albert King’s “Santa Claus Wants Some Lovin”.

    December 23, 2016
  12. Peter Revell #

    Richard – many thanks for all your posts this year. You’ve introduced me to much I didn’t know, and reminded me of much I’d forgotten. Let’s all look forward to a brilliant 2017.

    December 23, 2016
  13. Adam Glasser #

    Many thanks Richard for another year of wonderfully informative pieces.
    Long may you continue…

    PS Miles Davis/Bob Dorough’s ‘Blue Xmas’ has yet to be dislodged from it’s
    No 1 spot in my personal Yule tide list.

    December 23, 2016
  14. John De la Cruz #

    Merry Christmas Richard and thanks for the superb blog.
    Fwiw my current Christmas earworm is Johnny Keating’s version of ‘We Three Kings’. Impossible not to think of the Z-Cars theme.

    December 23, 2016
  15. Matthew Wright #

    Good to read the various suggestions and follow up the unfamiliar ones. Lots spring to mind, but Dexter Gordon’s version of “Christmas Song” from around 1970 is worth a listen, and one I recall from earlier days, Ramsey Lewis’ “Merry Christmas Baby”.
    A great disappointment, but something of a curiosity, was an LP called “Harry the Hipster Gibson Digs Christmas.”
    Compliments of the season to all!

    December 23, 2016
  16. I’ll stick to “Christmas Eve Can Kill You” by the Everlys. But what do I know?

    December 23, 2016
  17. Victor #

    I’m not going to state what is my favorite Christmas song. I’m just happy to read that someone else likes, :”It’s a Big Country” as well. The line that always makes me smiles is, “Got a niece down in Virginia. Hard to believe how much she’s grown. It’s your uncle calling angel, can you put your Momma on the phone.”

    It’s been a tough year filled with personal struggles and I stayed away from most of the holiday activity. After reading the article I played, “It’s a Big Country.” It didn’t change the circumstances but it felt good to hear it. Hope to listen to it next year under better circumstances.

    December 27, 2016

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