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Keith Christmas

Despite a surname evoking the festive period, KEITH CHRISTMAS was indeed a more all-year-round Brit-folk troubadour, not a giant force within the genre, but a singer-songwriter knocking on the door of fame and fortune.
Born 13 October 1946, in Wivenhoe (nr. Colchester), Essex, Keith first came on to the scene in 1965 by playing clubs in and around Bath University, where he studied. During the course of the next few years, he performed at various venues, none more often than Bristol’s Troubadour Club. At a time when the blues revival was more poignant than the flagging folk scene, KC could be heard performing his own compositions (e.g. `Examination Blues’) while closing with a rendition of CREAM’s `Cat’s Squirrel’.
In 1969, after stints at Soho’s Les Cousins Club, his hard work paid off when he was signed to R.C.A. Records through folk-biased producer/manager, Sandy Robertson, a guy whose stable of acts included STEELEYE SPAN, The LIVERPOOL SCENE, ANDY ROBERTS and MIGHTY BABY; it was the latter who helped out CHRISTMAS on his debut LP, STIMULUS (1969) {*6}.
Sounding not unlike folk counterparts AL STEWART, CLIFFORD T. WARD and MICK SOFTLEY, the set (recorded in a day on a 4-track) had its proverbial moments, notably `I Know You Can’t Lose’, the initial version of `Travelling Down’, `Metropolis’ and the lengthy, 9-minute finale, `Trial & Judgement’; also on board was SOUTHERN COMFORT steel-man, Gordon Huntley. The album has since become a mini-collectors’ item worth at least a three-figure sum, possibly due to his involvement/guitar work with BOWIE on his space-folk set `Man Of Words, Man Of Music’ (aka `Space Oddity’).
With a new label (B&C) and a fresh set of songs (including the uptempo, piano-led `Waiting For The Wind To Rise’), FABLE OF THE WINGS (1970) {*7} confirmed folk-rock was in the ascendancy. Two acolytes of the genre, bassist Pat Donaldson and drummer Gerry Conway (both from FOTHERINGAY), were behind CHRISTMAS on most cues, while producer Robertson brought in his young folk protégé SHELAGH McDONALD to duet on the awe-inspiring, SANDY DENNY-like `The Fawn’. Prog-rock/folk was also having its heyday, and two songs by Keith (the 8-minute `Lorri’ and `Kent Lullaby’ – organ by Ian Whiteman) encompassed the genre with open arms. The aforementioned McDONALD and future “Oldest Swinger In Town” FRED WEDLOCK covered Keith’s best-loved songs, while further exposure was gained while supporting classic rock giants The WHO, KING CRIMSON and TEN YEARS AFTER.
Featuring an eclectic array of rock and pop alumni on session (ROD ARGENT, Ray Warleigh, Adrian Shaw, Roger Powell, MAC & KATIE KISSOON and former NICK DRAKE arranger, Robert Kirby), PIGMY (1971) {*7}, was rated by many, including CHRISTMAS himself, as his piece de resistance. Folk was now firmly back in the forefront; with tracks from the lilting, Celtic-like `Evensong’ and a re-working of `Travelling Down’, to the lengthier pieces `Song For A Survivor’ and `Forest And The Shore’ (another to feature the London Symphony Orchestra), all was looking enthusiastic for Keith. However, cast adrift by Charisma offshoot B&C, CHRISTMAS took a sabbatical of sorts, only dabbling with such fringe-rockers as Magic Muscle and multinational classical-rock ensemble Esperanto – KC took on lead vocals on their `Danse Macabre’ set. Incidentally, songs from all three of these early sets (more so the latter two), constituted a latter-day CD collection, TIMELESS & STRANGE (2004) {*8}.
Re-emerging on EMERSON, LAKE & PALMER’s Manticore imprint, BRIGHTER DAY (1974) {*4} and STORIES FROM THE HUMAN ZOO (1976) {*4} were aimed at the AOR American market, the latter having been recorded in L.A. Their failure both critically and commercial left Keith with no option but to quit the music game; he’d later take up ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) teaching. In the early 90s, with the help of JOHN RENBOURN’s newly established imprint Run River and the KEITH CHRISTMAS BAND (Martin Vinson, Richie Yalland and Kieran Argo), he made inroads back into the public eye via, WEATHERMAN (1992) {*5}.
Produced by ASHLEY HUTCHINGS, LOVE BEYOND DEALS (1996) {*5} was another average singer-songwriter effort, as were subsequent sets ACOUSTICA (2003) {*6} and LIGHT OF THE DAWN (2006) {*6}. Of late, Keith has linked an example of his concert work on the all-new LIVE AT THE PUMP (2012) {*6}.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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