THE 'OLLY AND THE OATCAKES

Christmas is a time for traditionÖthe third tradition is to see Christmas songs by candlelight. Actually, this year I had planned to break with tradition by going along to the Ceramic City Choir's sing along, but sadly they held it on the same night as the Barbara Walton Singers' do, so I stuck with tradition.

It all started after I complained in this very blog about a show promoted as Mozart by candlelight. There was, I declared, not a single candle; it was all lit by the new-fangled electric light, and they hadnít even bothered to buy those bulbs which flicker. David Burrowes, conductor of the Barbara Walton Singers, told me of his annual Christmas by Candlelight concert, where, he promised me, there was more wax than Madame Tussaud's. And indeed, it was so; Mr Burrowes said let there be light, and the candles shone upon the world, or at least, St Mark's in Shelton.

Now the candelabra have moved down the road to the church of St James the Less in Longton. At St Mark's, the candles were everywhere, supported by long poles of wood; apparently, it took days to set up. At St James', the candles are on the altar and tastefully arranged in groups around the pillars. To be honest, a lot of the excitement at St Mark's came from wondering whether the place would actually burn down this year. As befits a minor character who might or might not be the son of Alphaeus (who?), the fires of St James are less spectacular, but probably a lot safer, and my wife found them very pretty.

The music was absolutely excellent; ninety minutes of largely a capella singing from the Barbara Waltons, a few pertinent readings, and five occasions when we the audience were allowed to exercise our lungs (and it almost feels like you might be part of something considerably more professional when the choir descants above your singing).

I donít know whether David Burrowes selects the songs to flatter his choir, or whether the choir are at the top of their game, but it was all extremely satisfying. Highlights; the Zither Carol, a Malcolm Sargent arrangement of a Czech folk tune, and a Peruvian carol which also involved some percussion (apparently written by the Incas still standing after the Spanish had killed them or given them smallpox). Lovely.

So as I suck my Christmas dinner of a pile of oatcakes by candlelight, I shall be singing "Hanacpachap cussicuinin", which is apparently Quechuan (the language of the Incas) for "O tree bearing thrice-blessed fruit". Have a wonderful Christmas.

Chris Ramsden, the Sentinel, 23rd December, 2011