By Sidecar Shiv
Fact: some people really do like the winter, even in the bleak Northern Hemisphere. Canadian new wave band Spoons see it as a lifestyle opportunity: “The mercury’s going down, but I’m safe here in my apartment… we laugh and play with snow, we’ve lost our fear of winter, life goes on well-protected…”.
Others hunker down. The couple in Rod Stewart’s Mandolin Wind are drawn together on an unspecified frontier with buffalo dying outside in the frozen fields. “You chose to stay and keep me warm” is a beautiful declaration of love in a time of physical hardship. This may just be Stewart’s career-best lyric. Contrast this with the contemporary couple in Bill Morrissey’s lyrical portrait of an enduring relationship; they bicker about whether to replenish the stove with oak or birch. They come to an agreement … which one of them quietly ignores: “She knew the time it would be short; the fire would start to fade. She thought of heat. She thought of time.”
Of all the four seasons, winter is perhaps the most easy to convey in music – stillness, a measured pace, taut strings, any percussion instrument which can mimic the sound of ice crystals colliding. And that’s exactly what hundreds, if not thousands, of musicians have attempted. German band Darkwood will have to stand for all with their pagan song “Winter”, which nicely encapsulates the uneasy feel of walking through a snowbound forest at dusk. Even when the sun appears, it’s a pale husk of its usual brilliance – multi-instrumentalist Faine Jade can’t even cast a shadow. Cold Winter Sun Symphony In D Major is a rare 1960s psychedelic excursion in to the depths of winter. Even cities can lose their warmth; Smith & Burrows’s When The Thames Froze is a chilly vision of a London which tried to hold a Frost Fair on an abandoned dock in 2012 – and failed.
Of course there has to be potential for fun. Winter sports are huge the further north you go as the snow and ice gets thicker. Jane Siberry’s tribute to Sunday afternoon amateur ice hockey tells us that some hazards are universal: “Someone’s dog just took the puck! Your turn!” But steer clear of the wilderness, hikers. Atmosphere’s eerie tale about a camping trip to the woods tells a (literally) shaggy dog story about mysterious tracks in the snow.
But there’s no getting away from it – winter can be a bastard, a feeling succinctly encapsulated by The Cowboy Junkies in one phrase: “Fuck, I Hate The Cold!” Many people have no choice about shelter. Belle & Sebastian may be singing about a fox in the snow hunting for scraps – or they may be singing about a homeless street dweller doing exactly the same thing. The rest of the song’s characters have an ambiguous relationship with the Glasgow snows, too. At least they have a chance of survival, which can’t be guaranteed for the refugees huddled in the wintertime Calais Jungle in New Model Army’s shocking Die Trying – “Polythene sheets and rope, until they come to pull it down … you just start again … cross the water, or die trying.”
Recent events may have put an end to that chapter, but across the Atlantic history is repeating itself at frightening speed. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson’s resigned Winter In America uses the season both as a backdrop and a metaphor for the position of minorities in Nixon’s USA. They can’t have imagined what would be gained, and then lost again 42 years later.
It will end. Bubbley Kaur’s joyful vocals on the Punjabi lyrics of Cornershop’s Once There Was A Wintertime seems to be looking forward to spring and the rebirth of Mother Earth. And if that’s wrong, it’s still a suitably optimistic note on which to wrap up winter.
Achoo! A-list playlist:
1. Spoons – Smiling In Winter
2. Rod Stewart – Mandolin Wind
3. Bill Morrissey – Birches
4. Darkwood – Winter
5. Faine Jade – Cold Winter Sun Symphony In D Major
6. Smith & Burrows – When The Thames Froze
7. Jane Siberry – Hockey
8. Atmosphere – Became
9. The Cowboy Junkies – Fuck I Hate The Cold
10. Belle & Sebastian – The Fox In The Snow
11. New Model Army – Die Trying
12. Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson – Winter In America
13. Cornershop ft. Bubbley Kaur – Once There Was A Wintertime
Brass Monkeys B-list playlist:
1. The Positive Force with Ale Odatunji – The African In Winter
2. Sonny Boy Williamson – Nine Below Zero
3. Dakota Suite – Ferris Wheels Of Winter
4. Grasscut – The Field
5. GLM – Now Is The Winter
6. Arctic Monkeys – Knee Socks
7. Jens Lenkman – The Cold Swedish Winter
8. Vashti Bunyan – Winter Is Blue
9. Nic Jones – The Little Pot Stove
10. Alela Diane – White As Diamonds
11. Lindisfarne – Winter Song
12. The Wild Swans – The Coldest Winter For 100 Years
13. Camille – Winter’s Child
Guru’s Wildcard pick:
Laura Veirs – Icebound Stream
Extra chilly bonus but unofficial C-list:
Smoke Fairies – Wild Winter
Richard Thompson – The Poor Ditching Boy
Comus – Winter Is A Coloured Bird
The Iditarod & Sharron Krauss – Wintermute
Kate Bush – Wild Man
Hüsker Dü – Ice Cold Ice (zedded)
Prince Far I – Foggy Road
Dyon Parker – Footprints In The Snow
Sufjan Stevens – Jupiter Winter
The Spinning Wighats [aka The Long Ryders] – Christmas In New Zealand
Mike Heron – Feast Of Stephen
Wolf People – When The Fire Is Dead In The Grate
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic Winter is Coming … in the form of song. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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