Whatever your religious persuasion (and even if you tick the 'atheist' box) it's hard to deny that many Christmas carols are evocative and beautiful. One of my favourites is Peter Warlock's haunting Bethlehem Down. In a recent survey of the great and good in church music it came up as one of the top carols, and I'll be doing it with my little choir this Christmas, just as I sang it with Selwyn College, Cambridge chapel choir many moons ago.
Music apart, the best thing about Bethlehem Down is the story of how it came to be written. According to Bruce Blunt, who wrote the words, in 1927 Warlock and Blunt 'were extremely hard up, and in the hopes of being able to get suitably drunk at Christmas conceived the idea of collaborating on another carol which should be published in a daily paper.' The carol was completed in a few days and sent off to the Daily Telegraph, which reproduced it on Christmas Eve, funding an 'immortal carouse' according to Blunt. It wasn't just the poem that was in the paper, but the whole hand-written score. Can you imagine a newspaper doing that today? Boggle.
If you want to hear what it sounds like when sung with enthusiasm if not too much polish, feel free to come along to St Andrew's in the Wiltshire village of Wanborough for 6pm on 20 December. And if you do, mine's a pint. After all, there's a tradition to uphold.