Cover Me, Cover You

I was thinking a while back about how much I’ve enjoyed those few times I’ve heard other people singing songs that I wrote. That train of thought prompted me to kick off a discussion on the WeAreTheMusicMakers (WATMM) subreddit, where it became clear there would be interest in an initiative where songwriters would agree to cover each other’s songs.

I tried to get something off the ground, creating a new subreddit where songwriters could find others with whom to exchange cover versions. It didn’t take off, with only one other reddit user signing up when I posted about it in WATMM. (I still think it’s a good idea – if I were a developer I might try to create a dedicated platform that could facilitate this kind of exchange…)

The Electronic Night Before

Actually, I say it didn’t take off, but looking at it another way, CoverMeCoverYou has a 100% success rate. You see, that one other person that signed up, a Santa Cruz-based musician called Eric Taxxon, agreed to cover one of my songs, and I in turn covered one of his.

Below you can play Eric’s version of my song The Night Before. I really like it. It’s fair to say that he’s taken the song somewhere I would never have imagined.

 

I chose to cover Small Virtues, from Eric’s album The Anthill. You can hear the original version here. I recorded my version one evening last week using my Zoom H4 recorder (with a pair of stereo tracks used for the main guitar and vocal track, the lead guitar line on a single track, and some harmony vocals and tambourine on another track). It was a quick’n’dirty effort, but I think it works quite well. It’s a quirky little song and I really enjoyed the challenge of trying to pull off an acoustic version of it.

 

Those two tracks will probably be the sum total output of the CoverMeCoverYou project. Even so, I’m really pleased to have done this. There’s something amazing about amateur musicians on opposite sides of the globe covering each other’s songs without having met or spoken to each other.

Me as Bon Iver

While I’m on the subject of cover versions of my songs, I’m going to go ahead and post below a cover of my song Half-Hearted Love Affair. I’m sure my friend Richie will not be pleased with me making this available, as it wasn’t intended for public consumption. It was a project for an audio production course he was doing in Amsterdam, where he deliberately tried to replicate the style of Bon Iver. He wasn’t, as I recall, that pleased with the result. But I like it. And it’s my song!

 

(Sorry Richie. And thanks.)

Cagnomatic for the people

I called into the Auberge de Founex for a coffee and to read the news on my way to work last week. On the way out I spotted something on the wall that puzzled me. I took a photo to enable further investigation…

A Cagnomatic in the Auberge de Founex

A Cagnomatic provides a means of organizing a cagnotte du bistro, a tradition that seems to be specific to parts of Switzerland. The word cagnotte can be variously translated as kitty, jackpot or nest egg. The Cagnomatic is used by a group of regular customers at a café or bistro to collectively save money over a fixed period of time towards a particular goal or occasion.

This post (in French) that I found on a blog published in Fribourg describes how it works. Here’s a translation:

The cagnotte, a veritable savings bank at the bistro, is a custom that dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. The principle is simple. Each member of the cagnotte commits to depositing a monthly amount. He slides the note into his slot in the Cagnomatic. A committee, elected by the members, regularly records the deposits, puts the money in a bank account, and does the accounts. Once a year they hold a soirée de la cagnotte. The café owner pays for the first drink, followed by the distribution of the money saved and a celebratory supper among friends. Note that the money saved cannot be withdrawn in advance of the soirée.

The post goes on to say that the tradition is widespread in the historic centre of Fribourg, being present in at least seven cafés at that time. (The post was published in 2011.)

I asked my Swiss colleagues whether they had heard of a Cagnomatic and most had not. On seeing the photo some remembered seeing such machines in older Genevois cafés, but didn’t know what purpose they served. It’s reassuring that one can still stumble across local, somewhat secret traditions in our globalized world.

Now I must find a cagnotte to join.

In hindsight, it looks like a master plan

In hindsight, it almost looks like it was a master plan: spend two to three years each at different international organizations, building up the skills, experience and network I would need to launch a (hopefully!) successful communications consultancy. In reality, it was more like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where deliberate decisions at specific moments in time have brought me to this weekend and the launch of THAT COMMS GUY.

I surprised myself last May when an afternoon of introspection brought me to the conclusion that the time is right for me to have a go at establishing myself as an independent communications consultant. The plan came together quite quickly once I made the decision (naturally with the full support of Nadine). Thus, as of October, I will reduce my hours and responsibilities at the Ecolint Alumni Office, enabling me to start taking on clients while retaining some guaranteed regular income. (I’m grateful to my boss for facilitating this.)

macgyver

My high-level concept for this venture is to be the MacGyver of communications for non-profit organizations in the Geneva area. If you are unfamiliar with the aforementioned TV series, let me quote from the Wikipedia article (with some edits to adapt it to my situation):

“Resourceful and possessed of an encyclopedic knowledge of the physical sciences communications techniques, he solves complex problems by making things out of ordinary objects, along with his ever-present Swiss Army knife Irish good humour. He prefers non-violentnon-expensive resolutions and prefers not to handle a gun.”

In practice I’m proposing services in three broad areas: writing and editing copy, event management, and community engagement strategies. I’m focusing on the Geneva region and on non-profit associations, which is not, of course, to say that I would turn down clients that don’t meet one or other of those criteria. However Switzerland’s higher costs make it unlikely that I’ll be a viable option for organizations based elsewhere, and with the majority of my experience having been in the non-profit sector, that’s where I’m hoping to carve out my niche.

My new website will be an important marketing tool for the business. I’ve created six WordPress-based sites before, but this is the first time I’ve worked with a premium (i.e. paid-for) theme. During the development phase I received lots of valuable comments from various friends and relations, which has helped me to bring it to a point where I’m happy to launch it publicly. Further feedback will be most welcome of course!

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So, not a master plan, but definitely the result of a set of deliberate decisions, some professional, some personal. It was not pure chance that my switch from EAZA (in Amsterdam) back to the EBU (Geneva) in 2011 coincided with the birth of Robert, nor that I started my current job at Ecolint just as Declan was born in 2014. Robert starts school tomorrow, and it would be fair to say that this next significant milestone was not irrelevant in the decision to try to establish a more flexible professional arrangement.

It’s the end of the beginning for this new adventure. I’m looking forward to the challenge. And if you hear of an organization facing a communications-related challenge, don’t forget to recommend that comms guy, you know the one with that name you can never remember how to pronounce.

 

 

Ben Folds & yMusic – Sage Gateshead – 18.06.2016

We left the kids with Nadine’s parents in Leeds last Saturday night and took the train up to Newcastle where we met up with David (of Mulled fame) to catch Ben Folds in concert. I had seen him live twice previously and was blown away each time. Both occasions were before I started writing about gigs on this site, so I don’t have any details to refresh my memory, but I do know that he played his most popular songs. This time it was quite different.

yMusic is a New York-based ensemble with three string players and three wind/brass players. Ben Folds has been making music with them for the last while, presumably with a view to keeping things interesting for himself. And it’s interesting for his audience too, if not quite as entertaining as his usual solo or piano plus drums and bass shows.

I didn’t know any of the material that he has written for this collaboration with yMusic (on the album So There) and it didn’t make a lasting impression. (The only exception was the song I’m Not The Man, which has a really nice list-based ending: “I used to be my father’s son, I used to be number one, I used to be paper and pencil, I used to be endless potential” and so on.) But I enjoyed listening to and watching them. Folds sits in the middle behind an upright piano, so all you can see is his happy head and shoulders most of the time – a bit unnerving. The players in yMusic are clearly very talented and the arrangements were impressive.

The evening only really picked up when they started playing “the hits”. The older songs he played were probably chosen based on being ones that could work well with the additional instrumentation. Steven’s Last Night In Town was perfect in this regard (a bit more lively than the version below); Song For The Dumped worked in an odd way; and the encore of Not The Same, with no piano at all and lots of audience participation, was great.

Folds played three or four songs solo just ahead of the encore and while it was good to hear him perform them live, they were not among my favourites. They were seemingly based on audience requests and included Boxing and Lullaby.

The venue is pretty great, although I wouldn’t normally choose to see a pop/rock artist in a seated venue. I suppose it suited the line-up he was playing with, but it didn’t make for a good atmosphere.

I was happy to see him live again. He’s a truly great songwriter and I respect the fact that he wants to experiment a bit and change things up.

By the way, if you’ve never watched him doing his song Army live, with the audience singing the brass parts, it’s worth checking out… see below, from a live session he did for MySpace (!!) . David and I tried this in Mulligans of Geneva a couple of times and it worked pretty well. Great buzz!

P.S. On the journey up to Newcastle our train was overtaken by the Flying Scotsman pulling about 12 carriages. It was very cool seeing a steam engine up close like that. We got a chance to see it again at York station, which is where the photo below was taken.

The Flying Scotsman at York station

The world’s only song about the fossa?

I spent a couple of years working in Amsterdam for EAZA, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, as Communications and Membership Manager. Its Executive Director at the time was Lesley Dickie, a Scotswoman whose many passions included an obsession with the fossa, an obscure (to most people) carnivore from Madagascar. Lesley’s PhD focused on the fossa and she was, as she says herself, always “blathering on” about it to anyone who would listen.

At the end of May, in the context of launching a Facebook page dedicated to connections between art and species conservation, Lesley threw out a challenge, calling on friends to create artworks inspired by species conservation. Her successor at EAZA, Myfanwy Griffith, (a co-organizer of a related session at this year’s IUCN World Conservation Congress), specifically issued the challenge to me via Facebook to come up with a song.

Challenge accepted!

I haven’t been doing much songwriting of late, but for some reason this challenge inspired me. I decided I would try to write a song about the fossa Lesley’s involvement made that the obvious choice and that I’d do it quickly. The end result came tumbling out more or less in one evening, following a couple of days tossing ideas around in my head. The last few songs that I’ve written have been a result of a commission of one sort or another: the geek songMairéad’s wedding song, David’s Twiggathon auction purchase, and the challenge I set myself to write a song for Declan.

I wrote and recorded Fuss About The Fossa at the end of May. As far as I can tell it’s the only song about the fossa, in English at least. It took a little longer to find the time to create a video to accompany it. (Sharing music on the web without any accompanying images is fighting a losing battle these days.) I’ve used a bunch of photos of fossa from Wikimedia and Flickr, all available under Creative Commons licenses*. There some really nice images but they are all of fossa in zoos; I would have liked to use some of the wonderful images of fossa in the wild that are available from Arkive, but I wasn’t sure about the usage rights.

I’m happy to have played my own small part in raising awareness of species conversation and the surprisingly interesting fossa. If you’re wondering what some of the lyrics below refer to specifically, read more on the relevant Wikipedia page.

Lyrics

Fuss About The Fossa

He’s the biggest beast on the island to the east of Africa so they say,
Kinda like a cat, but there’s more to it than that, as you’re gonna find out today,
He only feels good hanging out in the woods and keeping out of the way,
But they’re felling the forest, so maybe tomorrow he’ll have no place to stay.
Who’s gonna make a fuss about the fossa? He’s doing alright but it’s gonna get tougher, oh yeah.

Climbing through the branches, hoping for a chance to get jiggy with a lady friend,
They’ve got very long tails but the fossa male has another impressive append…age,
Waiting around underneath the bough ’til he hears the lady yell,

If he gets his way he’ll spend half a day making love ’til the painful end.
Who’s gonna make a fuss about the fossa? He’s doing alright but it’s gonna get tougher, oh yeah.

He keeps the Malagasy beat, on his bear-like feet,
Patrolling his patch and hoping he’ll catch some lemurs to eat,
But if we don’t take care, and keep the forest there,
The loss of our friend the fossa will be the result I swear.

Fossa, fossa, fossa, fossa, fossa….
Fossa, fossa, fossa, fossa, fossa….

Does anybody give a fuss about the fossa? He’s doing alright but it’s gonna get tougher, oh yeah.
Who’s gonna give a fuss about the fossa? He’s doing alright but it’s gonna get tougher, oh yeah.

(Download the song from SoundCloud)

* The image credits are listed on the YouTube page for the video.

 

Iain’s Acoustic Jukebox

Last night in Mullligan’s of Geneva I was joined by friends, old and new, for The Acoustic Jukebox, an evening to remember Iain Twigg and raise money for The Brain Tumour Charity. What a night!

The idea was that I would play any and all requests received, as long as they came with a donation. There was a minimum of 10 CHF, with higher sums required to skip the queue or to join me on stage to sing. I was a bit nervous about how it would work out, but in the end – and with particular thanks to Andy Andrea for managing the requests and the cash – it went really well. Couldn’t have been better in fact.

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As you can see, it was an eclectic selection of songs, from Van Morrison to Right Said Fred via Daft Punk, the ding-dong song and The Stone Roses. Thanks also to Pete for loaning me an iPad loaded with the Ultimate Guitar app, which meant I could pull up chords or lyrics for songs I didn’t know. In the end I needed it for about a third of the songs.

There were many I knew well and had played often before, but I played a number of songs for the first time last night: Ash’s Girl From Mars, Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi (excellent job Lizzie!), or Oh La La by The Faces.

A few people gave me advance requests for songs to learn (again with a higher donation attached). The most difficult of these was the Grateful Dead’s Box of Rain, a song that really got under my skin over the past week as I listened to it over and over again trying to get to grips with a melody that has subtle variations in every very and chorus. As Esbjorn (the requester) explained, it was an apt choice for the occasion, having been written for the father of the songwriter when he suffering from terminal cancer.

“…such a long long time to be gone and a short time to be there.”

The most special moment of the night for me was singing Shed Seven’s Chasing Rainbows. It was one of Iain Twigg’s favourite songs from one of his favourite bands. He suggested to me six or seven years ago that I should learn it. I did, but I never got around to playing it for him before we and they left Geneva. Sadly by the time I finally got to sing it for Twigg he was no longer with us: singing it at a memorial event we had for him last January was an emotional experience to say the least. Last night was easier but still moving, as together his friends raised their voices in tribute.

Everybody had a laugh and then went for an early bath, did you?

Twigg’s favourite band was Oasis, who also featured last night, including a gutsy performance of Wonderwall by my brilliant wife Nadine. It was very much a family affair at times, as Nadine’s dad Jeff was also in the house and delivered a rousing performance of Delilah. He brought the house down and people were soon chipping in with donations to bring him back to the stage later when he sang Love Is In The Air.

The generosity of those who came last night was remarkable. Apologies to anyone whose requests I missed. In particular to Frode and Valentina for failing to get to their 50 CHF request for Love Me Tender before they had to leave. I did sing it, but about five minutes too late. Apologies also to Andy for not managing I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles; to Mike for failing to spot the broken string request; and to Marc for not stepping up to the “Göddligulgufúr” plate! There were also a few requests in absentia, with generous commitments from Simon and Mairéad if I performed the two songs below.


The other guest performers on the night all deserve a mention. Lawrence delivered a memorable Get Lucky and was back again later on to add some sweet harmonies to I Can See Clearly Now. A woman called Namilah gave an unforgettable performance of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, and Paul, Nadine and Tonya reprised their 2007 hit The Final Countdown. (They’ll get it right eventually…maybe February 2017.)

 

Tonya, Nadine, Paul and Eoghan - The Final Countdown

Two broken strings during Springsteen’s The River brought the curtain down on a memorable evening. I can safely say I’m unlikely to ever again finish up a gig with A Boy Named Sue, but it was totally in keeping with the surprising spirit of the night. Huge thanks to everyone that came along and to those who supported it from afar. Twigg would have loved it. And I’ll be sending just about 1,900 CHF to The Brain Tumour Charity in the UK in the coming days.

(If you took any good photos or videos on the night, please get in touch…)

A song for “my silver son”

Tomorrow, 2 April 2015, our second son Declan will be one year old. As any parent to more than one child will know, there’s a huge disparity between the amount of time and attention showered on baby #1 compared to baby #2. For Robert’s first birthday we created a montage of photos of some (!) of the people he met in his first year – see below. We couldn’t do this for Declan because he didn’t meet as many people, he was held by even fewer, and those rare occurrences were almost never photographed!

Robert's first year montage

That we took fewer photos of Declan does not, of course, mean we love him any less than his big bro. No, this common phenomenon is mainly down to two factors: having two kids to care for instead of one (and thus rarely a free hand to take a photo, or a free head to even think of it) and, second, the fact that the novelty, naturally, wears off. For Robert (who was also the first grandchild on Nadine’s side of the family) it was important to record all of the firsts; with Declan I think we feel more able to actually just watch and enjoy them: to be in the moment. (Hmmm… Maybe that last point is stretching it a bit, but it sounds good, right?!)

All of this is to explain why I was keen to do something for Declan that I haven’t (yet) managed for Robert, and that was to write a song for him. I had also been trying to capture short snatches of video footage now and again with the intention of putting together at least one video like those I made for Robert. (This one still makes me smile whenever I watch it.)

Well, I did manage to write the song and to do a reasonably good acoustic demo recording of it; and I did have just about enough footage of Declan to put a video together. The song is My Silver Son, for Declan, “my only second one“.

There are quite a lot of songs written by parents for/about their kids. My favourites include two by Ben Folds (Still Fighting It, for his son, and Gracie, for his daughter). I also like Loudon Wainwright’s song Daughter, and of course Harry Chapin’s Cat’s in the Cradle is rightly considered a classic. In a way I believe such songs are the truest, most noble kind of love song.

But in general I think it’s a really hard thing to get right. It seems to me that something about the context – writing for your child – makes it difficult to avoid sentimentality, and sentimentality is often the enemy of quality. To put it bluntly, a lot of the songs written by parents for their kids are really cheesy, and although the world needs cheesy music, it’s not generally the place to look for great songs and great songwriting.

I didn’t find it easy to write this song for my son, but I got there in the end. I’m certain some people will find it cheesy and I don’t make any claim to being a great songwriter. But I’m glad that I wrote it and I’m proud of the end result. Hopefully one day I’ll write one for his big brother too. For now he’ll just have to take comfort in the fact that we took ten times more photos of him! (And at least I included a reference to him in the chorus.)

[The audio is available for download from SoundCloud, here.]

My Silver Son (Song for Declan)

The birds don’t sing for you,
They’ve been singing since the day you came, it’s true,
But you know, that’s what they do
So I will sing for you,
Anytime you need a melody or tune,
Whatever kind of song you might need,
Your daddy’s got it right up his sleeve.

And so my silver son, my only second one,
Well who is the man you’re gonna become?
With your brother’s big blue eyes,
And your mother’s open smile,
You will always find a world that’s bright as a silver sun.

Time will wait for you,
Take as little or as much as you need to,
Your smile will see you through.
Cos the world that waits for you
Is so full of possibilities, so new,
But maybe while you’re taking your time
You’ll hang around with me for a while.

And so my silver son, my only second one,
Well who is the man you’re gonna become?
With your brother’s big blue eyes,
And your mother’s open smile,
You will always find a world that’s bright as a silver sun.

Keep smiling, keep smiling, keep smiling,
Keep smiling my silver son.

90 reasons why I’ve enjoyed my first year at Ecolint

It’s just about a year since I took up the post of Alumni Officer at the International School of Geneva (or Ecolint, as it’s commonly known). In those twelve months I’ve met hundreds of our alumni in person and interacted with many hundreds more electronically. Looking back, I think the part I’ve enjoyed the most so far has been my role as a story-gatherer. Certainly the familiar territory of tidying up the website and the planning and delivery of events has been as satisfying as ever, but it’s the people and the paths they’ve taken that has really made the difference for me.

Among the various projects and initiatives with which I’ve been involved, the one that best exposes this treasure trove of stories is the 90-9-90 Project. Having spent the quiet summer months getting to know the alumni as data (and creating our first “Alumnographic”, which I’ve written about before), I faced into the new school year knowing that the 90th anniversary year offered a great opportunity to reach out to the people behind the data.

The idea was a simple one: get 90 alumni to answer a 9-question survey to mark the 90th anniversary of the school. I put a lot of thought into the questions. They needed to be relevant for alumni of just about any age; to be phrased in a way that allowed both shorter or longer responses, depending on the comfort zone of the responder; and to generate enough variety so that the project would remain fresh right through to the end.

90990_FINAL

We reached our target of 90 just before the Christmas break, with probably about half of them having been directly invited to respond and the rest being submitted spontaneously. If the website stats are anything to go by, it was a huge success. The project, presented in a blog format, was far and way the most visited section of the website throughout the three months it was running, and it remains very popular with site visitors even now.

The questions took alumni from when and how they arrived at the school, to the teachers and places that meant most to them, and on to their lives today and their thoughts on the school and students today. Of course some put more thought than others into their responses, but the quality was generally very high. Those who responded (perhaps obviously, given the nature of the project) demonstrated a real pride in the school, often balanced with constructive criticism, with intelligence, wit and wisdom shining through regularly. The diversity of the career and life paths “the 90” have followed gives you a sense of the truly unique nature of Ecolint as a school.

From my point of view, it couldn’t have turned out any better. This simple idea generated three months of content that attracted people to the website. Posting updates via our social channels was very effective, as alumni were naturally interested to see whether anyone they knew had responded. It also served to kick off many interesting conversations that are already leading to other projects to help involve alumni more in the life of the school. (Exhibits A and B.)

In an effort get maximum value out of the content and to increase the awareness among current staff and students of the rich resource that our alumni community represents, with help from our in-house graphic designer I created a poster (below) that now hangs in strategic locations around our three campuses. The hope is that anyone lingering in the relevant spaces will take the time to dip into a selection of the responses and perhaps think more about how they themselves could engage with our alumni.

I’ve kicked off a couple of similar initiatives in the meantime, one focusing on entrepreneurs and another dedicated to former staff. They’ll both take a little longer to find their feet for various reasons, but it’s a format that works really well for mining the rich seam of stories to be found in the Ecolint alumni community.

90990_WallChart_FINAL

Three stars and the truth

Having failed to set the world alight with our first attempt to make it to the top of the Christmas pops with our song A Perfect Christmas, we decided to have one more crack of the whip and throw a bit of money at the problem. Following 2013’s DIY approach to music promo, this time David and I (who together are Mulled) hired a professional promoter to ensure that the job would be done properly. Did it work? All will be revealed!

The amount of money one could spend promoting a single has a lot in common with the length of the proverbial piece of string. Our piece of string, however, was definitely on the short side and so we had to go for what was probably close to the cheapest package with which one could reasonably expect to have an impact.

Around the time when we were trying to decide how we could try to break into the Irish radio market in 2014, I happened to read an article in the Irish Times – “How to get ahead in rock’n’roll” – that included advice from Emma Harney at Orchestrate PR. What caught my eye was the line “The cost depends on the project: it can start at €750, which would be for a tailored indie campaign“. Within a few short weeks we had signed on the dotted line and by mid-November our campaign was up and running.

Bad money after good?

The total campaign ended up costing just short of €1,400, as there was VAT to be paid on that €750, another €200 to have 100 CD singles printed up (for which we used CDduplication.ie), plus €250 in costs (again to Orchestrate) to cover postage and the monitoring of radio and print media for plays and mentions. The single was “plugged” to all relevant radio stations in Ireland, going to Heads of Music and some DJs too. We got weekly reports on the feedback received. This varied from those who didn’t like the track at all, to those who liked it but didn’t feel it fitted with their station, to those that would consider it for some plays, to those who said they would add it to the playlist. Of course talk is cheap…the question was how many would actually play it in the end.

One song, two videos

We still had the super animated video from the previous year, kindly made for us by our friends at Lovely Toons. By November it had racked up north of 20,000 views, largely thanks to YouTube advertising credit that the other half of Mulled has access to. While having this many views certainly made a good impression, the fact that the release date on the video was 2013 didn’t help when we were in fact trying to spin it as a new release for 2014. We thought, therefore, that in some cases it’d be no harm to have a new video with a 2014 release date. We got something very simple made for the princely sum of €35 thanks to an efficient, friendly and talented chap called Calvin who sells his services via Fiverr.com.

(Nice to see that the new video has more than 1,000 plays already. We still mostly focused on the original animated video, so this isn’t too bad at all.)

Results?

Thanks to Orchestrate, we could be confident that our song was reaching the right people and that they’d at least give it a listen. But did anything actually come of all this effort? Probably the two highlights were getting “exposure” on two of the most important media outlets in the country. First up, The Irish Times reviewed us on 5 December, as follows:

Irish songwriters Eoghan O’Sullivan and David Graham outline various cliches they could do without this Christmas (snow, Santa, carollers), before unveiling their one wish: “Oh, won’t you please come back to stay this Christmas.” Any similarities to Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) are coincidental, we’re sure.

Not earth-shattering, but it came with three stars. Given that Eminem’s new single only got two stars that same week, we were pleased enough. The best was yet to come though.

It seems the Head of Music at RTE Radio One really liked the song – enough to add it to their Christmas playlist! I couldn’t quite believe it when I saw us listed there on the RTE website alongside the likes of Lisa Hannigan, Imelda May, Norah Jones. The problem was that getting onto the Radio One playlist is just leading the horse to water; making him drink was another thing entirely. The individual producers on the different shows actually decide what songs to play and they can – and do – completely ignore the playlist. In the end we were played only once, very early in the morning, by Shay Byrne on Risin’ Time.

We picked up various other reviews here and there, mostly music blogs regurgitating the sales pitch that had reached them from us via Orchestrate. (“It might just become your new favourite Christmas song.“) But there were one or two that went a step further. I particularly liked the description on FeckingDeadly.com: “…a lovely sing-along with a ‘ding-dong-ding-dong-ding’ refrain that will stick with you for weeks to come.” I also did an interview over the phone for a show called ArtsWave on Dublin South FM, but I’m not sure it ever actually went to air.

Unlucky 13?

Aside from that one play on RTE Radio One, not a whole lot more came to pass. We were played on a handful of local stations, sometimes more than once: Beat 102-103, Midlands 103, Northern Sound and Shannonside all played it. The song also aired a couple of times on 2XM, a digital only station from RTE, as well as on 8Radio.com, an internet station. And we shouldn’t forget our good friends at World Radio Switzerland in Geneva, who again played it a number of times in the run-up to Christmas. (I also did an interview for Drivetime with Tony Johnston, who was as supportive as ever.)

The RadioMonitor service registered a total of 13 plays on Irish stations and estimated that it was heard by about 30,000 people. Nothing to write home about there.

The (Mince) Pie Chart

I was pretty active on Facebook and Twitter again. Probably the thing that got the best reaction on the social channels was the pie chart I threw together on a whim one evening. I realised that you’ve got to give people something that they might feel like sharing, liking, commenting on.

Mince Pie Chart

For a brief moment I thought our campaign to reach the #XmasNo100 might gather some momentum, but it wasn’t to be. Perhaps if we had a team of social media whiz kids backing us we could have done more here.

My favourite Twitter interaction had to be this one with the legendary John Creedon:

Rich yet?

In terms of sales, we actually did worse than the previous year, selling only 16 downloads via iTunes! Given that the 37 we sold in 2013 earned us only $34, we’ve gone quite a bit further into the red. In reality the kind of campaign we mounted was never going to result in significant sales: we’re not a real band that tours and has a fan base we can call on. Once any friends that do actually download music from iTunes had bought the single, that was more or less it, unless it had somehow gained a bit of momentum from radio airplay (which, as we’ve already seen, was not the case).

Needless to say, we reached neither the #XmasNo1 nor the #XmasNo100. Maybe we were the #XmasNo1000 – I guess they stop counting at some point.

Ireland’s Christmas FM once again refused to play the song or even to acknowledge our emails asking whether they’d consider doing so. It seems a bit odd, particularly given some of the really terrible songs they do play. On the other hand, thanks to one of their DJs, Keith Shanley, the song was included on a royalty-free in-store music mix that was used by various retail chains in Ireland. I got reports of the song being heard in sports shops in Dublin and Donegal, so it seems it was heard by shoppers all around the country.

The End… Perhaps.

That, I think, brings the curtain down on this little project of ours. From this point on A Perfect Christmas will have to fend for itself in the musical wilderness. I retain the slim hope that some intern tasked with finding the perfect track for a movie soundtrack or Christmas advert will stumble upon it some day, rescuing it from obscurity and making David and I rich beyond our wildest dreams. Or at least recoup the money we’ve spent on recording, releasing and promoting it.

And, of course, it will probably always be a part of Christmas in the O’Sullivan and Graham households. Ding dong ding dong ding dong ding…

Bonus Track

As a reward for reading all the way to the end, I thought it might be amusing to let you hear where A Perfect Christmas came from. I give you, in all its glory, the original demo of “Come out to play”, recorded (I think) in summer 2003 by me in the RTE Limerick studios late one night. The lyrics left a lot to be desired, but the melody and harmonies were all there. Skip to 3’00” for what became the ding-dongs. I think David and I did a good job in turning this into festive gold, right?

Snowfolk

It snowed a lot here last weekend. I don’t recall ever seeing so much snow down at the level of Lake Geneva (or Lac Léman, to use its official name), with the possible exception of one year around 2006 or so when Geneva itself froze up for a week. In our village of Vich, just above the lakeside towns of Nyon and Gland, we had 20 to 30cm of snow fall throughout last weekend, with more falling on Monday.

Snowfolk

Robert (now 3 and a half) and I rushed out to the back garden for some snowman action on the Saturday morning, but the snow just wouldn’t clump together. It was probably too cold. We made do with some sledging beside the village school. The following day, however, with slightly higher temperatures and a fresh dump of powdery snow, delivered perfect conditions for the building of snowfolk, hence our little snow family above.

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I took another photo before heading to work on Monday morning. “Nadine” had toppled over and my own likeness was looking a bit wobbly too. All facial features had either fallen off or were covered by the previous night’s fresh fall.

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Today, one week later, the aforementioned wobbly me remains standing at a gravity-defying angle, and Declan’s minimalist facial features have revealed themselves again as some of snow dropped away. (The carrots were cooked eaten last weekend!)

Temperatures barely rose above zero all week and a bitterly cold bise has been making it rather unpleasant to venture outside for the last couple of days. Let’s see how much longer our little snow family struggles on.