Christmas in the Malone household is guaranteed to have voices raised... in perfect harmony.
“Well, perhaps not perfect,” Gareth laughs, “but there will definitely be lots of singing.
“My children, Esther (6) and Gilbert (3) are always singing, which is an absolute joy to hear. My wife, Becky, sings too – so much so that her mum has remarked that she always seems to be on song, although she didn’t sing that much at all when we met. The musical effect has obviously spread through the house.
“My parents sang all the time when I was a small child and I can recall singing along with them from the back of the car.”
Obviously carols will be the order of the day but that’s no hardship for Gareth. It was hearing festive chorals and carols as a child that made him fall in love with music in the first place. “Christmas has always been so much about the music for me,” he says. “It’s one of the reasons I look forward to it every year. I was so inspired by Christmas music when I was younger that I wrote a carol when I was only 15. It’s called A Child Is Born and it’s on the album.”
A Great British Christmas is the first festive album Gareth has put together and in a highly successful ten-year career, we can’t help wondering why – considering his love for festive tunes – he has waited until now.
“I’ve just been very busy with other things, but I have always wanted to put together a Christmas album – and produce it, too. With this album, I wanted to bring together musicians and choirs from all over the country, offer a fresh take on traditional festive tunes and celebrate the unique sound of a British Christmas.
“I started working on the album about two years ago and made a long list of the carols and festive songs that meant a lot to me. Apart from my own carol, there’s songs such as Walking in the Air, from The Snowman, which I used to play on the piano when I was a child while my mother sang, the incredibly beautiful O Holy Night, and Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms which I loved as a teenager.”
Finding some of the participants took some time. “While all the tracks on the album feature the Gareth Malone choir and the Royal Philarmonic Orchestra, some feature groups such as The Invictus Choir that I’ve previously had the pleasure of working with. I spent a lot of time on the internet tracking down other musicians, singers and choirs,” he explains.
“I wanted Britain to be truly represented; I found the Birmingham Gospel Choir, who sing on a couple of tracks, from their website, and I found the Cornish Perran Ar Worthal Hand Bell ringers on Youtube, which just goes to show how effective posting footage on that channel can be for singers, choirs and musicians.
“I also went out and about, talking to different people and discussing the meaning of each song. I’m delighted with the way it has turned out.”
The combination of Christian carols and some rather more secular seasonal songs certainly sounds like a winning one.
“I’m not a religious person but I suppose I am broadly spiritual and certainly very respectful of other people’s faiths and feelings,” Gareth continues. “To be honest, I’m a little jealous of those who do have a strong faith and I deeply love religious music. I think it connects to the qualities of quiet, still and calm that are in us all. I very much wanted this to be part of the album and it was wonderful working with different singers and musicians who do have a faith.”
So what are Gareth’s plans for Christmas?
“Oh a lovely, traditional British Christmas,” he beams. “You know... too much to eat and drink and a snooze on the sofa in the afternoon. I really like Christmas these days, although when I was in my 20s and 30s, I wasn’t such a fan and it could feel a bit like an obligation. But having young children has changed that and, for me, the magic is back. I’ve realised that Christmas isn’t about obligation but spending time with the people you love.”
- Gareth Malone’s A Great British Christmas is released on Decca Records, priced £9.99
- Words and interview by Alison James
- For more star chat get the latest copy of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday