I don’t think it was a memory I’d suppressed, merely one I’ve had little use for this past half-century or so. It was of a very young me, aged perhaps six or seven, giving the same solo in another medieval church.
And with it – as with so many old memories – came a fleeting sense of the different me that young person might have grown up to be.
It’s a very long time since I sang a solo. Never, certainly, since my voice broke. It’s quite some time since I sang much at all. These days, if I do, it’s in a croaky, uncertain bass baritone very unlike the boy treble I once was.
I don’t go to church – never did, really. I do go to churches. We are very lucky in East Anglia to have such a wealth of wonderful medieval churches. Sometimes I go just to enjoy the history, the architecture, the art. To commune with our ancestors. Such pleasures are usually best taken privately.
But the acoustics in these old buildings are often gorgeous too, and there’s no better way to appreciate that than at a good school carol concert.
This one, though, was a little different for me. Partly because it was the first for years without my mother, who always loved them. And who, incidentally, used to write and produce all the nativity pageants I took part in during my primary school days.
Partly because this was the last one in which I’ll get to see and hear my daughter perform before she leaves school.
At the end, as always, the vicar said a short prayer. And, as always, he made it clear that he was addressing us all, of whatever religion or none. Aware that it was the singing, and our children, that brought us together, not any belief in a specifically Christian message.
There was a message all right, though – a jolly good message we could all say a hearty amen to.
It began with a plea to his God: “Save us from hypocrisy.”
The hypocrisy, that is, that lets us sing carols, swap presents and sit down to a sumptuous Christmas lunch then return to a daily life in which we do nothing for the poor and meek of the world.
All fair enough, and all fairly standard – the kind of thing I’ve heard all my life, and would probably have heard more often if I were a regular churchgoer. I’m sure something very similar must have been intoned by another vicar at that long-ago carol service where I sang my solo.
This Christmas in particular, though, the good reverend might have brought his point home more forcefully.
Something, perhaps, about homeless Middle-Easterners being callously turned away because there’s “no room”…
The music world has lost some fine people in 2016. David Bowie and Leonard Cohen both bowed out with typical cool, leaving us in each case with their best album in decades. Albums that meet death head-on, with powerful self-awareness and composure.
Possibly less meaningful, but maybe more enjoyable, now comes another startling return to musical form. And that from a bunch of old geezers who seem to defy the odds merely by being still alive.
Who’d have thought, back in the 1960s when The Rolling Stones were young and rebellious, a deliberate offence to the parental generation, that they’d be pitching an album at the Christmas market in 2016?
Never mind that Mick Jagger, at 73, would be fathering a child two years younger than his great-grandson.
When I read a few weeks ago that Blue & Lonesome was coming, I groaned inwardly. I wondered when the corporate juggernaut would finally grind to a halt. The strange thing, now we’ve heard it, is that it’s such fun. The kind of thing you’d have expected from the young Stones, not the grandad band they are.
The two best new blues albums I’ve heard in many years both came out in 2016. Both, oddly, slightly disturbingly, by white artists born middle-class and now stinking rich, who couldn’t possibly know what it’s like to live in the kind of poverty and deprivation that gave birth to the blues.
Still, here are the Stones, as if reborn. And even better – my favourite album of the year by far – is Blues of Desperation by Joe Bonamassa. The former child prodigy is 39 now, which means he was about a year old when the Stones last made a really good record.
As the great Willie Nelson (still going strong at 83) put it: Gee, ain’t it funny, how time slips away…