Saturday, 7 December 2013

A Very Rees--Mogg Christmas D is for "Drummer Boy"

When I was a very small child I was taken one day to see a theatrical presentation of "The Sound of Music", the tale of a nun who falls beguilingly in love with an Austrian naval captain and his seven delightful children. As I sat in the stalls with my notebook and  pencil, waiting for the curtain to rise, I confess that my expectations were low. Even at the age of six I had very strong views on how theatrical productions should be staged and felt, as I still do, that if the performers were neither grossly overweight nor singing in Italian, something was probably very terribly amiss.

My initial scepticism was not alleviated by the niggling inconsistency of the father's profession. Why on earth would a land-locked country like Austria be in need of a navy at all?  However, by the denouement in the convent graveyard, where the demonological "Rolf" tries to 'entrap the Von Trapps', my pencil and notebook had been cast aside and it was all I could do to stop my little lungs from shouting "Liesl! Run! Run for your very life!" The scene remains for my shilling the most terrifying moment in modern stage drama.

Shortly afterwards I began to listen to the recordings of the real Von Trapp Family singers and their bakerlite discs, sung rather shrilly and at varying speeds on my wind up gramophone were  to become the soundtrack to my teenage years in the 1980s. Indeed, my first girl-friend Susan, was wooed to the joyful Es Wolt Ein Jagerlein Jagen

No Christmas was complete without my take on the Von Trapp Family's rendition of my favourite song of all - The Little Drummer Boy. Accompanied by my cousin Earnest on the alpenhorn, while my Aunt tapped out the rhythm on a marble bust of Napoleon, I would thrill visitors with my rendition and fight off compliments in the vestibule afterwards.

And then one day my sister took me aside and insisted I listen to the 'Bing Crosby and David Bowie' version that she had recently purchased on a 7 inch disc. I was instantly appalled. The tempo was wrong, an additional tune had been added, the drum was barely audible and there was no alpenhorn at all. In subsequent years this dreary dirge has become the 'standard' while the Von Trapp version has slipped from the collective memory.

I have tried in vain to track down a recording of the Von Trapps singing the original, but like the message boy "Rolf" I am afraid I have failed you. As you decorate your trees or pen those 'last minute' cards, take a moment to remember the real Von Trapps, think of the small boy who had nothing to give the Christ child but a pathetic drum beat and try to excise the ghastly "Bing" and his chum Mr Bowie from your ears. Christmas is no more about 'Bing' Crosby than it is about tarmac and his monopolisation of the season is - as you will discover if you read on - something of an obsession of mine.


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