Last year I wrote a blog recommending both my favourite folk music, as well as a blog sharing our family's favourite Christmas music. This time, I thought I would combine the two, and share some folky Christmas music with you all! After all, most carols are great examples of folk music anyway, often being passed down in communities through aural tradition, and having memorable, easy to sing tunes so anyone can enjoy and join in!
Starting off with a traditional carol, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen but folk-ified by German ‘Speedfolk’ band, Fiddler’s Green. This track comes from their 2022 Christmas Album ‘Seven Holy Nights’ that includes other Christmas favourites such as I saw three ships and Jingle bells, as well as classic Irish folk tunes such as Danny Boy and Mull of Kintyre. If you like your Celtic folk, heavy-metal, and Christmas music all rolled into one, this is the one for you!
Sea-shanty singing legends The Longest Johns have also brought out an original single this year, titled ‘It’s Hard to Be a Shantyman (On Christmas), describing the troubles of being a shanty man at sea over the Christmas period. Exploring themes of loneliness, the lack of yuletide cheer, and a disappointing cup of tea, The Longest Johns merge Christmas ballad style instrumentation with sea shanty style harmony in this charming yet melancholy tune.
Continuing with the sea shanty theme, unless you have been living under a rock, you will have heard ‘The Wellerman’ at some point over the last couple of years after it shot to fame being sung online during one of the early lockdowns. You know, ‘There once was a ship that put to sea…’ etc. Well, shanty group conveniently called ‘The Wellermen’ have released a Christmas themed version, re-telling the fight between whale and whaling ship, this time complete with the all important sleigh-bells, glockenspiel, and tubular bells!
On a more general midwinter theme, I can’t help but recommend the 2019 album ‘Awake Arise: A Winter Album’ by Laidy Maisery, Jimmy Aldridge and Sid Goldsmith, full of folk inspired carol arrangements, traditional wintery music and original pieces composed to brighten the darkest season of the year. The two tracks I would recommend listening to are Sing We All Merrily and Hope Is Before Us. Featuring accordions, fiddles, folky harmonies and rousing choruses, this is sure to be a new favourite for many.
Moving back in time a bit, old Irish favourites The Clancy Brothers also have a christmas album, released in 1969, featuring traditional carols in true Irish pub folk style. Worth listening to is ‘Christmas In Carrick’, with ceilidh style snare drum, ullean pipes providing the melody and raucous Irish singing at its best.
A musician from last year’s article is also worth mentioning here; early-english folk legend Maddy Prior. Her 2010 album with The Carnival Band explores Vaughan Williams’ folk-influenced arrangements of traditional carols, folk songs and hymns. One of my favourite is the Drinking Song, an anonymous 16th Century folk song exploring losing one’s appetite with age yet retaining the enjoyment of ‘Jolly good ale and old’.
And finally, it should go without saying, but what folky Christmas playlist would be complete without The Pogues' rather gloomy but ever enduring classic Fairytale of New York?
I hope you've found something in this selection that you enjoyed - it is by no means an exhaustive list, but I've tried to choose a wide range of styles that hopefully creates a good starting point for you to explore more folky Christmas music!