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An Ulster Log: Gentleman Jim and the simple joy of Jingle Bells

By Eddie McIlwaine

gentleman Jim Reeves has just saved my Christmas. Okay, I know Jim has been dead since 1964, but his Yuletide hit, Jingle Bells, has just been digitised and restored, and it just happens to be my favourite in the season of goodwill.

But here's the rub: James Pierpoint (1822-1893) wrote Jingle Bells in 1857, not as a Christmas song at all but to celebrate Thanksgiving in America.

But who cares? This simple ditty has fitted with my idea of how the Yuletide atmosphere should be from my childhood days at Carnmoney Primary school, when teacher Mrs Hagan spread a white sheet on the classroom floor just before the Christmas break-up and then had us scrambling for the dolly mixtures she scattered on the sheet while we sang Jingle Bells at the top of our voices:

Dashing through the snow

In a one-horse open sleigh

O'er the fields we go

Laughing all the way

Bells on bobtail ring

Making spirits bright

What fun it is to laugh and sing

A sleighing song tonight.

I've loved Jingle Bells in my own simple Yuletide way ever since, and more so when Jim Reeves recorded it in his own special way just before his death in a plane crash in his early 40s, 50 years ago in 1964.

Then, last year, I lost my one worn, taped copy of Gentleman Jim's version, and the one by Bing Crosby did nothing for me.

So, Jim Reeves is really going to cheer me up this Christmas time with Jingle Bells as only he could perform it. He's been dead a long, long time, so this really is a little bit of Christmas past for me.

There is a bonus on a 50th anniversary eight-CD set of 170 songs from H&H Music: it includes Jim singing several other Christmas specials such as White Christmas, Mary's Boy Child, An Old Christmas Card and even Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Blue Christmas is there too, but there's no chance I'll be blue on December 25.

Star Carlie's debut a Christmas cracker

Christmas is going to come a wee bit early for 16-year-old Carlie Rosbotham (she still believes in Santa although she won't admit it) when she takes to the stage at the Waterfront on Thursday, December 18 for her debut in the Music Box Musical, which also runs on the Friday and Saturday.

For Carlie has just won a competition to find a star sponsored by the Spar chain and will be up there in the spotlight for this Yule production with Peter Corry, who will be singing tracks from his new album, and polished actor Ian McElhinney, who I keep hoping will return to Coronation Street one of these weeks.

Carlie, the Spar Star from Lisburn, won the title from a huge entry list in the contest and will be singing a number called Let It Go from the movie Frozen, which is all the rage.

The Corrys are kind of taking over Christmas as on Saturday, December 13 Alan Corry, brother of Peter, will be conducting his Festival Brass in a Yule concert at Glenmachon Church of God with New Lyric Operatic in support.

Plasterer Claude was a cut above the rest ...

Remember my story about all the oddball nicknames which were used once upon a time at the shipyard?

Well it has thrown up a Harland & Wolff tale about a demon barber who was really a plasterer by trade, but who was also a part-time hairdresser who cut the hair of his workmates in tea breaks and at lunchtime.

"His name was Claude and he was a real demon with the scissors," says former joiner Bert Williamson. "He was always in a hurry to chalk up as many back and sides as possible before being called back to his work on the boats. So now and then he left a bleeding ear or a tender scalp."

Claude functioned at the yard in the 50s and early 60s and died soon after going into retirement.

"But some of us were convinced his ghost was still flitting around the yard for some years after his passing. You see he really loved H&W even though he was called a demon barber," adds Bert.

Hugo teary-eyed over lovely ballad

Radio Ulster presenter Hugo Duncan admits he had a tear in his eye the other afternoon when Billy McFarland sang that romantic old ballad, If I Had My Life To Live Over, on his programme.

Hugo hadn't heard the ditty for a while and the lyrics really got to him. If I Had My Life was a hit for Eddy Arnold in the Fifties and goes like this:

If I had my life to live over

I'd do the same things again

I'd still want to roam to the place we call home

Where my happiness never would end.

I'd meet you when school days were onward

And walk through the lanes that we'd knew

If I had my life to live over

I'd still fall in love with you.

George is still host with the most

Broadcaster George Jones (70) likes to get around. He has been with the BBC, Downtown Radio (twice), U105 and is now on the air every Sunday afternoon with Q Radio, which is beamed around the province.

He's also setting a record on the stage with Do You Come Here Often? It's a musical about to enter its 18th season, after Christmas at the Waterfront from December 27-29, before going to Dublin and Londonderry. Jones has been the host in every single Do You Come Here Often? production here in those 17 years.

Barry Woods, who heads up the backing band, comes close to Jones. He missed only one of the 17 shows. Remember Jones and Woods when they were together in Clubsound?

One Bill I'm happy to see again

Do you remember Bill Haley and his hit Rock Around The Clock that took the pop world by storm 60 years ago?

I remember the movie featuring the racy tune, which had us all dancing in the aisles back at the old Ritz cinema in Fisherwick Place.

Whisper it softly, but a seat or two got ripped up that year of 1955.

Anyway, a celebration of the late Bill and his Rock Around The Clock is being planned for the Opera House.

The tune is as emotive as ever, but in six decades we have all calmed down a little bit.

So the Opera House seats are safe.

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