Old, new and in between: Myles at Glasgow Square

November 13, 2014
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It’s hard to believe but here it is, the middle of November. Time to think about digging out those decorations and… leave them right where they are. There aren’t many songs about November, it just has to be said. No one talks about the November spirit and it’s rare, if ever, that families gather around and bask in the November glow and share memories of Novembers past and Novembers long ago. No one ever remembers last November and if they do it’s probably best left undiscussed.

This, in part, is the conundrum of discussing, or indeed releasing, a Christmas album in November.
David Myles, – the folky, the jazzy, the rootsy, and the secretly country-y singer songwriter – has done just that, and while he is indeed touring at the moment in support of “It’s Christmas,” do not leap to the assumption that Myles’ show on November 15 at the Glasgow Square Theatre will be a Christmas show. It will not, because, as you know, it’s only November.

“It (will be) a straight show,” Myles said. “I hadn’t thought about making it a Christmas show. I was thinking it might be a little too early. I might play a song just to let people know we have a Christmas album out, I wrote a few songs for the album that I’m really happy about. I’ll play a couple but it won’t be an all-out Christmas show.”

Given that the songs traditionally heard this time of the year are so ingrained in the seasonal fabric, Myles agreed that the prospect of adding to that lexicon can be daunting.

“It’s daunting but I like it and I like it because it set the bar so high,” the songwriter said. “I wasn’t in a rush to more originals on than I needed. It’s an interesting thing. I’ve only recorded one cover on any of my records, it’s always been original material. But this obviously is kind of the opposite of that. You’re covering songs and you’re covering classic songs that are really good where the bar is set so high. So I said, ‘Listen, I’m not going to put the songs on unless they kind of stand out’.”

As your piano playing Gran might tell you, Christmas songs are notoriously chordy but that wasn’t a direction that the often jazzy Myles was keen to follow.

“I think it’s the era,” he said. “A lot of the classics were written in the 40s and 50s, they were written by people like Irving Berlin, jazz guys basically, Tin Pan Alley. Those guys wrote with a lot of chords. They were piano players, not guitar players. They were people who wrote musicals. The approach to pop music was different back then.”

Instead the standards, if you will, Myles chose to record had to feel like and float out like they were his own and he also dipped into the b-sides of Yule, the album cuts of vinyl gone by, and the cast off carols from the land of forgotten 45s.

“The other stuff that I looked at, the other songs on the record were songs that kind of came from a different tradition which was more the country tradition. I do a Buck Owens cover (‘Blue Christmas Lights’), I do ‘White Christmas’ (in a) slow, country type vibe. I’m quite into country music right now.”

Despite their seasonal framework his original songs ‘It’s Christmas’, ‘The Gift’ and ‘Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo’ may, in fact, be indicators of the David Myles yet to come.

“Strangely enough I kind of feel like the three originals are among the three best songs I’ve ever written,” Myles said. “I think I felt like they really need to serve a purpose. They needed to be reflective of who I am and my views on the season and what it means to me. But also they needed to be special in the same way those classic Christmas songs are special. It actually helped me to raise the bar. I like that challenge.”

Country music, that is classic country artists like Merle Haggard or Buck Owens, provided him with a template, a direction, and a rule book with which to work.

“A lot of the approach was to try to find the message, clarity in the lyrics,” Myles said. “That’s what I like about country music, it’s so lyrically orientated. There’s always a story. It gets accused of being simple but the more you get into it it’s all poetry.”

Lyrics and tinsel-laced verse aside, “It’s Christmas” may be sonically suggestive of future offerings from Myles. “We recorded this record without headphones, all in the same room, live in a way that was very representative of how we sound when we play it. The approach we took was kind of 1950s. It was tough but it sounds like us,” Myles said.

“It’s probably the record that sounds most like me. It was a really powerful experience to make the record like that. It felt so natural.”

Singer songwriter David Myles, and his band, will be performing (some) new and plenty of old material at Glasgow Square on November 15. Get your tickets here.

by Aaron Cameron, The Pictou Advocate