A brand new Christmas

With misty, rimless, soul-sunk eyes he stumbles vainly and crashes, to the stone-cold floor. A tattered red suit barely conceals his quivering and unkempt girth. Swelling around his slush-coloured beard is an inside-out face that wears age-old scars of kindly disposition. Sack-in-hand and hand-in-sack he groans to his black-stocking feet. And stops. “Feed the world, let them know it’s Christmas time,” sings the radio. The fat, weary old man sinks once again, remembering how it was back in ’84.

The kids, the mums, the dads; they all huddled round the radio when Band Aid were on. And they bought the single. Thirty six million of them. Not a murmur, mind. They knew it was for a good cause; see? And what happens this time? Everyone’s chattering, got an opinion. But then they couldn’t have missed it. It was launched, at the same time, by all five terrestrial channels; and 20 satellite stations. To get more money, you see. Simple. But there’s been some queer talk about it. Nicky Campbell thinks it has a, “more melancholic feel than the original.” And Will Young, well, he surprised me when he said, “people have to be less selfish and start thinking about others. I feel very passionate about it. Since Sunday it’s really gripped me.” I remember when it used to grip ‘em from the start. Music. Humanity. Christmas. Even went to church. I just don’t know what’s changed.

Robin Eggar, a music journalist present at both the 1984 and 2004 Band Aid recordings, thinks he can pinpoint the difference this time around, claiming; “I don’t think anyone can expect this video to have the same impact as the first. In 1984 it was a spontaneous event. This time it is more of a media creation.” A media creation to what end? Gennaro Castaldo, a spokesperson for the HMV chain, sheds some light: “If Band Aid III (sic) is released for Christmas, it might not reach the fervour of 1984, but it could easily sell over a million copies and stimulate interest in the single again.”

In the multi-channelled, transparent world of corporate mass media, the end is endless, endless money. Stimulate interest and maintain a profitable market sector. Such cynicism is not too hard to uncover in the wider, seasonal world. Brand experts, Corporate Edge, claim that when it comes to Christmas, “there is no one clear owner…de-merging Christmas into three separate brands could mean a Christmas without compromise and doing away with the Boxing-Day anticlimax permanently.”

These ideals of product-led choice are echoed in the words of the British Polyphonic Industry chairman, Peter Jamieson. Talking about the singles market he states, “With the industry continuing to invest in new British talent whilst embracing the opportunities provided by new technology, there are strong indicators that the market vitality will only get better.” Strangely it is product-led choice offered by new technology that has recently incurred the wrath of Jamieson, with the BPI taking hefty canes to the rumps of illegal downloaders.

According to the BPI, these illicit, musical fumblings are the cause of a decline in the singles market. But this ignores the impact of the industry’s own slick marketing. As Tom Bromley, author of The One And Only suggests: “pricing a single at half price in the week of release may have helped to gain a high chart entry, but it destroyed the excitement generated by records moving up and down the charts.” He could have a point. At the time of writing, the most recent chart contained no climbers.

But now mp3-purveyors are climbing aboard the oak-panelled charabanc, new technology is presented as a partner. And this conjures a new marketing challenge. Joe Taylor, head of music at Record Of The Day, believes that, “ultimately, we won’t be buying albums because everyone will be getting their music from the internet and just choose the individual tracks they want: the hits and not the boring song.” New publication Rip & Burn support this sentiment, where singles are only rated if they’re killer, not filler.

Bowing on knees in a mechanical way, the fat weary man considers the pinched, crisp world he inhabits. Markets differentiated, products targeted and brands consumed. Was it really so different back in ’84? Under the tree he spies a door and the promise of outside, from where he made his brand entrance all those years ago. Was that when it changed? He looks from door to battered, red suit, to the Dayglo-grey lighting and the sparse, cold setting of media creation. “Hello sunshine,” he mutters, creases a kindly wink and makes a run for it.

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