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Featured Album December 2023: GreenMatthews "Festive Favourites"

Featured Album December 2023: GreenMatthews "Festive Favourites"

As we near the end of 2023, it's time to celebrate with some festive music from centuries past! The celebrated early/folk duo GreenMatthews have been touring Christmas shows for many years, and this album acts as a retrospective, taking in tracks from now out-of-print recordings including A Victorian Christmas (2011)A Medieval Christmas (2012) and A Brief History of Christmas (2015). With bright, energetic and modern approaches to Christmas songs dating from the early 13th Century right up to 2020, it's the perfect featured album for December.

Festive Favourites
The best of GreenMatthews at Christmas


Click here to order now!

From the artist's press release…

Chris Green and Sophie Matthews play English traditional songs and tunes in a thoroughly 21st-century kick-ass style. Using a blend of ancient instruments such as cittern, English bagpipes and shawm as well as modern folk instruments such as guitar, flute and piano accordion, they breathe new life into material from hundreds of years ago, making it fresh and relevant for a modern audience.  

Festive Favourites is GreenMatthews' first-ever 'best of' album, consisting of their favourite tracks from the albums A Victorian ChristmasA Medieval Christmas and A Brief History of Christmas.

Having sold out of CD copies of all three albums some time ago, Chris and Sophie thought a compilation of their favourite tracks from each would make a nice retrospective of their festive music. It also includes their Virtual Wassail from 2020!


Why The Early Music Shop loves "Festive Favourites":

Twelve years on from the release of their first duo album, one thing is clear by now: GreenMatthews live and breathe Christmas. Their annual festive tours have now produced a range of shows including an interpretation of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, and the popular era-spanning A Brief History of Christmas.

In 2022, they decided to take a retrospective look at their recorded festive output to date, with this 'best of' compilation of tracks recorded for their first three Christmas albums. It's a wide ranging collection, where Chris Green (guitar, mandocello, Renaissance cittern, piano, bass, piano accordion, voice) and Sophie Matthews (recorders, flute, English border bagpipes, shawm, voice) take their listeners through the generations with typical style and energy. It's an easy listen, but the depth of GreenMatthews' work certainly warrants a close listen while your sprouts are boiling...

Beginning with an instrumental version of 15th Century French carol Noel Nouvelet, paired with an Italian Saltarello and Welsh Nos Galan (which is better known to most listeners as the foundations of carol Deck The Halls), it's clear from the off that this is not an album where the musicians feel constrained by historical accuracy. Taking respectful inspiration from their source material, GreenMatthews present their arrangements with a lively folk flavour, resulting in a merry atmosphere making use of their considerable compositional talent. 

Elsewhere, the breadth of GreenMatthews' imagination sees them tackle one of the oldest known songs in the English language, Mirie It Is, with duetting shawms providing a suitably jaunty medieval flavour. Meanwhile, Gaudete draws on 16th Century roots in a song made famous by folk-rock legends Steeleye Span (as noted in the sleeve notes, "it remains the only UK No.1 single in Latin"). GreenMatthews multitrack their vocals for a lovely layered arrangement, in one of the stand-outs from the album.

The collection does, of course, feature songs which perhaps fall outside the usual parameters of 'early music', mostly drawn from their A Victorian Christmas album. The real skill of the ensemble lies in the fact that no piece feels out of place: songs collected by Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sabine Baring-Gould rub shoulders with medieval and renaissance tunes with ease; the distinctive style of GreenMatthews tying the whole thing together.

Towards the end of the album, we take a light-hearted turn with a bouncy Under The Mistletoe, based on a Victorian music hall song, and Chris Green's tongue-in-cheek Virtual Wassail recalling the technological challenges of performing a wassailing concert at the height of the pandemic in 2020 ("We hope that your apples continue to prosper // And likewise your PCs, iPads and smartphones").

Joined by guest musicians Jude Rees (oboe, shawm, English border bagpipes, voice), Tony Millyard (hurdy-gurdy) and Richard Heacock (violin, viola, cello), the album is a fun and festive jaunt through the ages. With Rees adding to most tracks with some soaring oboe lines and strong vocal additions, and Heacock's strings adding considerable atmosphere to the beautiful Bethleham Down, the guests augment the experience without detracting from Chris and Sophie's core contributions.

Touring for the rest of the year with projects as diverse as lectures on art in music, and silent film accompaniment, Chris Green and Sophie Matthews certainly know how to bring things together in December for a huge Christmas party. Why not invite them into your own festive season this year with this lovely collection?


Festive Favourites is available from The Early Music Shop - buy online or in our Snape Maltings showroom now!

Click here to buy now!


An Interview with GreenMatthews

We spoke to Sophie and Chris about the Festive Favourites album and other Christmas questions while they were on the road touring this year's Christmas show. Here's what they had to share with us...

What do you enjoy most about touring at Christmas?

The travelling. We get to see so many different kinds of Christmas decoration. Whether it's Christmas markets or delicate lights in country villages to the skip hire company who had arranged skips in size descending order with lights to create a Christmas tree with the sign 'Merry Skipmas.' 

Where do you look for material and inspiration when putting together your festive setlist?

We're increasingly reimagining our back catalogue. We have five Christmas shows under our belts and we have a lot of songs that we know are firm favourites with our fans but it's nice to breathe new life into them. Chris is also writing more original repertoire that is making its way into our newer shows. 

What's your current favourite Christmas song?

Fairytale of New York. It's a brilliant song and really subverts the usual Christmas song. 

What's been your musical highlight of 2023?

Playing for Ian Hislop. We were asked to feature on a radio series that will air in January 2024 about the history of comedy and he came to our studio to interview us and play some funny songs. 

Do you have any of your own festive traditions in the GreenMatthews household?

The Travelodge Christmas party. Being self employed means there aren't many chances for work outings but we usually have one night where we're staying near the venue and don't have a long drive after the show so we'll have a few drinks before the tour is over. 

What does 2024 have in store for GreenMatthews?

Chris has a rather exciting gig as MD for a theatrical production of The Other Boleyn Girl at the Chichester Festival Theatre in April/May. We're also looking forward to Christmas 2024 when we'll be reviving our expanded lineup show Gaudete! We're joined by Emily Baines on early woodwind and Richard Heacock on violin to make a really good noise with some of our festive back catalogue.

Thank you to Chris and Sophie for taking the time to speak with us!


GreenMatthews perform Mirie It Is live in concert:


What's more, GreenMatthews are on tour throughout December across England with two festive shows. If you're anywhere near our showrooms, you may wish to join them in West Yorkshire or Suffolk on the following dates: why not combine it with a visit to The Early Music Shop?!

03/12/23 BINGLEY Arts Centre (A Brief History of Christmas) tickets

09/12/23 Nr DISS, Wingfield Barns (A Christmas Carol in Concert) tickets

21/12/23 BINGLEY Arts Centre (A Christmas Carol in Concert) tickets

They also perform A Christmas Carol in Concert online via Zoom on 4th December - info here.

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