Father Josef Mohr and Franz Gruber can’t have known what they were doing. They were the two worthies who between them made probably the earliest mash-up known to man in an Austrian church on Christmas Eve 1818. Silent Night has always seemed to me to be a kind of carol of two halves: words that are celebratory, jubilant even, are allied to a melody that is too often twisted to be sickly sentimental and cloying. The best version in my opinion was put down by Emma Kirkby, which returned to the original accompaniment with guitar (not forgetting Schnittke’s ghostly version played as if on an increasingly broken musical box). However, I hesitate to post that here since Peel is not known to have played it. Neither can I find any time that he broadcast the Dickies’ breakneck, barely respectful deconstruction, so that’s not here either.
Instead, we know for sure that the two versions included here were Peel faves. In 1976, art rockers Can released a single on Virgin that did not chart, but found its way into Peel’s playlists for years afterwards. The band seem to have robbed the music of all sentimentality (always a good thing) and also the words, producing a somewhat mechanised but fascinating soundscape. This was in the period following their flirtation with chart success in the shape of I Want More, and it is surprising that this single did not reach the top 40.
The reggae compilation A Yardstyle Christmas produced a Peel constant in the Tamlins’ smooth and infectious remodelling, backed by Trinity’s inspired toasting, which can be glimpsed as a kind of add-on at the end. The Tamlins themselves toured widely with Peter Tosh, and backed Delroy Wilson, among others, Derrick Lara’s high vocals being reminiscent of the Philadelphia sound. They are probably best remembered for covering Randy Newman’s Baltimore, produced by Sly and Robbie, beyond which they seem to have produced little.
Can, Silent Night
Tamlins & Trinity, Silent Night