Aled Jones speaks to Country Life about his favourite Christmas carols and Christmas traditions.
Aled Jones became a household name when his recording of ‘Walking in the Air’ — Howard Blake’s haunting tune, originally written for the iconic adaptation of The Snowman by Raymond Briggs — became a top 10 hit in 1985.
His step into the limelight was something of a longshot. Aled hadn’t actually sung the song for the original film of The Snowman in 1982 (that was the voice of choirboy Peter Auty) but the 14-year-old from North Wales was asked to record the vocals for a new version which was recorded for a TV advert. It was subsequently released as a single, and the rest is history.
Almost 40 years on, the erstwhile angelic choirboy has forged a career as both a singer and a much-loved broadcaster. This weekend, he’s presenting Classic FM’s Carols by Candlelight with Viking, on Christmas Eve at 5.30pm; and ahead of the show he spoke to us to answer a few questions.
What is your favourite Christmas carol?
The one I’m singing for Classic FM’s Carols by Candlelight is probably the favourite at the moment, which is Still, still, still. It’s a traditional Austrian carol. And it’s very apt for the world we live in because it’s all about keeping our children safe and the nations of the world.
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But I also love the simplistic, childish ones that I sang at school, that take me back to Llandegfan primary school in North Wales, where I’d be sitting cross-legged on a uncomfortable wooden floor, with the smell of lunch coming through the shutters and hearing these carols for the first time and just thinking they are so magical. They describe a scene that feels kind of cinematic in a way. The cattle are lowing, a baby awakes, and it’s so cinematic. And when I hear them now, it just kind of brings back those memories.
Do you have any Christmas traditions in the Jones household?
We’re very traditional in everything really. We eat traditional food, we listen to traditional music and play games that we wouldn’t think about playing at any other time a year and the same with TV as well. It’s just being together and having quality time.
I don’t want to sound like a certain movie, but there’s no place like home. What often happens is that I’m working solidly throughout December, so when I eventually get to close the front door and be with family, that is the most special location. And even then, I listen to loads of music and carols and stuff. You know it’s a real mix of the traditional carols and Michael Bublé like everyone else.
What can listeners expect from Classic FM’s Carols by Candlelight programme?
It has some of the most beautiful carols – a real celebration of Christmas – coming from one of the most special places in London [St Bartholomew-the-Great]. It’s the oldest church in London. It’s 900 years old this year, and everyone that walks in, the first thing they say is I know this church. I must have been here before… It was the church that they used in [the film] Four Weddings and a Funeral. We have the wonderful choir [of St Bartholomew] performing and, with their director Rupert Gough, they’re singing everything from the carols that you’d expect, like Ding Dong, Merrily on High and all these Christmas songs, but also some beautiful pieces of music as well.
We have two of the Kanneh-Masons – Konya and Braimah Kanneh-Mason. They’re giving us an insight into their Christmas because Christmas apparently, by all accounts, is a time when all of them are under one roof and they all perform together. So it’s some of their own arrangements of these carols, like I Saw Three Ships. There are also a few readings by Classic FM presenters. Anne-Marie Minhall is reading, as is Ritula Shah, and I’m also doing a reading.
What is your current favourite piece of classical music?
I’m very much like the Classic FM listener. I go for the Rachmaninovs and the Vaughan Williams and it changes quite a lot. I don’t have one particular piece.
The first piece of orchestral music that got me into classical music was the Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, for the simple reason that it was the first one I heard performed by an orchestra. And I happened to be sitting in the middle of that orchestra as a child, because I was recording an album and I’d done my bit.
The orchestra were performing a piece on the album, and so they launched into this piece with me sitting in the middle of the violins and violas and cellos, and I’ve never felt so exhilarated. It was a hundred-piece orchestra and it was like, wow, this sounds incredible.
How do you think travel and music go hand in hand?
Well I have travelled all over the world because of music. I’ve been very, very fortunate in that Monday to Friday, when I was a kid, I was at David Hughes Comprehensive school, and then Friday, I’d be jetting off all over the world. If not LA, to the Hollywood Bowl, to the Vatican, to Europe, wherever. And now as an adult, I’ve been very fortunate to be able to go to Australia 15 times, I think. It still blows my mind really that my music is appreciated on the other side of the world.
In Australia, the stuff I sing is almost revered really because of its spirituality and certain pieces resonate with people a lot more. They seem to love Pie Jesu by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It almost gets a standing ovation before I’ve started.
Which destination is next on your holiday wish list?
That’s tricky. I’d like to do a concert in Greenland or Antarctica or somewhere like that. I would love to do more in the United States and also Japan as well. I went to Japan for the first time when my voice was broken, just broken. I would love to go back and maybe tour there more.
The biggest problem with travel and music, I would say, is that you never really get to see places. And it was becoming a joke with Australia because the only places I’d ever see would be Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and then occasionally Adelaide and Perth. And so I opened my big mouth about five years ago, when a dear lady came up to me and said that she travelled six hours to come and see me in Sydney. And I said, well, next time I’ll come to you. And the record company heard and said, well do you fancy doing a regional tour? And so I was in a van for 7000 miles for a month touring the regions of Australia all down the east coast. And it was brilliant because I saw places that I would never ever see. I felt almost like a local on the back of it.
What is your favourite Christmas destination?
Vienna is definitely up there. Vienna is beautiful. I think in London, we’re very lucky as well. There are some incredible locations and so many churches in London, and the way that they’re decked out for Christmas is beautiful.