Tony Cummings investigated the fascinating lives of Celtic-styled singer/songwriters NIGEL CAMERON & JULIE CAMERON-HALL

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Julie: We got a collection of our most favourite and meaningful Christmas songs. With some of them, we took lyrics and put them to the old Irish tunes, just to bring a freshness. We did 'O Little Town Of Bethlehem' to the tune of 'Star Of The County Down', and it fits perfectly. We realised there was a theme coming through. Often, when you choose to celebrate something, God reveals some aspect of the season to you that you wouldn't otherwise have experienced. For us, on the Christmas album, it was all about the Prince of Peace and how he is able to cause wars to cease. He's the only God who can intervene in human affairs, cause wars to cease and completely change the human condition. We found some really powerful hymns.

Nigel: We discovered that one, 'It Came Upon A Midnight Clear'.

Julie: Oh my goodness! "Angels bending near the earth."

Nigel: We weren't that fussed on the original tune, but the lyrics - that line, "Man at war with man hears not the love song which they bring. So hush the noise, you men of strife, and hear the angels sing." We thought, 'We've got to do something with that!' Doing "Star Of The County Down" to a Christmas carol, what we started to realise was people do love the original melodies, so on a Christmas album we're going to have to weave in enough of the original melodies that makes it Christmassy. But we discovered there's a real power in singing these lyrics to a different melody, because it's so automatic every Christmas. We made some happy accidents; we call them Jehovah's sneaky moments. For example, a friend of ours, Phil Hart, who's a beautiful guitar player, sent us a demo of a couple of folk tunes he'd been recording.

Julie: He called them demos, but we were saying, 'There's no way those are demos: they're absolutely beautiful. Can we add lyrics to them even though you intended them to be instrumental?' He said, 'Go for it.' And he's become part of our Celtish group now whenever we travel.

Tony: 'Celtish Christmas' has an ancient recording at the end of it.

Julie: Nigel had got these really old, crackly recordings on his first tape-player, in the early '70s, of his family singing carols.

Nigel: It was a C7 cassette that came with the tape-recorder.

Julie: I had a recording, on a reel-to-reel, of my grandpa, in the early '60s, singing this old folk song about a robin hopping through the window at Christmastime. We were looking at each other, 'Can we make something beautiful out of these recordings, and add them as a bonus track at the end of the album as a tribute to the people who have made us who we are?'

Nigel: I remembered when I played Chris Smith this reference. Phil Keaggy, on an album called 'Way Back Home', uncovered a recording of his great-grandfather singing, before Phil was even born. He incorporated it in this beautiful piece of guitar music that celebrated his family. I remember in the '90s, when I heard that, being really moved by it. When we started to realise we both had these treasured recordings - really beautiful, but really scratchy - we thought we could do something similar.

Julie: It's a little gem at the end. It's not part of the album - it's a bonus - but it's kind of important. Honouring where you've come from is a really important thing that we forget. Christmas is a time where you remember people who are not there anymore. CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.