Ahh, Christmas. The time of year where we all dust off our copies of the Beach Boys and Phil Spector yuletide albums, family members get whacko’d on sherry and re-enact Fairytale Of New York (for the record, this has never happened at my house, but it must’ve somewhere) and a whole host of Christmas shows come along to tempt us with one final blast of live music for the year. Come next month, though, a very special one’s happening. None other than Lauren Laverne has curated an evening featuring star turns from the likes of Spiritualized and Fyfe Dangerfield, as well as Caitlin Moran, and Stuart Maconie. All in the name of a good cause - Save The Children - and in the rather lovely setting of Union Chapel. Also on the bill for the night, the brilliant Summer Camp, so we decided to call up Elizabeth Sankey, find out what they’ve got lined up and what the show means to them.
Starting from the beginning, what are your feelings at being asked to play and how did it all come about?
It actually all came about via Twitter. Last year I made some mince pies for our Pledge Music show which we had at Christmas and everyone was asking if I was going to make mince pies again this year. The answer was yes, but I wasn’t really going to go around to everyone’s house delivering them so we thought about doing a Christmas show. Lauren Laverne saw it and said that we could play the Save The Children Christmas show that she was doing and naturally we said “of course!” So that was that.
Speaking of Lauren Laverne, do you feel that her involvement, as someone who is regarded as very culturally aware (as opposed to ‘just’ a TV personality etc), has benefited or added a sense of added credibility to the event as a whole?
I actually think a lot of people on the telly are culturally aware, to be honest. I think Lauren’s great because of who she is and her personality. She’s very inclusive with people and very good at getting people involved and making them feel like they’re a part of something. Really what I think Lauren brings to it is her own personality and she’s a genuinely wonderful, lovely person. You believe in what she’s doing and what she’s saying and when she speaks people do listen. I don’t really want to speak badly of anyone else, but she’s wonderful. Plus she’s a mother, she has children, and she has that as her background as well.
Looking at the line-up you’ve got the likes of Spiritualized, Band Of Skulls and Fyfe Dangerfield also playing. As a musician does such an impressive and eclectic line up feeling excited/nervous, or will you just get your head down and focus on your own performance?
Well, I’m really excited to see people like Caitlin Moran. As a musician, you tend to get used to playing with other bands on the same people, and it’s really fun and generally people are very nice and you feel a part of something. But it’s always really interesting when you have someone completely different on the bill and to be able to see what they do. Whenever we do something comedy-related or on a bill with comedians, it’s always really interesting because Jeremy and I are both really interested in comedy and theatre so it’s always great to have things like going on alongside the music.
It’s also great for the audience and as a band it opens you up to a different kind of audience. The type of people who’d go and see Caitlin Moran might be totally different to the type of audience going to see us supporting Robyn or something, so that’s always good. I can’t wait to see what it’s like. It’s going to be really fun I think. Obviously we’re both huge fans of Spiritualized, so we’ll be watching on… in awe.
With regard to the readings and comedy, what difference do you think having a diverse bill makes to these sorts of events, either specifically to this type of event or on a general level?
In terms of organising these sorts of charity events, getting the bill right is very difficult, I think. You want people to feel that they’re there because they want to be there, and also it happens to be for a good cause. I think the best charity events I’ve been to are the ones where I’d have paid double to see the people performing. That leaves you with such a good feeling not only for the charity but also for the people who have taken part. So getting the bill right is difficult, and can be difficult when you’ve got music and spoken work and different types of performances combined. I think with Lauren at the forefront if it all, she’s managed to ask people who she knows and are close to anyway. I think it’s going to be a wonderful opportunity to look at a different kind of world and seeing people that you might already know, but in a different context and how they’re all going to fit in and work. Which is great.
Were you not tempted to do some sort of spoken word performance?
As opposed to playing?
Or as well as!
Maybe I will! Maybe I’ll do some stand-up. No, I feel much more comfortable singing than I do speaking, which is probably becoming evident in my interview technique! I’d be very nervous about getting the tone right, to be honest because Save The Children is something which I feel so strongly about and is a charity which I’d always want to support and things for. But at the same time I feel so unconfident standing on a stage and picking something that was relevant without it getting too emotional or it being the wrong tone. If they gave me something to read then maybe I would do that but I think it’s much braver so stand up and say something rather than sing.
Turning to your performance, you’ll be performing acoustically as you’ve done variously before. Do you find that you have to take a different approach when performing acoustically than when doing a full show?
Yeah, you have to because it’s a completely different setting and obviously the instrumentation will be different with usually only a guitar and a piano – we never use drums when playing acoustically, I think it sounds much nicer with just a vocal and basic instrumentation. There are certain songs of ours that work acoustically and others that don’t – sometimes we do the ones that don’t anyway! We love the Union Chapel so much, and it’s actually the first place I ever sang so it’s always nice to go back there. We did something there last year as well for a different charity and it just works so well. I think because it’s a church having drums in the mix just makes it a bit deafening and a bit weird. For a band at our level anyway. I’m sure Spiritualized will make it incredible.
As band that predominantly make electronic music is it quite difficult to reimagine it acoustically on occasion?
No, because we write it on piano or guitar and then we work it up. But to be honest, as much as possible these days we try to put live drums on it as much as possible rather than electronic drums. It might be a synth instead of a piano but we know how to strip it all back because it was written acoustically in the first place.
You talked about Union Chapel as a performance space earlier on. With it now slated for an imminent closure what are your feelings on potentially performing one of the final shows there?
It’s very, very sad. It’s one of the best venues in London and perhaps even my favourite. I saw Daniel Kitson kicking depression in the crotch there, I’ve seen Owen Pallet there, I’ve played there several times, I went there to see Jeremy play a couple of times before we were in a band together and as I said it was the first place I ever sang on stage, as part of Summer Camp. On a personal level it’s very sad but I also think from London’s perspective it’s very sad because while there are loads of great venues in London the Union Chapel is very special, and the sound is incredible because of the acoustics. It would be a real shame for it to go.
Finally, with the date coinciding with Save The Children’s official Christmas jumper day, describe your favourite Christmas jumper (which I assume you’ll be wearing onstage). Or is it a secret?
I don’t have any Christmas jumpers! I’m really into knitwear and really into cardigans, and in fact I remember a certain journalist, upon being told that it was in fact me and Jeremy in Summer Camp, saying to me, “You’ve got to stop wearing your cardigans, you look really twee”, so I’ve got a thing about not wearing cardigans right now. But I’ve got loads of winter-y things, like this Eskimo coat that I wear all the time, it’s baby blue and really vintage and has felt cut-outs of sailors killing seals on the side, which is nice. I’ve got a pink one that has people skiing on it, and my mum got me one when she went to Peru. An alpaca one with, well, alpacas on it. I don’t really know what I’m going to wear. Maybe I’ll wear, I don’t know, a bikini or something.
Summer Camp play the Save The Children Christmas Tree Sessions at Union Chapel later today (14th December). Tickets are £40 + booking fee.