It's the most wonderful time of the year...
Tom Chaplin (Credit: Josh Shinner)

Tom Chaplin has always held Christmas close to his heart.

It's a magical time after all, a time to spend with those close to you, with family, friends, and loved ones.

Having spent a decade either on the road or in the studio with Keane, the songwriter has come to cherish those moments, the spaces where he can live an ordinary life.

With his debut solo album reigniting those creative fires, Tom opted to stay in the studio, to work on something a little different.

Out now, new album 'Twelve Tales Of Christmas' is a frosted selection of original material and classics re-worked, a festive dose of melancholy draped in David Kosten's beautiful production.

With Tom Chaplin playing a trio of festive shows, the singer pushed aside the crackers and mince pies just long enough for a quick phoner with Clash...

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A lot of artists in the past have tackled a Christmas album, but it's a tradition that has almost fallen by the wayside of late. What were the seeds for your attempt at a festive record?

Well I think part of it was just that I felt a sort of energy to keep writing and be creative, and when I looked at the first solo record kind of coming to an end in the summer I just thought, I wonder whether I could find another project to sink my teeth into? Just to keep it all going.

I felt like I had created this nice little platform with this album and I didn't want to go away for too long… so there was that, and also I think it is something that people have often said to me, you know: "You might have a great voice for Christmas!” I do love Christmas as well so all those things were in the mix.

Then, lastly, I obviously had to try it out first, so I sort of sat down and started writing and I found it quite fruitful so I thought initially that I'll just try and write one or two originals and maybe the rest of it will be covers. But as I embarked on it I began writing about Christmas and doing it in a more realistic way, as opposed to getting too much into the clichés, and I found it very inspirational so it sort of gathered momentum and became a much more bolder and bigger project than I first anticipated.

When did you actually write the material? Did you write this last Christmas or were you sat in the house in July wearing your Santa hat trying to get in the mood?

No, it was very much all done in the Spring and Summer! I think the first song I wrote was probably back in the Spring but having kind of researched Christmas albums a bit and read interviews with various people, that just seems to be the way you have to do it, in order to get it done. You have to kind of have it done and dusted by the end of the summer. I had the record finished at the beginning of September and even that, in terms of getting it ready for release at Christmas time, was kind of leaving it pretty close!

In terms of trying to find a voice for Christmas I just had to... well I think I've experienced enough Christmases in my life now so I was able to kind of go there in my mind with nothing else. Obviously it was warm and sunny weather and I was in the middle of the countryside. It was interesting because I actually met with Howard Blake, the guy who wrote 'Walking in the Air', and the music for The Snowman, and he was saying the exact same thing. He wrote the words for 'Walking In The Air' whilst he was sat on a deck chair in Hyde Park in the middle of June.

I felt kind of reassured with that piece of information, it was just the same thing about it. It was just a necessity really.

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As you mentioned, it's a pretty magical time, it must have been something you loved when you were a kid. So do you rely on personal memories to conjure up that atmosphere?

Yes, I think my idea of Christmas and my love for it was definitely cemented right back in my early childhood, and I think my mum and dad, they definitely made it feel like a very magical time. They did everything they could to create that sense of magic, taking us outside to the garden with sleigh bells on Christmas Eve and fooling us into thinking Santa was on his way, and stockings and all of that. It was great!

And also I think that was one of the first times I got into singing... I was part of choirs and I went carol singing, knocking on peoples' doors with a bucket for charity and singing 'Hark The Herald Angels Sing', so that was sort of engrained in me and I definitely revisit that place in my mind every time Christmas comes around.

I think when it came round to writing the songs, I also wanted to give a more realistic version of what Christmas might be. I think a lot of the original songs on the record represent an alternative view of Christmas. I mean obviously there are elements of joy and hope and all of those things that come with the romanticised version of Christmas, but I found it really interesting to explore the other side of it, lost love and reflecting on the state of the world, which I think we kind of do when we get to Christmas, by the fact that we stop. It was definitely an interesting thing to explore by being more jaded and grown up.

It is quite remarkable how many Christmas songs are actually quite melancholic.

The greatest for me are (The Pogues) 'The Fairytale of New York' and (The Pretenders) '2000 Miles', I suppose is another one which I covered for the record. Even 'Last Christmas', the Wham! song… they are basically broken-hearted songs framed by Christmas, so there's something about the fact that we are all meant to enjoy this time of year and it's meant to be a positive time when we all come together and celebrate. Actually, with that backdrop, it allows you to say something that can be quite sad and melancholy.

How does being a father change your perception of Christmas? Being the gift-giver rather than the gift-receiver, I suppose?

It's pretty joyous. It's definitely reinvigorated my view of Christmas. I was just thinking the other night as I was laying with Freya, my daughter, at bedtime, I was laying on her bed talking to her about all the intricate details of how Santa gets down the chimney and how we won't be able to have a fire on Christmas Eve and it was lovely to see that look of wonder on her face. She's three and a half so she's the perfect age to really enjoy it and be taken in.

When it came to picking the covers, how did you actually go about deciding which ones you wanted to cover?

Well, I didn't intend for there to be quite so many original songs from the outset. There was a long list that got pared down as the process went on and I think given the nature of the bittersweetness of the originals, I still wanted the covers to compliment that bittersweetness, either thematically or just in the way they sounded.

So obviously '2000 Miles' and 'River' are quite sort of sad, indie songs really at their heart, so they felt like good choices. But then with 'Walking In The Air' and 'Stay Another Day', I think the thing that was really fun about those was that obviously the original versions are so distinctive that for me and for David Kosten, who produced the record, the challenge was to try and make them sound as though they had a whole new. '

Walking in the Air', I listened to that song and just sort of played it on the piano and tried to play it in a really simple way, and it occurred to me that, in a way, it's a really dreamy, psychedelic love song and there was a way that we could bring that part out of it. We wanted to create that dreaminess and that psychedelic feel with a Twin Peaks style vibe on the guitars.

With 'Stay Another Day', I looked into it and read about the song and obviously it is about his brother dying, so again there was plenty of darkness in that to be squeezed out. We went for a melancholy version by changing the key quite a bit so it had this poignant feel all the way through it and then it sort of explodes and becomes this emotional explosion at the end. Actually, Tony Mortimer tweeted me to say he thought it was the best version that anyone had done of the song since they'd done it back in the day, which was a lovely compliment to pay!

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How have the gigs been going? Have you got any Christmas rituals before you go out on stage?

There's definitely been mince pies backstage! I guess there's quite a lot of extra production. We've got a choir and a string section and a whole production that's based on the artwork from the record. Also, playing twelve new songs always puts the fear into you. So, last night was the first time that we did it and actually it went really well.

I'm hopeful that if it's a record that people take into their hearts that we might get a chance to resurrect it in years to come. It'll be nice to feel like it has some legs in it. I'd like to take the songs to America and do it out there, so hopefully it won't just be all for these three shows, I hope we get to do it again in the future.

You've been pretty busy, the record has been out, you've got the live shows. Have you found time to do any Christmas shopping yet?

(laughs) I've done it mostly online, which I think is the only way you can do it these days if you spend your life on the road. I think I've pretty much got it all already, it's just in a load of big boxes from Amazon sitting at home, waiting to be opened and wrapped. I think sometime in the next two weeks I'll get a chance to actually sort it all out, but it'll be fine.

Who does the cooking on the big day?

A roast is actually something I'm reasonably proficient at, and I have done the Christmas lunch before, but I thought given that I'm not really around that much in the lead up to Christmas that I'd go to my brother's house and just be a guest this Christmas, so that's all we're doing. So I'm not doing any cooking at all... (laughs) I'm so lazy!

Sounds like the dream ticket!

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'12 Tales Of Christmas' is out now.

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