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NICHOLAS MERCER: Laying down a Christmas track

Secret Santa is the theme — and title —  for the newest Christmas song from Sherman Downey.
Secret Santa is the theme — and title — for the newest Christmas song from Sherman Downey. - 123RF Stock Photo

When he thinks of his Christmas song Secret Santa, Sherman Downey’s thoughts turn to "About a Boy."

Based on the book by Nick Hornby, it is a movie from the early 2000s that stars Hugh Grant as a middle-aged man who lives off of the royalties from a popular Christmas song composed by his father.

While the rest of the movie has little to do with the festive season outside of how Grant’s character got his money, it is safe to assume that every Christmas, his father’s song gets played ad nauseam.

It fits exactly into the idea Downey has for his latest track.

“I’d like it to be played so much everybody will be sick of it,” he said from Marystown where he is playing as part of a provincial tour. “I’d like it to be associated with the Christmas season.”

Secret Santa is a frolicking run through the thoughts and feelings of someone ahead of their office gift exchange.

It is a scenario we’ve all been through. There is always that one person you want to get you in a Secret Santa.

It might be your office buddy or an office crush. They’re people who give you the best chance of getting something you’d want.

You never want it to be Bill from accounting. He usually keeps to himself and mutters to himself while walking through the halls. You never talk to the guy and you’d never know what to get him. Chances are, he’d get you something that you’d tuck in the bottom drawer of your desk and forget about.

The song has all of the sounds you’d associate with a song of the season. There are jingle bells, an upbeat flow to the song and a quick lyric delivery that elicit thoughts of wrapping paper and office parties.

“I’ve been wanting to write a Christmas song for a while,” said Downey. “I’d like to have a whole album.”

Writing a Christmas song can’t be easy. Aside from having to navigate the reason for the season, we’ll say, it’s hard to find a topic that hasn’t been written about.

The genre has a wide range of styles and influences. From the Away in a Manager and Silent Night corner to the Pogues’ Fairy Tale of New York and Joe Bonamassa’s Christmas Boogie, there is no shortage of songs that carry vastly different messages.

For his first foray into the Christmas scene, Downey stays away from any religious overtones.

He gives a little nod to the keep-Christ-in-Christmas crowd in Secret Santa, but for the most part, it’s a straight song about a part of the season that office workers tend to enjoy.

“When I was writing, I tried to find something that wasn’t talked about. I tried to find a niche,” he said. “There are a lot of the same themes in all of the old classic Christmas songs. ...They’re still in the playlists and a lot of those seems to be based around religion … which is understandable, but for me, there was enough of that out there.”

Downey loves a Christmas that goes off the beaten path. He loves the obscure ones.

If he hasn’t heard it before, that is a bonus.

He points to tracks by John Prine and Jim Bryson as key examples. His favourite might be Sufjan Stevens’ five-volume set called Songs for Christmas. Another he always turns to is Stompin’ Tom Connors’ Merry Christmas Everybody.

Downey remembers his father always singing the "turkey's on the table now and when you're feelin' able you can take another helpin' if ya will" part of the song around Christmas time. It was long before he even knew who Stompin’ Tom was.

Downey will get to perform that song when he helps out at the St. James All Grade school Christmas concert on Dec. 17.

How is that for some seasonal cheer?


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