If I’m honest, Don’t Let The Winter Freeze Your Heart was mostly influenced by A Winter’s Tale by David Essex. In fact, when I look back at all the other music released in 1982 that had a big impact on my later life – The Dreaming by Kate Bush, Sulk by the Associates, Big Science by Laurie Anderson, The Lexicon of Love by ABC, – I have to admit that this one song may have influenced my songwriting more than any of it.
A Winter’s Tale made a big impression on me as a ten-year-old. In particular I remember thinking that ‘the snow has covered all your footsteps and I can follow you no more’ was a really beautiful metaphor. The older me would think it was a bit creepy that a man was following his ex-girlfriend around through the snow, but there we are. What struck me most, though, was the sense of absolute resignation about the whole thing – ‘Why should the world take notice of one more love that’s failed? On a worldwide scale we’re just another winter’s tale.” This was someone who had been deeply hurt, admitting that in the grand scheme of things it didn’t matter, that they didn’t matter. How often do you hear that kind of humility in pop music? More often, pop singers talk about love as if nobody has been heartbroken before them, and as if nobody’s heartbreak is more important than theirs.
A Winter’s Tale was the first Christmas song that stuck in my head, and so it had a formative influence on my idea of what a Christmas song was. To this day, the only Christmas songs I really like – the only ones I believe – are the sad ones, like Stop the Cavalry or Fairytale of New York, or the weird ones, like Santa’s Beard by They Might Be Giants. My first attempt at writing my own Christmas song was a teenage home recording called Santa Claus Fell in Love, a tragic tale about Santa falling in love ‘with a girl who looked like Rudolf’, having a summer-long romance, shaving his beard off, then having to leave her with no explanation in the autumn because he couldn’t bring himself to tell her his secret identity. It’s a deliberately ridiculous song, written as a joke, but on some level I think it was really about my inability to talk openly about my own experience of panic attacks and depression.
Don’t Let The Winter Freeze Your Heart was my first proper attempt to create a Christmas ‘hit’, except that, being me, I thought the way to do this was to write a song about death and suicidal thoughts. One of the key lines in the song is “you know to survive you’ve got to keep warm but you just want to give up, cry, and throw the doors open”. It was only this week that I noticed there’s a similar line right at the start of A Winter’s Tale – “The nights are colder now, maybe I should close the door.” I don’t think I’d noticed how bleak that line is until now. What is this man doing leaving his door open when, in the very next line, he tells you that it’s already cold enough outside for the snow to completely cover up someone’s footsteps? Yes mate, maybe you should close the door before you freeze to death. But the way the line is sung suggests he’s going to do no such thing. In some ways, A Winter’s Tale actually reads like a suicide note.
As ever, I’m really not selling myself very well here. I’ll try and put a more positive spin on it. Don’t Let The Winter Freeze Your Heart is also intended to be a song of comfort. I would genuinely like you to feel better, feel less sad, after listening to this song. As the lyrics say, ‘you need to remember that the weather’s just weather and the chill of this winter will not last forever, so if you do one thing between now and Spring, don’t let the winter freeze your heart.” If the song is about depression it’s also intended to offer hope that depression passes, that you’ll feel better soon, that summer will return. It feels fitting, then, that its most high profile public airing to date has been as the soundtrack to a trailer for the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.
There are two versions of Don’t Let The Winter Freeze Your Heart. The original version was on the Seafieldroad album The Winter of 88. For the version on the new album we added drums and percussion by Stu Brown, and a real accordion part courtesy of Hamish’s friend Kim Tebble. Towards the end of the mixing process Hamish messaged me to say that he’d also added in sleigh bells and tubular bells to make it sound more festive. “Our kitchen radio has been tuned to a Christmas station since December 1st,” he wrote, “so this may have influenced things. Struck me that this is the ‘big’ production of the record and your chance to make the lucrative Christmas canon.” I thought about this for a wee while and then asked myself, what would David Essex do? Aye, alright, I replied.