Carols by Candlelight a time for tradition

Musical Producer John Foreman shares a great insight into putting Carols by Candlelight together with TV Tonight, deftly balancing tradition and gentle evolution.

John Foreman has been doing Carols by Candlelight now he’s starting to forget how many years it’s been.

“I’m pretty sure I started in 2003 but you do lose track after a few years,” he admits.

“I came in under the production stewardship of Peter Wynne who was the Executive Producer. He brought me to Channel Nine to do Logies and Carols by Candlelight. It was a big jump for me because I had been doing Good Morning Australia which was lots of fun and I was doing primetime shows with Idol as well. It all kind of started at the same time.

“All of them were an extension of GMA but all of a sudden there was a budget and lots of other musicians.”

While he began as Musical Director, Foreman has been Musical Producer for a number of years under Executive Producer Adrian Dellevergin.

“He brought me on as a Producer, the main task of which is assembling the talent for the night. I think it’s important in this industry to diversify and learn new skills and I thought it would be good to do some television production.”

Foreman, who is best known to TV audiences for his work on Australian Idol and Good Morning Australia, takes his role on Carols very seriously. But with a history that harks back to 1938, the event carries a great caché.

“With Carols there is quite a sense of responsibility because for many people Carols is almost a religious experience –even for people who aren’t necessarily religious. We all like to have signposts in our years, birthdays, New Year’s Eve, Christmas Day and for many people the Carols by Candlelight on Christmas Eve is one of those that lets you know where you are in the year,” he says.

“It’s watched by families, single people, people who for whatever reason are on their own, people who are gathering for little parties, so we have a responsibility to make sure everyone feels welcome.

“It’s in non-ratings period and there isn’t the same hullabaloo that there is about the Logies, and yet Carols rates incredibly well. It’s one of the higher-rating shows over the whole summer period. People just expect it to be there and to be presented in a certain sort of way.

“So having the responsibility of putting the guest list together is significant because it’s important that we deliver the Carols that is traditional but moves forward gently year by year.”

Performers this year include Marina Prior, Denis Walter, Silvie Paladino, Lucy Durack, Troy Cassar-Daley, David Hobson, Christie Whelan, Emma Pask, Amy Lehpamer, the Love Never Dies cast, the Australian Girls Choir, the National Boys Choir, and Hi-5.

“I love the traditional performers such as Sylvie, Marina, Denis Walter but it’s great to have Stan Walker here for the first time. Another highlight will be James Morrision and his son performing some great jazz, and the Legends of Rock are back: Frankie J. Holden, Wilbur Wilde, Russell Morris, Wendy Stapleton and Ross Wilson.”

Getting the mix between older and younger performers as well as spiritual and non-secular songs, and solos versus singalongs, is a balancing act.

“We try to balance traditional Christmas Carols with Christmas Songs. By traditional I mean a song about the Christmas Story itself. Whether you are Christian or even a Religious person, if you are celebrating Christmas then those songs are a very important part of the mix: such as Away in a Manger, O Holy Night, God Rest ye Merry Gentleman,” e explains.

“Christmas Songs are those which are not really about the Christmas Story: such as Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Rednose Reindeer –which are about the celebration of Christmas in our modern world.

“Occasionally we will have someone sing a song that is not either, but in order to do that it has to link in with a sense of celebration or the spirit of Christmas. Many times artists ask if they can sing their latest single or something from a musical and unfortunately the answer is almost always ‘No.’

“If someone is singing a song from a musical that is a song of Hope or Inspiration that might possibly be something that is appropriate for Carols.

Former Australian Idol singers Ricki-Lee Coulter, Anthony Callea also join Carols Ambassador Stan Walker on the bill.

“There’s always a push from the Executives to include younger performers and I’m always very happy to do that on the proviso they have the ability to belt out a Carol in a manner that is appropriate for the gravitas and seriousness of the night. With performers like Guy Sebastian, Anthony, Ricki-Lee, Paulini, or Stan Walker who is appearing for the first time, they are fantastic vocalists. That’s when I get excited about having them on the show.

“I would never want to book someone just because they were young and flavour of the month and who is popular if they can’t sing.

“There are some performers who have a Carols voice and others who don’t. In order to deliver at Carols by Candlelight you need to be able to fit into the tradition of Carols. Each new person who comes to Carols helps in the evolution of the show and helps to bring the show forward.”

Another returning act is Tim Campbell, who in 2008 sang a duet with partner Anthony Callea, indicative of the show’s evolution in reflecting social change.

Carols is about families and we embrace families of all kinds including religious families, non-religious families, families with parents or partners of the same gender, because that’s a real reflection of the audience who are watching the show on Christmas show. It’s a show that must satisfy the religious people who are watching because they’re entitled to celebrate Christmas in a way that’s appropriate to them,” says Foreman.

“But at the same time, it’s on a commercial network and Australia is a multicultural, diverse society. It’s a fine balance. It is a Christmas show, it’s not a Hanukkah show or a show that celebrates other festivals that may be on at this time of year. It’s watched by many people of different backgrounds and many different levels of religious observance and many different family types.

“In spite of what our politicians might or might not fail to acknowledge there are many types of families in Australia and we at Carols by Candlelight are very happy for them all to be watching at Christmas Eve.

“But Carols isn’t there to make any sort of political statement. It’s about creating memorable moments and I know Adrian Dellevergin loves having performers who can perform with other family members.

“This year Denis Walter will be performing with his niece Julie, James Morrison has his son coming on playing double bass, so that’s one of the great things –seeing artists do things that you may not otherwise get to see them do.”

Planning for the big night begins mid-year between Foreman and Dellevergin, with production cranking up in October, rehearsals in November before the music run with orchestra and choir (tonight Dec 22nd).

More recently, the Dress Rehearsal with cameras (Dec 23rd) has become a crowd-puller itself.

“It’s turned into a major event itself because several thousand people turn up every year and make a donation to Vision Australia. It’s a great insight into how television works because we will rehearse numbers, we start and stop, we run things a second time, artists even turn up in their casual clothes or tracksuits.

Carols is already sold out but the Friday night rehearsal is a fantastic insight into the behind the scenes making of a television show.”

Carols by Candlelight airs 8pm Saturday on Nine.

6 Responses

  1. The thing I don’t like about Carols by Candlelight is that it has been hosted by Sydney personalities since the 1980s (Ray Martin then Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson) because Nine thinks it is a national event. I would rather think it is a Melbourne event with a national audience so why can’t we have a Melbourne personality hosting it?

  2. @Derek -A friend went a couple of years ago. They got there about 2:30 and there was already a long queue which grew even longer (she estimates over a kilometre). Once they opened the gates it took them about 20 minutes to get in.

    Normal crowds on the 24th are usually 10,000 and apparently last year they got 7500 at the rehearsal – I guess it depends if you want to be near the front or are happy just to be there as to how early you arrive.

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