Absolute Snowieginners: The Snowman - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Absolute Snowieginners: The Snowman

Chris Morley spends his winters at home, by the fire...
Before we all head off on our respective Christmas holidays, it would be remiss of us not to revisit a bit of a family classic with David Bowie Snowie popping up to record a second introduction for the animated adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ original festive children’s book The Snowman.



But how did it happen in the first place? The most wonderful of answers would be that it was down to a sprinkling of Christmas magic- alas, no…. As always, the truth is a little more prosaic! It all boiled down to a desire to have a famous name associated with the film to help sell The Snowman to the US networks. Sir Laurence Olivier & Julie Andrews were among the names bandied about before the decision was taken to drag someone from rock & roll into the far more sedate world of children’s festive fun.

The Bowieman was at least familiar with author Raymond Briggs’ work, a noted fan of his comic story When The Wind Blows, to which he contributed the title track of its own later treatment for telly three years after his fun with The Snowman.



Briggs himself had provided the original introduction for The Snowman, walking through a field in rural Sussex describing his inspiration for the story, which then transitions into the animated landscape of the film. The Bowieman, though, reminisced about his youth in an attic full of memories...
“Frost on the window, and snow. Snowballs and making snowmen. One winter I made a really big snowman and he got this scarf for me. You see, he was a real snowman. That winter brought the heaviest snow I’d ever seen. The snow fell steadily all through the night. And when I woke up, the room was full of light and silence, and I knew then it was to be a magical day.”
With those words David provided an unlikely extension of something he’d subtly been working at all along, whether it be as Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke or any of his other musical personas - taking on a character. Only here he presented himself as the real James, the boy who built that special snowman friend only to have the nasty old sun come along & melt him away!

Nonetheless it would seem Briggs himself was unmoved, having his original introduction shoved aside in a sense. Speaking to the BBC in 2017, Raymond remembered...
“I did an introduction to the Snowman film, and the Americans wanted somebody more important than me, quite rightly. And they somehow got David Bowie to do it. He got it all wrong, terribly. Hopeless. It didn’t matter, they did it about six times.

But it was fun meeting him, wearing his wonderful, glittering pink shoes. I’d never seen pink shoes before on a man. And he said, 'I greatly admire your work.' And I said, ‘God, I wish I could say the same’… Well, I muttered it.”
Ouch! A prime candidate for queen bitch, perhaps!

Glancing at the musical credits, you might spot a familiar name - Howard Blake, the maestro behind the score.



Among Blake's other credits is a spot as musical director on The Hunger, with David of course among its cast as the vampire John Blaylock. But despite a career spanning 50 years and producing more than 650 works, Walking In The Air from The Snowman will likely always be the most famous song from his pen. He would recall of writing the main body of music itself that it was a sort of experiment on his part. Speaking to the website of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, he would start by retrospectively setting out his stall.
"I’d had this theory back when I was a student that you could write a film with music and without any words and sustain the story that way."
On which score you’d have to say mission accomplished. Then apparently from thin air came Walking In The Air!
"I was walking along a long beach when this tune came into my head. So, I wrote it down thinking it would be the start of a symphony.

I looked at it and realised that my song would fit fantastically with this visual [of The Snowman]. That sparked the whole thing off... But I said I would only compose the music on condition that there was no dialogue.

Whenever I’m introduced anywhere, people say: ‘This is Howard Blake, who wrote The Snowman, as though that’s the only thing I’ve ever written."



Used as the soundtrack for James & his snowy pal’s journey to the North Pole, the version as heard in the film is performed by St Paul’s Cathedral choirboy Peter Auty. The fact that he wasn’t credited as singing it probably doesn’t help the common misconception that it was Aled Jones who did. Jones’ own take on it was in fact used for a 1985 Toys R Us advert inspired by The Snowman, for the simple reason that Auty’s voice had broken - & so in stepped the then fifteen-year-old Welshman to save a bit of face…



...Jones then found himself with a UK Top 5 hit with his recorded version, and since then has largely been wrongly credited as providing the original. So synonymous is his name with the tune that Jones recorded the track again as an older man singing alongside his younger self for a duet on his 2007 greatest hits album.

If all this talk of Christmassy joy isn’t enough to warm you as much as a roaring festive fire, why not revisit The Snowman and feel that sense of wonder all over again, as it’ll probably be on Channel Four as a repeat anyway for all you boys & girls, it's been a staple of their Christmas output since 1982!

We’ll assume you’ve all been good this year, so what better way to sign off for the festive season than with a rousing merry Christmas to all!

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