In an earlier post I reviewed Greg Page's Christmas album release, "Here Comes Christmas!", which is still one of my favorite new albums this year (and is vying for the top spot altogether). Greg rose to worldwide fame and adoration by the children of the world as a founding member of The Wiggles, and has now returned to the world of entertaining children (and adults!) after a few years off for a health-related hiatus. I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Greg about the album, and his new work on "Butterscotch's Playground".
Merry and Bright!: Hello Greg. Thank you for the opportunity for this interview. "Here Comes Christmas!" is really a wonderful album, and I'm pleased to be able to share some of your insights with my readers.
Greg Page: Thank you for your wonderful comments about the album, it was a real pleasure to be able to produce this album!
MB: It's great to see your new family entertainment projects after such a long and successful run as a founding member of The Wiggles. What led you to start this new phase of your career with a Christmas album?
GP: I’ve always wanted to do a Christmas album – I love the music that is associated with Christmas, probably because of the emotional attachment to the holiday period – good will to all, time spent with family, and children being excited about Santa Claus visiting them. To be able to re-launch my career with music for children with an album such as this seemed so natural, and something that I was passionate about. That’s really the origins of it!
MB: "Here Comes Christmas"! isn't your first foray into Christmas music. You've recorded many original and classic Christmas songs with The Wiggles. How did your approach to "Here Comes Christmas!" differ from your earlier Christmas recordings?
GP: Yes, I’ve recorded at least 3 Christmas CDs (that I can think of) with The Wiggles. The approach with this was really just to find as many great, classic songs and carols as I could think of, and put them into a musical context that would have meaning for children. At the same time, there were songs that I knew I had already recorded with The Wiggles, so I was mindful of not just “ripping off” those versions I had already sung on. And of course, I had to throw in some original songs as well, just for good measure! I’m really happy with how those ones have turned out – I think my favourite would have to be “Christmas Bells.”
MB: You've shown a very deft touch in adapting Christmas standards to make them very focused for an audience of youngsters without losing any of their traditional qualities. Tell us about your process of developing these song arrangements to making them so appealing to kids as well as grownups like me?
GP: For me, the sounds of Dean Martin, Bing Crosby and Perry Como really drive home that Christmas feel. It is in the arrangements of the songs as much as the performance that you connect with the audience. With the arrangements that we did, I wanted to stay true to those original versions as much as possible so as to give children a real sense of musical tone colour. The instruments of the orchestra have such differing textures, and it is so valuable for a child to hear the difference between brass and woodwind, and stringed and percussion instruments. So in terms of making them “child friendly” the other half of connection comes about from the delivery of the vocal performance. This is something which I honed over many years with The Wiggles, and I hope that children all over the world will hear that connection still, with the songs on “Here Comes Christmas!”
MB: I love your update of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" with a menagerie of animals. Tell me, where in the world did 'axolatl' come from? Puppy dogs, cows-a mooing, piggies oinking, and axolatls! I love it, but where did you come up with that as one of the animals to be part of the song?
GP: One of my children had an axolotl a few years ago. It was such a unique pet! The kids loved it. So when I was thinking of what kinds of animals children might like to look at and learn about, I thought of axolotls!
MB: Do you have any plans for videos to accompany these songs? "Twelve Days...", "Rudolph..." and several others seem perfectly suited for music videos for kids. If so, how will they be released and made available to the public?
GP: There are no plans for any videos as yet. I would love for this album to go really well, and follow it up with a live concert DVD – maybe that’s a project for next year! In the meantime, I’ve got some other plans for Yellow Entertainment and some other children’s shows that will be in production under the Yellow Entertainment label.
MB: I really enjoyed all three of your original songs - "Here Comes Christmas!", "Christmas Bells", and "It's Christmas". Is it hard to write an original Christmas song that is refreshing and new, and not have it sound derivative of all the other Christmas songs we hear each season?
GP: Glad you liked them! Luckily I had some help with writing these songs. Alec Miller, my co-producer was also co-writer of these songs. When you are working with people as talented as Alec, it makes it a lot easier to come up with fresh ideas that don’t hark too much to songs that have been written before. The other key thing to remember when writing is that your audience is children and their parents. Firstly, you have to engage the children, so in terms of content that limits things a little, and secondly you have make it accessible to the parents, so that’s where the fun begins in drawing upon all your musical styles so that parents can relate to the song musically too –even though the content may be for children, the music isn’t dumbed down.
MB: What are some of your personal favorite Christmas songs?
GP: I love so many Christmas songs – "The Little Drummer Boy" is one of my favourite songs – the story-telling aspect of this song has always appealed to me, together with the melody of the song. I also love some of the more traditional, simple songs such as “Silent Night” and “Jingle Bells”!
MB: Does Australia have its own unique Christmas song canon, or are the classics you've included on "Here Comes Christmas!" what you would hear in your home country during the Christmas season?
GP: Australia has some of its own Christmas songs, but really we sing most of the same songs as other parts of the world. The “Australian” Christmas songs have not become big here – they may be known by some, but by and large, all the songs that are on “Here Comes Christmas” are indicative of what people would listen to in Australia.
MB: Before we wrap up, would you like to share a few words about "Butterscotch's Playground"?
GP: Butterscotch’s Playground is a new brand featuring puppets (a la Henson’s Muppets) that was originally created by Alec Miller and Vera Nakovic. They approached me to work with them to develop the concept into something that would include me in the show in some way. Together, we have written and shot 3 episodes that are available on DVD or for download via iTunes. The crux of the show is that the whole wide world is your playground to explore and learn about – no matter where you go in the world, it always presents an opportunity to learn something new! Butterscotch (a rabbit), Honey Bear (a bear), Frankie (a monkey) and Charles (a bluebird) live in a literal playground with swings, a slide and a teeter-totter. I am the caretaker of the playground, and together with the children we set-up wonderful adventures where the children and their cuddly friends can go and see things they may not have ever seen before. That’s where the whole wide world becomes your playground! Music is a key driver for this show too – lots of songs that give children the opportunity to interact and engage with movement.
MB: Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions Greg. I have to tell you, my 14 year old daughter Audrey (the youngest of 5 children) was really excited about your record - she even called you her idol! I wish you great success, and hope you continue to be such a positive influence and teacher to children everywhere for many years to come. Merry Christmas to you and your family Greg!
GP: Thank you so much! I’m glad that even though Audrey may have grown up a bit, she still remembers her years of watching The Wiggles! Being part of children’s lives all over the world has certainly been an honor and a privilege! Merry Christmas to everyone – Audrey too! J
Yellow Entertainment - Buy "Here Comes Christmas!" purchase link
Greg Page on the Web