Chris Rea, Driving Home for Christmas. The Untold Stories
Christmas is traditionally a time for giving. And most importantly, giving something to those special people in your life. Which explains why I’m giving you THIS today. You may not be able to eat it, watch it, wear it or insert AA batteries up its derriere, but what you can do with my gift, is embrace it.
Like you would a distant relative who your parents make you affectionately greet on the doorstep each and every Christmas. When instead you’re desperate to point to the places where said uncle touched you when you were 9-years old. But it’s Christmas, so we have to forgive and forget everything from novelty socks to pervy family members, so as not to ruin the festivities for everyone else.
Anyway, back to Chris Rea’s Driving Home at Christmas. Something we can ALL relate to if you’ve ever happened to be parted from your loved ones all year, yet have been invited to spend some quality time with them over the season. A time and a place where we’re duty-bound to be fucking jolly. Rea was – according to his own song and accompanying music video – one such individual who knew just how it felt to be separated from his nearest and dearest in the run-up to Christmas; so decided to do something about it.
That something was to jump into his car (allegedly a Ford Granada, but might have been a Volvo 340, or even a Mini) and plot the coordinates to happiness. And over-eating. And participating in shit board games with younger/older family members. The latter of whom you thought were long dead, only to discover them languishing on the sofa come Christmas Day; afternoon shortly after the Queen’s speech.
However what Chris Rea’s seminal Yuletide-inspired musical road trip doesn’t convey, is the whole story. Primarily because it’s almost impossible to rhyme the lyrics, ‘top to toe in tailbacks’ with ‘picked up a hitch-hiker’. Even Stormzy would struggle with this ask, I’m sure. Similarly I challenge anyone lyrically-blessed to segue ‘get my feet on holy ground’ with ‘I thought I ran over a cat back there. Or it might have been a rabbit. It definitely wasn’t a deer, as I would have felt that.’
But before I delve into the untold inspirations for would-be verses left scattered around the cutting room floor, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves with the actual facts surrounding the grizzled musician’s most celebrated driving-themed ditty after his other one, ‘The Road to Hell.’ Often overlooked facts include the following;
• Fact 1:
Rea needed to travel back home to Middlesbrough from London's Abbey Road Studios
• Fact 2:
His wife had come down to drive him home in her Austin Mini to save money, as it was cheaper to drive than travel by train. And his record company was not willing to pay for the rail ticket
• Fact 3:
While stuck in heavy traffic and the snow falling down, Rea started looking at the other drivers, who ‘all looked so miserable’
• Fact 4:
Although Rea recorded a video of sorts for Dutch TV show, ‘TopPop’ in 1986, there wasn't a 'proper' promo until some 20 years down the, er, road. When in aid of the charity, ‘Shelter’, various celebrities appeared in a new video. They including Martin Shaw, Gail Porter, Jimmy Greaves, Matt Di Angelo and Lionel Blair
• Fact 5:
You can never forget that Stacey Solomon recorded a cover version, as much as you try to
So – and for the first time ever – Drivl has pieced together the bits of the gnarly rocker’s festive favourite that lay undiscovered on the editing suite floor for decades. I know. I did this for you. Don’t ever forget that. Like I said at the top, Christmas is for giving. Only not a fuck, in my case.
‘Driving home for Christmas I got stuck in a horrendous tail back on the A1, which I later found out had been caused by one of those makeshift Santa floats that local Rotary clubs organise and which travel very slowly around your neighbourhood playing Christmas songs. This particular one was hitched to a Lincolnshire Rotarian member’s knackered first generation Mondeo; the driver (dressed in an elf suit for the occasion) had been pulled for alleged drink driving.’
‘Driving home for Christmas I picked up a hitch-hiker on the side of the A1 a bit further up. It was Christmas after all, what was I supposed to do? I thought at first she was an Australian back-packer, but I quickly discovered this not to be the case when he removed his hood. Apparently Clive had just delivered a new lease car to a geezer in Hull, and was looking to get a lift home. He was full of stories, so in the end I left him at a service area roughly 2 miles up the A1.’
‘Driving home for Christmas I spent 2 hours at the Extra services in Baldock playing in the arcades and eating shit food. I got to level 10 on Pac-Man and also won an Alf cuddly toy in the grabber machine. I even had a power nap in the car park, but overslept and remember later receiving a fine in the post and thought to myself, Happy fucking New Year Chris.’
Phoned Home, Terrestrially-speaking
‘Driving home for Christmas I had a very vocal argument with Mrs Rea on the hands-free about the mother-in-law being invited to dinner on Christmas Day; and the subsequent fucking up of our pre-planned TV schedule. Weirdly, I also kept receiving phone calls from an increasingly irate Tom Hardy, who I’d never even met before. I gathered afterwards that he had been stuck in motorway traffic too.’
‘The bloody sat nav (which was a thoughtful gift from my daughter the previous Christmas) had led an exasperated me astray, and ended up adding at least another 45 minutes to the journey. I was so exasperated, I started jotting down lyrics at the next service area – the Wetherby Moto at junction 46 on the A1 M. It went a little like this; “Last Christmas, I gave you a sat nav, but the very next year you gave it away, this year, to save you from tears, I'll give you some socks instead…” Only it subconsciously reminded me of another song, so I didn’t do anything with it. I just continued driving home for Christmas.’
A Head for Lights
‘Driving home for Christmas I was pulled by the law for having a headlight out on my car, would you believe it?! And the best thing was, I had taken it round to Mickey Four Fingers’ garage only a week earlier, to give the car a once over before I made the trip. The lying bastard said nothing about the headlights either. I certainly gave him a piece of my mind on my return to London in the New Year. Twat.’
‘Yeah, I wasn't quite sure if I'd locked the front door of my rented gaff or not while driving home for Christmas. You know what it’s like when you suffer from OCD. So I had to turn round and drove some 20 miles back home, which subsequently delayed my ETA by a good hour. I also re-positioned some tins of Baked Beans in the pantry while I ws at it.’
‘I think I may have run over a cat while driving home for Christmas, because I heard this almighty thud at one point. I turned the car round, parked up, got out and had a good look around the front and underneath, but couldn’t see a thing. Becuase it was dark. This proper upset me, so when I got the chance I pulled into another service area – the Scotch Corner Moto, Junction 53 A1 M. Where for the next 30 minutes I came up with the tear-stained lyrics to an alternative hit, entitled 'Driving to the Cat Rescue Home This Christmas, To Make a Donation and Volunteer to Help Out for a Few Weeks'. Not very catchy, but it felt right. I mean, I say it might have been a cat back there, but it could just as easily have been a rabbit. It definitely wasn’t a deer though, as I would have felt that fucker.’
Stayed on Those Roads
‘While driving home for Christmas I became increasingly fraught when my favourite radio cassette tape got eaten up by the new Grundig in-car cassette player I’d bought off Wavey Davey down the boozer for 40 rips in the summer. The tape was AHA’s debut LP too, so I was apoplectic with rage.’
The Volvoad to Hell
‘Somebody had approached me earlier that month asking if I fancied turning my pilgrimage into a road test. But when I told them the car I’d be driving home for Christmas in was probably going to be my trusty 1983 Volvo 340 hatchback, the automotive publisher went quiet on the whole idea, and that was the last I ever heard. Which was a shame, as I love my cars, you know. Especially Caterhams.’