Feeling festive yet? Meet Andy Burrows, who has a far stronger claim to be the new face of Christmas than that John Lewis bear. The drummer who escaped from Razorlight in 2009 now has two seasonal albums under his red-and-white hat, and next week brings the most recent, his soundtrack to the animated Snowman sequel, to life at the Union Chapel.
“I agree it was in many ways an extremely bizarre choice,” he says of Channel 4’s decision to involve him in The Snowman and the Snowdog. This 34-year-old, beardy indie bloke is singing during the flying sequence, on his song Light the Night, effectively making him the new Aled Jones. “I thought it was a great idea. It couldn’t have been more up my street.”
Written in collaboration with film composer Ilan Eshkeri, we initially encountered the music when the programme aired on Channel 4 on Christmas Eve last year, 30 years after the broadcaster first showed Raymond Briggs’s original. If it had flopped, that might have been the end of it, but it successfully walked the line between careful modernisation and pure nostalgia and now looks set to become another Christmas institution.
It’s a soothing mix of folk and orchestral sounds, with the central song exactly as uplifting as it should be for a boy and a snowman (and a dog) whooshing around the London sky.
The soundtrack was released independently of the DVD last month, and four times next week Burrows and Ishkeri are performing it live with the London Metropolitan Orchestra beneath the big screen. It’ll be a perfect winter warmer, especially with guests such as Melanie C, Tom Odell and James Corden popping up for a Christmas singalong after the credits roll.
“We always hoped it would have some longevity,” says Ishkeri, 35, who has since composed music for a Sky documentary following David Attenborough around the Natural History Museum and Ralph Fiennes’s next film, The Invisible Woman. “Andy and I both love the original. There’s a sense of ownership people feel when they’ve grown up with it. They don’t want people to mess with it. We felt that as well.”
Burrows soon overcame the pressure of following up an animated icon. “It was the same when Razorlight got really big. People kept asking, ‘Isn’t it completely mental?’ But after a while you have to stop finding everything completely mental. Either you get on with it or you don’t.”
He had a glittering life with his former band, who were huge in the mid-Noughties. Their first two albums went quadruple platinum and they performed at Live 8 in 2005, but singer Johnny Borrell’s towering arrogance got the better of the drummer and he quit, citing “personal reasons”, at the end of the decade.
“Remembering back to that, it’s insane how big the band were for a short time,” he tells me over an afternoon beer in Soho House.
He’s now completed three solo albums (one as I Am Arrows and two under his own name), two with New York indie band We Are Scientists and one collection of winter songs with Tom Smith of Editors as Smith & Burrows. Then there’s songwriting with this year’s breakthrough pianist Tom Odell and next year’s big thing, George Ezra. Next up is a role as a “kind of music director” and drummer for The Office manager David Brent, alias Ricky Gervais.
He’s guarded about what he can say about the composer of classics such as Lady Gypsy and Freelove Freeway. “I don’t know if there’ll be a big tour. Remember Brent has to get time off work to do this,” he jokes. “We’re definitely going to do more — but again, with this it’s something that’s very beloved to a lot of people so you don’t want to mess with it too much.”
With The Snowman and the Snowdog, he was respectful without simply photocopying. In the animation, though the cosy style and feel is the same, there are subtle updatings. The child’s home is now on an estate, you see the Shard and the London Eye during the flying sequence, and he seems to be looked after by a single mum. The music is similarly old and new. “I like that it looks and feels the same, has the same warmth, but it is up to date,” says Burrows. “You don’t need the Snowman to have an iPad.”
It was a wise move to wait 30 years instead of three for a sequel. Now many of us who watched it the first time around have small children of our own and are in the market for establishing new traditions. My kids loved it — Burrows’s five-year-old daughter and Eshkeri’s three-year-old nephew felt the same.
“What’s comforting about the original Snowman is that it’s always there,” says Burrows. “I think the new one is beautiful. I first saw it when it was completely silent and half in black-and-white pencil, and I shed a tear. Everything about being a child at Christmas came flooding back. I think it’s a very healthy nostalgia.”
And if you can’t feel this way at Christmas time, when can you? There’ll be more than a few children walking in the air with happiness in Islington next week.
Andy Burrows and Ilan Eshkeri perform The Snowman and the Snowdog live at Union Chapel, N1 (0870 264 3333,unionchapel.org.uk) December 12-14