Dylan Thomas – Reading, Volume 1 – A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Five Poems [Caedmon Records TC 1002, Spoken Word, 12″ LP, 1957.]
This is one of my most beloved recordings of all, and it doesn’t even have any music on it. I have written poetry at different times in my life, and at some point after I started collecting music recordings seriously, I also started collecting spoken word recordings, mostly poetry recordings. This was probably the first spoken word album I ever bought. I don’t recall exactly, but I think the first time I heard this recording was when one of my English teachers at Monterey Peninsula College played it in class one day during the Christmas season in the early 1980s. I was mesmerized. While there is no music on this recording, Dylan Thomas has such an incredibly lyrical reading voice that the images come alive as you hear them. Although his memories are those of his childhood in Wales, I’m sure we can all relate to some of the common Christmas-time themes he touches upon. It’s a wondrous poetic memoir: funny, poignant, nostalgic and beautiful. And it has become a tradition for me to listen to “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” during the days leading up to Christmas, especially on Christmas Eve if possible.
Remarkably, this was the first recording produced by Caedmon Records and it helped the fledgling label become quite successful from the start. You can read about the creation of the album and the almost happen-stance inclusion of this story on the record in the liner notes seen here on the back cover of the album, and in this essay written for the Library of Congress. The history of this album is also very much the story of the beginning of Caedmon Records. Caedmon became the preeminent label for spoken word recordings and some of their titles are still in print today as part of the HarperCollins audio imprint. You can read an excellent interview with one of Caedmon’s founders, Barbara Holdridge, in this piece entitled “Audiobooks Before Audiobooks” by Matthew Rubery at the Los Angeles Review of Books. One avid record collector has compiled a fairly comprehensive discography of Caedmon Records recordings. It’s an impressive list of some of the twentieth’s century’s most important authors. And as you can see when browsing that list, Caedmon’s recordings also helped give rise to the role of actor as narrator: Boris Karloff, Basil Rathbone, Ralph Richardson, Cyril Cusack, Anthony Quayle, Julie Harris and James Mason, among others, were all well-known readers for Caedmon.
There is also a lovely little 1987 TV movie based on this story. It stars Denholm Elliott as a grandfather remembering his childhood Christmases for his grandson.
If you’ve never heard Dylan Thomas read this before, you’re in for a real treat. You can listen to the entire recording of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” here on YouTube. If you’ve heard it before, I hope you’ll enjoy it once again, as I do every Christmas season.
So pour a steaming mug of your favorite Yuletide drink, stoke up the fire, pull up a comfy chair and listen to the memories come pouring out in pure Christmas poetry.