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Missing tapes and mystery choirs: The making of a Christmas classic

Roy Wood and choir
Image caption Pupils from Kempsey Primary School performed on Top of the Pops in 1981

Love it or hate it, at Christmas you may struggle to avoid Wizzard's festive hit, I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday. But it might not be the version you think it is. Originally released in 1973, the track was re-recorded in a mad scramble in 1981. But why? And who is really singing?

The original choristers, from Stockland Green Bilateral School in Birmingham, featured on the 1973 record - but when it was hastily re-recorded eight years later, they were replaced.

Music producer and studio owner, Muff Murfin, says he knows why.

In the summer of 1981 the founder of Wizzard, Roy Wood, was recording at Murfin's studio, Old Smithy Recordings in Kempsey, Worcestershire, when he got a phone call from his record company EMI.

It fancied having a shot at beating the track's previous chart high of number four - but had come across a snag.

The original tape had been lost. There was nothing.

Murfin was given the task of re-creating the hit in less than a week.

"When we got that phone call, we just panicked, that is the only word for it," he said.

"It took a good few bottles of brandy before we even thought about how we would manage it."

Himself a former session singer, Murfin had the brainwave of drafting in the pupils at the school next to his studio, Kempsey Primary School.

"Roy just popped over and negotiated a deal with the music teacher - a one-off payment was made to the school, I don't know how much, that was just between them," he said.

"So the kids came over and we taught them the song."

According to Murfin, even members of the original Stockland Green choir do not know they are not the voices on the version which is played on the radio.

"That recording simply does not exist," he said.

"The pupils from Kempsey are the ones on the record.

"The only way [the original choir] can hear themselves singing on the track is if they have a copy of the disc which was released then, in 1973."

Image caption Roy Wood played every instrument on the 1981 version of his hit I Wish it Could be Christmas Everyday

Before it was possible to do so digitally, studio recording was done on multi-track tape, which was then dubbed down to the master tape, said audio engineer Daz Gentry.

"The quality of the mastering had a huge impact on the success or otherwise of a pop recording, I'd even go as far as saying it was a case of make or break," Gentry said.

"Master tapes had an importance you wouldn't understand now.

"There was no other source with the sufficient quality for a reprint, copying the vinyl just wouldn't work.

"Once that master tape has gone, you may as well say the track hasn't been recorded, as far as re-releases go," he added.

'No-one asked'

So why is this tale of the lost tape and hasty salvage job not common knowledge?

Murfin said the answer is simple.

"No-one asked why we re-recorded it. That's honestly the reason. It wasn't a secret."

Susan Doyle, who was then 11-year-old Susan Powell, is adamant it is her choir - Stockland Green - on the version which is played today.

"I may not have a musical ear, but I can tell it is us singing," she said.

"All the chatter and that at the end, you can't recreate it.

"You just can't."

But according to Murfin, that is exactly what happened.

"Roy was like that, he wanted it precisely the same. Over that week he played every instrument himself to make sure it sounded right.

"And of course, don't forget, there were some pretty good audio engineers who could help make it sound pretty much identical.

"It's likely the recording of the original chatter would have been mixed in with the new singing."

Image caption The 1973 edition of Top of the Pops used children from a drama school instead of the real choir

It is not the first time the Stockland Green choir had been the subjects of mistaken identity.

The children in the music video shown on Top of the Pops in 1973 were not actually them either.

Although the vocals were the original, the children performing with Wizzard were drafted in from a drama school in London.

Mrs Doyle remembers being taken to London with her classmates and being recorded - and the disappointment of watching the footage played on Top of the Pops.

"It was devastating, I was so upset," she said.

"We'd achieved this great thing, we were in the music charts and no-one knew it was us.

"I tell my children, 'Listen, that's mummy on the radio', and they don't believe me."

Image caption Paul Evans, who put a pie in Roy Wood's face during the record's finale, was in the 1981 performance of Top of the Pops

The mystery thickens when a further complication is thrown in.

There were not one, but two, Kempsey recordings, said Paul Evans, who was on the second of those.

It is indisputable that Mr Evans was one of the children on the 1981 version of Top of the Pops, as he can still be seen on the video.

"I'm the devilishly handsome one who puts a pie in Roy Wood's face," he said.

"The first recording was done by [pupils from] the year above me, but they all left the school that summer because they were in the top class.

"So then my year did a recording too, and we were the ones taken to Top of the Pops."

That, at least, is clear cut, said Murfin.

"The second 1981 recording was made immediately before going on the television.

"It was specifically made so the kids could sing along to it on the telly, it's not on the actual track."

So, as has always been assumed, Stockland Green school choir are on the record - albeit as "noises off".

But it is the members of Kempsey Primary School choir - the forgotten choir - who are the children who wished it could be Christmas everyday.

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