A Christmas Stocking with Imogen Smith & Yvette Staelens

Aisholt & Merridge Village Hall


A memorably seasonal and lively evening.

We had to navigate some steep and narrow winding roads from Taunton to find the tiny Aisholt and Merridge Village Hall high on the Quantock Hills for this seasonal event. On walking into the hall (which used to serve as the village school) we were greeted with a roaring fire, a glass of hot mulled cider and beautiful traditional Christmas paper decorations. The room was completely full and there was a tangibly relaxed and informal atmosphere.

Yvette Staelens is a folk singer, composer, choir leader and archaeologist with a special interest in Somerset folk songs. Imogen Smith is an experienced actress. The evening comprised an extraordinarily diverse collection of seasonal poetry readings, folk songs and carols interspersed with bawdy anecdotes taken from Christmas-time complaints to the local council. The subjects of the poems and songs were varied and took the audience on a journey through a range of emotions and the stages of life – birth, sadness, loss, joy, earthy humour and laughter, fear (there was an eerie ghost story), wonder, questioning and death.

Both the performers were clearly at ease with the audience – no doubt assisted by the intimacy of the venue, and were astonishingly assured. Imogen Smith brought the poems vividly to life, adopting a plethora of different accents and postures to clearly convey the sentiment of the writing. One example was how she started moving exactly like a cat whilst reciting a funny poem asking why a cat was not with the other animals at the manger where Christ was born.

Yvette Staelens has a beautiful clear, simple yet unforced voice which instantly demanded to be listened to attentively. She began with a Somerset version of the 12 Days of Christmas with enthusiastic audience participation (with the final chorus being …”and a bough from the mistletoe tree”). Amongst many songs, particular highlights were a haunting song from pre-Christian times called The White Hare, a carol called The Cherry Tree which I had never heard before which told the story of the Virgin Birth from Joseph’s point of view, a song about horse racing on Boxing Day (Creeping Jane) and the finale – a poignant rendition of The Parting Glass.
There was a lovely interplay between the performers, making the transitions between spoken word and song appear seamless and effortless. This brought an impression of a web of magical sound being spun which completely entranced the audience. This effect was enhanced by the serving of really wonderful food in between the three stages of the performance.

We left the hall with a sense that we had unexpectedly found a living example of real sharing of the wonderfully multi-faceted experiences of life within a community.

Yvette Staelens’s website which includes details of the Singing Landscape Project (which allows families to identify their singing ancestors) can be accessed here:-

Yvette Staelens | Singer, musician, director of Voice of the People Choir and the Halsway Manor Monday Morning and Moor Voices choirs, Taunton / Bridgwater, Somerset and Research Fellow at Bournemouth University.