When Andrea von Kampen got a message from Welsh store owner Tom Jones on Nov. 13 asking her to record a version of Alphaville’s “Forever Young” for a Hafod Hardware Christmas TV commercial, the Lincoln singer-songwriter immediately agreed and headed to Silver Street in Ashland to record the song.
“We got it in the can in 20 minutes, sent it out and heard nothing about it,” von Kampen said Friday. “Then I woke up yesterday and had all kinds of messages from my friends in England and all over about the commercial. Then I saw press reports.”
What was spreading fast is the “advert” for the store that features Jones’ 2-year-old son Arthur playing the role of shopkeeper, sweeping the floor, opening the door for business, wrapping gifts and making sales, all with a thumbs-up. The ad ends with the text “be a kid this Christmas” and finds little Arthur transforming into his dad, who carries off a Christmas tree.
The commercial struck a chord in the United Kingdom, garnering 50,000 YouTube views Sunday and Monday. Then, as it got notice from the BBC, Yahoo UK, The Guardian and other news outlets, the views exploded.
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As of midday Friday, “Hafod Hardware Christmas Advert 2019” had 1,332,000 views, with more than 300,000 coming Friday morning from U.S. viewers.
That’s by far the greatest exposure for any von Kampen song on YouTube and very likely will turn out to be her most streamed work in any format.
“Several of my songs on Spotify are over 1 million streams,” von Kampen said in a phone interview. “But I’ve never had anything on YouTube over a million and nothing has gone this fast.”
The ad, Jones told the BBC, has an underlying message -- “these big companies, like John Lewis (a high-end British department store chain), they do really well at Christmas. I understand Christmas can be a very expensive time for everyone and they need to save money where they can. But if they can afford it, just try and shop at your small, independent shops and support us. It makes a big difference.”
But what’s drawn the viewers to the ad, shot by one of Jones’ friends on a video camera and featuring the shop owner’s family as characters, is its touching sentimentality -- a feeling to which von Kampen and engineer James Fleege tailored her performance.
Von Kampen was familiar with the song, which, as recorded by Alphaville, has a lush, organ-drenched, horn-punched pop arrangement. But she’d not performed it. So she found the lyrics and stripped it down to voice and guitar.
“I knew he (Jones) wanted something a little quieter, a thoughtful approach,” she said. “I knew that playing it slowly on guitar and letting the words be first would do it ... I think Tom did a great job putting it together. Over here, sentimental Christmas ads aren’t as big a deal as they are over there.”
The new commercial is the third time that von Kampen has supplied the music for a Hafod Hardware holiday ad. The first two used her versions of “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” that Jones found while looking for Christmas music on YouTube.
“It’s not like they were doing exceptionally well,” von Kampen said. “They had a few thousand views. He must have been doing some digging.”
Some of the British press has emphasized the fact that the commercial was made for 100 pounds -- the cost of the music.
“I’ve done this the past two years for Hafod for free,” von Kampen said. “I knew it got decent views. He asked how much can I pay you this time? I said ‘just pay for the engineering fee.’ We cut the song in 20 minutes and it was mixed and done in an hour. So it came to $130. I could have charged more, but I knew it’s a small local hardware store in Wales. I never expected this to happen.”
The press accounts about the video all mention von Kampen, some giving her locale as “American.” Others, however, get it entirely wrong.
“It’s funny, when the Welsh media picked it up, they all said I’m a local singer-songwriter,” she said. “I’m a local to somewhere. But it’s not Wales.”
In fact, von Kampen has never been to Wales. But, after the ad, she hopes to play in tiny Rhayader, pop. 1,879, when she’s on tour in England next year and meet Tom and Arthur at the store.
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On Twitter @KentWolgamott