How to celebrate Christmas like it could be your last one
Singer Christy Dignam was told he had six months to live. Four years later, he’s getting ready to make the most of another festive season with his family
Christy Dignam and his band Aslan are back on the road, and planning a two-night show at Vicar Street next month
Christy Dignam has more reason than most to look forward to Christmas. The singer with Dublin rockers Aslan savours every moment of the season, because he knows only too well that it could be his last. Dignam was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 and told he had about six months to live. Four years later, Dignam is getting ready to celebrate another festive season. No wonder he is full of the joys of Christmas.
“It has an extra poignancy, because every year that I get through is another year I’ve got through,” says Dignam. “So because of that, it gives a whole different meaning to Christmas, because for me it’s another year I’m after surviving.”
Dignam’s illness necessitated a gruelling course of chemotherapy, and Aslan had to be put in the attic. He was resigned to never getting up on stage with his long-time bandmates again.
“I was told, if I had a bucket list, better get doing it. If I had anywhere I wanted to go on holidays, better do it now. So, every month is a bonus,” he says. “But anything that I wanted to achieve professionally, I’ve done. For me it was never about massive world sales or anything like that, it was about trying to write a few good songs that would have a bit of longevity to them. And to be the best singer I could possibly be.
“On a personal level, I’m very happily married, I have three lovely grandkids. I’ve seen them grow up, which I didn’t think I’d get to see.
“They were the big reason I got through the whole thing. I wanted to fight to see them growing up and to see their first holy communions and stuff like that.”
Ready for Santy
Every Christmas morning, Dignam and his wife Kathryn are ready for when their only daughter brings her three children around to their house in Finglas.
“What happens is that Santy comes to their house, and he doesn’t have enough room in his bag, so he brings half the stuff to our house. They’re ringing me at five in the morning: ‘Grandad, Grandad, did Santy come over to your house?’ So they’ll be down here early, and we’ll have dinner. And on Stephen’s day, we’d bring all Kathryn’s family and my family down and have a big dinner for all the family. So it’s well celebrated. We really go to town on it.”
Dignam has gone back on the road with Aslan, and the band have been able to resume their annual Christmas shows in Vicar Street, which have become a tradition among Aslan fans. They’ll be playing two nights at the venue, on December 27th and 29th, and Dignam can’t wait to get on stage and celebrate another year of precious life.
“I wouldn’t jump around the stage as much as I used to, I used to be climbing all over speakers and stuff. I don’t do that anymore. But fortunately the cancer didn’t affect my voice.”
No surprise to learn that Dignam’s favourite Christmas song is the darkly evocative Fairytale of New York. “That and White Christmas are two of my favourites, There’s loads of great Christmas songs. We tune into the Christmas channel [Xmas FM]. You’re driving to Donegal or to Kerry, and you’re in the car for four or five hours at a time, and it’s just constant Christmas songs. It’s cheesy as f**k, but it’s great.”
Dignam has a few bad memories from his own childhood – he was sexually abused by a neighbour – but he also has fond memories of his childhood Christmasses in north Dublin.
“My parents had eight kids, and my father worked in CIE, there wasn’t a huge wage coming into the house, but they never left us short. I don’t know how they did it. We were always looked after for Christmas, there was always plenty of food and we got presents. They wouldn’t be anything like the presents you get now, kids have thousands of pounds worth of presents. I got a globe. That was it. That was my Christmas present. But then we never really asked for much. When I got that globe, that’s what I really wanted for Christmas.”
As they come to their 35th year – give or take the odd break-up and hiatus – Aslan are working on a new album, and as far as Dignam is concerned, it’s business as usual until the man upstairs says otherwise.
“I’m just going on as if I’m just like everybody else, as if I have no illness. If it knocks me down in the middle of it, so be it, but I’m not going to stop doing things just because I mightn’t be able to finish them. I’m just plugging ahead as if I have unlimited time left.
“I’m going to try to cram in as many Christmases as possible.”