The new Christmas At Downton Abbey album gives a couple of the popular PBS show’s cast members a chance to step out of their characters and show a different side of themselves. Listen to the album below, premiering exclusively at Billboard.com:
Both Elizabeth McGovern (Lady Cora) and Julian Ovenden (Charles Blake) sing on the two-disc, 45-song collection that comes out officially next Monday (Nov. 17). They duet on “The First Noel,” while Montgomery — who doubles as lead singer in the British band Sadie and the Hotheads — also delivers “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” and Ovenden lends his pipes to “O Holy Night,” “Sussex Carol,” “Silent Night” and “Twelve Days of Christmas,” the latter with classical singer Katie Marshall.
“When they approached me… it just seemed like too good an offer to be true, so of course I said yes,” McGovern tells Billboard. “It was also an opportunity to work on music in a completely different way, because it was a completely different approach from what I do with (the band), just a real opportunity on every level. I feel like I’m not at all a classically trained singer, so I think it was really good for me to try to not let down these people I was working with. It made me have to sing in a different way, and I really enjoyed that. It was an interesting challenge, and I think it’s a really beautiful Christmas album. It’s very thoughtfully done and classy.”
The album comes out in the midst of Downton Abbey‘s latest season in England, which PBS in the U.S. begins airing on Jan. 4. Montgomery isn’t giving up any spoilers — though we hear Cora gets some romantic attention from someone who’s NOT Lord Grantham, and fans of the dog Isis may want to have some Kleenex nearby — but she does say that “it’s vintage Downton. It’s back to being really classic Downton Abbey in that it’s just intimately about the machinations of the household rather than looking out toward the world at large. So it’s the Downton Abbey that people feel in love with, I think, at the beginning of the show.”
British fans will also get a chance to see the cast join George Clooney for what McGovern calls “a sketch” filmed for ITV’s charity fundraiser “Text Santa,” airing on Christmas Day. “We really had a lot of fun doing that as our ‘Downton’ characters,” she says. “That will be something everybody’s looking forward to seeing on Christmas day.”
A perk from Christmas At Downton Abbey was that the album’s producers also gave Sadie and the Hotheads a chance to record “Little Drummer Boy” for another holiday collection, “White Christmas,” which comes out Nov. 16 in Britain. The Hotheads’ song is the lead single from the set, which also includes favorites by Idina Menzel, Coldplay, Kate Bush, Sinead O’Connor and Bing Crosby with David Bowie. McGovern and the group, which has released three albums in the U.K., are also headed to the U.S. for a 12-day tour starting Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C., with the final show — Dec. 14 in Hartford — slated to be filmed for a PBS special next year, which could be the group’s first step towards expanding its reach across the pond.
“We’re sort of waiting for the right time for that,” McGovern explains. “I think we’re just biding our time and waiting for the right way, and we’re going to see how things go on this tour and test the waters and see how people respond to the show and take it one step at a time. We like the control of doing everything ourselves — we’ve really kept it that way for along time so we’re kind of moving forward in baby steps we can control. That’s a more comfortable way of doing things for us.”