Hafod Hardware and Andrea von Kampen

In late 2019 something awesome happened…and no, I’m not talking about my family’s Disneyland vacation…though it was pretty great too. A little hardware store in Rhayader, Wales produced a heart-melting Christmas advert, set to a beautiful folk rendition of “Forever Young.” This is the story of Hafod Hardware and the music of Andrea von Kampen.

Unless you’re really into competitive wheelbarrow racing or rock-paper-scissors, both of which have World Championships in Rhayader (and I say that with all the same seriousness and authority as the Rhayader Carnival website, which cheekily boasts these claims), you may not be familiar with the small town in Powys county, Wales.

Rhayader is located about 2 hours west of Birmingham, in the Cambrian Mountains. And, in addition to wacky championships and mountain cycling, Rhayader is also the home of Hafod Hardware, a local hardware store, or ironmonger which has been around in some form or fashion since 1895 and at its current location on East Street since 1930.

Photo of Tom, Pauline and Alan in front of Hafod Hardware.
Tom, Pauline and Alan

The business last changed hands when it was purchased by Pauline and Alan Lewis in 1999. I do want to mention that Alan passed away recently, in April of this year.

The shop is currently managed by the Lewis’ grandson Tom Lewis Jones, who started working for his grandparents in 2009. It was initially a job to pay the bills while he and his band pursued a full-time music career. But, as Tom described in an interview, the band broke up and he found he liked working in the shop and being part of the community.

Fast forward to 2017 and it was Tom, with the help of his friend, film-maker Josh Holdaway who decided to create a holiday advert to promote the hardware store.

The first commercial featured Tom on Christmas Eve, driving all over Rhayader on his motorcycle, delivering orders to his customers, a service that Hafod Hardware does in fact offer to locals. The ad continues with Tom falling asleep at his kitchen table, too exhausted to wrap his own family’s presents, then waking up Christmas morning to see that it was taken care of while he slept. It ends with the tagline “Delivering magic, this Christmas.”

Photo of Tom on his motorcycle with a large red sack, delivering customer orders.
Delivering The Magic

The advert generated a bit of buzz back in 2017, albeit mostly regional. And, mostly because Tom stated at the time that the whole video cost £7 to film, or a bit under $10 to produce, the entirety of the budget going to purchase the big red sack Tom is seen carrying throughout the video. The commercial is set to Andrea von Kampen’s version of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas,” but more on her later.

In 2018, they went for it again. This time, the story revolves around Tom constructing a scale model of Hafod Hardware and ends with him displaying it in the storefront window. Most of the advert is a construction montage, with Tom using various products sold at the hardware store to make his model. It uses the tagline, “Making Houses Homes This Christmas,” and is set to another Christmas cover by Andrea von Kampen, this time “White Christmas.”

Photo of the scale-model Hafod Hardware store, displayed in the real store's window.
Making Houses Homes

While the first commercial received a bit of notoriety, this follow-up came and went without registering more than a blip. Which I find a bit sad. As a long-time scale modeler myself, and lover of many miniature games from Warhammer to Infinity to Marvel Crisis Protocol, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It turns out that the rest of Rhayader agreed with me. Not necessarily about the scale-modeling part, but that the Hafod holiday adverts had become a town tradition and needed to continue. Tom wasn’t planning on creating a new video for 2019, but the support of the locals convinced him to try it again. And this time he struck pure gold.

Once again teaming up with film-maker Josh Holdaway and musician Andrea von Kampen, the 2019 advert featured Tom’s two-year-old son, Arthur, going through the daily routine of a shopkeeper. From getting up and eating breakfast to opening the shop, stocking shelves, helping customers and wrapping gifts. It ends with Arthur closing the shop and hoisting a Christmas tree up over his shoulder, at which point he transforms into his father, Tom. The commercial ends with the tagline, “Be A Kid This Christmas.”

Image from the 2019 Hafod Hardware holiday advert, featuring 2 year old Arthur as the Hafod shopkeeper.
Be A Kid This Christmas

The commercial is sweet and touching, but, in my opinion, it was the choice of music that caused it to explode. The advert is set perfectly to von Kampen’s cover of Forever Young. That’s the Alphaville song Forever Young from the early ’80s, not the Bob Dylan one from a decade earlier…or the Rod Stewart one from a few years later.

I’m completely aware this rambling description does not do the advert justice, you really need to watch it to understand how perfect it is.

And this time it wasn’t just the town of Rhayader who loved it. It took the internet…or at least the United Kingdom’s corner of the internet by storm. Within the first 5 days, the video had amassed over 500,000 views on YouTube and the Hafod Hardware phone was ringing off the hook. People from all over the United Kingdom were calling Tom to let him know how touched they were by his advert.

But nostalgia-laden English folks weren’t the only ones calling, this was a perfect, pre-packed, news-ready story:

The coverage practically wrote itself. Media outlets everywhere were comparing the Hafod Hardware commercial to “Excitable Edgar,” the 2019 John Lewis holiday advert that premiered a couple of weeks earlier and featured the CGI dragon, Edgar, who is so excited for the holidays that he keeps accidentally setting parts of it on fire; a snowman, a frozen pond, the village Christmas tree. You get the idea.

Image from the 2019 John Lewis holiday advert, featuring Excitable Edgar, a CGI dragon with a lit Christmas pudding.
Excitable Edgar

“Excitable Edgar” had it all: elaborate costumes, a large cast of actors and an impressively detailed set depicting a village that seems to exist somewhere between the late Middle Ages and the Victorian Era, but all at once. It also featured a cover of REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling,” performed by Bastille and the London Contemporary Orchestra. But, while Edgar succeeded in melting the hearts of the villagers at the end of the advert, by lighting the Christmas pudding, it was Arthur as the Hafod Hardware shopkeeper that melted the hearts of the millions of people who saw the commercial.

And where the John Lewis effort had cost several million pounds to produce, the Hafod Hardware commercial, though Tom’s most expensive to date, still came in under £100, or $130 US dollars. See, another soundbite right there and one that, like the others, received a lot of circulation.

What wasn’t covered nearly as much back then and, when it was covered, was often inaccurate, was the story of how artist Andrea Von Kampen, the singer who had lent her talent and voice to all three Hafod adverts became involved in the yearly commercials.

If you read some of the initial coverage from late 2019, or what has been regurgitated around the interwebs since then, you might believe that Andrea was a childhood friend of Tom’s, or the two met in college, or that she was an up-and-coming Welsch songwriter. All of this is entirely wrong. Andrea a Michiganer who in 2016 was finishing college in Nebraska and gained a bit of visibility when NPR retweeted her entry into their Tiny Desk Contest.

Cover art from Andrea von Kampen's 2016 holiday EP, AVK Christmas Project.
AVK Christmas Project Album

That same year, she also recorded a four-song Christmas EP, the AVK Christmas Project. Tom came across some songs from this album while searching YouTube for Christmas music to use in his first commercial in 2017. That’s right, he happened to stumble across her music on YouTube and reached out for permission to use it.

Or, as Andrea explained in an interview for a Nebraska newspaper, her videos only had a couple of thousand views at the time, so he [Tom] must have been doing some digging to find her. Tom asked for permission to use her recording of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in his holiday advert, which she gave him for free, as she did again in 2018 to use her version of “White Christmas.”

For the 2019 advert, Tom reached out again to see if she was interested in recording a cover of “Forever Young” for his next commercial and asked how much he could pay her for it. She agreed to do it again for free if Tom covered the engineering costs. The song was recorded in 20 minutes at a studio in Ashland Nebraska and mixed in under an hour. The total engineering cost was $130, the same $130 we mentioned a minute ago, which was the entire production cost of the third commercial.

According to Andrea, things went quiet after she shipped the finished recording off to Tom. That is until the advert blew up and she started getting messages from friends all over England who had seen the commercial and heard her song. To date, and by date I mean mid-June, 2024, the 2019 Hafod advert has been watched over 2.8 million times on YouTube.

The combination of theme, video and music was so perfectly executed that the commercial was (in my opinion) completely ripped off the following year by another much, much larger company. That company was McDonald’s UK and the commercial was for their 2020 #ReindeerReady campaign, a promotion where you could go to a UK McDonald’s on Christmas Eve for a free bag of carrot sticks in a special bag, labeled “Reindeer Treats”. This campaign lasted a few years and seems to have been pretty popular in the UK. But, like many of the other happy little things in life, money got in the way. Last year McDonald’s UK announced that for the 2023 holiday season, they would still be offering Reindeer Treats, but now you had to pay for them.

A package of McDonald's UK Reindeer Treats, carrot sticks in a holiday bag.
McDonald's UK Reindeer Treats

But, we’re not here to hate on McDonald’s or corporate greed in general today, just this lazy rip-off of a commercial. It is a CGI affair featuring a mom and son, the latter of whom is depicted as struggling between wanting to be a teenager and his inner child wanting to participate in holiday activities. Finally, the inner child wins out and the son partakes in a snowball fight with mom, helps decorate the house and remembers to leave out the previously mentioned McDonald’s Reindeer Treats. Awfully similar to the Hafod theme of, “Be A Kid This Christmas” if you ask me.

In fact, in my mind, the pitch meeting went something like this:

The creative agency working the campaign showed the McDonald’s UK executives the Hafod advert and said, “People love this, but it’s been a year and no one has an attention span. We’ll do the same thing, get someone else to cover the same song and we’ll animate the whole thing so the dummies don’t immediately realize we’ve just copied it. Oh, and we’ll make sure to tie in the free carrot sticks.” Then much corporate high-fiving ensued.

Whether any of that is accurate or not, and absolutely no disrespect to Becky Hill or the lovely rendition of “Forever Young” she provided, but I can’t for one second think this commercial would exist, or on the off chance it did, would have used the same song if it hadn’t been for the media storm surrounding the Hafod Hardware advert the year prior.

Ok, that’s enough time on that, back to the Hafod story.

Tom and Andrea teamed up again in 2020. The commercial starts with a now three-year-old Arthur, going around the home, collecting household staples like batteries, milk, eggs and toilet paper. Arthur gives his parents a present that he’s wrapped himself on Christmas morning, a box containing all the items he’s been collecting, along with the shopping list he found and mistook for his parent’s Christmas list.

Image from the 2020 Hafod Hardware holiday advert, featuring 3 year old Arthur wrapping household items for Christmas.
Give What You Can

The tagline for the advert was “Give What You Can,” and the commercial featured von Kampen’s cover of the pre-Civil War, parlor song, “Hard Times Come Again No More,” written by Stephen Foster. Andrea had recorded this song for the film Molto Bella, or A Chance Encounter as it was later retitled, a movie in which she both starred and wrote the soundtrack.

While still a beautiful, touching commercial, it wasn’t able to recreate the same magic. Maybe it didn’t strum the same nostalgic chords as its predecessor. Or maybe coming into the first Christmas of COVID, an advert about gifting toilet paper and batteries felt more like a reminder of the struggle folks were having every day, than a heartwarming message of charity during the holidays. Or maybe the news cycle was just too busy to care a second time about a little hardware store in Rhayader, Wales.

Regardless, this was Hafod’s last true holiday commercial, though they did release a holiday-ish video the following year. The 2021 advert…or maybe PSA is a better description, featured a Christmastime visit by King Charles III, or Charles, Prince of Wales as he was at the time to Hafod Hardware. It was put together as part of Charles’ efforts to support the high streets (think Main Street in a small town or city if you’re in the States) and Hafod’s message encouraging people to “Shop Independent,” or “Shop Local” as we would say.

Image from the 2021 Hafod Hardware advert, featuring Charles, Prince of Wales encouraging people to shop local.
Charles Visits Halfod Hardware

As a Yankee who has never understood the obsession with royalty, this was the least impressive of the Hafod videos, but there are two great things about this video. First, there is a shot of Charles holding a copy of von Kampen’s That Spell album on vinyl and it also kind of implies he purchased it…or at least left with it…I’m not sure if Royals actually buy anything. Second, it features an original Christmas song by von Kampen, “Old Fashion Holiday.” The song came from a 2021 two-track EP of the same name, which also featured von Kampen’s version of “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm.”

And that’s not the only Christmas music von Kampen has released. As mentioned earlier, there is the 2016 EP AVK Christmas Project which contains her versions of “White Christmas” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” plus a cover of “Christmas Time Is Here” and another of her holiday originals, “Lo, How A Rose E’er Blooming.”

Cover art from Andrea von Kampen's 2021 holiday EP, A Midwest Christmas.
A Midwest Christmas Album

There’s also A Midwest Christmas, another two-track EP from 2020 containing the original song, “A Midwest Christmas,” and a cover of “What Child Is This?” on the b-side. That’s a pretty healthy Christmas resume. These are all fantastic holiday tracks, by an extremely talented and still fairly under-the-radar artist.

All of these tracks and albums are available on your favorite streaming platform of choice: Apple Music, Spotify, or, if you’re like me and want to make sure a few more of your streaming subscription dollars make it into the pockets of the artists, Tidal.

Cheers and Merry Christmas!

Posted by Kevin Williams | Saturday, June 15, 2024
Music Hafod Hardware Christmas Adverts Andrea Von Kampen