Music: Mistletoe and whine

Let celebrated singer-songwriter John Shuttleworth be your guide to the special world of the Christmas Number One. You'll wish it could be Christmas every day. With James McNair
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When Christmas single time rolls around, 'tis the season for dubious piety, cloying sentimentality and sheer frivolity. As songwriters endeavour to weave words such as "Santa", "Christmas tree" and "lonely" into new concept titles, the record-buying public goes bonkers, and artists stigmatised by age, minor-celebrity or simple lack of talent crawl out of the woodwork to battle with pop's big guns.

Inevitably, there will be novelty songs. Who could forget The Goodies' "Father Christmas Do Not Touch Me", or Benny Hill's Christmas '71 chart- topper "Ernie"? Equally prevalent, it seems, are songs that play on the emotions of the festive season's romantically challenged ("Lonely This Christmas"), songs for kiddies ("Wombling Merry Christmas"), and songs for the religious ("Saviour's Day", "Mary's Boy Child"). And as we hurtle towards Santa's 2000th delivery, you can't help noticing that it's still the hits of Christmas long past (Slade, Wizard, McCartney, etc) which dominate the festive airwaves. And who better to make sense of all this than Sheffield-based singer-songwriter and former security guard, John Shuttleworth?

What makes a good Christmas single?

Well, sleigh bells. And children. Don't bring the children in too soon, though - just keep them for the end choruses. The Wizard song does that, as does John and Yoko's "Merry Christmas (War Is Over)". I don't think John and Yoko would have held much truck with children in a playgroup situation at the time, though. They were commies, weren't they? Used to stay in bed all the time. Ideally, a good Christmas track should include a reference to a baby in a manger, but only if it fits. "Manger" only rhymes with "stranger", and you don't want strangers in your house over Christmas, do you? As my song "The Christmas Orphan" says: "Christmas is a time for the family/ but for an orphan how can it be?" The right sentiment is very important, in fact. Try listening to Adam Faith's "Lonely Pup (In a Christmas Shop)".

Jonah Louie's "Stop the Cavalry" has a lovely military feel, and I love marching round the Christmas tree in time. But there's a problem there, and I'm thwarted in me mission because there's no room at the back. I get trapped between the radiator and the tree and me sweater gets caught on the branches. I don't stop marching, though - I just mark time till me wife Mary comes to free me.

Wizard's "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day" is another favourite. It's a nice sentiment, and I like the way Roy Wood puts on that falsetto when he says "C'mon everybody !" It sounds a bit like Pluto's voice, doesn't it? Lovely.

The limited success of his own Christmas songs...

I wanted Sir Cliff to do a cover version of "The Christmas Orphan" as a follow-up to `Saviour's Day', but he was playing tennis with Sue Barker and I couldn't track him down. I asked the club if there was a contact number for him in his locker, but they thought that I was being a bit presumptuous, you know. Maybe I was just a bit late with me pitch; Christmas records have to be done by June. Then again, Sir Cliff's been under a lot of pressure to produce another hit. That's probably why he's caved in and grown a beard. I also wrote "Karen's Tangerine", which was based on a true story about my little girl's benevolences at Christmas. Her plan was to deliver a segment of the orange in her stocking to each needy African village. Looking back, it all seems a bit fanciful.

How John will be spending this Christmas...

It'll just be me, Mary and the kids. To be honest I tend to get a bit depressed around 4 o'clock. With the turkey dinner and the Quality Street churning around in your tummy you start to feel a bit queasy, don't you? Sometimes I go out for a walk in me slippers. The place is just like a ghost town - there's nobody on the street.

John's Christmas Choice '98

The Spice Girls: `Goodbye'

"Some lovely harmonies here, but not as lush as we've come to expect. They're missing somebody though, aren't they? They tend to sing in unison, but it's tricky doing harmonies if you're not a good singer. They are, though. They're very good."

Chef: `Chocolate Salty Balls'

"This gets my tip for this year's number one. It's a lovely, bouncy tune, and it's instructive too, because it gives you a nice recipe for an alternative Christmas dessert. Chef's got a sleazy, night-club kind of voice - a bit like Yogi Bear."

Slade: `Merry Xmas

Everybody' (Remix '98)

"Initially, I thought this was "Popcorn" by Hot Butter. Some readers won't remember that - it was a late-Sixties fun track. Noddy's voice seems to be mixed a bit quiet, and it's normally very strident. I prefer the original - this version hasn't even got the verse lyrics. I also notice an Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark influence, and I welcome that. I used to like the way that lad swung his arms - in a military way. It's fascinating, the way that the military thing comes through at Christmas: McCartney's "Pipes Of Peace", "Little Drummer Boy" by David Bowie and Bing Crosby... Jesus wasn't in the army, though, was he? Herod's men were, but that was later."

Alberta: `Yo-Yo Boy'

"I seem to have misplaced this one - I think it might have gone home with my grand-niece Michela. It's got a nice feel though, and I wouldn't write it off. You only have to think of Mr Blobby's number one in '93 to realise people like to buy something different at Christmas."

Bewitched: `To You I


"This sounds just like the Spice Girls, but with the right quota of harmonies. Loved the soaring pan pipes - that's number 65 on my keyboard; don't know what it is on theirs. Bit soppy, though. I expected a bit more teenage angst. Perhaps they should have got in Puff Daddy as guest vocalist."

The Three Degrees/ Alien Voices: `Last Christmas'

"A long shot for Christmas number one, but this is excellent. Lovely, ebullient rhythm - again akin to a military two-step. Just the kind of thing we've come to expect from Prince Charles' favourite band."

John Shuttleworth, aka comedian Graham Fellows, is on tour in Britain from January 16-March 22.

Tel: 0171-287 5010 for details