And the Christmas No 1 is ... a part-time Mansfield girls' choir?

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The Independent Culture

On the face of it, a part-time girls' choir from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, should stand no chance of snatching the coveted Christmas No. 1 slot in two weeks' time.

But Cantamus - Latin for "we are singing" - a 44-piece ensemble of girls aged between 13 and 19, whose cover of the classic, "Everybody's Gotta Learn Sometime" by The Korgis, is released next week, are quietly sneaking up on the inside track.

Some critics have dismissed the single as a novelty with its "seasonal karaoke choral treatment", but the track is picking up heavy airplay and the influential Johnnie Walker on BBC Radio 2 is a big fan. Walker has raved about the choir's CD, also called Cantamus, which includes a version of "Fix You" by Coldplay and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" by U2.

If they are successful, it would be the first time a choir has beaten off rivals to become the Christmas No. 1 since the St Winifred's School Choir scaled the charts with "There's No One Quite Like Grandma" more than 25 years ago.

The girls are trying to raise £100,000 to fund a trip to Xiamen in China to defend the gold medal they won in 2004 at the World Choir Olympics. They have won numerous other awards including the European Youth Music Festival in Belgium and the Choir of the World at the Llangollen Eisteddfod.

Pamela Cook, 68, musical director and founder of the choir, said: "We are not professional, but we do have professional standards. This is a departure from opera and classical music - our usual work. We have widened our scope and it is very exciting."

Almost all of the singers are from within a five-mile radius of Mansfield, a former mining town, and from what Mrs Cook describes as "decimated mining stock". Despite the impoverished background and the constant need to raise funds, more than half of the girls in the choir go on to become professional musicians. Since the choir was formed in 1968, about 60 girls have entered music college.

Mrs Cook, who was made an MBE in 1984, said: "Their work ethic and commitment is wonderful. This is like an extended family. The single has been very exciting and it would be so nice if it did well."

However, the single does not have an accompanying video and it will have to work hard against the marketing muscle of the likes of Westlife.

The bookmaker William Hill gives odds of 25-1 on Cantamus being the Christmas No. 1. The favourite is the winner of The X Factor at 4-9, in second place is Warwickshire duo Nizlopi at 7-4 and third favourite is Westlife and Diana Ross's collaboration.

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