Album: Saint Etienne, A Glimpse of Stocking (Foreign Office)

Without bells on – the atheist's guide to Christmas music

There's an excellent book, just published in HarperCollins paperback, called The Atheist's Guide to Christmas.

With all profits going to the Terrence Higgins Trust, it's a collection of mostly humorous essays by writers ranging from Richard Dawkins to Derren Brown, Simon Le Bon to Simon Price, all broadly making the same point: namely that you don't have to be a Christian to enjoy Christmas.

None of Saint Etienne's three permanent members – Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs and Sarah Cracknell – strike me as likely members of the God Squad (and one of them comes from a Jewish family), but they too understand the frisson of excitement that even the godless get at this time of year.

The wonderfully named A Glimpse of Stocking is a collection of Saint Etienne festive originals old and new, with a handful of carefully chosen cover versions. The best-known track is their hi-NRG Tim Burgess duet "I Was Born on Christmas Day" (which Bob Stanley actually was), a hit back in the 1990s, but the newer "Through the Winter" is a real heart-melting beauty, "No Cure For the Common Christmas" is a stunning Yuletide melodrama, and the saucy-but-sweet "Unwrap Me" raises a smile by quoting the Specials: "My name's Sarah, and I'm going to enjoy myself first..."

The self-explanatory "21st Century Christmas" brings us into the age of sending your wish-list to Santa via SMS, but there's a more nostalgic, mulled-wine flavour in the glam boogie of "Come on Christmas", which boasts the brilliantly impatient plea "Come on Jesus, won't you get born for me?"

There are also hints of Christmasses past in the way the fairy-dust disco of opener "Gonna Have a Party" throws in a snatch of Greg Lake's "I Believe in Father Christmas", and the unmistakeably Wham!-like feel of "Welcome Home".

The cover versions comprise Billy Fury's "My Christmas Prayer" (the singer's last self-penned song, which failed to chart in 1959), Randy Newman's "Snow", Margo Guryan's obscure but charming "I Don't Intend to Spend Christmas Without You", Chris Rea's "Driving Home for Christmas" flipped around to the perspective of the waiting wife, and the Doors' "Wintertime Love", on which our pop heroes have miraculously managed to locate the only Jim Morrison lyric in existence (Come with me/ Dance, my dear/ Winter's so cold this year etc) that doesn't make you want to punch him.

At times, as on the impressionistic instrumental "Snowbound on the South Bank" and the choral interlude "Fireside Favourite", the trio can evoke the spirit of the season without even needing words, or anything as crass as jingle bells. The rhetorical question "Do you believe in magic?" – SE's motto since the start – still applies, at Christmas more than ever.

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'