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
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
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.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam