Emmy The Great & Tim Wheeler, The Scala, London


Emma-Lee Moss and her Ash frontman beau get into the festive groove

“Thanks for not going to see the Pogues,” Emma-Lee Moss says disarmingly, reminding us that this Yuletide has seen as much interest in the 25th anniversary of the much-loved number two hit ‘Fairytale Of New York’ as in the battle for this year’s seasonal top spot.

Such nostalgia might explain why she and boyfriend Tim Wheeler are performing from their own wintry album released last year to bigger audiences than in 2011.

Inspired while being snowed in that winter, the contemplative singer/songwriter who performs as Emmy and the lead singer of Northern Ireland’s effervescent pop-rock group Ash came up This Is Christmas, a collection of pastiches that amply demonstrate their affection for the genre.

Just as the nation loses interest in whoever won X Factor, attention moves to alternative tunes and in a crowded market, their ‘Zombie Christmas’ has shown the novelty single is far from dead.

On a stage liberally decorated with tinsel and fairy lights, matched by themed dress in the crowd (both Santas and undead), the pair aim for a party vibe, something swiftly achieved thanks to Wheeler’s buzz-pop guitar.

Perceptive fans of the Christmas genre, they exude a glow of warm comfort in familiar styles, especially the Phil Spectorish bubblegum of ‘Marshmallow World’ and the bruised girl-group pout of ‘(Don’t Call Me) Mrs Christmas’. This is a fine example of the wit they bring, though much detail gets lost as Moss struggles to be heard against Wheeler and the band.

Skating along his chiming notes, the urgency of ‘Zombie Christmas’ marks it out as something different to the usual seasonal turkeys. The couple also pay homage to some of the better exemplars of holidays past and while their jollity on ‘Last Christmas’ gives it the feel of luxury karaoke, a simple take on Elvis Presley’s ‘Blue Christmas’ is coolly effective. It is bettered only by a brilliantly sincere version of East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’ that begins with the duo sharing a stool and ends with Moss in the audience.

“We hope the world doesn’t end tonight,” she sighs. “We want to come back next year.” Wheeler agrees, adding, “We’re trying to make this a Christmas tradition.” With a judicious mix of familiar sing-alongs, most exuberantly on ‘Fairytale’, leftfield rarities, among them The Ramones’ ‘Merry Christmas (I Don’t Wanna Fight Tonight)’, and their own wry contributions, this venture could outlast those garish jumpers.

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