Saint Etienne Presents Songs for a London Winter, review: A Christmas CD without a whiff of Bing Crosby

This alternative festive playlist even includes a track by Casualty's Charlie Fairhead in a previous incarnation

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The Independent Culture

You can guess from the title that this isn’t going to be your run-of-the-mill Christmas compilation. There’s no Slade, Cliff Richard or even Bing Crosby here. Instead, Saint Etienne frontman and delver into pop’s most arcane and little-visited byways Bob Stanley has compiled a selection of numbers cut in the UK in the late Fifties and early Sixties.

Many will not be familiar. Indeed, for some it’s probably their first airing since they skipped their way down the 45rpm autochanger on the family Dansette.

Take Wally Whyton, one-time skiffler and TV children’s presenter, whose “Christmas Land” – just under two and a half minutes of innocent strumming and inoffensive vocals – takes us to see, in what must be a rare moment of relaxation, “Santa sitting in his old armchair”.

Crooner Dickie Valentine, meanwhile, also goes travelling in the charming, Hawaiian-influenced “Christmas Island” where Santa, having got out of his chair, delivers the presents having sailed in, “in a canoe”. At least with Alma Cogan, “the girl with giggle in her voice”, we’re on more traditional ground with the singalong “Must Be Santa” although his “big red cherry nose” does sound suspect. It must be all that sherry.

One of the most memorable tracks - if only for the cut-glass English accents it’s delivered in - is the twee but touching “It’s Christmas” by twins Elaine and Derek. It would have been consigned to the bargain bin of pop history had it not been for the fact that Derek, full name Derek Thompson, went on to become television’s most famous medic as Charlie Fairhead in Casualty.

Other goodies on this 24-track set include yuletide offerings from Billy Fury (“My Christmas Prayer’), the Beverley Sisters (“Little Donkey) and Adam Faith (“Christmas Pup"), plus, adding a touch of class, Cleo Laine (“Blow Blow Thou Winter Wind’) and jazzman hubby Johnny Dankworth (“Winter Wail”).

Finally, spare a thought for Danish/Dutch couple Nina and Frederik whose melodic “Christmas Time in London Town” opens the album. Nina became the squeeze of Howard Hughes hoaxer Clifford Irving while Frederik joined an Australian crime syndicate before being shot dead in a Philippines drug deal.

Happy holidays!