IoS radio review: An Alternative Christmas, Radio 4, Tuesday
Pound Shops R Us, Radio 4, Tuesday

Hell and death: a jolly round-up of odd festive tunes

As the BBC DJ Huw Stephens pointed out to the Reverend Richard Coles, there is a streak of melancholy running through Christmas music. Even Wham! did their share of festive moping, giving us their hearts, which we gave away the very next day.

But by and large, as Coles put it, it's "supermarket mashtapes of jingling bells and red-nosed reindeer coming round again like the winter vomiting bug". The music matches the sentiments, he feels, and what used to be central to Christmas is now on the margins, squeezed out by the schmaltz and the ho-ho-hos.

In An Alternative Christmas he was on a musical mission. It wasn't just about rooting out funny, weird stuff, though that would have been jolly enough. He was after off-message material such as the 1920s blues sermons delivered by the Rev J M Gates of Atlanta, who warned that hell beckons for those who ignore the principle of seasonal goodwill: "Will death be your Santa Claus?"

He found rich pickings on the shelves of Andy Cirzin, who collects Christmas 45s put out by US regional labels in the 1950s and 60s: "No Sanity Clause 2", for one, a deranged spoken-word attack on giving toy weapons for Christmas, and "Santa Miss Those Missiles", a track that lent the festive season a Cold War overcoat. And he included my all-time favourite, Miles Davis's "Blue Xmas (To Whom It May Concern)", written by Bob Dorough, the ultimate bah-humbug number – "like finding a Brussels sprout in your Christmas pud".

I imagine pound stores are pretty busy now – though it seems they're pretty busy all year round, as the BBC business correspondent Jonty Bloom found in Pound Shops R Us, which explored their all-conquering rise.

Oddly, it's to do with the concept of "luxury" – defined simply as something we don't need. Pound shops are full of things we don't need – but at only a quid a throw. As one owner said, customers will tell him, "I just came in looking for a pack of batteries, but I ended up buying a bird ornament, a fishing net and a camping hat." And with that he laughed the laugh of a man for whom it's raining cash. He'll be having a very merry Christmas, I'd have thought.

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