Entertainment & Arts

Saint Etienne: Why we love (most) Christmas music

Saint Etienne Image copyright Elaine Constantine
Image caption Bob Stanley (left), Sarah Cracknell and Peter Wiggs first came to prominence as the band St Etienne in the early 1990s

For fans of indie disco darlings Saint Etienne, Christmas isn't quite Christmas without a seasonal single and a tour. This year, the band have released their Christmas compilation album A Glimpse of Stocking on vinyl for the first time and take to the road for four special shows.

But for all the apparent yuletide spirit, the trio say they have not always found it easy to feel festive.

"My dad used to make the carol singers come into the sitting room and sing properly," admits singer Sarah Cracknell.

"He wouldn't have it if they weren't trying. I would also have to be there too, which was really mortifying."

Songwriter and keyboardist Pete Wiggs still shudders over a spell working in a department store 1986, where the traditional Slade and Wizzard songs were played ad nauseam.

"I still really like Slade and Wizzard, but I didn't that year," he says. "At that point, I was really into gloomy indie."

Bob Stanley, who writes songs and plays keyboards, could have a genuine grievance with 25 December - his birthday falls on that day.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sarah Cracknell thinks Simon Cowell has put the tarnish on Christmas music with the inevitable X Factor winner single release

But he insists he doesn't mind. "I always thought it was awful that kids had to go to school on their birthday or as an adult going to work. That's never been a problem for me," he says.

Stanley's birthday inspired the band's 1993 song I Was Born On Christmas Day, a duet with The Charlatans' Tim Burgess.

Cracknell, who "married" Burgess in the video, recalls: "We did the video at Kensington and Chelsea Registry Office and then the Cobden Working Men's Club in Ladbroke Grove, west London.

"It was such a laugh. When I got married, we used the same venues - Kensington and Chelsea for the wedding and the Cobden for the reception. My husband was all right with that, he didn't feel Tim had got there first."

Image copyright Elaine Constantine
Image caption Saint Etienne say all the best pop bands have to make a Christmas song

Previous Saint Etienne Christmas shows have included DJ sets at working men's clubs "of our best ever 100 songs", an event in the reception of London's Queen Elizabeth Hall with comedians Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper, and gigs at the London Palladium and Shepherds Bush Empire.

Wiggs's recollections of other December gigs are hazy. "In the past, we have had Dale Winton handing out presents from a supermarket trolley," he says. "That was in the '90s."

This year, the band are playing their traditional festive concerts are in Gateshead, Manchester, Wakefield and Croydon, the town where Wiggs and Stanley grew up.

"The Fairfield Halls [in Croydon] at that time of year has always been about pantos," says Wiggs.

"There was never anyone playing that I wanted to see apart from Glenn Campbell and Don McLean. We thought, 'Let's do something in December and turn it into a party.'"

The 2015 concerts are, according to Stanley, "as close to Christmas as we could be without getting in the way of office parties."

He continues: "We will have a couple of guest acts and we will have some stuff on sale that people can buy as presents for their friends."

Cracknell laughs: "It is a bit of a ridiculous idea because you have more snowstorms at a time of year you're trying to get around the country, it's quite problematic. But it's good fun as everyone is in the right mood. And the guest acts have been chosen by region, so they don't have far to go home."

As you would expect from a sometime music journalist and author of the history of British pop, (his book Yeah Yeah Yeah came out in 2013), Stanley is evangelistic about tinsel-tinged pop.

"We are all pop fans and all the best people make Christmas records. The Beatles did a flexi-disc for their fans every December. Both Elvis Christmas albums are great."

He is also a fan of Leona Lewis's single One More Sleep, has made plans to buy Kylie's Christmas album on white vinyl "the first chance I get". And he holds strong opinions on what makes a song at this time of year work.

"It's got to be pro-Christmas. Fairytale of New York is a grinch record, I don't understand the love for it at all. It's got to be daft.

Image copyright Elaine Constantine
Image caption The band say they aren't worried about chart success but just want to make good music

"Glam and Christmas went hand in hand. Elvis is made for Christmas. He had a great sense of humour and was very aware that he was in a ludicrous position but yet he was sincere, which is why he could do carols."

These days, the end-of-year charts are more often than not topped by the X Factor winner.

Saint Etienne have strong, but differing, opinions about whether Simon Cowell has ruined Christmas music. "He has, a bit," sighs Cracknell. Wiggs thinks "he has ruined all music".

But Stanley begs to differ: "I wouldn't say he's ruined Christmas but he's missing a trick. I find it really baffling that he doesn't have a Christmas song for the winner. At some point one in three would become a standard.

"Why pick Hallelujah or some of the other tracks he's chosen? If he wants more advice on how to make money out the music industry, he only has to ask."

If they're unlikely to be posing a chart threat to this year's X Factor winner, Saint Etienne are still delighted to be associated, like Slade and Wizzard, with this time of year.

"I don't mind at all," says Wiggs. "They're successful bands. Our Christmas song is on a few compilations. Probably the people who work in shops hate it, and so I'd like to say, 'Sorry, shop workers.'"

Saint Etienne start their UK tour on Tuesday in Gateshead.

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