Wales Arts Review is delighted to reveal the line-up for Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas Volume III, as the ultimate alternative Christmas album returns for a final installment, with an introduction by the album’s creator, Kevin McGrath.
I spent 2022 curating Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas Volumes I & II, a collection of 108 original Christmas songs, including contributions from Dodgy, Girl Ray, The Lilac Time, Pete Astor, Helen Love, White Town, bis and Suzzy Roche, in order to raise money for the homeless charity Crisis. The albums made a bit of a splash, being played on BBC6 Music, BBC Scotland, BBC Radio Wales (each volume was named an album of the week by Huw Stephens) and on Radio X. Internationally renowned critics John Harris and Pete Paphides endorsed the project, which raised just over £5,800 for Crisis at Christmas.
Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas Vol III, the final album in the series, follows the same eclectic mix as its predecessors: a generous sprinkling of celebrated indie names (this time around it’s The Wedding Present that tops the bill), cult combos from across Europe and America and a selection of underground bands that listeners will be thrilled to hear for the first time. All have one thing in common: they’ve each written a distinctive Christmas earworm that will make your Xmas playlists for years to come!
Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas III is available from Velindre Bandcamp, priced at £5.00. You can pre-order now, but if you can hold on until December 1st, a ‘bandcamp Friday’, the company waives its commission, raising even more money for Crisis. All of the credit for the compilation’s success goes to the contributing artists, a reflection of their creativity and generosity. As always, I don’t receive a penny.
It’s a thrill to exclusively reveal the line-up for Volume III at Wales Arts Review:
Merry Christmas Joey Ramone – El Sancho
El Sancho is a fast, fun DIY punk rock band from Hawaii. “Merry Christmas Joey Ramone”, taken from the combo’s 2022 cassette release Jollier Than Thou, is carried along on a wave of crunching riffs.
Christmas Was Better in the 80s – The Futureheads
The Futureheads, alongside Franz Ferdinand and Bloc Party, were part of the “angular movement” of post-punk inspired bands that emerged in the 2000s. This track was originally released in 2010 and there remains a lot to like here, from the song’s affectionate swipe at Xmas nostalgia, to its blockbuster chorus.
Would You – Sunturns
Sunturns are a Norwegian super-group devoted to Xmas, featuring members of Making Marks, Moddi, The Little Hands of Asphalt, Monzano and Einar Stray Orchestra. “Would You” has a cool, distrait vocal that smooths the way to a simply glorious chorus. Taken from their 2nd Xmas album Sunturns II (2015).
Lockdown Holiday – The Brixton Riot
New Jersey’s The Brixton Riot wrote and recorded this especially for Jon Solomon’s 32nd Annual 25-hour Holiday Marathon show on WPRB 103.3 FM. Princeton. A legendary festive broadcast from Princeton University campus.
The Loneliest Time of Year – The Wedding Present
David Gedge has flirted with Xmas songs once or twice before, returning to the subject as part of last year’s 24 Songs album. At the time of release, the singer noted “To be honest, I’ve been one of those ‘bah, humbug’ types ever since I realised that the thing we’re really celebrating on 25th of December is capitalism!”.
It Only Snows at Christmas – Les Bicyclettes de Belsize
Charlie Darling, the one and only member of Les Bicyclettes de Belsize, has a true passion for Xmas songs. This track has a sublime Weather Prophets sheen to it and can be found on the Christmas compilation Dufflecoats and Christmas Cards (2016).
Christmas in the Borough of Our Birth – The Virgin Birds
“Kiss me on the mouth, It’s Christmas Eve”, sings Jon Rooney, helmsman of Seattle’s Virgin of the Birds, in a striking, stream of consciousness lyric that ventures well outside the scope of a traditional seasonal song.
Merry (Christmas) and Me – Toad Venom
Even in the age of social media, there is a dearth of info on Toad Venom. A Swedish band “experimenting in the void between the spaghetti western and psychedelic rock”, this track aims for the stratosphere and damn near gets there. Released in 2021.
C U Christmas Day – Jacklen Ro
The opening lines – ‘I’m on my way to your new apartment/Just down the street from Sunset Boulevard/The neon lights are all shining on me/My mistletoe is always where you are’ – sends a romantic shiver skidding down the spine as LA’s Jackie Giroux & Caelen Perkins trade vocals in heartwarming, heart-on-sleeve fashion.
A Cold Wind – The Ornaments
The ninth intriguing instalment of Christmas music from The Ornaments. Wisconsin’s Mike Behrends and Lance Owens are joined on this twist-in-the-tale seasonal story by Erin Kirby, literally phoning in her part from the airport.
Take it Easy This Christmas – Health and Wellbeing
This beautiful tune is taken from the band’s Christmas Demos EP, released on Xmas Day last year. Despite my best efforts, I haven’t found out too much more about the band, except that there may well be a Welsh connection. A proper Christmas mystery!
Thee Christmas Card Committee – Wake Up And Smell The Sun
Philadelphia’s John Murray, the mainstay of Wake Up And Smell The Sun, has long specialised in Xmas music, so it is a shock to hear from the singer/songwriter that he is renouncing, if that is not too strong a word, the seasonal sub-genre altogether. Enjoy it while it lasts.
The Joy is in the Giving – Lisa Mychols
Lisa Mychols, aka the ‘Queen of power-pop’, founded the cult LA group the Masticators in 1998. More relevant to this project, Lisa worked with Darian Sahanaja & Nick Walusko of the Wondermints (regular backing band for Brian Wilson) on Lost Winter’s Dream (1991), now regarded as a lost Xmas classic. Lisa re-recorded this 2017 track for the album.
Always a Dream – Charlie’s Hand Movements
“Always A Dream” is taken from Lance Keeble and Adam Gardner’s unique compilation album Xmas Singles 2014-18.
Xmas Trip – Run On
New York’s Art-Rock outfit Run On ‘combine a love of pop, rock and the avant-garde’ (Heather Phares). Originally written in 1996, “Xmas Trip” was re-released last year to raise funds for the American Foundation for The Prevention of Suicide.
The Pearlfishers released an Xmas classic (if you like Prefab Sprout and The Beach Boys, that is) in 2004’s A Sunflower at Christmas. The track selected here comes from the expanded edition that the Glaswegian band issued through Germany’s Marina Records five years later.
Can You Hear the Snowfall – The Hannah Barberas
The Hannah Barberas play DIY indie pop loaded with sharp melodies and hooks you could hang your Santa hat on. “Can You Hear the Snowfall?” will be part of a vinyl compilation of B-sides and EP tracks planned for 2024 on the Spinout Nuggets label.
Christmas is Coming (We all Know the Score) – Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard
A rollicking glammed-up track that has a proper pop at the commercialisation of Christmas. Singer Tom Rees declaring this 2020 release a ‘sarcastic song about capitalism’.
The Salvation Army Band Plays – Helen Love
The legendary Helen Love has dabbled with Christmas music on and off, including on their cover of the Ramone’s “Merry Christmas (I Don’t Want to Fight”). This track, released in 2012, features producer, songwriter and musician Ricardo Autobahn.
Ice and Snow – Red Shoe Diaries
Nottingham’s Red Shoe Diaries has played at Indietracks and Edinburgh Popfest. They previously released music through Fika Recordings, a DIY vinyl and cassette label. This track was released in 2012 and is something of a lost classic.
Fell in Love at Christmas – The Photocopies
Sean Turner, a Londoner based in Michigan, maybe the hardest working person in showbiz. In the last year or so, he has released Pop Trivia a 45-track retrospective and Triple Decker a 39-track follow up on the Subjangle label.
The Sound of Snow – Math and Physics Club
All Music has a nice line on the band, which I can’t top: “Sweet and earnest indie-pop from a group of sweater clad fellows from the Pacific Northwest”. This track can be found on the B-side of “Jimmy Had a Polaroid” and on In This Together: EPs, B-Sides, Rarities and Unreleased Songs 2005-2015.
Christmas Has Come – Man Behind Tree
Berlin’s Hans Forster featured on Volume I in the guise of Hanemoon and he returns here with a track from one of his many other projects, Man Behind Tree. Described by Rolling Stone as purveyors of “sunny Westcoast melancholia”.
Merry, Merry Christmas – El Gato Roboto
Chicago’s El Gato Roboto play a frothy mix of Garage Rock, Power Pop and Space Rock. This track was released back in 2019.
Nadolig, Pwy a Wyr? – Swansea Sound
Swansea Sound kicked off Vol I, so it’s great to have this underground super group (Hue Williams-The Pooh Sticks, Amelia Fletcher-Tallulah Gosh, Rob Pursey-Heavenly & Ian Button-Death in Vegas) back again. The vocal is provided by Catrin Saran James, formally of The Loves.
I Fell in Love on Christmas Day – Caleb Nichols
This ballad is included on It’s Hard to Dance When It’s Cold and There’s no Music: Kill Rock Stars Winter Holiday Album Volume 2 and is also the closing track on Caleb’s 2022 album, Ramon.
Ho Ho It’s Christmas Again – Wicketkeeper
The band makes no secret of how this Xmas ditty came about: “The story is we got asked to demo a tune to pitch for a TV ad. When they didn’t use it (boo, British Telecom), we thought it would be funny to re-record the vocals, add some sleigh bells and plop it down your chimneys”.
Grief of a (Frozen) Sailor – Jetstream Pony
Fronted by Beth Arzy (Trembling Blue Stars and featuring Shaun Charman (The Wedding Present). This track originally appeared as a Snowflake Singles Club (a specialist Dutch Xmas label) selection back in 2020.
All I Got for Christmas Was This Lousy Boy – Bunnygrunt
Missouri’s Bunnygrunt has been around since 1993, although they did take a break between 1998 and 2003. Leading exponents of ‘Cuddlecore’, they were once labelled by All Music as ‘the world’s cutest band’.
I Want New Ramones Songs for Christmas – Vista Blue
Vista Blue is a rock band based in Nashville and rooted in New Orleans. This is one of many festive tunes the band has released and was included in their Keep it all Year EP (2019).
Advent Calendar – Valentina Way
A Charlie Darling composition given an Xmas makeover on the Balham band’s Advent Calendar EP (2022). With five mixes to choose from, I’ve opted for the ‘Candlelight’ version, which should only be played in absolute darkness, save for the lights on your Christmas tree.
Sleep Sound – Bjéar (featuring Ella Ion)
Adelaide’s Bjéar released A Christmas with Friends Vol 1 & Vol II in November last year. A stunning mix of standards and originals, it found favour with the peerless Christmas Underground, who described the mesmerising “Sleep Sound” as a “sonic hug”.
Have Yourself a Merry Indie Christmas is available now via Bandcamp.