For a certain type of music fan, Christmas only means one thing: Cherryade Records' annual compilation of seasonal songs, A Very Cherry Christmas. Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens once said that receiving a copy was like getting ‘a Christmas card from the gods’, and the album is also a go-to place for hearing new music. Such is its popularity that submissions started arriving in May and June from the really keen bands.
A Very Cherry Christmas fits into a long tradition of alternative Christmas records. Rachael said: “I do love the Phil Spector Christmas album (who doesn’t?), but I was more influenced by wonderful alternative seasonal compilations such as Get Thee Behind Me Santa (Puppy Dog), A Christmas Gift From Fortuna Pop! Volumes 1 and 2, Cwistmas Twee (Total Gaylord), Gold, Frankincense and Purr (Purr Records), The World in Winter (Cherry Red) and others like that.”
Rachael counts songs as varied as ‘Last Christmas’ by Pullover, ‘Christmas Wish’ by The Priscillas, ‘O Come O Come Emmanuel’ by Belle and Sebastian, ‘Christmas Reindeer’ by The Knife, ‘Space Christmas’ by Shonen Knife, ‘Santa Claus’ by Thee Headcoatees, 'Christmas Tree's on Fire' by Holly Golightly and Billy Childish's Christmas albums and singles among her favourite Christmas releases.
She said: “I don’t think there’s one thing that makes a great Christmas song. When you look at the range of seasonal songs out there it’s obvious that everybody seemingly has a different take on what they think a Christmas song should be.”
This year's is the fifth Christmas compilation Cherryade has released, and at 25 tracks is the longest. Rachael acknowledged: "We've had quite a range of music over the five compilations so far. Although there's been quite a lot of indiepop, we've also had a really filthy song from The Pocket Gods and an all recorder version of 'Stop the Cavalry' from Zoltan Kodaly School for Girls."
2009’s volume contains some of the most eclectic takes on the Christmas genre yet, with everything from boisterous country to languorous ballads and more conventional covers of Christmas classics. Subject matters tend towards the bizarre, from The Pocket Gods’ ode to Kentucky Fried turkey and the Tiger MCs’ tale of a tiger in the snow to current indie favourites, Lancaster duo the Lovely Eggs’ toddlerish punk screams demanding a Tyrannosaurus Rex for Christmas. It’s not all jollity though – a few songs and two spoken word tracks, including Everett True reading from his book about Nirvana, explore the darker emotions around Christmas.
“Christmas songs can be bright and joyful, silly or hushed and spiritual, but, equally, they can be dark and miserable because not everyone experiences Christmas as a happy time of year. I think it’s this contrast of feelings that makes Christmas such a great subject for song-writers,” Rachael explained.
Cherryade Records started in September 2005 when Rachael was at Lancaster University and had a show on student radio, which meant she came into contact with a lot of unsigned bands. It was after travelling to Norwich to record a documentary, and meeting people who were running their own record labels with limited experience and resources that Rachael was inspired to form a record label and Cherryade Records was born, taking its name from a song by Norwich band Bearsuit. Norwich bands are still represented, as well as local Manchester bands, although songs came in from around the country.
Rachael said: “I absolutely love Christmas and Christmas music so when we started the label a Christmas compilation was top of my list of priorities. It was a bit of a vanity project really but other people seem to enjoy it too!”
A lot of people who buy the album are collectors of Christmas music and buy it to add to their collections but I think most people buy it because of the quality of the music.”
She admitted: “It’s just a really magical time of year, I love winter, the cold and the dark, the feeling of stillness, and there’s just something really exciting about the build-up to Christmas through November and December. I love the city in December.”
My favourite tracks on the album are some of the stiller, more reflective moments amidst all the excess. Detox Cute and the Beauty Junkies (aside from having a wonderful name) coat their dreamy, slightly electro take on Christmas and New Year in a warm blanket of strings. Dutch band Persil filter the familiar phrase 'Dear Santa' through wistful space-electronics and noise-scapes of guitar reverb, like a Christmas letter beamed from far away and Foxes’ downbeat, organ and drum machine-led 'Christmas Gifts' is like Electrelane meets Christmas. Allo Darlin’s wistful ‘S P A C E Christmas’ is a whimsical ukulele based love song that stays just the right side of twee.
Equally, there are songs that just make you want to dance around, such as the Humousexual's 'Come Take My Hand in Winter', a song that is almost as good as their name. For me, though, the obvious highlight is Hearts! Attack's Shins-esque punk-pop song, based around rickety chord changes, 'It Was Christmas That Killed Us'. Shunning the bells and choral flourishes of some of the other tracks, its seasonal theme only becomes obvious once you listen to the lyrics.
Now based in Didsbury Cherryade will be celebrating the album’s release with a gig on December 12, with performances from Manchester bands The Shrieking Violets and Doris and the Jumpers, Jimmy from Lancaster band the Bobby McGee's and the 10p Mixes. There will also be Christmas song bingo with the chance to win Cherryade prizes, a Santa's grotto with presents for all and mince pies, candy canes and other festive treats, followed by an all night Christmas disco and Underachievers Please Try Harder clubnight.
Even if the thought of Christmas and sleigh-bell overload makes you want to stay inside with your hands over your ears, Rachael claims: “Even people that don’t like Christmas can usually find something to enjoy.
I think that people have an idea that Christmas can’t songs can’t have much variety or much of a shelf-life but I can think of more songs about Christmas that I could listen to all year round than songs about summer.
I can vouch that the Christmas albums still sound great in July so it’s not like you can only listen to them in December!”
Cherryade Christmas Party, Saki Bar, Rusholme, Saturday December 12.
A Very Cherry Christmas Volume 5 costs £6 (or can be purchased with all the other Christmas albums for £18 plus £2 p&p) and is available from www.cherryademusic.co.uk and all good record stores.
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