My perfect Christmas playlist, by Michael Kiwanuka, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Tim Burgess

Pop stars who lit up 2020 talk about their Christmas routines and share the tracks they turn to on the big day – scroll down to hear their choices

Michael Kiwanuka

2020 Mercury prize winner and associate of mysterious band of the year Sault

It’s been such a good year for my album, but it feels so weird saying that. Winning the Mercury in September was fantastic, of course, but to think in January I was in America for four weeks, and at the Brits in February… that feels another world now.

I’ve learned to stop waiting for things to go back to normal, and try and be creative in the situation we’re in. I’ve done some new things like a reimagined version of Brittany Howard’s 13th Century Metal, and a song for Steve McQueen’s Small Axe films. I did something on the first Sault album and was asked to do something for the new one, but I couldn’t get down there – and no, I’m not going to tell you who they are!

I’ve also learned to be grateful. God, I used to moan about stuff in the studio. If I ever moan again I’ve told the people I work with they can slap me! The Black Lives Matter protests were so huge as well. It felt hard to process, and being on social media, I knew I had to say something [Kiwanuka’s long 4 June post was widely praised]. There’s a pressure there that’s tough. The movement has allowed us to talk about things, though, including lots of things that I’d shut off, and I’m glad of that.

Christmas for me has always been about slowing down, and not knowing what day it is, which is a bit weird this year, as it’s what our lives have been like for months! I’ve always loved Christmas movies, though, so there’ll be a lot of those. I used to watch The Muppet Christmas Carol all year round as a child. If we’re with my wife’s family in the north-east, there’ll be lots of countryside walks with our dog, Whisky. If we’re with mine, there’ll be lots of food: turkey, stuffing, pigs in blankets, but also goat curry and chapatis. No one can move after that.

Kiwanuka is out now on Polydor

Michael Kiwanuka’s Christmas playlist

1. Donny Hathaway This Christmas
The sound of his voice is what Christmas should feel like.

2. Laura Marling Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)
Laura gets you in the mood for those long, cosy days.

3. Simon & Garfunkel 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night
After a year of heavy news, Silent Night with the news broadcasts feels just right.

4. Sufjan Stevens We Need a Little Christmas
Cool, modern Christmas songs are hard to do, but Sufjan knows how.

5. Marvin Gaye Purple Snowflakes
I didn’t know this until a few years ago, and I have no idea what it’s about, but I still love it!

6. John Lennon & Yoko Ono Happy Xmas (War Is Over)
Because you have to.

7. Johnny Cash Little Drummer Boy
He sounds like Father Christmas here!

8. PJ Morton I’ll Be Home for Christmas
He’s Maroon 5’s keyboard player, but a solo artist too. This is from his new Christmas album, which sounds classic already.

9. Isaac Hayes The Mistletoe and Me
The artist that taught me more than anyone else to embrace freedom in my music-making.

10. Stevie Wonder Someday at Christmas
Young Stevie’s so wholesome. This makes me get the mulled wine out.

Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Pop star whose family Instagram kitchen discos have been a hit through lockdown

Christmas is usually pretty crazy with the kids [Ellis-Bextor and partner Richard Jones have five sons between 16 and one]. Of course Christmas is going to be different this year, but we’ll be a family of seven, no matter what. I used to find Christmas quite stressful as a child as my parents split up when I was four, so I was always alternating between houses on my own. It got better when they remarried and had other kids. Christmas is a season with us now, not a day, and of course there’ll be music and dancing.

Doing the kitchen discos really helped me through lockdown. To get to Friday night after a week of heavy news and home schooling, then put on makeup, a dress and some music, and have a community sharing that online, was very comforting. It became precious quite quickly, but I’ve also been quite protective of what it represents. It’s about family and giving us all a place away from stressful tension. Obviously, I can’t wait for the Christmas one.

Christmas Day itself will see us all going for it. Even the 11-year-old and 16-year-old still want their stockings. Richard and I have got good at doing mass catering – starting with buck’s fizz and smoked salmon – although he’ll have probably put on a playlist that’s gone around five times by the time we’re done, which I’ll be sick of. The best Christmas music to me is at one remove from the saccharine. I like an otherworldliness about it, that takes you into a different, special place.

Songs from The Kitchen Disco is out now on Cooking Vinyl

Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Christmas playlist

1. Ella Fitzgerald What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?
The perfect, smoky, romantic and seductive Christmas season song.

2. Ed Harcourt The Way That I Live
Not an obvious Christmas song but it has that “shopping for presents in the snow” feel about it. It was used in a Burberry Christmas advert so they obviously agree with me.

3. Kate and Anna McGarrigle First Born
I sang this with the Wainwrights at their big Christmas concert last year. A gorgeous song about a first-born son, so Jesus loves it, probably.

4. Joni Mitchell River
There’s a little video of Snoopy skating to this on a frozen lake online, which makes it eternally wistful, romantic and wintry.

5. The Feeling Feels Like Christmas
A brilliantly festive song by my husband’s band which includes one of my favourite Christmas song rhymes: “feels like Christmas… and baby I ain’t even religious”.

6. Harold Darke In the Bleak Midwinter
Not the one you learned at school by Christina Rossetti and Holst, but the other odd one. It’s haunting and sounds part of witchy folklore.

7. Martha Wainwright Mary Had a Baby
A traditional song that Martha makes sexy. Sexy Christmas is quite tricky to achieve.

8. The Jacksons I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus
Its message is quite questionable, but this is the best version.

9. East 17 Stay Another Day
For the sleigh bells and their fluffy white hooded parkas in the video.

10. Andy Williams It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
To play when it’s all going bonkers. Play this loud, grit your teeth and grin.

Tim Burgess

Indie veteran whose Twitter listening parties were hugely popular this year

Last Christmas was my last with my father, who died in April [after a long illness]. I was very lucky that I spent his last days with him in a separate section of his care home, with all precautions taken. I’d only started my Twitter listening parties then, but they became such a lifeline for me. They kept me focused, which was good, especially after days trying and not always managing to home-school my seven-year-old son.

I’ve come to realise the listening parties are about more than listening to a record. They’ve become a safe space on Twitter for many people, away from the noise of the news. To be able to connect with the people who made those albums you loved, and have them tell you things about them as you’re listening, also feels powerful right now. Music has comforted so many of us this year. The New Order and Prefab Sprout ones were especially emotional for me.

As for Christmas, my son’s been talking about it since his birthday – which is in May – so this year will be a good one, I reckon. And of course the music will be on.

Tim Burgess’s new EP Ascent of the Ascended is out now on Bella Union

Tim Burgess’s Christmas playlist

1. Crass The Christmas
My first favourite band, who I saw live in a scout hut when I was 13. There’s nothing like hearing Jingle Bells and Crass songs on a Bontempi.

2. Cat Power Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
I saw her live so much when I lived in LA [for 12 years until 2011], and I’m such a huge fan. Her voice here is fantastic.

3. Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks Carol of the Bells
A very quirky, very odd version of the song, both funny and lovely.

4. Vince Guaraldi Trio Linus and Lucy
I play the Charlie Brown Christmas record lots every year, which often sounds quite sad. This is one of the happier ones!

5. Lee Marvin Wand’rin’ Star
A gorgeous, unexpected croon. I have this on seven-inch with him in candlelight on the cover wearing a cowboy hat.

6. Basement 5 Last White Christmas
A guttural, post-punk Christmas song by Dennis Morris, who used to take photos of the Sex Pistols, produced by Martin Hannett, who produced Joy Division and Buzzcocks.

7. Bob Dylan Must Be Santa
Bob’s the original trickster. This is up there with Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands for me!

8. Lou Reed Xmas in February
Christmas with my all-time favourite notorious grump.

9. Chris Rea Driving Home for Christmas
Because if push came to shove, this is my favourite Christmas song.

10. Saint Etienne and Tim Burgess I Was Born on Christmas Day
Doing this on Top of the Pops was the best. This song’s still such a big part of my life.


Jude Rogers

The GuardianTramp

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