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Tinsel … with a twist

'Tis the season to be jolly annoyed at all the music being played everywhere you go.

Olympic Swimmers try to look mean and moody in the studio with a sickeningly festive Vic Galloway
Olympic Swimmers try to look mean and moody in the studio with a sickeningly festive Vic Galloway

If you're not a fan of the festivities, then December must a living hell for your ears and artistic sensibilities. As the tinsel, baubles and inevitable adverts go up earlier each year, so do those incessant sleigh bells and major-key singalongs. As it happens, I am a fan of Christmas music, by and large, and as a "jockey of the discs" on radio I am partly to blame for inflicting such jubilant, joyous pain on all you haters.

As we creep ever closer to the cosy, comfy, anaesthetised anticlimax of Christmas Day itself, no matter where you search on radio, TV and online, everyone's trying to get in on the act. It's all part of the build-up and the ritual anticipation, of course. Every tastemaker, curator and party-starter wants to compare festive playlists and wink cheekily at each other in a kitsch, camp, it-only-happens-once-a-year kind of way.

Even those who tirelessly attempt to keep their cool and hoist their standards high for the rest of the year simply can't resist. I've been presenting the Get It On request show recently for BBC Radio Scotland, and even had the rare opportunity to play Gene Autry's Rudolph The Red Nose Reindeer on air one evening. Quite frankly, it felt pretty good.

But as a so-called harbinger of extremely good taste and a weekly purveyor of alternative, new music and left-field back catalogue, I do make it my mission to present a slightly more unusual and unorthodox festive special when it comes to my own programme.

My self-appointed task for 15 years at the BBC has been to champion the underdog and grace the ears of my listeners with music not often heard elsewhere on radio or mainstream media. Why should that change dramatically at Christmas?

So yes, at this time of year I do join in the celebrations, but with a customary twist. My producer and I start thinking about our Christmas show a good couple of months in advance. We need to roughly plan our running order and book our live acts, so they can prepare the necessary Noel-related nonsense as the calendar dictates.

I dedicate much of my allotted two hours each week to new Scottish artists who are breaking through or simply making interesting, odd and often forward-thinking music. Franz Ferdinand, Biffy Clyro, King Creosote, Frightened Rabbit, Chvrches and many more have played their first live radio sessions on my programmes; and at Christmas I like to keep this weekly tradition going, albeit adorned with a Santa hat and festooned with glitter.

Over the years I've had indie-rock legends Idlewild cover Mistletoe And Wine; Glasgow ska supergroup The Amphetameanies skank their way through an inimitable take on Fairytale Of New York; epic post-rock tunesmiths Olympic Swimmers break my heart with In The Bleak Mid Winter; and east-coast surf-guitar revivalists Preston Pfanz & The Seaton Sands twang along on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. A surfing Christmas certainly did tickle me, and one day I will curate a proper reggae special with the requisite bass pressure and ... ahem … classic Studio One jingle-bells riddim! Maybe in 2014 Scotland's premier sound-system, Mungo's Hi-fi, will get the call.

Many moons ago, my senior producer in the music department even allowed me to let loose on some carols with my own band of the moment, Huckleberry. Have no fear however, rather than a Jools Holland-esque, boogie-woogie, back-slapping affair, my hapless beat combo rocked our way through Ding Dong Merrily On High in the style of The Ramones and even attempted a dour, doom-laden, minor-key version of Oh Come All Ye Faithful ... Oh, the memories.

To join the dots and fill in the gaps on air, I do dig deep into my accumulated collection and attempt to expertly blend and balance the bizarre and beautiful. There's nothing like a breakneck, hardcore-punk blast through the Twelve Days Of Christmas to make you spit your stollen across the room, or James Brown's Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto to help twerk that festive booty.

Even in the alternative music world, there are songs now considered standards for the winter holidays. Minnesotan slow-core harmonisers Low have an exquisite Christmas album; winsome songwriter Sufjan Stevens has devoted hours to a yuletide canon; punk lunatics The Damned claim There Ain't No Sanity Claus; and Krautrock iconoclasts Can recorded a mean, motorik Silent Night. Tracks such as these often turn up on my radio shows.

Tomorrow night's show will be no exception to the annual rule. The Cairn String Quartet provide sumptuous, ethereal, classical backing to well-known carols, and there are original compositions from indie-pop tykes Kid Canaveral, electronic mind-benders Conquering Animal Sound and local hip-hop heroes Hector Bizerk. We'll also up the tempo and shake the tree as Lord Rochester and his band deliver the finest festive frolics in the style of Bo Diddley - a ham-bone homage to the one-chord R'n'B legend.

With a small but perfectly formed studio audience, mandatory mince-pies and mulled wine, and a collection of bad jumpers on display, it will of course be an exceptional and rather unconventional night to remember. Whether you're prone to a "bah humbug!" or surrender to the seasonal silliness, grab a glass of egg-nog, turn on the wireless and join me for some incredible music and a proper knees-up... Ho Ho Ho!

Vic Galloway presents on BBC Radio Scotland at 8.05pm Mondays (www.bbc.co.uk/radioscotland) with a Christmas Special tomorrow. His book Songs In The Key Of Fife is published by Polygon. Contact Vic at www.twitter.com/vicgalloway.

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