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From The Pogues to Band Aid and David Bowie - Kent's influence on some of the biggest Christmas songs

It's that time of year again when, try as you might, trying to avoid Wham!'s Last Christmas or Cliff Richard's Mistletoe and Wine proves as hard as resisting that last mince pie.

But, frankly, we could all do with taking our mind off what the last 12 months has brought us so we say bring on the festive tunes.

Love them or hate them, Christmas tunes are hard to avoid at this time of year
Love them or hate them, Christmas tunes are hard to avoid at this time of year

After all, if there's one thing 2020 could do with is a bit of nostalgic wallowing in times gone by - and there's few cultural devices quite as effective in doing just that than the yuletide hit.

What's more, Kent can lay claim to having the musical clout behind some of the biggest and the best.

In our special run-down, we take a look at some of the biggest festive tunes with a Kentish influence - as well as some of those you may have missed.

Fairytale of New York - The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl

Of all the people, in all the world, The Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan is perhaps the very last you would consider to be from Tunbridge Wells.

The gap-toothed frontman of the Irish band, who has acted as the perfect advert for non-healthy living, was, however, born at the then-Pembury Hospital before moving to County Tipperary until he was six, at which point he and his parents returned to the county.

He grew up in the leafy spa town and even attended private school there too (Holmewood House School in Langton Green, in case you wondered).

Leaning heavily on his Irish roots when it comes to his music, The Pogues are perhaps somewhat surprisingly the composers of one of the festive season's best-loved (and, many would equally argue, over-played) tunes.

Fairytale of New York was first penned in 1985 and would eventually hit the charts in 1987 with the singer Kirsty MacColl sharing vocal duties.

Far from the conventional Christmas hit, it was held off the top spot only by the Pet Shop Boys' sublime reworking of Always on My Mind. But has been a regular chart entry every December ever since. In fact, it has reached the Top 20 on a remarkable 16 occasions since its original release. And, at the time of writing, it is once again a top 10 hit.

It is, however, sobering to think it will be 20 years ago on December 18 that Kirsty MacColl lost her life after being hit by a speedboat as she swam with her young children off the coast of Mexico.

Do They Know It's Christmas - Band Aid

Not only was 1984 a vintage year for pop music, but it ended in charitable style with Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and Ultravox's Midge Ure penning a song which would not only raise millions to help the starving in Ethiopia, but usher in an era of the big sing-a-long chorus charity hit. Every cause seemed to have a line-up of famous faces - raising funds from everything from fighting apartheid to the Zeebrugge ferry disaster to the Bradford City stadium fire.

But Do They Know It's Christmas is the daddy of them all. And we have Faversham's very own Bob Geldof to thank for that. The original hit included a stellar line-up of the likes of Wham!, Duran Duran, U2, Sting, Spandau Ballet and, ahem, Status Quo.

Bob Geldof co-wrote Do They Know It's Christmas? for Band Aid in 1984
Bob Geldof co-wrote Do They Know It's Christmas? for Band Aid in 1984

Also performing was Boy George who, strictly speaking, is a Kent boy. He was born in 1961 in Barnehurst - now part of the London Borough of Bexley, but back then was good old Kent.

Of course, Band Aid would 're-form' a number of times over the years with line-ups which never quite matched that first classic one. Five years later, Band Aid II emerged with producers Stock Aitken and Waterman in charge. The less said the better, in many ways, but the 1989 version did feature a video produced by Kevin Godley who, for many years, owned the majestic Heronden Hall in Tenterden. Better known as part of 10CC and then working with former band mate Lol Creme, the pair had a string of hit singles and went on to produce some of the most notable videos of the 1980s - among them Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax and Two Tribes.

Band Aid 20, released in 2004, featured Dover-born Joss Stone alongside the likes of Tonbridge School-educated Keane, while Band Aid 30 saw former University of Kent student Ellie Goulding perform.

All versions reached the top spot in the charts.

Coincidentally, Bob Geldof also appeared in the video of Proper Crimbo by Bo' Selecta! - the comedy creation of Leigh Francis, better known today as his alter ego Keith Lemon. Also appearing was Denise van Outen - the TV presenter who for many years lived in a farmhouse in Biddenden.

Peace On Earth/Little Drummer Boy - Bing Crosby & David Bowie

There have been plenty of odd musical combinations over the years (Nick Cave and Kylie Minogue, anyone?), but the bringing together of 74-year-old Bing Crosby and a 30-year-old Berlin-era David Bowie may top the lot.

Bowie, let us not forget, was raised in Bromley - then part of Kent. Bing Crosby, on the other hand, is the crooner behind the classic White Christmas - arguably one of the most famous festive songs in the world and one he first released in 1942.

The pair were united in 1977 for a TV special filmed at Elstree Studios in London. Apparently Bowie, keen to impress his mother (who used to work at the cinema in Tunbridge Wells), agreed to appear. He was, so the story goes, not too keen on Little Drummer Boy though, so sang Peace On Earth while Bing persevered with Little Drummer Boy.

It would prove to be Crosby's final TV performance as he died the following month and the show aired after his passing.

The duet itself was not released as a single until 1982 when it reached number three in the charts.

Rolling Stones - with Keith Richards far right. Picture: Jim Pietryga
Rolling Stones - with Keith Richards far right. Picture: Jim Pietryga

Run Rudolph Run - Keith Richards

Dartford rocker Keith Richards is not the first man to conjure up when it comes to Christmas songs, but his first debut single was just that - a cover version of Chuck Berry's Run Rudolph Run, released in 1978.

As is the case with, it seems, any solo effort from the Rolling Stones' boys, it failed to make any noticeable impact on the charts.

Still, it's not a bad little rock 'n' roll outing but it's lack of success may explain why his next solo single took another 10 years before hitting the shelves.

Hokey Cokey - The Snowmen

Now, strictly speaking, this has no place on this list. But, one of the key reasons it broke into the top 20 back in December 1981 was the widely held belief that the man hiding behind the snowman costume was none other than Ian Dury - best known for hits Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick and Sex & Drugs & Rock 'n' Roll.

Dury, acclaimed by many as one of the most influential British artists of his era, had spent a number of years prior to breaking into the music industry teaching at the Canterbury College of Art - now known as the University of Creative Arts.

Hokey Cokey was released on Stiff Records - Dury's label at the time - and those promoting the single did little to deter DJs and journalists from believing it was in fact Dury and his band The Blockheads disguised as The Snowmen.

The mystery did record sales no harm - and it does sound like Dury vocally, albeit in no way musically. The truth is that he probably had nothing to do with it.

For more quirky and unusual stories, click here

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