XFM Winter Wonderland: London – live review

XFM Winter Wonderland
02 Academy Brixton, London
17th Dec. 2012

What’s Christmas without a good concert? LTW’s Keith Goldhanger attends the annual XFM Winter Wonderland show where he gives Bono some spare change. Or does he?

This is basically an office party, held on a Monday night, in a big dark room with white walls and a sticky black carpet for (about 5,000) people who listen to the wireless and were fortunate to bag tickets before they all rather quickly sold-out (…or…y’know…bought them for £85.00 from one of those web sites some of us feel very uncomfortable about that were actually advertising on the same radio station as tonight’s co-hosts up until recently). A company called Rocksmith are also responsible for the evening. Rocksmith makes stuff that you can plug into your computers and make pretend that you’re in a band, the sort of 2012 equivalent of a cricket bat and mirror (or hairbrush if you were poor back in 1955)

Before XFM existed we had to rely on John Peel and when he wasn’t on we had to listen to shit pop music made by “artists” even worse and not so avoidable as (bad) pop music is today. Daytime radio had it’s moments however, but where would we be today if we didn’t have XFM? Would we even have an opinion on Kasabian or The Arctic Monkeys, or Florence and the Machine? And, would we have forgotten about the Pixies by now if XFM wasn’t available to us all the time?

The station broadcasts 24 hrs a day and therefore this DOES give us all the opportunity to hear new and obscure stuff (as well as the old) that we may not get to normally hear on the radio even though it may mean we all have to go to bed a bit late or buy one of those recordable digital radios (or listen the following day on-line).

The same rules apply really as they always have done: Band forms, band makes a single, single gets played at 2am, band does gigs. Then, if it’s deemed to be any good, song gets played at 11pm, 10pm, 8pm, etc and bloody etctera ra ra, until we’re all fed up with hearing it 10 times a day during daylight hours like those bloody Osmonds records back in the 70’s (so i’m told).

We enter the ” XFM Winter Wonderland” at the outrageous early hour of 6PM and are greeted with fake snow, jingle bells, hanging sleighs, drunk and happy Santa’s going “HO! HO! HO!” whilst distributing wrapped gifts of gold and the other stuff I still cant spell. Snow white, Cinderella and some kids from a Charles Dickens novel head groups of carol-singing nuns whilst fairies on wires sprinkle glitter onto the early revelers heads. Noddy Holder stands in the cloak room shouting his catchphrase (“It’s Chriiiiistmasssss”) whilst in the foyer Bono shakes a tin of loose change and reminds us that we should remember it’s them instead of you.

Sorry, I lied…..

Brixton academy at this hour of the day smells like the aftermath of an outrageously drunken messy orgy of an XX gig. There’s not too many people here yet as most people are still in the pubs outside or on the Tube having just left the office (more about these people later). You can tell it’s Christmas though because the bass player standing behind Lucy Rose is wearing a paper Christmas hat probably taken from a cracker.

I couldn’t get a backstage pass but those rumours of their being crackers back-stage must have been true! One person who’s not backstage pulling crackers or kissing people under mistletoe (who knows????) is Mr. Enthusiastic Music Man and probably longest serving XFM DJ John Kennedy (more about him later), standing with us cool kids waiting for the arrival of new indie hopefuls Theme Park who entertain us with hit after hit after hit after new song that i didn’t recognise, after hit, after hit. Six songs, then gone. No smoke, no flashing lights, no flashy summery shirts, but a preview of what we’ll be seeing in a few years time when they eventually get to headline this venue and we’re all dancing and waving our arms in the air like those people do when New Order play that song about not liking Monday’s that are blue or something…


Lucy Rose sits on a stool, bounces up and down in her nice blue tracksuit top (“It’s Chriiiiistma……”) and lets her angelic voice echo around the slowly filling venue. People behind her shake things and twang their guitars politely and make us look forward to a Saturday afternoon in the sun at some future date, stuffing our faces with ice cream and covering our arms with sun cream with this as a soundtrack. Did I mention the bass players’ paper Christmas hat?….oh..OK… (It was a red one).

All the office boys have now arrived and appear to be looking forward to something I really don’t understand. Apparently there’s a radio show on even later in the day than John Kennedy’s show (more of that still to come) and now we’re watching four blokes “entertain us” with the Blur song that goes “OOOoooohhh OOOoooohh!!” Some of us haven’t listened to a breakfast show for years. Probably for this reason. But it’s got the crowd excited enough just in time for Temper Trap who would be a good bet to represent their country in the Eurovision Song contest if Australia were allowed to participate and were stupid enough to enter.


Vocalist Dougy Mandagi has one of the strongest voice I’ve had the pleasure of hearing and as easy as it is to brush them aside as a one “hit” wonder, seeing these guys live again really is a good reminder that this is a band with such a great catalogue of tunes. By the time THAT song begins (“Swweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeetttttttttttt……….) we realise that everyone coming tonight have now rammed themselves into the Academy, conversations have now been completed, everyone has a beer in their hand and, just like 12 o’clock on New Year’s Eve, we have a big room full of people ready to raise their plastic vessels and sing along, very badly, with all the high bits that make the difference between this song being the great anthem that it is and U2’s “Where the Streets Have No Name”. Bloody great.

Next, the natives inside start getting restless. A blast of “Banquet” by the Bloc Party, such a staple in the XFM diet, gets played and we’re suddenly at a very raucheous indie disco. The odd bit of beer is being spilt, people even start dancing to that Depeche Mode song that is now over 30 years old, and before you can start to tie your jacket around your waist and burst one of the big green balloons that have just arrived from somewhere (“It’s Chriiiiistmasssss”) THE Courteeners are here (old people please note that this isn’t the 1977 punk rock band of the same name, spelt Cortina’s, who had a song called ‘Fascist Dictator’ – got that?) and frontman Liam Fray HAD A HAIRCUT! And it looks rather nice…and he wishes us all a Happy Christmas.

Because it is.



And it’s lovely to be reminded.

So anyway, The Courteeners are at their usual anthemic fist-pumping best and the two or three new songs aired tonight are magnificent songs that fit in amongst all the “hits” already available on their first two albums that are easy to sing along to without knowing any of the words. However, by now the front has now been invaded by the office boys (I told you i’d get back to them didn’t I?) in their checked shirts, throwing their overweight bodies around and throwing their overpriced beer around and THROWING the odd teenage girl around who just happens to be in their way. This is ugly stuff and a reminder that these are the people we’ll be sharing a Tube carriage with later. These are the bullies that a lot of people tried to stay away from at school but now have jobs (probably in offices that let them wear their checked shirts the week before Christmas). If they had young sisters, OR GIRLFRIENDS, they’d probably be a little more restrained. Pull yr’self together boys…yr not big, yr not clever (cough!……You’re not nineteen forever).


Before the main act we get Mr John Kennedy, now up there in the spotlight about to give out an award, but just as he starts his speech he’s interrupted, Eamon Andrews style (ask yr dad), by our host for the evening, the guy who hosts the breakfast show (Danny Wallace). Then a screen above his head flickers and splutters into life. XFM have cobbled together a montage of famous people that we all recognise (ELBOW, thingameebob who was in OASIS, EVERYTHING EVERYTHING, bloke from the JAM…), and people we don’t (Ben Howard) all saying rather nice things about John. And at about the same time that Mr. K is trying to work out what is going on, we get Mumford & Sons dragging an “Inspirational” award on to present TO Mr. John Kennedy. Men Whoop! Women scream! Children cry! Lost puppy’s get returned to their owners! Christmas is here and this is a wonderful thing to have happened and settle us all down nicely for the Editors who look like they may have lost their stylists to the Courteeners. Did they always have long hair, beards and ponytails? Have they been watching too many I LIKE TRAINS videos? Well, no (that is where the similarity ends) this is the season to be Jolly and I’m sure there was a time when the last thing you could have accused this band of was being too Jolly.


A lot of bands have now arrived during the past 10 years that are much more miserable than the Editors, and in between ‘Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors’ and ‘Papillon’ we get a couple of newies that set the pulse racing at a familiar rate until you realise that it’s NOT about to morph into the chorus of Echo and the Bunnymen‘s ‘The Cutter’ (it should you know, it should…but it doesn’t) but before you start pointing accusational fingers at them, we’re back in that Indie Disco swinging our hips to the song known as ‘Munich’ and wondering how many more hits this band can muster up before staggering home in our wet with lager clothes.

Merry Christmas, XFM! We won’t take you for granted. It was shit in Radioland before you turned up.

See you again next year, but here’s the deal – You stick to sorting out the music and I’ll arrange the tinsel next time OK xxx

Check out the bands from the night on their Facebook pages: Lucy Rose, Temper Trap, The Courteeners and The Editors.

Words by Keith Goldhanger. More writing by Keith on Louder Than War can be found here.

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Keith Goldhanger -- Spent the '90s as a frontman with London noise merchants HEADBUTT - spent the '80s in 'Peel favourites' BASTARD KESTREL. Spent a few years mashing up tunes and remixing bands as HIDEOUS WHEEL INVENTION. Is often out and about getting in the way of things and bumping his head on low ceilings - Will give your band the time of day but will dislike any band that balances full pints of alcohol on the top of guitar amps (Not keen on lead singers that wear hats either).


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