CHRISTMAS may be a time for singing and rejoicing, but all too often the music is all a bit... predictable.

While we love a bit of Slade, Wizzard and Jona Lewie, it’s also great to celebrate the festive season with some quality tunes. Fortunately, we are uncommonly blessed with great bands and venues in Oxfordshire, meaning there is something for everyone out there. And this year we get a full weekend of partying before the big day.

  • For the folk fan

Belshazzar’s Feast

The project of fiddle and oboe player Paul Sartin and accordionist Paul Hutchinson, Belshazzar’s Feast convene every Yuletide for a rip-roaring night of English roots music, which is as festive as turkey, crackers and rowing relatives.

The act, named after the decadent Coregent of Babylon and his hedonistic final repast, is the perfect inspiration for a fun-loving celebration of the finer things in life – with the emphasis on Bacchanalian excess. And their spiritual home is the tiny village of Nettlebed, in the heart of the Oxfordshire Chilterns, between Wallingford and Henley.

For many a year, they have celebrated Christmas with a lively show at the Nettlebed Folk Club, which is where we’ll find them this Monday.

The starting point for Belshazzar’s Feast is traditional folk, but the music incorporates classical, jazz, pop and music hall, along with plenty of jokes. It’s a cracking combination which saw the pair nominated for the Best Duo Award at the 2010 BBC Folk Awards.

“We are the perfect act for Christmas,” says singer composer and multi-instrumentalist Paul Sartin – previously of folk supergroup Bellowhead and a former Lay Clerk at Christ Church Cathedral.

“This is a good time to be doing what we are doing. We are like a cabaret act for people who are out for a party and want to let their hair down. It’s an annual visit and lots of people we know go down – which means we have to keep changing the set and remember not to tell the same jokes.”

He adds: “It’s English folk music... on cider... if folk music isn’t on cider already!”

“For decades people were quite serious about traditional music, and because it was under threat, they treated it with kid gloves. We are different. We treat it with Marigolds!”

Nettlebed Folk Club, near Wallingford, on Monday, December 18.

  • For the reggae-lover

Reggae Christmas with Susan Cadogan

While we are famous for our glorious carol services and choral concerts, Oxford also has a more unlikely traditional Christmas soundtrack – reggae.

For as long as anyone can remember the Cowley Road has reverberated to the bass heavy sounds of dub, ska and dancehall on Christmas Eve. It started with local heroes Makating at The Zodiac ‘back in the day’ and continues with Count Skylarkin - aka Aidan Larkin.

This year the count is joined at The Bullingdon with a true legend, Jamaica’s Susan Cadogan. Susan is one of Kingston’s all-time great hitmakers, lending her vocal prowess to such classics as Hurt So Good, Nice & Easy and Piece Of My Heart. This iconic singer recorded with Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, appeared on Top Of The Pops when it mattered, and is now back in OX4.

Also up are Mighty Leap, DestaNation, Keeth Ulett and, of course, the charismatic Count Skylarkin and dashing John Dash.

The Bullingdon, Cowley Road, Oxford on Christmas Eve.

  • For the indie-kid

Foals, Low Island & TEED

They may be headlining festivals and packing out arenas, but we all know Foals started off their meteoric rise to stardom right here in Oxford. And their venue of choice was The Cellar.

Now they are heading back for a knees-up to celebrate the club’s successful battle against its planned closure. The lads will play a DJ set, alongside Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs – the stage name of Oxford DJ Orlando Higginbottom – and local band Low Island.

All profits will go to The Highfield Adolescent Mental Health Unit and homelessness charity Crisis Skylight.

The Cellar, in Frewin Court, off Cornmarket, Oxford on Tuesday, December 19.

  • For the surf-rocker

The Long Insiders

There are rock & roll bands, and there are The Long Insiders!

A staple of the local music scene they stand apart in being utterly unique in what they do – high-octane surf-rock and rockabilly. And we can’t think of a better, sweatier way to dive into the festive season.

Nick and Simon Kenny and Dan Goddard hit Witney for an immaculately turned out, floor-to-the-floor performance tomorrow. A phenomenal live band – one of the city’s finest – The Long Insiders will have you on your feet with a snake-hip swaying distillation of West Coast rockabilly and tinsel-strewn Oxfordshire fun. Support from Badmonkey and guests.

Fat Lil’s, Witney, on Friday Dec 15,

  • For the local band watcher


There’s a wealth of talent pulling their party poppers for us this Yuletide, with all our favourite promoters wheeling out their festive hostess trolleys of boozy rock.

At the O2 Academy Oxford tomorrow, Friday Dec 15, the final Uprising night of the year sees Witney’s outrageously talented Leader, Ulysses Wells, Rhyme Skeemz, The P45’s, Birthday Card and Creys.

The same venue hosts Mark ‘Osprey’ O’Brien’s It’s All About The Music Christmas Party on Thursday, December 21, with sets by Brixtons, Restructure, TMA, Lost Darren, Be Still and Lake Acacia (

Also, don’t miss the spectacular Audacity who pitch up at East Oxford Community Centre tomorrow, Friday Dec 15, for a night of live performances of rave classics, and the phenomenal Black Candy, reconvene after their powerful Truck Festival comeback for a night of searing rock, on Sat.

The Cellar, on Saturday, December 16.

  • For the funk-soul brother/sister

Craig Charles

The Red Dwarf, Coronation Street and Robot Wars star cranks up another festival-style night of killer tunes in this now traditional night of funk and soul. If you’ve heard his 6 Music and Radio 2 shows, you’ll know what to expect – which is lots of dancing.

O2 Academy Oxford, on Saturday, December 16.

  • For the folk-rocker


If your experience of folk-rock stretches only to the likes of Fairport or Steeleye Span, you are in for a treat from Leatherat, who blend raw adrenalin-fuelled rock with traditional roots music.

Sadly this sold-out gig is the Banbury band’s final show after five albums and 13 years, but it promises to be quite a send-off. Support comes from 3 Daft Monkeys and Kapelle and Stevie – One Bloke One Mandolin.

O2 Academy Oxford on Saturday, December 16.

  • For the glam-rocker


Are you hanging up a stocking on your wall? It’s the time that every Santa has a ball...”

Just as the cuckoo is the harbinger of spring and the swallow a sure sign that summer is around the corner, we all know Christmas is upon us when we here the strains of Slade – and Noddy Holder’s unmistakable yell: “It’s Christmas!”

Starting off as hard-bitten rock & rollers, Slade have become the ultimate festive band, with Merry Xmas Everybody among the best-selling seasonal hits ever. So it’s only right that their arrival in Oxford should be timed for just before the big day.

Their show at the O2 Academy on Thursday sees the Black Country glam-rockers in party mode as they run through such hits as Cum On Feel The Noize, Coz I Luv You, Take Me Bak ‘Ome, Mama Weer All Crazee Now and Gudbuy T’Jane – and, of course, that Christmas song – which has sold well over a million copies.

O2 Academy Oxford on Thursday.