You know at Christmas time when you’re at your gathering, and you’re just chilling out, kind of daydreaming, or buzzing a bit on the eggnog, or maybe just staring at your pile of Christmas swag and figuring out how to regift Aunt Agatha’s inspired hand-knitted toilet roll cosy? And then someone pulls out the guitar or gets up and reads something, and it gets better, or more exciting, or more ponderous but in a lovely way? This is what we hope our Holiday Singalong is for you.

Each day until Christmas day, we’re sharing writer/performers’ responses to their favourite holiday songs.

Today's, and our final song of the Holiday Singalong is Doug Johnstone with a cover of Low's Holy Ghost. We've had some great pieces this week and we want to thank everyone for bringing the Christmas cheer. 

DJ: For as long as I can remember I’ve been an atheist, yet sometimes religious music can really move me beyond words, like a good gospel choir or Sufjan Stevens. Or Low, always Low. Alan and Mimi from the band are Mormons and their music is infused with ideas about God, and I find it utterly mesmerising.

They have a Christmas EP which is the best festive record every made. It’s required listening round our house, so I now always associate Christmas with Low. But ‘Holy Ghost’ isn’t from that, it’s on their most recent album, The Invisible Way. The first time I heard it I couldn’t get it out my head, it’s completely hypnotising lyrically, melodically, in the sparseness and repetitive nature of it. It’s a work of genius. Gospel legend Mavis Staples did a version of it recently which is great, but it’s not as good as Low’s original.

One of the things I love about Low is that they’re music is the opposite of happy-clappy religion. Their God seems scary, bleak, dangerous and vengeful. How great is that? And those lyrics in the middle eight of ‘Holy Ghost’ – ‘Feeds my passion for transcendence’ – holy shit, who writes something like that? ‘Makes me wish I was empty’ – oof, that’s a punch in the gut, right?

Something in Low’s stripped-back moroseness and dark humour resonates with me, my writing and my songwriting. It’s a joy to see a band so in tune with they’re artistic purpose, if you know what I mean, and it’s always an honour to play one of their tunes, no matter how mediocre my attempt is.

Doug Johnstone is the author of six novels, most recently The Dead Beat (Faber & Faber). He’s also released five albums with his band Northern Alliance and two solo EPs. Currently the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh, he’s also a journalist and one of the co-founders of the Scotland Writers football team.

Geoff Orton's picture

Geoff Orton

Geoff Orton is the founder of Writers Bloc. He's also a teacher and a Boston Celtics tragic.