‘Tis the season to be, well, socially distancing. But succour, surely, is here in the form of that most schmaltzy yet heart-warming Christmas staple: the John Lewis ad. And lo, the conglomerate has delivered.
While the advert itself is somewhat lo-fi, the song – an original written especially for the occasion, for the first time in the advert’s history – is a gem. BBC Sound Of 2020 winner Celeste, whose throaty delivery recalls Eartha Kitt doing a less OTT “Santa Baby”, follows the advert’s theme to the letter on “A Little Love”, with sweetly delivered lyrics about the gift of kindness. Like Kitt, Celeste’s vocals are smoky, with a wonderful use of vibrato. While the lyrics themselves are innocent, that voice, steeped in jazz tradition, adds a sensuousness to the song, along with an old-world kind of romance.
Celeste actually has a few distant connections to the John Lewis Christmas ad. She started singing around the age of 15, after being inspired by Elton John’s “Your Song”, which featured in the 2018 advert. And the year before that, she released her debut EP, The Milk and Honey, which was produced by Lily Allen’s Bank Holiday Records label. Allen, of course, covered “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane for the 2013 John Lewis Christmas ad. Celeste went on to win the Rising Star award at the Brits this year, as well as the BBC Sound Of poll.
As with most John Lewis songs, the instrumentation for “A Little Love” is simple, but unlike many – from Tom Odell’s “Real Love” to Gabrielle Aplin’s “The Power of Love” – it avoids veering into lachrymose sentimentality. Delicately placed piano notes tread delicately, as if over a fresh powder of snow, accompanied by light violin strokes and (what else) that magical shimmer of Christmas bells.
It’s safe to assume that, given the effects of the pandemic, John Lewis decided to go more low-key this year in order to save a few pennies. Enlisting a relative newcomer to write an original cover was a smart move, but also, it turns out, the right one. Celeste has achieved that rarest of feats – a Christmas song that works all the year round.