I admit I didn't know that much about Steve Brookstein before this year's The X Factor - obviously I knew he was the first winner of the show back in 2004, but I couldn't even have told you that his winning song was Against All Odds. It's a fitting title six years on, however, as Steve and partner Eileen Hunter have paired up on a cover of the Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush duet Don't Give Up that is vying with the PR machine of The X Factor Series 7 for the Christmas number one spot.
Or should that be QRistmas rather than Christmas? That is the charity initiative Steve and Eileen are supporting - a campaign that could only work in this age of smartphones and social networking which asks people to use a Quick Response code - one of those funny square barcodes you see on all sorts of products - by taking a photo with their camera phone and allowing themselves to be redirected to more information about homelessness charity StreetSmart and the QRistmas initiative. It is this uniquely 21st century technology that puts the 'QR' in QRistmas.
Download link: Don't Give Up is out on December 13th and available for download on Amazon UK.
Don't Give Up is one of my all-time favourite songs. It's one of those tracks that's always there when you're in a crisis and need someone - even if it's a recording - to tell you it's all going to be OK. It's also a perfect song for homelessness, with its narrative of a man who has seen prosperity in previous times but is now down on his luck. Personally I've never been sure if I think Kate Bush's part is a real-world companion or just his optimism speaking to him, but either way it's a well balanced and thoughtful composition.
So do we like Steve and Eileen's version? I actually do. Quite aside from the fact that it's for charity, it's also a genuinely interesting interpretation of the original. The spirit of the song is the same, but it's aesthetics are subtly altered, right from the opening bassline which has been replaced with a suitably downbeat piano motif. The duet between Steve and Eileen is clever too, with the song fading out on the pair singing line against line in an almost conversational way that suits the dialogue of the overall piece perfectly.
I don't want to take any of the limelight away from Eileen Hunter - she is an integral part of this song and her performance is as professional and well judged as you might expect - but Steve Brookstein's association with The X Factor means he's grabbing the headlines where Don't Give Up is concerned. In fact, The X Factor is the only reason I've come to be more aware of him this year than I was before, after seeing his tweets during the show. Sorry Steve, but you're stuck with that association whether you like it or not!
What I have learned, however, is that Steve is a thoughtful man - he's not as bitter as many people think, he just has opinions on The X Factor. To be honest, they're no stronger than some people I know. One thing I was surprised to learn from William Hill's Rupert Adams - more from him below - is that Steve gave his profits from his 2004 winner's single to the tsunami relief fund. I never knew that, and it somehow made more sense of his support for StreetSmart and QRistmas this time around.
QRistmas Number One?
I'm going to take a punt here and say Wagner will not win The X Factor. So if there's going to be a Rage Against The Machine-style backlash against the show this year, it's all on Don't Give Up - and hey, it's for a good cause, so I'm all for it. We spoke to William Hill's Rupert Adams about the song's chances of hitting the top spot - and to be honest, I might be taking another punt based on what he had to say.
"Steve is a big outsider, but he was on The X Factor and went on to win that. Steve gave all his profits of his original number to the tsunami relief, so I for one think he deserves a break," was Adams' take on the situation. If you fancy putting your support behind Steve and Eileen in the form of a bet, William Hill are offering 66/1.
Don't Give Up is a clever interpretation of a classic song much loved by children and adults of the 80s. Brookstein and Hunter deliver quality vocals - even though Steve decided against recording the cover in early 2010 due to an attack of self-doubt.
"Though I love the song, I wasn't in the right place to sing it. Emotionally and vocally it was a little too tough for me," Brookstein said in an early November update on his website.
Luckily he changed his mind, and the result is a genuinely good song for a genuinely good cause, which is something I can more than get behind. Hopefully it will sell well, raise plenty of money - and perhaps, against all odds, take that Christmas number one spot after all.
"I'm proud to be part of a great group of people doing something good at Christmas. Whether people decide to download the single, donate to their regional homeless charity or just eat at a StreetSmart venue, if it's because of the awareness we are raising then I'll feel it's been worth it."
- Steve Brookstein
Final Score: 89%