ARGUABLY, the last thing we all need in the run-up to Christmas is a bunch of visiting bands persuading us to shell out on gig tickets instead of prezzies.

On the other hand, the first thing we all need in the run-up to Christmas is a form of blessed release and escape from the pressure of buying prezzies - so I salute each and every one of the following.

First out of the traps is the Modfather himself, Paul Weller (Lighthouse, Poole, Sunday, support by The Rifles, doors open 7pm, £29, tickets from 08700 668701). Enjoying quite the most profound return to form I can think of at short notice, Weller is also the subject of a recently-released career retrospective, Hit Parade, which stakes a formidable claim for his being the pre-eminent songwriter of his generation.

It would seem only fair, therefore, to expect a set which takes in a whole heap of Weller highlights from soup to nuts - or from Jam to nuts, if you will.

Elsewhere the same night, lay out your pearly king finery and ram those pockets with jellied eels in exultation at the arrival of Chas & Dave (The Landmarc, Bournemouth, Sunday, doors open 7pm, £15, tickets from 0870 111 3000).

My fondness for the Rockney' duo is a matter of record, based not only on respect for their roles in the first generation of UK rockers, but also on their pretence-free music and their insistence on employing a Piltdown man as a drummer - the great Mick Burt, eight million years old at the last count.

Elsewhere again the same night, it's the reappearance of those much-loved horny-handed sons of toil, The Levellers (Guildhall, Southampton, Sunday, doors open 7.30pm, £17, tickets from 023 8063 2601).

A major fixture in the charts and on the festival circuit in the 1990s, The Levellers flew the flag for the righteous dispossessed from all walks of life, and their new album Truth And Lies is by all accounts a passionate return to form.

Now, Monday isn't usually the most notable of days to mark down in one's gig diary, but this one boasts something intriguing and different - namely a rare outing by The Easy Star All-Stars (The Brook, Southampton, Monday, £10, tickets from 023 8055 5366, see for age restriction details).

This New York-based outfit - the 13th best-selling reggae act of 2003, according to Billboard magazine - made their name with the remarkable Dub Side Of The Moon, a reggae version of Pink Floyd's epochal masterwork, and now they've meted out the same treatment to Radiohead's OK Computer. Entitled Radiodread, the album has been hailed with hosannas all over the place, and Monday's Southampton appearance by the band promises to be a talking point for weeks to come.

On Tuesday, Wales is fervently represented by Lostprophets (Bournemouth International Centre, Tuesday, doors open 7.30pm, £16.50, tickets from 0870 111 3000). Now on their third album, Liberation Transmission, the band can boast a fanatical following in Britain and the USA, and have even cropped up in the top 10 singles chart with Last Train Home and Rooftops (A Liberation Broadcast).

Those of you with a taste for punk rock good n' proper will be braced to see the re-emergence of UK Subs (Railway Social Club, Bournemouth, Wednesday, 8pm, support by Dimonic Upchucks, Diablos and Spitroast, tickets from 0870 111 3000).

Speaking as a UK sub-editor myself, I naturally approve - and I cherish the memory of seeing the UK Subs at the Loch Lomond Rock Festival in 1979 or 1980, performing a set in which every song seemed to be merely its own title repeated four times. Pure class.

It has also been a while since we had cause to consider The Wonder Stuff (The Brook, Southampton, Wednesday, £15, tickets from 023 8055 5366), who loomed large on the chart horizon on a regular basis some years back. They now have a new album to promote, Suspended By Stars, and are incidentally responsible for all the music from the Beeb's new children's series Underground Ernie.

Finally, please be upstanding for DJ Shadow (Bournemouth International Centre, Thursday, doors open 6.30pm, £18.50, tickets from 0870 111 3000), who cut a mighty swathe through the dance community in the late 1990s with his debut album Endtroducing. His new album, The Outsider, was released in September and will be showcased at his Bournemouth appearance with several special guests', we are teasingly informed.