MacColl’s bitter sweet interplay with MacGowan

Greatest Christmas song ever? ~ How it was written ~ Painful birth of classic ~ Shane as Sinatra
Producer Steve Lillywhite ~ Kirsty MacColl vocals ~ Kirsty MacColl stage fright
Unofficial NYPD choir ~ Lure of Big Apple ~ Not just for the Irish ~ Alternative Christmas
Most played Christmas song ~ Lyrics censored ~ The video ~ Lyrics and chords

Part of the magic of Fairytale of New York comes from the bitter sweet interplay between the rough vocals of Shane MacGowan and the purer sound of Kirsty MacColl.

Kirsty MacColl PD

Kirsty MacColl

MacColl was married at the time to Steve Lillywhite, who was producing The Pogues’ third album, If I Should Fall from Grace with God. Fairytale was one of the tracks on the album.

Pogues guitarist Phil Chevron says MacColl was already well known to the band long before they recorded together. “Kirsty had become part of our circle as a friend, a confidante and now as the wife of the producer, but for some reason she had never figured on our short list of people we were going to approach to sing Fairytale of New York.

“It’s inexplicable really but sometimes you need to hear something to know that it’s the right thing.

“Steve knew better than we did what Kirsty could do with it. He said, let me try something, I’ll take the tapes home, Kirsty will have a go at doing a vocal on it, and I‘ll take it in tomorrow and we’ll see what we think of it. If you like it we’ll work with it, and if you don’t, no harm done. No one will think the less of you for letting her have a go at it.”

MacGowan and MacColl recorded separately

Shane McGowan front man of The Pogues photo Masao-Nakagami_CC2

Shane McGowan

Lillywhite takes up the story: “Shane in his great Shaneness scribbled down the lines that he wanted Kirsty to sing. I took the 24-track home to my house and spent a whole day with Kirsty doing the vocals. We cleaned off Shane’s vocal so we just left holes for her to do her bit. They didn’t sing it at the same time.

“We spent a long time because Kirsty did harmonies, like on “well so could anyone …” that had a big harmony there. She sang a different harmony on the chorus. I was very proud of how I produced vocals. Chevron said: “What they recorded that night was the lead vocal. There wasn’t any fine tuning. There wasn’t any improving or refining. What they recorded was what you hear on the record which is absolutely perfect.”

Final-version

Fairytale co-writer Jem Finer says the band all reconvened on the Monday afterwards to listen to the results. “It was just like wow; it was amazing. There was no question about who was going to be the female vocalist. It was just there complete with harmonies. It was fantastic.

Chevron added: “To actually hear that coming through the speakers in RAK studios was an extraordinary moment. It was a very, very moving moment because it was so obviously perfect. It was like, what were we thinking when we didn’t think of her in the first place?

Kirsty brought the heart to the song

I was madly in love with Kirsty from the first time I saw her on Top Of The Pops. She was a genius in her own right! She could make a song her own and she made Fairytale her own.
Shane MacGowan

“I just burst into tears because you know, this is just going to be the best thing ever – so much better than even we believed it could be. It was the first stirrings of the special quality that that song has, that moves people to such an extent, and to a large degree, that’s what Kirsty brought to that record. She brought the heart to it.”

However, the quality of MacColl’s vocals did create an unexpected problem, as Lillywhite explains: “When we finished it, it was plainly obvious that Shane’s vocal was not as good now that Kirsty had really raised the bar. He sounded sort of slurry. Shane said, I’ve got to sing it again. That just kicked his level of performance higher. He’s a proud man. He redid his vocal and that was it.”

Chevron summed up the feelings of everyone involved in the record when he said: “I remember thinking that this was no ordinary piece of music that we were recording. I think it’s fair to say that we were aware that we were doing something that was going to stand the test of time.”

Greatest Christmas song ever? ~ How it was written ~ Painful birth of classic ~ Shane as Sinatra
Producer Steve Lillywhite ~ Kirsty MacColl vocals ~ Kirsty MacColl stage fright
Unofficial NYPD choir ~ Lure of Big Apple ~ Not just for the Irish ~ Alternative Christmas
Most played Christmas song ~ Lyrics censored ~ The video ~ Lyrics and chords

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