Tuesday, 16 July 2013



My small tribute to one of the brightest stars in the pop firmament.

Kirsty in her prime. (Image: Alan Cross)

There’s a guy works down the chip swears he’s Elvis
Just like you swore to me that you’d be true.
There’s a guy works down the chip swears he’s Elvis
Well, he’s a liar and I’m not sure about you.’

I’ve been thinking about the late Kirsty MacColl a lot lately. I saw a book her mother’s written about her in the local library and since then her Best of compilation has been a regular fixture on the Fairclough Towers play list.

Listening back to her songs, it strikes me that Kirsty’s one of the unsung heroines of 1980s pop and popular music generally. Listen to ‘There’s a Guy Works down the Chip Shop swears He’s Elvis’, ‘A New England’, ‘Don’t Come the Cowboy with me, Sonny Jim’ and ‘England 2, Columbia 0’ and you can hear a female song writing talent of the same standard as Weller, Morrissey or Billy Bragg, offering wry, witty vignettes of ordinary life that immediately strike a chord with the listener. Like the knowing, open smile she would regularly put on for photographers, her unusual, wistful vocal style was the perfect complement. Of course, she should have been a megastar, but her songs were too clever for that.

The great and the good of popular music were always queuing up to work with Kirsty. Apart from the Bragg – Kirsty recorded a wonderful cover of his ‘A New England’ – there were The Smiths, the Pogues, Robert Plant and Happy Mondays. In the world at large, she remains best known for her work with the Pogues, her Christmas duet with Shane McGowan ‘Fairytale of New York’ guaranteed to reduce grown men at their concerts to tears. In 1987 I saw the Camden troubadours on their If I Should Fall from Grace with God tour and having Kirsty, Joe Strummer and Lynval Golding from the Specials on board turned those Brixton Academy shows into real events. In fact, they were some of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. I remember a reviewer in the NME saying that it was like going to 1979’s greatest party and there’s a lot of truth in that. For her other great work with the Pogues, check out ‘Miss Otis Regrets’/’Just One of Those Things’ on the Red, Hot and Blue AIDS charity compilation and ‘Lorelei’ on fourth album Peace and Love, a duet with guitarist Philip Chevron awash in a Mary Chain-esque wall of sound.

Kirsty’s relationship with ex-hubby Steve Lillywhite, the producer of If I Should Fall from Grace with God and Peace and Love, early U2, the Psychedelic Furs and Simple Minds among others, was always a rocky one. I worked as a graphic designer at the Bill Smith Studio in 1989, the design company who did the graphics for her album Kite. I used to sit by the stairs up to Bill’s office on the second floor. Kirsty and Lillywhite came in one day for a meeting. After a while, rapid footsteps came thumping down the stairs and Kirsty, glumly red faced, left alone. I found out later that during the meeting, Lillywhite had declared of the photo shoot done for Kite, ‘Who designed these clothes? They’re ****ing awful!’ Kirsty replied, ‘I did!’ burst into tears and stormed out.

I think it’s gone now, but in the Phoenix Arts Club on the Charing Cross Road in London there used to be a corner of that underground bar that was devoted to Kirsty, hosting a large poster of her with that well known smile. This was the shrine for a group of Kirsty admirers who would meet on the anniversary of her death for drinks and the occasional song. Sometimes her mum would come along.

For such an idiosyncratic talent, it seemed like the perfect legacy.

And how can you not love someone who called one of her albums Electric Landlady?


  1. Hi Rob!

    I knew Kirsty's dad Ewan very well and met her (half) brother Neil a year or two back. Kirsty would also doo slightly surreal guest spots on French and Saunders but as a valued during a Pogues gig at the Manchester Apollo (1989 ish) she emerged from a hugh mocked up fridge to do...Fairytale. I asked her afterwards if she'd ever had chance to visit her dad's childhood area, the Dirty Old Town itself and apparently Shane McG had insisted on a wander down by the genuine old canal that formed part of the song!

  2. Lovely story, Steve. She was a true original.

  3. Kirsty oh Kirsty loved her so much miss her immensely she was the best British female singer songwriter of all time as for Lillywhite he was always a kn*b messed Kirsty around from day one according to a former Record Studio Hand I know Phil Jupitus