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"The Song's the Thing" Festival on the South Bank.

The Royal Festival Hall, London

Tracey UllmanDavid GrayPhill JupitusThe whole story from Kirsty's tribute.

Monday 23 September 2002

A star studded tribute concert was held in London featuring a variety of artists performing Kirsty's songs, and a handful of songs which Kirsty made her own. 

Singers: Eliza Carthy , Christine Collister, Mary Coughlan, Evan Dando, Roddy Frame, David Gray, Boo Hewerdine, Phill Jupitus, Brian Kennedy, Johnny Marr, Mark Nevin and Tracey Ullman.

Players: Julian Cox (bass), Michèle Drees (percussion), Pete Glenister (guitar), Liam Kirkham (trombone & melodica), James Knight (sax), Neill MacColl (guitar), Dave Ruffy (drums) and Ben Storey (trumpet) with Boz Boorer (clarinet & guitar), Eliza Carthy (fiddle), Jem Finer (banjo), Roddy Frame (guitar), Boo Hewerdine (guitar), Johnny Marr (guitar), Mark Nevin (guitar), Omar Puente (violin and voice), Phil Rambow (guitar and vocals), Spider Stacey (tin whistle)

Musical Directors: Pete Glenister & Dave Ruffy
Compere: Phill Jupitus

PosterHere is the Freeworld report, a combination of chronology, review and totally biased flag waving for Kirsty!


One of Kirsty's favourite artists was Iggy Pop, whose Lust for life album she once rated second only to her inspiration, Pet Sounds. This concert revealed her own lust for life in an evening of raw power, to quote Iggy's earlier classic album. An evening for memories and raw emotion, this show was so well performed with passion and with gusto that it made us feel her absence more than ever. It was also of course an exhilarating opportunity to celebrate. 

After years of performing in rather less grand settings, how she would have loved this! Her very own "tribute band" in the gorgeous setting of the Royal Festival Hall in London. with its players at the top of their game, an array of wonderful singers and ticket touts outside asking three times face value for the handful of briefs they'd managed to pick up. That's Kirsty on the South Bank.

There follows an account of the whole evening's proceedings, to prove that there is life beyond Tracey and David, media folks! Unfortunately we have no other photographs from the event, but if anyone took any recognisable shots at the gig we would be happy to put them on the site on your behalf. 

Disclaimer: this review should in no way be considered impartial or objective ... 

PhillFifteen Minutes sung by Phill Jupitus

The show opened with the band strumming the intro to Fifteen minutes before none other than compere for the night Phill Jupitus (above) strode on stage to sing the opener, an unexpected and happy touch. Phill held it together gamely, but was happy to announce that the rest of the evening's turns were likely to be better before inviting the first of the night's star guests, Christine Collister, from the backup singer spot she was to occupy for most of the evening down to the main microphone. 

ChristineUs Amazonians sung by Christine Collister

In the first of several nods to recent band tradition, Christine got things moving with Kirsty's opener Us Amazonians and we got to appreciate how good things were going to get. She was in fine voice and the band were clearly up for it. In the words of fan John Meranda, listening later on headphones even over the internet in California, the band were "SO FANTASTIC!". As the song drew to a close there was a growing feeling that the evening was going to be something special.

BooFree World sung by Boo Hewerdine

Throughout the evening the results of all the love and attention which must have gone into rehearsals were evident, with a seemingly effortless ability to bring Kirsty's songs to life and to have us believing that she was still with us, and working her magic from stage centre. Not so, but in her place we had a clutch of excellent singers, many top songwriters in their own right. Renowned amongst discerning music lovers for his work with Neill & Callum MacColl in The Bible and for his association with Eddi Reader, tonight Boo strapped on his guitar and treated us to a rocking version of this website's eponymous signature tune. Phill thanked Boo for being instrumental in getting the concert together.

RoddyElizaInnocence sung by Roddy Frame (with Eliza Carthy)
Wrong Again by Roddy Frame

The ever wonderful Roddy Frame brought a Scottish flavour to the proceedings with an exuberant cover of Innocence, consistently rated in polls as one of the fans' favourite Kirsty songs. This song also gave Eliza Carthy her first appearance of the night, fiddling away and generally having a wonderful time in the increasingly party like atmosphere. 

Roddy praised Kirsty's way with words and her variety of styles before settling into her romantic lament from Tropical Brainstorm, the lovely Wrong again, played to simple accompaniment. The song Kirsty tried to leave out of her live set because she was fed up with sad songs continues to shine. It's interesting how many of the night's performers are accomplished and articulate singer-songwriters themselves, and plain to see why Kirsty would have been fond of them. The song's the thing, indeed.

EvanPerfect Day and He's on the Beach sung by Evan Dando

Strolling on in jeans and yellow t-shirt, the Lemonheads man (and friend of Kirsty's naturally) exuded a lazily cool star quality and launched gently into the Lou Reed classic which he and Kirsty took to the fringes of the chart. An over played anthem perhaps but nobody sings it like Evan. The temptation to pair him up with one of the other singers was resisted and he did the whole thing himself, assisted only on call & response vocal by Christine towards the end. This was followed by a recapturing of his Lemonheads trashing of He's on the beach, recommended to us by Kirsty herself as being recorded while "Evan & Co were out of their tree in Rio" and much enjoyed, though perhaps not by the purist, one imagines. Do we have Kirsty purists? An authentic slice of rock'n'roll from a cool legend. 

ElizaMambo de la Luna sung by Eliza Carthy and Christine Collister (with Omar Puente)
England 2 Colombia 0 sung by Eliza Carthy

Taking her first turn at the mic, Liza set about Mambo, assisted by Christine and Omar Puente on violin and vocal exhortations. With two of the best voices in English music paired up, this could hardly fail. The only surprise was that despite Mr Jupitus' best efforts, the entire audience remained in their seats! "This next song's a good one!" proclaimed Ms Carthy, as the mighty horn section opened up the familiar bars of that rich Belsize Park drama, England 2 Colombia 0. Clearly relishing the lyrics, Eliza produced one of the vocal performances of the night and was rewarded with the biggest cheers so far.

MaryBozBad sung by Mary Coughlan (with Boz Boorer)
In These Shoes? and Head sung by Mary Coughlan

Heating up the evening by several degrees, Mary Coughlan strode on stage all sassiness and strangely Elizabethan appearance to put the fear of God into men with a faraway look in their eyes everywhere. Opening with a pair of Kirsty's playful numbers, Mary smouldered through Bad, teasing every ounce of mischief from its lines, and notably updating the song to want "an hand on her arrrse in a Spanish bar", which was particularly appreciated by our compere. Fine woodwind action from Boz on this one too! Thanks to Terry Hurley for reminding me of that and supplying an earlier photo of Boz in action. 

On announcing that she "danced around the kitchen to a CD Kirsty had given her, but not in these shoes", the band stormed into the signature brass lines of Kirsty's most famous non hit, and Mary gave the song her fiery and confident best, before switching gears to apply her fabulous torch song vocal to Kirsty's wonderful love song, Head, floating on top of James Knight's ethereal saxophone. By general consensus post gig, Mary was definitely one of the stars on the night, as was the next Irish contributor ... 

OmarBrianDear John sung by Brian Kennedy (with Boo Hewerdine & Mark Nevin)
Angel sung by BRIAN KENNEDY (with Omar Puente)
Don't come the cowboy with me, Sonny Jim! sung by BRIAN KENNEDY (with Boz Boorer)

Another great friend of Kirsty's, Brian Kennedy proceeded to lay waste to the women (and men) around me who were in floods of tears within thirty seconds of his rendition of Dear John, the song Kirsty herself could not bear to record and which is therefore known only (until its appearance on the Box Set, From Croydon to Cuba three years later) from Eddi Reader's masterful recording. The combination of such a delicate and tragic song with Brian's other wordly voice was an emotional tour de force. He followed this up with the rhythmic Angel from Titanic Days to allow the audience to regather some composure and Omar Puente to apply some of his accomplished Cuban fiddle playing before leading the hall in that much cherished Kirsty classic, Cowboy, with Boz Boorer on guitar.

MarkSoho Square sung by Mark Nevin

The song which should have been on Galore but wasn't and is the anthem of Kirsty's fan base everywhere (which explains the bench in Soho Square), performed by its co-writer, Mark Nevin. Unfortunately Mark doesn't have the biggest of voices and it did seem a bit overwhelmed by the stirring accompaniment at times. That song simply had to be sung, and all credit to Mark, a man who used to be so self conscious about singing he banned his recording staff from being in the same room when laying down his first solo album! Mark recalled that Kirsty had referred to Titanic Days during its creation as the "paddle", the point being that they were both up shit creek without one at the time. Our second fashion note would have to be a quick mention for Mark's leopard skin pillbox hat! 

ChristineMy Affair sung by Christine Collister

Possibly the most performed song in the MacColl live songbook, for years this has been a closing staple of the set and traditionally features the band introductions in an extended workout. On this occasion Christine Collister led the ensemble in their customary robust reading of Kirsty's first big Latin excursion from 1991, and managed to get everybody's names right in the roundup! Christine certainly deserved her post gig drink and was easily the busiest guest star on the night!

JohnnyTread Lightly sung by Johnny Marr

Stalwart of the Kite album and general all purpose guitar rock god, Johnny Marr appeared to gales of applause and tore into the boisterous Tread lightly, surprising many by revealing his fine singing voice as well as his legendary guitar work. This was an excellent full bodied romp through another old favourite, with the ubiquitous Christine Collister helping out as ever and the horn section going mad at the end. 

DavidWalking down Madison sung by David Gray (with Johnny Marr) Keeping up the pressure, Phill Jupitus then announced the addition of David Gray ("flown in specially from Boston") to deliver Walking down Madison on top of Marr's guitar work and at last the compere's exhortations to mosh brought a result and a tiny faction (Ross, Liz & Chris V) braved the front of stage void, according to Jay Hirst, "bursting the middle class reserve bubble that always descends on festival hall gigs, and sending floods of people cascading down the steps to the front". The funk groove that is Madison brought an end to the "pre encore" proceedings, with late addition David leading the line well, having rehearsed it only hours before.

Maryou and me baby sung by Johnny Marr
Fairytale of New York sung by Mary Coughlan & Mark Nevin

After much cheering, Johnny Marr appeared back on stage, accompanied by Michèle Drees on fill-in percussion and Ben Storey on muted trumpet, for a world weary and affecting version of Kite favourite You and me baby. This would be the last quiet moment of the night, as the arrival of Spider and Jem from the Pogues heralded the opening bars of Fairytale of New York starring on this occasion Mark Nevin filling in bravely for Shane MacGowan and Mary Coughlan revelling in her role as the pretty queen of New York City. Oh, and a cast of thousands belting out the chorus.T

TraceyThey Don't Know sung by Tracey Ullman and the Mosh Pit
Chip Shop sung by Tracey Ullman and everybody else.

Finale time at the Royal Festival Hall, and after a brief thank you speech from the musical directors Glenister & Ruffy, star of stage and screen Tracey Ullman came on to "sing her hit" for the first time in 20 years or so. Since the stage was by now besieged with party people singing along, she certainly had plenty of support! Buoyed a long on excellent guitar work Tracey rolled along, even taking in that "baybee" moment before bringing the whole evening to a close by leading the ensemble cast in a boisterous Chip shop and much leaping around by all concerned. With a backing trio of (I think) Carthy, Coughlan and Collister, co-writer Phil Rambow alongside her and pretty much everyone else packed somehow on stage Tracey brought things to a fine crescendo in traditional end of gig fashion. Suddenly it was all over, leaving only Phill Jupitus to thank all 25 participants by name before pointing with no little poignancy to the flying fish backdrop and then to the empty mic stand to thank Kirsty. 

About Last Night

L to R: Julian Cox, Boo Hewerdine, Michele Drees, Pete Glenister, Mark Nevin, Johnny Marr, Spider Stacy, Brian Kennedy, Jem Finer, Omar Puente, Phil Rambow, Dave Ruffy, Boz Boorer, Neill MacColl, Tracey Ullman, Roddy Frame, Phill Jupitus, James Knight, Liam Kirkham, Ben Storey, Mary Coughlan. This and more photos with detailed review at (thanks to DM for spotting it).

Prog 1Freeworld Verdict

Ticket StubSince I already knew I loved all of Kirsty's top songs, and also liked all the artists on the bill apart from Brian Kennedy who I didn't know but very quickly had to add to the first list, it seemed like a great night was in store. Letting Phill sing the opener was a brilliant, side stepping disorienting start and it really went well right through. As mentioned in some reviews, having Phill as compere stopped any possibility of a sickly reverential procession, with welcome spiky reminders about the state of Kirsty's fridge (not much room for food) and bawdy sense of humour.

For sure there were some less than perfect musical moments, a couple of hastily recovered lyrical mistakes or coming in too early on the choruses (only evident I should add on close scrutiny of the radio broadcast, he said not naming names!). Occasionally the full on band obscured the singer a bit but never fatally. More importantly this was a night of splendour, of trumpeting Kirsty's name out loud and showing the world that they all cared. I doubt if you could find grounds to criticise anyone on the stage, they were all unquestionably up for it.

Prog 2Prog 3... and it wouldn't be a Kirsty gig without the audience having to be told to dance now, would it? Even that most charismatic of Latin souls in an English body could have trouble persuading her home crowds to dance at times. Thankfully by the last, all the available space around the stage was pleasingly full. I tell you what, it was even better from the edge of the stage! How often can you stand six feet away from living legends like Spider Stacey, Pete Glenister and, oh yes, that Tracey woman?

Cheers then. Since it is unlikely that we'll ever hear the Tropical Brainstorm Band or whatever they dreamed up for themselves this time again, I would like to thank them for their sterling service with Kirsty, on behalf of all the Kirsty fans I'm sure - James, Pete, Dave, Michèle, Ben, on this occasion Liam, Julian and Neill; on past occasions regulars Joe de Jésus and Chucho Merchán. Well done.

My favourite moments? Roddy Frame's Wrong again, Eliza's wonderful rendition of England 2, Mary Coughlan's every utterance and gesture, Evan Dando's effortless stage persona, Brian Kennedy's voice, Jem Finer's wink to Spider after Fairytale, the wall of latin noise from the band, watching Chris W expire with excitement at being so close to Tracey Ullman, Mark's hat, seeing Ross & Co break the dancing curfew which meant we could all join in! Remembering Kirsty. Christine having to do everything but make the tea, Johnny Marr's effortless stage persona, Liza again for just so obviously enjoying every minute, remembering Kirsty again.

 Prog 4

The Mail on Sunday
  The Guardian  London Evening Standard  The Times ( BBC  Ananova )
Read Roger Reini's account of Tracey Ullman's appearance on his Tracey page.
See some (dodgy) photos from the backstage party on the BBC 6music site.
Also TC's excellent in depth review (with photos!) on her site

singer websites:
Eliza Carthy
, Christine Collister, Mary Coughlan, Evan Dando, Roddy Frame David Gray Boo Hewerdine Phill Jupitus Brian KennedyJohnny Marr Mark Nevin and Tracey Ullman.

other resources:
Eliza Carthy & Martin Green
, live at the Cambridge Folk Festival 2002 (27 min video)

BBC 6 music covered the event.   On 23rd Sept 2002, Janice Long presented "Thank You For The Days", celebrating Kirsty's career in the words of her friends and contemporaries.  The next evening, Phill Jupitus presented an edited broadcast of the RFH concert (apart from his own fifteen minutes of fame naturally).

Eliza Carthy wrote in the Observer that her favourite happening in 2002 was "the Kirsty MacColl tribute at the Royal Festival Hall. Having never looked at Kirsty's work seriously before, I hadn't realised what a talent she was, and what fantastic musicians and friends she had around her. I was proud to be there to celebrate such a unique person."  Source: WE.  She also remembered "listening to The Streets in my car and laughing all the way up the road", as I'm sure Kirsty would also have done.

Brian Kennedy writes on his website, "She was a brilliant woman, you know. I was very privileged to be her friend and obviously the loss still goes on. Every now and again I hear her on the radio and I think God I must ring her and then of course you remember that she’s just not there. Its so weird. Again very privileged to be part of that celebration of her life that night in London."

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