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The Herald
20 December 2000

Keith Sinclair,
David Belcher,
Jack McLean.

Obituaries: The Herald

Pop pays tribute to a character

ShaneTributes were pouring in last night for singer-songwriter Kirsty McColl after she was killed in a boating accident in Mexico. U2 frontman Bono led the tributes to MacColl, who died in front of her children after being struck by a speedboat on Monday during a holiday on the Yucatan peninsula. The 41 year-old star was swimming with her two sons at Cozumel on the Caribbean coast when she was hit by a boat that appeared to have intruded into any area reserved for swimmers.

Her manager, Kevin Nixon, who work with her for four years, said: "we are absolutely distraught. I was personally immensely proud to be her manager after being a fan for so many years."

Bono, who once described her as "The Noelle Coward of her generation", said: "I remember Kirsty as just a really brainy, funny girl whose songwriting came from all different traditions. I just remember her humour really. She was really funny. Her death just makes you feel very sick thinking about her kids and that is really all I can say."

Johnnie Walker, a Radio 2 DJ and friend, said: "she was one of the true, real characters of popular music and although there has been pressure on women in music to conform in the music business, she was always herself and said "I Am What I Am". We'll miss her sense of humour and a beautifully crafted songs."

Jools Holland, the television presenter who recently hosted a performance by MacColl on his Later series on BBC2 said: "I'm shocked by the sad news of her death. My thoughts go out to her family."

MacColl was a wordsmith whose wit pervaded the many musical styles she toyed with, but many of her biggest hits were written by other people. They included her covers of A New England by Billy Bragg and Days by Ray Davies of the Kinks. Her biggest hit was the Pope's track Fairy-tale of New York, a boozy love song of which she duetting with Shane MacGowan. It is regarded as one of the greatest Christmas songs ever recorded.

Her first solo single, They don't know, was not a hit for her when released in 1979 when she was just 19, but made the charts when covered by Tracey Ullman some years later. The singer - daughter of folk singer Ewan McColl - had her first chart success, There's a guy walks down the chip shop swears he's Elvis, in 1981.

Over the years she worked with numerous contemporary acts, including the Wonder Stuff on their hit Welcome to the cheap seats, and the Happy Mondays on Hallelujah. However, in recent years have work had tended towards world music with a strong Latin flavour. She worked on an eight-part series for Radio 2, Kirsty MacColl's Cuba, which she recorded in Havana. She interviewed musicians from the Buena vista social club and Ry Cooder for the shows.

A Radio 2 spokeswoman said: "We have decided to delay the broadcast of Kirsty MacColl's Cuba as a mark of respect until we have had the opportunity to consult the family as to their wishes. We are devastated at her loss, which is a tragedy for her family and has robbed the world of a major musical talent. She will be much missed."

Commenting on her extensive travels in Cuba and Brazil, drawing inspiration from the local music, MacColl said recently: "it was like a sudden liberation of my brain. I'd spent so long been unhappy in a very British way, and suddenly there was all this new stuff."

She added: "whenever I going to the studio I always operate on the principle that I might have hit by a bus to moral and I would hear the obituaries to have read it 'her last album was her not very good album'."

In 1995 she released her greatest hits album, on which she poked fun at death by asking her appears to write the sleeve notes in the form of a eulogy.

Keith Sinclair



BabyKirsty MacColl had left-wing agenda and clever line in changing the politics of chart music

It is now almost exactly 13 years since Kirsty McColl attained the highest chart placing of her 25 year long career with Fairy-tale of New York, a single which, in sad retrospect, seems to summarise her whole approach to music-making. Because her duet with Anglo Celt soulmates the Pogues on Fairytale of New York was rare among Christmas singles in having a left-wing political agenda and a vigorous urge to subvert conventional notions of pop music. Its message, however, was delivered with surprising subtlety.

Fairytale of New York was a rootsy piece of plainsong which are articulated an atmospheric protest on behalf of the millions of disenfranchised Irish emigrants who pitched up in America last century. Despite not actually having been written by MacColl, it boasts lines that nevertheless evoke her own perennially playful way with a memorably inventive song lyric.

For whereas your run-of-the-mill yuletide hit generally reaches number 2 in the British singles chart thanks to anodyne references to Little drummer Boys, rockin' snowmen, and/or mistletoe and Wine, Fairytale of New York tunefully cocked a snook at festive cosiness and complacency with pithy sentences including "Merry Christmas, my arse."

At their best, MacColl's own lyrics were similarly witty, fresh, direct, and colloquial. In addition, you rightly find yourself humming along to the melody propelling MacColl's words-and only later would you clock that their meaning was often in earnest and melancholy counterpart to the upbeat nature of the tune. This can be seen in these couplets from Bad: "I've been the token woman all my life/the token daughter and a token wife/Now I've collected tokens one by one/Till I've saved enough to buy a gun."

Her self-determined slant on the world was something she owed to her left wing upbringing. Her father, Ewan McColl, with a noted left-wing playwright, folk singer, and song writer throughout five decades. Her Scottish roots derived from her father's Scottish parents, grandparents Jimmy Miller [William - FW] and Betsy Hendry. The former had been a militant trade unionist who had left his native Stirlingshire for the iron foundries of Salford, near Manchester.

Formed in suburban London, MacColl's own first instantly catchy hit came in 1981. Typically, it sported an unlikely but unforgettable refrain for its title, There's a guy walks down the chip shop swears he's Elvis. However, it was the next line that was the killer: "but he's a liar and an not sure about you." it was soon followed by the equally memorable Don't come the cowboy it with me, sonny Jim.

Kirsty carefully fitted chart hits around her marriage to producer Steve Lillywhite and the couple's two children. This year she made a long overdue return to solo recording with the Latin-derived album Tropical Brainstorm, which formed the basis for her final concert performance in Glasgow in spring, a show in Scottish Television's Cowcaddens studio which was recorded for the Boxed Set series.

There will be widespread agreement with words voiced yesterday by Boxed Set's producer, Ken Neil: "Kirsty MacColl's death now is especially sad in the light of the musical rejuvenation she'd so evidently found in Cuba and Brazil. She came to us in a spirit of great enthusiasm and vitality, with a whole new avenue to explore. Her latest adventure had barely begun."

David Belcher

A sadder Christmas without the singer who was always a quality act With a dreadful coincidence I was talking to a restaurateur friend of mine yesterday lunchtime who wanted to borrow a CD of mind of Christmas songs and I told him of a recent production that had everything needed for Christmas songs from White Christmas to-and the best ever- Fairy-tale of New York by the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl. Then I went on to wax poetic about Kirsty MacColl have. Two hours later the BBC telephoned me to tell me that Kirsty had died in an accident in the Gulf of Mexico.

The first time I met Kirsty she was about five and the most angelic little blond-haired child you ever saw. It was in the mid-Sixties I think, and she was there with her father, Ewan McColl, who didn't like me or my friends much because we had gone electric at Kiel folk Festival. Ewan was a Beeb producer and very much a purist: his daughter was to draw up an eclectic girl who grew from pop and fork and anything else she met musically.

I met her much later at music festivals and in pubs in Scotland and Ireland. By then she'd written and had a hit with one of the wittiest pop songs ever written, There's a guy walks down the chip shop swears he's Elvis. It was much featured on television.

She emerged at much the same time as anodyne Sheena Easton but, because she was much prettier than the Bellshill girl, she was always a little plump and frankly didn't care about the showbiz side of pop. She was always a quality act. I recollect when she did the cover of the Kinks Days. It is the first and only time I have heard a cover better than the original. Kirsty was a splendid vocalist, a quality she may have got from her dad, also a well voiced singer, though it has to be said that it never got the impression that Kirsty got on terribly well with her parent.

The last time I met Kirsty was in Glasgow, in the Clutha Vaults Bar after a concert. She was enthusiastic, as well she might be, about her new album, which appeared last March. But the leiges got her to sing that Christmas Song, the one she had recorded along with co-writer Shane McGowan of the Pogues. Christy Moore covered it on his last album.

Kirsty was a strawberry blonde girl, bright and cheerful. Clever. And with a voice that sounded all of that. I'll bet her yuletide song is going to be played a lot over what is now sadder Christmas.

Jack McLean

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