Caitlin Moran wrote in The Times on 17 March 1995, titled ‘At home with Lauren, Margarita and Me’ — She is sitting on the edge of the bath, wrapped in a fake leopard skin coat and squinting quizzically while smoking a cigarette. I am on my hands and knees, throwing up with all the force and natural beauty of Mount Vesuvius. “Oh, you do remind me of myself when I was your age,” Kirsty says, sniffing, then biting on her lower lip to keep from laughing. “Are you sure you’re okay? I feel a bit guilty.”
I blame it all on Talking Heads. In the sleeve notes to her just-released Best Of album, various luminaries pay tribute to Kirsty MacColl’s ability to write classic pop songs, her Corybantic vocals and phrasing, her breasts (thank you, Morrissey) and, almost unanimously, her partying prowess. Chris Franz and Tiny Weymouth of Talking Heads wrote: “When you hear these songs of Kirsty’s, you’re going to want to hang out with her, too.” And my fate was sealed. Genius that drinks! Doomed.
“It’s probably the very antithesis of rock’n’roll, but a fairish old whack of what I laughingly refer to as ‘my career’ is down to two teachers,” Kirsty says, pouring out the first of too many margaritas. She ordered food before she sat down “I know the menu by heart” and stacked up two packets of Silk Cut and a lighter on the table, so the delay between wanting a cigarette and actually smoking it should not be more than six and a half seconds. “My English teacher gave free acoustic-guitar lessons after school; and my maths teacher did the same with the electric guitar. I was too poor to buy a guitar, so my English teacher lent me his, which I thought was very sweet, and above and beyond his job description.”
She started writing songs when she was 14 and took a succession of scrag-end jobs in order to buy her own guitar. “Problem was, by the time I’d earned enough money to buy the one I wanted, the price had gone up again.” A perfectly timed pause. “So that was when I went on the game.”
Kirsty signed to a record company that had such acute financial problems it could not afford to put her in a studio, so she started doing guest vocals on friends’ records, just to keep her voice in shape a trend that was to continue through her career. So far, The Pogues, The Wonder Stuff, The Kinks, The Smiths and Happy Mondays have all benefited from the voice that swoops and loops-the-loop with itself like swallows trying to catch moths at dusk.
She has written songs with Johnny Marr of The Smiths, and the next single should be a languorous version of The Velvet Underground’s ‘Perfect Day’ on which she duets beautifully with The Lemonheads’ Evan Dando, only “bastard Duran Duran have done a version for their album, so it probably won’t be released until 2056. As a tribute to my untimely death”.”
So Kirsty, I ask, resting my chin on the empty margarita jug, why aren’t you ridiculously famous? You are one of the most consistent classic pop-song writers of the 20th century, and you have a voice that Dolores from The Cranberries would kill for. Where is the Number One record? ‘Free World’ from the 1989 LP ‘Kite’ should have topped the charts; Radio One should have given ‘Titanic Days’ some on its playlist. Where is the Huge Hit?”
“Oh,” Kirsty pulls a face, and waves her hands. “Record companies often have a complete inability to get a record in the shop. It’s all politics and incompetence. They’ve done all right by this record, though. Hopefully, by the time I get around to recording the next album, I’ll be able to afford that 24-piece orchestra. I think I deserve it by now. Have you got any booze at your house? C’mon, let’s go.”
An hour later, after we have danced all round the house, I shove my acoustic guitar at her and demand she play all her greatest hits, now. She does. The Lauren Bacall of pop music, no less.
Kirsty spoke to The San Mateo Times’ Paul Freeman 1995, “Having had so many record companies along the way I’ve had records put out without my even knowing about them. Sometimes they don’t care about making it a good package. It was nice to have the power to actually be able to choose the tracks that went into this one. I had control. I like the writing and performing. But the business end of things is a real pain in the ass. I stay away from it as much as possible, but some things you have to do yourself. I wanted the album to include the ones that had been best received, but also others that represented the variety of musical styles I’ve tried to experiment with. I pick covers that aren’t so well known. I have to feel strongly toward them and make them my own. I put my stamp on them so they don’t stand out as ‘Oh look, here’s one she didn’t write!’ They fit a sort of central mood.”
“They Don’t Know’, like many of the songs on ‘Galore’, is instantly infectious, yet contains lyrics with a deceptive edge.”
“I suppose that’s just the way I am, really. I can be quite outgoing, but I get quite depressed, too. My songs are a mixture of both things. Also, if you want to get some heavy-duty thing across in a song, it’s often good to present it in a joyful guitar style. You don’t want to put everybody off before the idea has had a chance to infiltrate into them. Most listeners ever notice the lyrics anyway. I either like a song or I don’t. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with whether the lyrics are any good. Sometimes you get a record that is incredibly banal and monotonous, but you really like it anyway. You can’t put your finger on why. I tend to like writers who can make me laugh, the ones who don’t take themselves too seriously. There’s always going to be a few real songwriters and 3,000 other people making records who can’t actually write songs. There’s so much stuff that just sounds like everybody else. Frank Black makes me laugh and Beck is really cool. But there’s not much else. There’s like 15 bands that want to be the Stones, 15 bands that want to be Nirvana. I’m bored with it. I just want to be Kirsty MacColl.“”
“I listen to hardly anything in English at the moment. But I don’t think the next album will be reflective of that. It’s not going to be performed all on Columbian nose flute.”