We are halfway though our advent calendar of versions of Fairytale of New York. We started with an early Pogues version, before the song had come together, and with the female part of duet sung by erstwhile Pogue, Cait O’Riordan. I am not going to torment you with any of the further versions of the song in development, but neither am I ready to give you what you want – the one with Kirsty McColl.
Kirsty’s untimely demise ripped my heart out. It seemed, it was, so unfair. (It was a horrible story which I am not going to share here.) She had, not many months before, released a great album, Tropical Brainstorm, which I loved. I felt she was at a career high. And of course there was this seminal song, which of course brought a tear to my eye the Christmas after she died, and occasionally still.
It is said that Fairytale had restarted a career that had been stalled by terrible stage-fright after her early success (with songs like New England and There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop, Swears he’s Elvis). The story goes that the success of Fairytale forced her to tour with the Pogues, but at the same time keep her appearance on stage to a minimum. That hard work, steadily built enough confidence to take command of the stage solo once again, and create four more albums. Arguably the song made her, just as much as she made the song.
Her death left a hole in the Pogues line-up of course. They has split, but their occasional reunions where mostly around Christmas when of course it was expected that they should perform Fairytale live. It must have felt that Kirsty was irreplaceable. For this half way point I was faced with the dreadful prospect of sharing the terrible version that they had recorded with Katie Melua. Dreamful not because of her, or only partly, but mostly because of Shane’s performance. Which ain’t great.
Thankfully, another singer has more recently stepped up to the mic. And its somehow fitting that its Dr Ella Finer, daughter of the song’s co-composer Jem. In this recording, form a 30th anniversary reunion performance in Paris, Shane is not at his worse either.