After the debacle of yesterday’s Jon Bon Jovi effort, I give you instead the version that was scheduled for yesterday. It really was a last minute change – I was searching for this one, when the Classic Rock headline came up. Sorry.
Creeper are an English rock band, local lads and lasses from Southampton. So I guess this is a sort of heavy metal version. The guitars at least are a little metal, but the rest of the arrangement is actually quite sensitive. I really like the last few bars. any how, this one goes in the not-bad pile.
Thirteen – unlucky for you all. And a late entry to my plans as this is a version from 2020. I am truly sorry to inflict it upon you, but it is my duty to do so. If only so that I can quote from the splendid article that brought it to my attention. These words are not mine, but those of the splenetic Paul Brannigan of Classic rock magazine.. Lets start with the headline:
Listen to Jon Bon Jovi ruin Christmas with the worst version of The Pogues’ Fairytale Of New York ever recorded
Short and to the point huh? The standfirst is even better”:
If you thought 2020 couldn’t get any worse, listen to Jon Bon Jovi sh*t all over The Pogues’ beloved Fairytale Of New York
And it goes on!
Just when we thought 2020 had turned a corner, a new horror has surfaced, in the form of Jon Bon Jovi covering The Pogues’ Fairytale Of New York… We’re not going to be too unkind here, ’tis the season of goodwill to all men and all that, but we have three immediate questions: 1) why is JBJ arguing with himself? 2) What’s going on with his accent at 1 minute 28 seconds? and 3) Lyric change aside, WHAT ON EARTH IS HAPPENING BETWEEN 2:16 and 2:30?
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.
In the Venn diagram of Fairytale covers includes a set I call “Billy no-mates”. This is where a performer is reduced to singing the famous duet solo. The excellent Christy Moore rendition is in the Billy no-mates set, but also, thankfully in the Good set.
This one is also in the Billy no-mates set. It’s by the improbably named “Maverick Sabre”. It’s in the Slut/Faggot set too. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if its also in the Good set. But this is a BBC Radio 1 session, so somebody must think so.
Well this is an interesting one, or alternatively, a supremely uninteresting one. It is also pretty pointless, while at the same time having a point… I guess.
My daughter just got a job at HMV, and was in her store for training when “the granny records” finally arrived. The granny records are that special Christmas stock of discs that you can buy your granny, full of inoffensive music by the likes of Michael Ball. Though of course some would argue that music by Michael Ball is the definition of offensive. Tastes differ.
But if you find the “controversial” lyrics of the original not to your taste, or indeed are offended by the blandness of any of the alternative lyrics – then I have the version for you (and for your Granny). This cover, by by the Australian guitarist Craig Ogden, has NO LYRICS AT ALL!
Seriously, what’s the point? Well I guess its a version you can play on Classic FM, who are the sponsors of Craig’s Christmas Time album.
Almost forgot to post this today. I have two versions of Amy Macdonald singing this in my collection. I think they are both different but they are both live from the Barrowland, Glasgow. (Well I tell a lie – one is from the Glasgow Barrowland). I recall that the Barrowland was a regular stop on the Christmas circuit for the Pogues. Not a venue I went to, being a London lad, but part of the mythology of the song. It’s fitting then that this was recorded live there. I never worked out who the bloke is, but it’s Amy’s performance I like here – she manages to belt it out like a Glaswegian thirty years older than she is, giving her part a character sketch few others have managed. with all the booze, tiredness and ‘too old for this shit’ that the lyrics need.
No I have had a look on the web, no idea who the bloke is. He’s not bad, but nothing special. (He is nine hundred million times better than Russell Crow’s rendition. Am I going to give you Russell Crow’s version? No, I am not. Seek it out yourself, if you dare.)
Yesterday we had bells and brass. This version give us another vital element of a true Christmas tune – a choir.
Of course the original had the “NYPD Choir” in the lyrics, but no choir on the actual recording. Indeed when they needed an NYPD choir for the video, they discovered such a thing did not exist. So you have the massed pipers of the NYPD singing in the video. And they are not singing “Galway Bay” – the only song they all knew the words to was one they had grown up up with. So, famously, they are actually mouthing the Mickey Mouse Club theme: Em eye sea, kay ee why! Em oh you ess ee!
The choir arrangement in this one is really very good. Paloma Faith gets into character (though I am not sure which character) and the overall effect is not dreadful. I note with some interest that this BBC Radio 1 session sticks with the controversial lyrics, in 2018.
This version of Fairytale is a new one to me, nominated by a follower of this blog, author Magnus Seter. Magnus is from Sweden, and offers, appropriately, a version in Swedish. But what sets this apart from many, many other versions is not so much the language, but the arrangement.
Have you ever thought “I like Fairytale of New York well enough, but it’s not quite … Christmassy enough”? Well if you have. If you need more horns and bells, Ainbusk have you sorted.
Ainbusk are a Swedish pop/folk vocal group from Gotland, whose biggest hit “I met Lassie” was Christmas number one in that country in 1990. So they have form as it were, and capitalising on their association with the festive season, a Christmas album, I midvintertid: En jul på Gotland came out in 2001. I guess that’s where this version came from.
Right, enough about contentious lyrics and their alternatives. Lets just have a cover version that I love. I was a fan of Christy Moore before I was I fan of the Pogues, arriving at him via Simon and Garfunkel and Clannad and my general appreciation of folk music. I can still remember the look I got when I bought an album of Irish Rebel songs by him. He was avowedly Republican and the guy behind the counter gave me a look like I was actively contributing funds to the provisional IRA by buying the album.
I didn’t get to see him live, though, until after the Pogues made Irish music more popular generally. Note I say “more popular” not actually popular like on the top ten or anything. Still it meant his promoters could fill the Hammersmith Odeon, and that’s where I saw him, with a girlfriend I think, though to my shame I can’t recall which one.
I do recall him thanking Shane MacGowan and the Pogues for popularsing the genre though, just before his sang a cover of A Pair of Brown Eyes, which I feel, shares the same drunk-tank sensibility as Fairytale.
This version is from an RTE TV gig I think, and Moore starts by telling the story of how “ten or twenty of maybe thirty years ago, I can never remember which, I heard a man from Tipperary singing this song, and I asked him to sing it again and again until I had the words. Then I started singing it myself.” But before you get cross at this apparent attempt to pass it off as an old found folk-tune, listen until the very end. 🙂
Now, you will notice that Christy does actually take a lot of liberties with the lyrics, but not for the purpose of bowdlerisation. Rather he is making the song his own, changing scan and rhyme to better suit his style. In this way we can see the beginnings of the tune’s journey into the traditional, which different versions sung in different communities.