Saturday, October 10, 2009

Kirsty MacColl, on what would have been her 50th Birthday

It may seem oddly inappropriate to some: Referring to Tracey Ullman on Kirsty MacColl's birthday. But this missive shall attempt to cursorily explain my circuitous connection to Kirsty MacColl. Trust me: the details are so NOT worth it.
I never met her.
But "Tracey Ullman" is as easy a point to sally from as any. During a telephone interview with Ms. Ullman -- who was, at the time, just about almost "regarded" in the popular lexicon as "Oh. yeah, her" -- the point was made to me that her "big hit" was written by and originally performed by a Kirsty MacColl. I was, of course, incapable of making any kind of intelligent conversation about Ms. MacColl and asked Ms. Ullman to squeeze a few lines out over the phone, to perhaps jar my listeners' (read: "my") memories.
"It's the one that goes 'BAY-bee.'"
Years later, I was told that they actually used MacColl's "BAY-bee" in Tracey's single because Ullman -- whom I consider terrifically talented as a character mimic -- couldn't hit that note.
So, here's the original '79 recording that some YouTuber put together with some lovely photographs of Kirsty. Which is better than the rest of the truly horrible videos from those olden days:

For me, there's a timeless quality to her voice. Not a transcendent one, certainly, but surely one capable of Proustically evoking some particular moment of comfort that I can barely recall today. Whether or not it's "retro" or "pop" or whatever, I just like her voice. It may be my genetically Celtic ear that discerns something "British Isles" and familiar about it -- along with her liberal facility with our language. even when disco-ified to non-recognizableness.

Kirsty's dad was Ewan MacColl, whose "Shoals of Herring" and "Dirty Old Town" (or its cover by The Pogues) were favorites on my "Celtic" music radio show. I scared the crap out of the Station Manager/Program Director/Sales Manager/Morning Guy/Much-Loved Local Douchebag when I played Ewan's version of "The First Time Ever I saw Your Face" and disclosed that the song was written by Ewan -- a socialist!!1! -- and not by Roberta Flack.
The story goes that he had written the song for Peggy Seeger. Pete's sister. (Journal frequenters know that's a name that I like to drop.)
American radio being what it was -- and it's even worse now -- I never had the opportunity to even play her music. Except for one "Celtic Christmas" show that featured Kirsty and The Pogues' "Fairytale of New York." Which, of course, drew an angry phone call from a listener who promised to complain to the station's owners, whom she "knew personally." I'm sure that at least one of the old idiots would have preferred that I go with one of the clever "novelty" tunes of MacColl's daughter. If they had ever heard one...

Recently, I've been encouraging the success of former GusGus vocalist Hafdis Huld (whose new album, Synchronised Swimmers, is out soon) for no other reason than that I like her. She records for producer Calum MacColl's Red Grape Records, and I have exactly one e-mail communication with him about his relatives -- from the Seeger side -- who were neighbors of mine.
Whattayagonna do?

( "Days" is a 1968 Kinks song by Ray Davies. )


Peggi said...

How could anyone not adore Fairytale of New York. Just goes to prove as a friend keeps telling me this is a very strange part of the universe. I too loved Christy and have CD's of just about everyone you mentioned. I got heavily into the Pogues. Silly Wizard, Relativity, etc. and on one of the best night's of my life hung out with Johnny Cunningham at a WHALE Wine Festival. We were both sitting on the Custom House Square Wall away from the noise having a beer and a cigarette and started talking. I was probably the only person there who actually gloomed onto who he was. Then of course soon after he died. I'm now turning off CNN and putting on "If I Should Fall From Grace with God." I've got the recording of Peter & Wendy and have to play it more. He was working on it that fall and we talked about it.
Actually I have another Johnny memory before I got to really talk to him. I went to an RID concert he did out on the patio. It was for once a really gorgeous summer night and we'd have kept him until dawn but of course the museum tossed us all out at what they considered a suitable hour. I'm always ready to lift a glass to him.
Peggi M.

I actually have a first

karie said...

All four of those videos were really fun! She did have a voice you just have to "like." Thanks for the history, too.

P J said...

Peggi, thanks for mentioning Johnny. I always enjoyed those "beer and a cigarette" moments. Johnny and Kirsty. Both of them gone too soon.
Those videos were the first ones in the search. I'm sure that there are better versions somewhere, but every fan who ever videotaped anything off their teevee clogs YouTube and I was too impatient to sort through the dross.