Kirsty MacColl was a much loved English singer and songwriter who was killed by a power boat at the age of 41 whilst scuba diving with her sons in a restricted diving area off Cozumel, México on 18th December 2000. No-one was ever made accountable to the satisfaction of her family and friends.
Kirsty Anna MacColl was born at Mayday Hospital in Croydon (South London) on 10th October 1959. This did not make her Scottish. Or Irish. Or called Kristy.
Croydon also spawned the wonderful saint etienne and Robin Scott (who had a smash as "M" with Pop Muzik), while Malcolm McLaren, Svengali of the Sex Pistols, went to the local Goldsmith College art school as did the band's artwork designer Jamie Reid. Ray Davies of The Kinks is another alumnus. While living in Croydon, Kirsty drove a huge white BMW with fuzzy dice but no power steering. She called it Bob Marley & the Wailers.
Kirsty's father was the legendary communist folk singer Ewan MacColl, but she grew up seeing him only at weekends, being raised by her dancer/choreographer mother. Ewan of course had by then married Peggy Seeger, sister of Pete Seeger, who was the sidekick of legendary communist folk singer Woody Guthrie. Woody also married a dancer/choreographer (Marjorie), and due to his poor health their daughter Nora only saw him at weekends. Recently Nora has been working with Billy Bragg to recreate Woody's unfinished songs. Billy of course was a great friend of Kirsty's and wrote songs for her.
Kirsty attended Monks Hill High comprehensive school (in Selsdon) and John Newnham schools (at the latter she played lead in a school production of Oh what a lovely war!) She played violin and oboe in the orchestra and made quite a reasonable fuzz box! She also took metalwork as an option at school - she was the only girl in a class of boys and when she showed up on the first day, she was met with a sneering, "you can't come into this class, you're a girl." When asked a month later how she was getting on with metal work, Kirsty replied breezily, "Oh, they come and ask me for help now." Kirsty worked briefly as a tele-sales girl on Exchange and Mart, and also cleaned flats.
1978 saw Kirsty's earliest venture into the world of live performance, the Drug Addix playing support to Graham Parker and the Rumour. They forwarded a tape to Stiff Records. A year later, when she sent her own demo tape of original songs to Stiff, Akronite Liam Sternberg remembered her and took an immediate interest. A session was arranged with The Edge, who also masquerade as Jane Aire's Belvederes. Sternberg chose the only slow song on the demo tape as the A side (They don't know) and backed it with the powerful Turn My Motor On - a song written for the Addix. Incidentally, the Addix may not have been Kirsty's very first outfit, in an early interview there was talk of her involvement with Rat Alley, who have long been lost in the mists of local band history.Kirsty's mother was Jean Newlove, who continues to be sought after in Hollywood and has assisted with animated choreography for major films. She runs the Jean Newlove Centre for Laban Studies, and now spends much of her time on the Justice For Kirsty Campaign, trying to make some sense of the tragic events in Mexico in 2000.
Over the years she did much to support the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, including an annual Valentines Day benefit concert in London. Despite not being "a commie like my dad", Kirsty first flew to the Island in 1992 because of a desire to "visit somewhere which was still Communist" in the wake of the Berlin Wall being torn down three years earlier. Also in 1992, Kirsty flew to the Gaza Strip with other artists including Julie Christie, Charlotte Cornwell and Richard Wilson in support of educational and social programmes for Palestinians, largely confined to reguee camps in the Occupied Territories. The group highlighted human rights abuses in the region.
She sang her father's song Schooldays O'er with Billy Bragg at benefit for Tower Colliery in 1993, at Bragg's suggestion, as the colliery struggled to stay alive in the aftermath of the Miners Strike. Note that Bragg's biography is subtitled Still Suitable for Miners. Kirsty regularly performed in assorted benefit gigs ranging from hospitals to victims of injustice including Robert Hillman, an Irish Catholic "kicked to death" in 1997. In 1998 she (along with actor Ross Kemp) rebelled to call for assurances from the government that the minimum wage would also apply to workers who were younger than 26.
Kirsty married top producer Steve Lillywhite in August 1984 and had two children: Jamie was born on the 20 Feb 1985 and Louis was born on the 3rd Sept 1987. She split up with Steve in 1994 but they remained friends. In her latter days Kirsty was happily in a relationship with another musician, James Knight, who met her while teaching Louis to play saxophone.
Kirsty shared her birthday with David Lee Roth, Harold Pinter and Thelonius Monk, though her all time favourite piano player was Mose Allison - she even queued to get his autograph when he was playing in London.
Kirsty famously hosted huge boozy parties in her house, with wine flowing like water in the kitchen and everyone dancing round her splendid jukebox. It contained many pop gems including Stereotypes by the Specials, Ebeneezer Goode by the Shamen, I'm too sexy by Right Said Fred, Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen, New Year's Day by U2, The one I love by R.E.M., Heaven knows I'm miserable now by the Smiths, Sexuality by Billy Bragg and her very own They don't know.
Kirsty's music was featured in British soap Emmerdale, playing in the background at Chris & Zoe Tait's drinks party on 27 July 2000. Meantime, British soap Eastenders has featured Don't come the cowboy, In these shoes? and Treachery playing on the pub jukebox in its time so there's a Kirsty fan in there for sure. June Brown ("Dot Cotton") is of course a close friend of Jean, Kirsty's mother. Medical soap/drama Holby City featured a character singing along to an extended play of They don't know on 26 November 2002 (CR). Actress Liza Tarbuck sang both Chip Shop and A new England on the BBC comedy Linda Green on 5 November 2002 (Fae/Kendal). Coronation Street actress Wendi Peters impersonated Kirsty and sang Days on a celebrity edition of Stars in their Eyes in 2004!
Zeitgeist sitcom Sex & The City has also featured the beginning portion of In These Shoes, approximately through the end of the first verse, as the various characters got ready for dates (or maybe just going out). Shoes popped up as background music in the British coverage of World Cup 2002 in Japan & Korea, and was also used as the theme music for the BBC1 series Any time now about three friends in Dublin (CR). The series was first shown on Irish RTE (Catherine B).
Kirsty has an entry in the Internet Movie Database which details her TV themes and appearances with French & Saunders... she appeared in six episodes, usually interrupted (unnecessarily) by Simon Brint & Rowland Rivron. Her themes were used for British dramas Dream Stuffing, Moving Story and Picking up the Pieces, which was instrumental. According to Matthew Westwood, "Kirsty had remixed Please Go To Sleep for me for a play I did in 92, and we'd been mates ever since then. From 94 - 96 I was doing a show for Granada that only ever got to pilot stage that had it gone to a series, Kirsty would have done the music for. It was produced by the same guy who did Picking Up The Pieces which is how Kirsty got to do the music for that. She was chuffed - it paid for a new bathroom! "
A Valentines Day card was distributed to promote Titanic Days. The angel gracing this card is from a Christmas card allegedly given to Kirsty several years ago from her friend (and the artist) Holly Johnson. When Kirsty sought a cover for Angel, the second single from the album, she remembered the card. The inside of the card says "Be Sweet Be Safe" and came complete with a Lifestyles ribbed lubricated condom!
Just before she died, Kirsty appeared in a Channel 4 special on Otis Lee Crenshaw, the alter ego of American comedian Rich Hall. According to Rich, "they thought Otis was the next Graham Norton. They couldn't have been more wrong. To make matters worse, Kirsty MacColl was in it, and she had just died. That alone made it untransmittable."
Do you remember what kept Fairytale of New York off the number 1 spot back in '87? It was the Pet Shop Boys, with Always on my mind. A fun number, but without the natural longevity of the Pogues & Kirsty! Still, could have been worse... Chris Lowe told Word magazine in 2006 "I just don't like it. Is it meant to be jolly? I find it depressing." and Neil Tennant concurred, "It's two drunks shouting at each other".
The title for Electric Landlady was concocted between Kirsty and Johnny Marr, who was living in Kirsty's old flat in Shepherds Bush, so she was his "electric landlady". Incidentally, Brian Connolly used the title for a retrospective of his songs for the Sweet in 1997 just before his death.
Kite was inspired by David Gilmour - asked what present he wanted for playing on the album, he replied "Just send a kite to Armenia" which she duly did.
In the US, Kirsty never charted on the Hot 100 or The Billboard 200, but the 1991 song Walking Down Madison went to No. 4 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks chart, No. 18 on the Hot Dance Music/Club Play list, and No. 36 on Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart. In 1993, Can't Stop Killing You went to No. 20 on the Modern Rock Tracks list, and the following year Angel reached No. 26 on that same chart.
Kirsty's favourite albums as listed in 1994 were
1. THE BEACH BOYS ... Pet Sounds
2. IGGY POP ...Lust For Life
3. THE SMITHS ... Strangeways, Here We Come
4. XTC ... Black Sea
5. STEELY DAN ... Pretzel Logic
6. THE COCTEAU TWINS ... Heaven Or Las Vegas
7. KID CREOLE & THE COCONUTS ... Tropical Gangsters
8. BOB MARLEY ... Live
9. DAVID BOWIE ... Station To Station
10.FRANK BLACK ... Teenager Of The Year
Kirsty programmed the running order on U2's classic Joshua Tree album. Brilliantly. She claimed that it was easy, all she did was put her favourite song at the beginning, then her next favourite song, and so on. Whatever, it worked.
According to the Guiness book of Rock Stars, at the launch of Virgin Radio Kirsty sang Mott the Hoople's Roll away the stone with OMD's Andy McCluskey (the man who later brought us the mighty Atomic Kitten!). This took place at the Piccadilly Theatre in London.
Meanwhile Kim Wilde recalls, "One of the writers who inspired me was Kirsty MacColl. She was only a year older and I remember them playing They Don't Know on the radio. I thought if Kirsty can do it I can do it. I met her when we were both dating blokes in the same band. She was an angel. I thought she was a really gutsy girl to tackle such a male-dominated industry."
The opening couplet from Billy Bragg's A new England is directly lifted from a Simon & Garfunkel song called Leaves that are green, which was on the 1966 album Sounds of Silence. Remember? "I was 21 years when I wrote this song, I'm 22 now but I won't be for long.