Sunday, May 11, 2014


Kirsty MacColl came through motherhood and into her own with the humor and heart of this sharp and sensitive high flying triumph.  Her father Ewan MacColl wrote the classic ballad 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face', for folk singer Peggy Seeger, for whom he left Kirsty's mother Jean MacColl when Kirsty was very young. She caught the attention of execs at Stiff Records after releasing an EP with Drug Addix as backup vocalist Mandy Doubt.  She had her first taste of success with 'They Don't Know' which ranked number two on the weekly airplay chart; but failed to make the singles chart due to a distributor's strike preventing copies from reaching shops.  It became a major hit for Tracy Ullman four years later.  Moving to Polydor Records, she hit number fourteen in the UK with "There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis" from her debut album 'Desperate Character'.    She went back to Stiff and had another hit with a cover of Billy Bragg's "A New England".  When Stiff Records folded, it left her solo career in limbo for several years; but she was still able to do session work.  While doing background vocals for Simple Minds' 'Sparkle in the Rain' she met producer Steve Lillywhite who would become her husband and the impetus for a long string of guest sessions for major recording artists like U2, The Rolling Stones, The Smiths, Talking Heads, Alison Moyet, Shriekback, Big Country, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, The Wonder Stuff, Van Morrison, Robert Plant, and The Pogues.  It was her duet with Shane MacGowan on the Christmas smash hit 'Fairytale of New York' that revived her solo career.  She had bought herself out of her record deal with Stiff Records by this point and signed with Virgin.  

Steve Lillywhite produced (and played bass on) the star-studded sessions for 'Kite' at their home studio in Ealing, West London which featured Kristy on vocals, guitar, acoustic bass, steel guitar, autoharp, and percussion;  with Johnny Marr on guitar, harmonica, and composition;  David Gilmour, Robbie McIntosh, Colin Stuart, and Pete Glenister on guitar; Yves N'Djock on guitar and vocals;  Steve Turner on harmonica, guitar, and effects;  Stuart Brooks and Guy Barker on trumpet; Malcolm Griffiths on trombone; Jamie Talbot on tenor saxophone; Philip Todd on clarinet; Fiachra Trench on string & brass arrangements;  Mark Berrow, Ben Cruft, Wilfred Gibson, Roy Gillard, Dave Woodcock, and Gavyn Wright on violin;  James Eller, Pino Palladino, and Guy Pratt on bass;  Mel Gaynor on drums;  David Palmer on drums and percussion;  and Paul Crowder on percussion and tambourine. 

Kirsty would admit:   "It's easy working together because [Steve] knows what I want and I know he knows and he knows I know he knows, although I must say when I do a session for him I always think I should be louder. But then, he's responsible for the overall sound and I'm just listening to me, me, me. Given the choice I'd always want him to produce my records because I think he's the best ... I didn't write anything for a couple of years when I was having the kids, and I started writing again mostly last year. It took a long time to start up again; I was getting worried, thinking that maybe I’d never write anything again, and the block was getting bigger and bigger. And the more you think about it, the less you do, because you’re scared that the first thing you do is going to be crap. I’d always rather not draw the first word on the paper than not have it perfect from the word go, and it tends to slow you down a bit - waiting for perfection ... Your life changes when you have kids. You're no longer just responsible for yourself. Things that worried me when I was 19 seem trivial now that I'm 29. That doesn't mean you're wrong when you're young -just young. My songs used to be 'Boy meets girl, girl gets pregnant, boy runs away'. I think I'm a bit more mature than that now, but I can't offer anyone any answers. I haven't got them. I just know that when things are wrong I can't sit there and pretend that they're right...Now in my songs, I try to put things succinctly and make them not too depressing. Wit is very important, If you couldn't lighten up at times, you'd end up topping yourself. What seems like the end of the world today might not be so tomorrow ...  I did a tour in '81 which put me off ever wanting to do it again.  I was terribly nervous and under-rehearsed - it just got worse and worse. But I did a lot of gigs with The Pogues after 'Fairytale Of New York', and that was a great way to learn that side of the craft- having to go out and do it every night, but with a great band. I'm still very nervous, but I think I've got to have a go otherwise I'll always wonder what it would've been like...There's an overall aggression to ['Kite'] ... It's better than anything I've done before, It's bound to be more more mature, because so am I. Your life changes when you have kids. I feel more politically aware since I've had the children because you're more conscious of the effect everything has on the future. I'm not saying you should go away and become Mother Theresa but there are ways of bringing about change without burning down the House Of Commons...I see myself now as a songwriter first, a recording artist second and a backing vocalist third.  And somewhere in there I'm a mother too, though you can't compare the feeling you get off your kids with your work - they're both important. Obviously the children come first but I think they're quite happy having a mother who's happy working. They think everybody's mummy makes records, they haven't quite sussed it out yet."


"Free World"
"Free World is very direct and simple; hopefully it'll make people think a bit [about] Thatcherite Britain - you know, grab whatever you can and sod the little guy. That's a fashionable way of looking at things, and I don't agree with it."


"Fifteen Minutes" 
“The first song I wrote for a long time was Fifteen Minutes. I did the first part at home with the engineer playing guitar, and Steve playing bass, then did the hit where the hand comes in at the Town House. Then we just edited the two hits together...I suppose it was a whole year’s frustration coming out -the tune and the words just came out at once. I just sat down with the auto harp (like a Zither but with chord buttons) and wrote it. It’s not always like that. Usually I write down a whole load of words and maybe get a chord pattern going later. Then I end up flicking through the hook and going ‘Oh, yeah, I remember writing that - there’s practically enough for a song there. I’d better write a tune for it. But to me I haven’t finished the lyrics until I've demoed it and sung it in front of the engineer, and if he doesn't burst out laughing and throw himself out of the window then I assume it’s all right ... I suppose it's a cynical song. I don't fully agree with Warhol's idea, but I can see why it's getting like that with TV and so on. People who are famous for being famous, exposes in the tabloids, tittle-tattle, anything for money. That's part of the reason I don't like interviews."

"Don't Come the Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!"

"What Do Pretty Girls Do?"

"Dancing in Limbo"

bonus tracks
"You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby"

"La Forêt de Mímosas"

full album:

All tracks composed by Kirsty MacColl; except where indicated.

"Innocence" 4:09 (MacColl, Pete Glenister)
"Free World" 2:38
"Mother's Ruin" 3:57
"Days" 3:00 (Ray Davies)
"No Victims" 3:50
"Fifteen Minutes" 3:12
"Don't Come the Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!" 3:47
"Tread Lightly" 3:20
"What Do Pretty Girls Do?" 2:37
"Dancing in Limbo" 2:51
"The End of a Perfect Day" 3:23 (MacColl, Johnny Marr)
"You and Me Baby" 2:31 (MacColl, Marr)

bonus tracks:
"You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby" 2:50 (Morrissey, Marr)
"La Forêt de Mímosas" 3:36

"Complainte Pour Ste Catherine" 3:33 (Anna McGarrigle, Philippe Tatartchef)

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