Fairytale of New York is officially 30 years old today and by all accounts the greatest Christmas song of all time.
It’s a remarkable feat given that the only parts anyone knows to the song are ‘… and the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day’ and a homophobic slur. Joy to the world!
Of course if you’re like me, someone who would pay money to buy one of Shane McGowan’s rotten teeth on ebay and has the blood of a thousand Irish rebels flowing through your veins, you know every single word to the festive anthem, but we can’t all be so lucky.
Anyway, yeah, Fairytale of New York, the story of a relationship turned sour, is the song that most captures the world’s heart around the most wonderful time of the year.
Before its release in 1987, the Pogues had attempted to record the song a number of times but to no great success.
Their problems were tied to the fact they had no female lead. Lucky for the lads, producer Steve Lillywhite was married to a certain Kirsty MacColl, who absolutely smashed the vokes and created one of the most recognisable and beloved songs of all time.
Sam Sutton, senior lecturer in music technology at London College of Music told the Independent:
It’s the distinctly edgier offering from the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl that most appeals to our sensibilities.
Perhaps the rousing squabble between the two appeals to Brits because it’s somehow more real and closer to our actual experience of Christmas – a heady and sometimes tense mix of friends, family and booze.
Speaking about the song in 2006, McGowan said:
When we do Fairytale of New York live, people in and around the Pogues nominate guests for the Kirsty MacColl part. I leave it to them to argue it out. To say I have any favourites for that role other than Kirsty is to sully her name. I’m old-fashioned like that.
The role (and it is a role) often goes to Ella Finer, daughter of Jem, who co-wrote the song with me. It works fine, partly because it keeps it in the family, and partly because Fairytale is meant to be a song from an older man to a younger woman. And I knew her before she was born.
Monday was the anniversary of Kirsty’s passing. Six years after her death in a boating accident in Mexico, her killers still haven’t been brought to justice. Her mother Jean is keeping up the Justice for Kirsty campaign, so check out her website for the latest news.
In Irish pubs where they still sing, Fairytale has become as much a standard as Danny Boy or The Fields of Athenry. So I’m like the writers of all those traditional standards, except I’m not anonymous. Or dead.
And aren’t we glad, Shane! Cheers, lad. Merry Christmas to all.