At this time of year in the shops and on the radio there is the usual barrage of seasonal songs just to tell us (as if reminders were needed) that Christmas is getting near. One of them, in particular, has a personal resonance for me….The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl – “Fairytale of New York”
Recorded in 1987 it not only revitalised Kirsty’s singing career but has, ever since, been a regular Christmas favourite. Tragically this brilliant singer and gifted song writer was killed in a controversial speedboat incident in Mexico in 2000 but her work is still fondly remembered by a legion of fans.
Kirsty, the daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl was born in 1959 and brought up by her mother, Jean Newlove, in the leafier part of Croydon, on the southern edge of London. During the early 70s she was a student at Monks Hill High School which is where I was teaching at the time. She was in one of my classes when she was 13/14 and I always found her a quiet, hard working girl. Bright and well informed about the world she was polite and well mannered but never afraid to voice an opinion if she felt strongly enough about an issue.
For my sins I was earmarked to supervise one of the school’s first discos but found it a doddle because Kirsty volunteered to organise it all. Unfortunately the DJ forgot a vital piece of equipment and I was suddenly faced with the nightmare of 250 teenagers turning up with no music playing. Fortunately even then the girl had contacts so I told her to jump into my car and we raced around tracking down the right stuff. I remember her saying “No need to panic, sir, we’ll sort it out” – and we did, thanks to her.
I also recall another classic Kirsty moment when the Headmaster gave a talk to her group about the responsibilities of democracy and how vital it was that every citizen should get involved. At the end he was about to walk off without inviting any questions. Kirsty put up her hand and very politely asked a question about a recent change of rules, querying the reason for it. The Head very sharply told her it had been his decision and was not up for debate – then walked off, leaving me to dismiss the group. Ever afterwards some of us on the staff joked about that as a brilliant example of the reality of “democracy” in action.
As the years passed I kept track with Kirsty’s music which I always liked even though her politics were the total opposite of mine. So when I hear “The Fairy Tale of New York” I recall both the feisty fiery singer/song writer whose life was cut sadly short – and also the red headed 14 year old who always did her homework and knew how to rescue a school disco.
God bless you and your family, Kirsty – I’ll be drinking a pint of Shepherd Neame Spitfire Kentish Ale to your memory later