Thursday, October 10, 2002


Kirsty MacColl. Even now, it's still hard to believe she's gone. Probably because she would spend long stretches of time out of the public eye anyway, I still expect to hear something about her from time to time. The first time I encountered Kirsty was in Belgium, oddly. Tracy Ullman's version of 'They Don't Know' was ubiquitous, even in Begium, in 1983, and we kept hearing it during our holiday. I had a feeling that it wasn't an original song, but was surprised to find that it was also recent, and written by the woman who wrote 'There's a Guy works down the Chipshop swears he's Elvis' I decided to enquire further - the daughter of Ewan MacColl surely had some interesting things to say. Then there was a cover of a Billy Bragg song ('A New England'), which really sparked my interest, since one of the few decorative features in our spartan flat had been a huge Billy Bragg poster.

Every now and then there would be a new song, or a sighting - she was the musical interlude on the early French and Saunders shows, and she more than held her own through 'Fairytale of New York'. But nothing prepared me for 'Kite' Her clever tales of whimsy and wordplay grew overnight into something much, much more substantial. Kite is simply magnificent from beginning to end, from the double whammy of 'Innocence' and 'Free World' through to the songs written with Johnny Marr; every one a gem. How it manged not to be a global colossus of an album is truly beyond me. And after that, she was always there - magical songs like 'My Affair' and 'Walking down Madison' mingled with intriguing covers and odd influences. She took long breaks and always seemed to be between recording contracts, so that new music was always sporadic at best. But I enjoyed what I had heard of 'Tropical Brainstorm', and had made a note several times that I really ought to buy it one day, when it happened.

My habit when I come home, if there is a TV on, is to call up teletext, and check the news headlines. One evening I did this to be greeted with the headline 'Singer dies in boating accident' Anyone I know? I wondered, and pulled the page up. Rarely have I had the physical sensation of the blood draining from my face and my knees going weak, but I did then. As I say, I still don't believe she's gone, and I still expect to hear some new music from her any day now. But what we've been left is a magnificent body of work in anyone's language, and one day I'll get myself down to Soho Square and sit there for a while, thinking of Innocence and the Free World...

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