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Kirsty MacCollKirsty MacColl
Eclectic Landlady

With a positive raft of Kirsty MacColl re-issues flooding out we take a retrospective look at this hugely underrated talent and talk to long time collaborator Mark E Nevin about both the initial recording and then remastering of Titanic Days - always referred to by MacColl as her 'sad divorce album'.

Those of you unacquainted with Kirsty MacColl’s short but eventful life may be unaware that she was killed when hit by a speedboat travelling illegally through an area where she was diving in Cozumel, Mexico, a freak boating accident that tragically put paid to a fascinating and varied career. Not that the vast majority of the music press ever truly recognised that variety, “the Times and Rolling Stone have both got me down as an Irish folk singer,” she would witheringly sneer, “and I’m always described as a ‘female singer-songwriter’. I mean, what’s your genitalia got to do with it? You're either a singer-songwriter or you're not.” Which more or less perfectly sums up the mercurial MacColl, passionate, funny and definitely not afraid to speak her mind.

Almost five years after her death the daughter of notoriously curmudgeonly and autocratic folk singer Ewan, the female half of that extraordinary duet on Fairytale of New York, easily the best Christmas single ever recorded and ex-wife of uber-producer Steve Lillywhite, is still (as the previous few lines prove), a long way from shrugging off her supporting role in the history of music. Which even a cursory listen to her impressive back catalogue proves to be an idiotic historical oversight.

Beginning her music career in the late 70s as part of the Drug Addix - whose 1978 EP Make A Record is Kirsty’s earliest recording - Kirsty was spotted by Stiff Records’ Dave Robinson and in 1979 released her debut solo single on Stiff, They Don’t Know About Us (later covered to more money spinning effect by Tracy Ullman). Marrying producer Steve Lillywhite in the mid ‘80s (they had two children), MacColl was consequently heard on albums from Van Morrison and the Stones to the Talking Heads and The Smiths.

Kirsty MacColl

The album’s, Kite (‘89) and Electric Landlady (’91) saw musical relationships with various Pogues and Johnny Marr and also introduced her to ‘that bloke with the hat in Fairground Attraction’ Mark Nevin with whom she recorded her fourth album, Titanic Days, released on ZTT in 1994, an experience Nevin revisited with mixed emotions when he returned for remastering duties ten years later.
“It was a difficult time for us both personally,” Nevin recalls, “but making it was sometimes great fun. Kirsty and I would be huddled over the desk, not talking for hours at a time until one of us would crack a joke that would make the other completely crack up. It was like a joke competition. There was a tremendous warmth between us.” There was some detective work needed to trace some of the demo's for the expanded 2nd CD (“I couldn't actually find the master tape for the two demo's that I had, they ended up in my sisters attic in Bristol and initially I was worried they would fall apart but fortunately they lasted long enough to put into the Mac”), but the end result was, and still is a fine album, leaping joyfully across style and genre boundaries with gleeful abandon and remains a credit to both parties.

In the late 90s Kirsty spent more time with her children and began travelling, sometimes heading off for two-week jaunts through Brazil where she would pick up the rhythms that would inform all of her later work. She also moved into television work writing songs for French & Saunders and recording theme songs for programmes like Moving Story and Picking Up The Pieces. She released her final album Tropical Brainstorm (V2, 2000), and several short months later she was dead. Asked if he found it frustrating that Kirsty now appears to be having something of a renaissance when she was largely ignored when alive Mark Nevin expressed mixed emotions.
“I would find it more frustrating if her music had never been acknowledged, [but] it still is undiscovered as far as I am concerned. There is no-one to touch her these days.”

Thanks to Ian Peel for extra research


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