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Kirsty MacColl

Born on 10 October 1959, Kirsty was the daughter of celebrated folk singer Ewan MacColl, although her father actually left the family home in Croydon before she was born.

An accomplished songwriter and pop vocalist, Kirsty originally signed to Stiff Records as a 16-year old after they heard her singing with a punk band called The Drug Addix, where she used the stage-name Mandy Doubt.

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She was most unfortunate not to secure a massive hit with They Don’t Know, which many years later would provide a chart hit for television comedienne Tracey Ullman.

Kirsty provided backing vocals on the Ullman version and the exquisite “Baby” which heralds the third verse is actually taken from Kirsty’s earlier version.

MacColl had to wait until 1981 for her first chart hit. A change of label to Polydor gave her deserved UK Top 20 success with the witty There’s A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis. Her strong debut album Desperate Characters also signalled her interest in country and pop influences.

Before long she returned to Stiff, and in 1984 she married producer Steve Lillywhite, and in the same year returned to the charts with a stirring version of Billy Bragg‘s A New England.

The single entered the Top Ten on the very day she gave birth to her first son. Unfortunately, the follow-up single – the sublime He’s On The Beach – failed to make an impression. It was to be her last single for Stiff.

During the next couple of years, she gave birth to two children but still found herself very in-demand as a backing singer.

She guested on recordings by a number of prominent artists, including Simple MindsThe SmithsTalking Heads, Robert PlantMorrisseyVan Morrison and The Rolling Stones.

In December 1987, MacColl enjoyed her highest ever chart placing (#2) when duetting with Shane McGowan on The Pogues‘ evocative vignette of Irish emigration, Fairytale Of New York.

In 1989, Kirsty returned to solo recording with the highly accomplished Kite. The album included the powerful Free World and an alluring version of The Kinks‘ Days which brought her back to the UK Top 20.

Johnny Marr (guitarist from The Smiths) played the guitar on several of the album tracks, and also appeared on the excellent follow-up released in 1991, Electric Landlady (a pun on Jimi Hendrix‘s Electric Ladyland).

This was another strong album that demonstrated MacColl’s diversity and songwriting prowess. The haunting, dance-influenced Walking Down Madison gave her another Top 40 UK hit.

MacColl returned over five years later with the sparkling Latin American collection, Tropical Brainstorm.

00_cap076Unfortunately, her revived career was cut short by a tragic accident on 18 December 2000. The singer was hit and killed by a speedboat while swimming with her children in Cozumel, off the coast of Mexico. She had recently finished recording a series on Cuba for BBC Radio.

One of Kirsty MacColl’s last live performances before her untimely death was at the Ian Dury memorial concert on 16 June 2000 when, backed by the magnificent Blockheads, she delivered a rumbustious rendition of Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick.

The last word on Kirsty MacColl should go to one of her collaborators, Morrissey, who once said of her; “She was a supreme original, though not, as far as I know, an original Supreme“.

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