They've got cars big as bars
They've got rivers of gold
But the wind blows right through you
It's no place for the old
When you first took my hand on a cold Christmas eve
You promised me Broadway was waiting for me
This month marks the 20th anniversary of The Pogues 'Fairytale Of New York', released as a single in 1987 off the album 'If I Should Fall From Grace With God'. Those of us who quickly fell in love with this song were disappointed (and, in some cases, a few quid lighter from the bookies) when the Pet Shop Boys took the Christmas number one slot in the UK singles chart with their cover version of 'Always On My Mind'. Written by lead singer Shane MacGowan and Jem Finer, this song was originally intended as a duet for Shane and base player Cait O'Riordan who left the band before the song was completed. Cait had performed lead vocals beautifully on the excellent 'Haunted' single from Alex Cox's terrific SID AND NANCY film, but her absence may have proved to be a blessing in disguise as the late Kirsty MacColl was enlisted and was perfect for the song. Fairytale is a gorgeous marriage of The Pogues Irish folk rock and lyrics which are a mixture of the good, bad and downright ugly, beginning with an inebriated lament in a New York drunk tank, and moving through savage call and response before ending on a glorious reprise of hope for the future. The two lead singers are simply astonishing here, with Shane's gruff vocals inviting MacColl to kick back with grace and purpose. Naturally, this classic has been getting a lot of airplay on national radio, and BBC Radio 1 caused consternation by dubbing out the words slut and faggot on the 18th December. Following complaints from the band, Kirsty's mother and the general public, Radio 1 had backed down by the same evening, and Fairytale now plays uncensored once again. Quite right too, as it's raw beauty and lyrical power are, I think, only matched by Nick and Kylie's 'Where The Wild Roses Grow', and it remains the most moving Christmas song of all time.
I was lucky enough to see The Pogues in concert on two occasions. They performed Fairytale both times, but MacColl was unable to join them due to prior engagements. it's always been a genuine regret that I never got to see her join then onstage, and I was greatly saddened by her death on December 18th 2000. There's a memorial bench to Kirsty in London's Soho Square and on the Sunday nearest to her October 1oth birthday, fans gather to pay tribute. It's good to see that people remember her. Fairytale was, I think, her finest hour and this song is yet another testament to the great Shane MacGowan. Although I don't do youtube, It's a fairly safe bet this song is on there somewhere, Search it out if you have yet to encounter this classic tune.