It has been 30 years since The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl left us feeling less than warm and fuzzy inside with their classic festive tune, Fairytale of New York. Over the years, it has become one of the go-to Christmas songs, with its cheeky lyrics, traditional Irish folk music and the simplistic black and white video.
You know the lyrics, you’ve danced along, but how much do you really know about the Fairytale of New York?
Down to a bet
We would have missed out on a stellar Christmas song if it weren’t for Elvis Costello. As he was producing for The Pogues, Costello made a bet with singer Shane MacGowan and banjoist Jem Finer that they couldn’t write a Christmas record that wasn’t slushy. Costello clearly lost this bet.
Winning a bet is an important task – no wonder it took MacGowan and Finer two years to pen the track. The song was originally set on Ireland’s west coast in County Clare before relocating to New York.
MacGowan only finalised the lyrics after a severe bout of pneumonia. Recovering in Malmo, Sweden he kept wishing he would stop feeling ill and the lyrics for the track fell into place. Best cold he’s ever had, we reckon.
Marriage on the cards
Everyone knows Fairytale of New York as a duet, but Kirsty MacColl wasn’t the original voice. MacGowan was meant to sing with The Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan but she went on to marry… Elvis Costello. Having left the band in 1986, she wasn’t around for recording.
Costello was soon replaced with producer Steve Lillywhite who asked his wife to record test vocals. Steve’s wife happened to be English singer Kirsty MacColl, and The Pogues were so astounded with her work they had to keep her vocals on the track.
Turns out the boys of the NYPD choir weren’t singing Galway Bay, because the NYPD don’t actually have a choir. They do, however, have an Irish pipe band but they also don’t know Galway Bay. Pretty poor Irish pipe band if you ask us. Since they were featured in the video, the pipe band performed the Mickey Mouse Club March and the video was slowed down to fit the beat. Ruining dreams left, right and centre.
Hitting the stage
Kirsty MacColl suffered greatly from stage fright, but thanks to The Pogues and Fairytale of New York she gained the confidence to hit the road. The Pogues played at Camden’s Electric Ballroom and a three-night residency in Glasgow’s iconic Barrowland Ballroom with Kirsty coming on stage to perform Fairytale of New York and A Pair of Brown Eyes. The performances led to Kirsty’s first solo UK tour in 1991.
Radio 1 censorship
In 2007, Radio 1 got into a little bit of bother with the British public. The popular station banned the words ‘faggot’ and ‘slut’ from being broadcast to avoid any offence. People were not impressed with this move, including the late Kirsty MacColl’s mother, Jean, who referred to the ban as “too ridiculous.” The outrage was so profound that controller Andy Parfitt reversed the decision and Radio 1 has played the song in its entirety since.
Christmas number one
Arguably up there as one of the best Christmas songs of ALL TIME – would you believe that Fairytale of New York has never hit the top spot? That’s right, the sombre tune has only ever made it to number two in the UK charts being beaten to the top spot by the Pet Shop Boys’ Always on my Mind after its 1987 release.
Shane MacGowan’s birthday is on Christmas Day. Of course he would embrace the merriment of the season and write such a happy song. This year as Fairytale of New York turns 30, Shane will be celebrating his 60th birthday.