She believed in genuine inspiration and was able to write quickly because she was so talented, but she never just knocked something off. She had real craft as well.
She wasn’t a good musician technically. She wasn’t interested in mastering an instrument, but she was great at putting chords together. Her expertise was melody, lyrics and harmony. She’s one of England’s greatest ever pop lyricists, she believed her songs should be almost like mini-novels, and she was a fucking Jedi at harmony… She had her own system that was all her own […]
She came from Stiff records and she was well suited to that no bullshit mentality: “A good pop song, get it right, don’t fuck about, we’re not hippies”. She was no nonsense, but at the same time she believed in magic. A true artist, in a class of one, and irreplaceable. – Johnny Marr
Twelve years ago today, the music world lost one of its most original and memorable talents to a tragic and completely avoidable accident. The untimely death of Kirsty McColl on December 18th 2000 came as a shock to music fans everywhere – her witty, wry and honest songwriting and endearingly distinctive voice had gained her many admirers over a twenty-plus year career.
Born into a musical family (her father was the legendary folk singer Ewan MacColl), Kirsty started her pop career – like so many of her generation of musicians – in a punk band. Although this project was unsuccessful, it brought her to the attention of the influential Stiff Records who signed her to a solo deal.
She went on to release five studio albums and numerous singles (the most successful of the latter being her classic and much-loved 1987 collaboration with The Pogues, Fairytale Of New York) over a career that saw her gain the respect and admiration of many of her fellow musicians as well as the love of numerous music fans – her plaintive voice, beautifully observant lyrics and obvious songwriting talent were irresistible to anyone with a love of pop and a romantic heart.
During the course of her career her unique approach to writing and recording was much in demand, and she collaborated with everyone from Johnny Marr and Billy Bragg to David Gilmour and Evan Dando. Her distinctive voice can also be heard on songs by acts as widely disparate as The Smiths, The Pogues, Happy Mondays, Talking Heads, Simple Minds, The Wonderstuff and Robert Plant.
A hugely talented songwriter in her own right, as her friend Johnny Marr describes above, she also had a knack for wonderful and eclectic cover versions, including a stately and respectful take on The Kinks’ lovely Days and a spinetingling reading of Cole Porter’s dark tale of love and death, Miss Otis Regrets.
For me, however, her greatest moment is her utterly glorious and totally definitive version of Billy Bragg’s A New England. She absolutely made it her own, turning the original into what can only be described as a perfect pop song, Kirsty-style. And it is that with which I leave you today, in memory of this remarkable musician and inspirational woman…
RIP Kirsty McColl (1959-2000)