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Kirsty MacColl

27 January 2013













Kirsty MacColl

Kirsty Anna MacColl (10 October 1959 – 18 December 2000) was an English singer-songwriter. She scored several pop hits from the early 1980s to the early 1990s. During this era, she often sang on recordings produced by her then husband Steve Lillywhite, notably those of The Smiths and the song "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues. She was killed in a controversial boating incident in Mexico in 2000.

Early career

Kirsty MacColl was the daughter of folk singer Ewan MacColl and dancer Jean Newlove. She and her brother, Hamish MacColl, grew up with their mother in Croydon, where she attended Park Hill Primary School, Monks Hill High School and John Newnham High School, making appearances in school plays. At the time of MacColl's birth, her father had been in a relationship with folksinger, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Peggy Seeger since 1956 (a relationship that would continue until his death in 1989), and already had a son with her.
She came to notice when Chiswick Records released an EP by local punk rock band the Drug Addix with MacColl on backing vocals under the pseudonym Mandy Doubt (1978). Stiff Records executives were not impressed with the band, but liked her and subsequently signed her to a solo deal.

Debut single

Her debut solo single "They Don't Know", released in 1979, peaked at number 2 in terms of airplay on the Music Week airplay chart. However, a distributors' strike prevented copies of the single getting into record stores, and the single consequently failed to appear on the UK Singles Chart.
MacColl recorded a follow-up single, "You Caught Me Out", but felt she lacked Stiff's full backing, and left the label shortly before the song was to be released. The single was pulled, and only a few "white label" promo copies of the single are known to exist.
MacColl moved to Polydor Records in 1981. She had a UK number 14 hit with "There's a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis", taken from her critically acclaimed debut album Desperate Character. In 1983, Polydor dropped her just as she had completed recording the songs for a planned second album (to be called Real) which used more synthesizers and had New Wave-styled tracks. She returned to Stiff, where pop singles such as "Terry" and "He's On the Beach" were unsuccessful but a cover of Billy Bragg's "A New England" in 1985 got to Number 7 in the UK charts. This included two extra verses specially written for her by Bragg. Also around this time, MacColl wrote and performed the theme song "London Girls" for Channel 4's short-lived sitcom Dream Stuffing (1984).
In the United States, MacColl was probably most recognisable as the writer of "They Don't Know". Tracey Ullman's version, helped by a video guest-starring Paul McCartney, reached Number 2 in the UK in 1983 and the Top Ten in North America. It was also played over the closing credits of Ullman's HBO show Tracey Takes On in 1996. Ullman also recorded three more of MacColl's songs, "You Broke My Heart In 17 Places" and "You Caught Me Out", as the title tracks of her first and second albums respectively, and "Terry" which was released as a single in 1985.

Later work

She released Titanic Days, informed by her failing marriage with Lillywhite, in 1993, but ZTT Records had agreed only to release the album as a "one-off" and declined to sign her to a contract. In 1995, she released two new singles on Virgin, "Caroline" and a cover of Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" (a duet with Evan Dando), together with the "best of" compilation Galore.
Galore became MacColl's only album to reach the top 10 in the UK Albums Chart, but neither of the new singles, nor a re-released "Days", made the Top 40. MacColl would not record again for several years; her frustration with the music business was exacerbated by a lengthy case of writer's block. MacColl herself admitted that she was ready to give up her music career and become an English teacher in South America.
In 1998, the album What Do Pretty Girls Do? was released, containing BBC Radio 1 live sessions (featuring Billy Bragg on two songs) that were broadcast between 1989 and 1995.
After several trips to Cuba and Brazil, MacColl recorded the world music-inspired (particularly Cuban and other Latin American forms) Tropical Brainstorm, which was released in 2000 to critical acclaim. It included the song "In These Shoes", which garnered airplay in the U.S., was covered by Bette Midler and featured in the HBO show Sex and the City. It would later (after MacColl's death) be adopted by Catherine Tate as the theme tune for her BBC TV show and feature on the soundtrack to British film Kinky Boots.

Death

In 2000, following her participation in the presentation of a radio programme she had done for the BBC on Cuba, MacColl took a holiday in Cozumel, Mexico, with her sons and her partner, musician James Knight. On 18 December 2000, she and her sons went diving at the Chankanaab reef, part of the National Marine Park of Cozumel, in a specific diving area that watercraft were restricted from entering. With the group was a local veteran divemaster, Iván Díaz. As the group was surfacing from a dive, a speeding powerboat entered the restricted area. MacColl saw the boat coming before her sons did; Louis was not in the boat's path, but Jamie was. She was able to push him out of the way (he sustained minor head and rib injuries) but in doing so, she was hit by the boat and killed instantly. MacColl's remains were repatriated to the United Kingdom and the subsequent funeral took place at Mortlake Crematorium in London.
The boat involved in the accident was owned by Mexican supermarket millionaire Guillermo González Nova, who was on board with several members of his family. An employee of González Nova's, boathand José Cen Yam, claimed to have been driving the boat at the time that the accident occurred. Several published reports have included accounts from eyewitnesses that have stated Cen Yam was not at the controls; eyewitnesses also indicate that the boat was travelling much faster than the speed of one knot that Nova had claimed. Cen Yam was found guilty of culpable homicide and was sentenced to 2 years 10 months in prison. He was allowed under Mexican law to pay a punitive fine of 1,034 pesos (about €63, £61, or US$90) in lieu of the prison sentence. He was also ordered to pay approximately US$2,150 in restitution to MacColl's family, an amount based on his wages. Published reports have included statements from people who spoke to Cen Yam after the accident, claiming Cen Yam had received money for taking the blame for the incident.
Kirsty MacColl

Kirsty MacColl at the Double Door in Chicago
Background information
Birth nameKirsty Anna MacColl
Born10 October 1959
Croydon, England, United Kingdom
Died18 December 2000 (aged 41)
CozumelMexico
GenresNew Wavepoprockcountry,folkworld music
OccupationsSinger-songwriter
Years active1979–2000
LabelsStiffPolydorIRSZTTV2
WebsiteKirstyMacColl.com

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