Fairytale of New York is almost 30 years old

kirsty
Kirsty Mac Coll and Shane MacGowan
Although not released until 1987, there is agreement among the band that “Fairytale of New York” was first written in 1985 (which would make the song 30 years old!).  The origins of the song are disputed: MacGowan insisted that it arose as a result of a wager made by The Pogues’ producer at the time, Elvis Costello,  that the band would not be able to write a Christmas hit single. However, The Pogues’ manager Frank Murray has stated that it was originally his idea that the band should try and write a Christmas song as he thought it would be “interesting”. It was banjo player Finer who came up with the melody and the original concept for the song, which involved a sailor looking out over the ocean. Finer’s wife Marcia did not like the original story, and suggested new lyrics regarding a conversation between a couple at Christmas. MacGowan had decided to name the song after J.P. Donleavy’s 1973 novel  “A Fairytale of New York”, which Finer was reading at the time and had left lying around the recording studio. In 1986 they recorded a version of the song with bass player at the time, Cait O’ Riordan singing the female vocals. The majority of the lyrics had been written while MacGowan was recovering in a bed in Malmö after being struck down with double pneumonia during a Pogues tour of Scandinavia in late 1985. In March 1986 The Pogues toured the USA for the first time. The opening date of the tour was in New York City, a place which had long fascinated MacGowan and which inspired him to write new lyrics for the song. The group’s deteriorating relationship with Costello saw them part ways with their producer, and after increasingly erratic behaviour Cait O’Riordan, who had become romantically involved with Costello, left the band in October 1986.The group’s deteriorating relationship with Costello saw them part ways with their producer, and after increasingly erratic behaviour Cait O’Riordan, who had become romantically involved with Costello, left the band in October 1986. The Pogues entered a recording studio again in early 1987 to start work on their third album, now with Steve Lillywhite producing.  Lillywhite took the track back to his home studio and let his wife Kristy MacColl lay down a new guide vocal for the song. Having worked on her vocals meticulously, Lillywhite brought the recording back to the studio where the Pogues were impressed with MacColl’s singing and realised she would be the ideal voice for the female character in the song. MacGowan re-recorded his vocals alongside the tape of MacColl’s contribution (the duo never recorded the song together in the studio). MacColl’s melodious singing contrasts with the harshness of MacGowan’s voice, and the lyrics are sometimes bittersweet—sometimes purely bitter. You can really picture a back story for these feisty characters. A festive song  that’s not about snow, sleigh rides, mistletoe or miracles, but lost youth and ruined dreams. Pour yourself a mulled wine and have a listen to this timeless Christmas classic.  

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