Kirsty MacColl Galore

I've had my eye on that carving knife . . .
a quick guide

This page brings together everything I've been able to find out about the uniquely talented singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl. When I first began writing this page, several people had lamented that Kirsty didn't have anything like a full Web Page covering her career. Well, there's nothing like taking six months to finish your work for things to change!

Halfway through trying to write this one, I discovered Alan Officer's excellent Kirsty page, and plenty of others have emerged since (I've tried to list all of them below). While all these pages have some overlap with this one, I reckon there's enough material in the subject for plenty of contributors. There's also a glimmer of detail on the semi-official homepage set up by Kirsty's management, though it pales a bit next to the fan efforts. This page still suffers from several gaps, and I'd really appreciate feedback and extra information. The next revision of this page will add some pictures and expand on the biography, at the very least.

Who is Kirsty MacColl?

Kirsty is the daughter of Ewan MacColl, a British folk singer and composer whose 'First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' (always cited in MacColl biographies) was made famous by Roberta Flack and has more recently been covered by Alison Moyet on her Singles collection. Her mother was a choreographer.

She attended art college, and formed a band called the Addix which never got further than supporting Graham Parker and the Rumour. She quit the band late in 1978 and gained a solo contract with Stiff which lasted intermittently until 1985. Instrumental in gaining her the contract was Liam Sternberg (who composed the Bangles 1985 hit 'Walk Like An Egyptian'), who also produced her first single, 1979's They Don't Know, including backing by a band known both as the Edge and the Belvederes. One of the members of this band was Mark E. Nevin, later to work with her as a co-songwriter and producer.

Following this initial success, Kirsty kind of disappeared for the first half of the 1980s, apart from her classic single 'There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis'. She first hit the charts in a big way with her cover of Billy Bragg's 'A New England' in 1985. Then there was silence again until 1989's breakthrough Kite album. Since then, she has released the albums Electric Landlady and Titanic Days, as well as the compilation Galore, and has toured regularly.

Random facts: She disapproves of men who do not dance in public. Surprisingly for someone addicted to "jangly guitars", her guitar playing skills were by her own admission rudimentary for some time.

She has two children, Jamie and Louis, by celebrity producer husband Steve Lillywhite (they can be heard shouting "Big money" on 'Innocence'). MacColl and Lillywhite separated in mid-1994 but he still gets thanked on the Galore compilation album cover notes.

What records has she released?

Of MacColl's career prior to her re-emergence in 1989 I have relatively little knowledge. Her only original album for Stiff was entitled Desperate Character; as far as I know, these can't be had on CD (or even that easily on LP). Alan Officer's page has a listing of the tracks on the two versions of Desperate Character that are around. What there is is a Stiff CD entitled The Essential Collection, which collects together singles, album tracks, B-sides and remixes from this period (although it strangely skips the single 'He's On The Beach'):

The Essential Collection (1993)

1. There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis
(Kirsty MacColl/Phil Rambow) 1981
2. A New England
(Billy Bragg) 1984
3. Patrick
(Kirsty MacColl) 1984
4. Eighty Year Old Millionaire
(Kirsty MacColl) 1984
5. See That Girl
(Kirsty MacColl) 1981
6. Until The Night
(Kirsty MacColl/Phillip Johnstone) 1981
7. Just One Look
(Payne/Carrol) 1981
8. He Thinks I Still Care
(Royden D Lipscomb/Steve Duffy) 1981
9. They Don't Know
(Kirsty MacColl) 1979
10. Turn My Motor On
(Kirsty MacColl) 1979
11. Please, Go To Sleep
(Kirsty MacColl) 1985
12. Terry
(Kirsty MacColl/Gavin Povey) 1983
13. Quietly Alone
(Kirsty MacColl) 1983
14. Teenager In Love
(Kirsty MacColl/Phil Rambow) 1981
15. A New England (12" Mix)
(Billy Bragg) 1984
16. Terry (12" Mix)
(Kirsty MacColl/Gavin Povey) 1983
17. There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis (Country Version)
(Kirsty MacColl/Phil Rambow) 1981
Production details largely unknown; 'They Don't Know' produced by Liam Sternberg (who also probably produced 'Turn My Motor On'); 'There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis' produced by Bazza (who may for all I know have produced all the 1981 tracks); 'Terry' produced by Kirsty MacColl and Gavin Povey; 'Patrick' produced by Kirsty MacColl (this pairing or Kirsty alone may well have done the other 1984 tracks); 'A New England' produced by Steve Lillywhite (who is probably also responsible for 'Please, Go To Sleep'). CD catalogue number: STIFFCD 17.

The albums which she has released since then (on IRS in the US, and Virgin and later Liberation pretty much everywhere else, with a latter mysterious involvement by Trevor Horn's ZTT) are:

Kite (1989)

1. Innocence
(Kirsty MacColl/Pete Glenister)
2. Free World
(Kirsty MacColl)
3. Mother's Ruin
(Kirsty MacColl/Pete Glenister)
4. Days
(Raymond D Davies)
5. No Victims
(Kirsty MacColl)
6. Fifteen Minutes
(Kirsty MacColl)
7. Don't Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!
(Kirsty MacColl)
8. Tread Lightly
(Kirsty MacColl/Pete Glenister)
9. What Do Pretty Girls Do?
(Kirsty MacColl/Pete Glenister)
10. Dancing In Limbo
(Kirsty MacColl)
11. The End Of A Perfect Day
(Kirsty MacColl/Johnny Marr)
12. You And Me Baby
(Kirsty MacColl/Johnny Marr)
13. You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby
(Morrissey/Johnny Marr)
14. La Foret De Mimosa
(Kirsty MacColl; French assistance by Juliett Guiot)
15. Complainte Pour Ste Catherine
(Anna McGarrigle/Philip Tatartchieff)

Produced by Steve Lillywhite. 'You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby', 'La Foret De Mimosa' and 'Complainte Pour Ste Catherine' did not appear on the original LP (vinyl) release. CD catalogue number: CDKM1.

Electric Landlady (1991)

1. Walking Down Madison
(Kirsty MacColl/Johnny Marr)
2. All I Ever Wanted
(Kirsty MacColl/Marshall Crenshaw)
3. Children Of The Revolution
(Kirsty MacColl/Johnny Marr)
4. Halloween
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
5. My Affair
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
6. Lying Down
(Kirsty MacColl/Pete Glenister)
7. He Never Mentioned Love
(Kirsty MacColl/Jem Finer)
8. We'll Never Pass This Way Again
(Kirsty MacColl)
9. The Hardest Word
(Kirsty MacColl/Hamish MacColl)
10. Maybe It's Imaginary
(Kirsty MacColl)
11. My Way Home
(Kirsty MacColl/Pete Glenister)
12. The One And Only
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)

Produced by Steve Lillywhite. CD catalogue number: CDV 2663.

Titanic Days (1993)

1. You Know It's You
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
2. Soho Square
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
3. Angel
(Kirsty MacColl)
4. Last Day Of Summer
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
5. Bad
(Kirsty MacColl)
6. Can't Stop Killing You
(Kirsty MacColl/Johnny Marr)
7. Titanic Days
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
8. Don't Go Home
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
9. Big Boy On A Saturday Night
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
10. Just Woke Up
(Kirsty MacColl/David Ruffy)
11. Tomorrow Never Comes
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)

Produced by Vic Van Vugt and Baboon Farm (who are in turn credited as Kirsty MacColl and Mark E. Nevin or just Kirsty MacColl on Galore, see below); 'Angel' produced by Steve Lillywhite; 'Tomorrow Never Comes' produced by Kirsty MacColl and Mark E. Nevin. CD catalogue number: D31070.

Galore (1995)

1. They Don't Know
(Kirsty MacColl)
2. A New England
(Billy Bragg)
3. There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis
(Kirsty MacColl/Philip Rambow)
4. He's On The Beach
(Kirsty MacColl/Gavin Povey)
5. Fairytale Of New York (with The Pogues)
(Shane MacGowan/Jem Finer)
6. Miss Otis Regrets (with The Pogues)
(Cole Porter)
7. Free World
(Kirsty MacColl)
8. Innocence
(Kirsty MacColl/Pete Glenister)
9. You Just Haven't Earned It Yet Baby
10. Days
(Raymond D. Davies)
11. Don't Come The Cowboy With Me Sonny Jim!
(Kirsty MacColl)
12. Walking Down Madison
(Kirsty MacColl/Johnny Marr)
13. My Affair
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
14. Angel
(Kirsty MacColl)
15. Titanic Days
(Kirsty MacColl/Mark E. Nevin)
16. Can't Stop Killing You
(Kirsty MacColl/Johnny Marr)
17. Caroline
(Kirsty MacColl)
18. Perfect Day (with Evan Dando)
(Lou Reed)

'They Don't Know' produced by Liam Sternberg; 'There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis' produced by Bazza; 'Titanic Days' produced by Vic Van Vugt, Kirsty MacColl and Mark E. Nevin;'Can't Stop Killing You' and 'Caroline' produced by Vic Van Vugt and Kirsty MacColl; 'Perfect Day' produced by Kirsty MacColl and Boz Boorer; all other tracks produced by Steve Lillywhite. CD catalogue number: 7243 8 30257 25.

My collection of Kirsty singles is depressingly incomplete, so I'll refer you back to Alan once more for the details.

How successful have they been?

My knowledge of MacColl's chart career is (surprise, surprise) sketchy. 'A New England' made the UK Top Ten in 1985, 'Days' made the UK Top Twenty and charted for four weeks in 1989, Kite did similarly on the album chart. Galore and its associated singles made brief chart appearances in 1995 (there's a link detailed below). Information on the chart performance of her recordings with other people is in the next section.

Critically, though, MacColl has been recognised as a stunning talent for most of her career. The mass public may not have totally embraced her, but the critics for once have got it right and applauded her unique melodic sense and brilliant, biting lyrics. The comments on the All Music Guide are pretty representative. Let's face it, you know you're doing well when your record company says nastier things about you than rock critics do. "There is more to young Kirsty than mere gimmickry and she should fulfil her undoubted potential" proclaim the sleeve notes to The Essential Collection in the manner of a school report.

Other MacColl fans online have also praised her more eloquently than I could; check out the assessment of William Dickson.

Her rendition of 'Days' was used in a Sony Handycam commercial, but I don't know that I'd call that praise . . .

What other artists has she worked with?

Kirsty's collaborations with other artists are probably more obvious to the general public than her solo work. The most commercially successful has been her work with the Pogues (produced by hubby Lillywhite). 'A Fairytale Of New York' was a major UK smash, reaching #2 at Christmas 1987 (it was held off #1 by ' (Always On My Mind) by the Pet Shop Boys, the biggest CD single seller to date at the time). It also recharted at #36 in 1992. Kirsty subsequently recorded 'Miss Otis Regrets' with the Pogues, although this didn't ever chart as a single. (Both these tracks are included on the Galore album, although the latter is heavily edited; the full version can be found on the Red Hot And Blue charity compilation album from which it originates.

MacColl's songs have been covered occasionally by other artists (if not perhaps often enough). The most famous instance is of course 'They Don't Know', recorded by Tracey Ullman (pre-actress fame) in 1982 for a UK and US Top Ten hit (Kirsty sings backing vocals on the record). This was part of a continuing involvement in Ullman's career. In total, the 1992 Tracey Ullman compilation You Broke My Heart In 17 Places includes four Kirsty compositions: 'They Don't Know'; ''You Broke My Heart In 17 Places' (written by Kirsty, produced by Kirsty, Gavin Povey and D. Robinson); 'You Caught Me Out' (written by MacColl/Briquette/Crowe and originally intended as Kirsty's second single); and 'Terry' (written and produced by Kirsty & Gavin Povey, and using exactly the same backing track as her own version). The Lemonheads released 'He's On The Beach' as a B-side for their 'Big Gay Heart' single in 1994.

In between the multiple career peaks, MacColl co-wrote four songs for Shine, a 1984 solo album by Frida (the brunette from ABBA if you're in the shameful state of not knowing), which was produced by Steve Lillywhite. Three of these ('One Little Lie', written by MacColl and Simon Climie, 'The Face', written by MacColl and Daniel Balavoine and 'Chemistry Tonight', written by MacColl, Climie and Pete Glenister) are on the CD version of the album; the other ('That's Tough', written by MacColl, Frida herself and her son Hans Fredriksson) is only available on a rarities collection called The Voice Of ABBA which you can pick up in discount racks everywhere. Go get 'em. MacColl also does backing vocals on the Shine album.

She also appeared as a backing vocalist for Talking Heads on their Naked album, and on two of Billy Bragg's.

What videos has she made?

This is a very incomplete listing, based on a retrospective shown on the ABC's Rage a year or two ago when MacColl was touring to promote Titantic Days. There are quite likely to be other videos out there, for 'Caroline' for instance. (Is there a video version of Galore that makes this whole section redundant?) Still, it's a start:

Videos marked * feature remixed and/or edited versions of these songs as they appear on the original albums. (The same edited versions of 'Innocence' and 'Walking Down Madison' appear on Galore). Raw Sex (about to mentioned below) appear in the 'All I Ever Wanted' video.

As well as these 'official' videos, another five or so MacColl songs got lensed in Series II and III of the BBC's 'French & Saunders'. After making a guest appearance in Series II (singing 'Trains & Boats & Planes' with the resident band, Raw Sex), MacColl was invited back for a regular musical spot in Series III. She performed the following songs (although I'm not sure if this was the original order in which the series was transmitted in the UK):

Throwing in my two cents worth, I'd say these videos were every bit as good if not better than the 'officially' released ones . . . any comments? The F&S appearances are fun, but the two which are treated 'seriously' are also really well-handled.

In her capacity as "hugely available guest vocalist to work with other artists", Kirsty appears in the following videos:

Where else is there Web info on her?

These are the existing links to MacColl-related information elsewhere on the Internet that I know about (a fair bit of the concrete information to be gleaned from them is incorporated elsewhere in this guide, but it's good to acknowledge your sources):

Why is there this annoying little opinionated bit at the end?

Just for the taste of it.

I first became familiar with Kirsty MacColl's work via her appearances on French & Saunders, detailed elsewhere in this guide. Since then, I've doggedly pursued my interest, although MacColl's general avoidance of PR hype (I assume it's an avoidance after listening to 'Fifteen Minutes' and watching the 'He's On The Beach' video) has made that a little tricky.

I sometimes get the annoying impression that MacColl is in danger of becoming a footnote in musical history. In the Guinness Book Of Rock Stars, for instance, she's mentioned many times in other artist's biographies but doesn't warrant one herself. On the Net, she pops up on Smiths pages and Pogues pages and Billy Bragg pages and Lemonheads pages but not (much) in her own right. She deserves better than that.

Any road, there are numerous gaps in this guide which I would greatly love to fill in with the assistance of other fans. If you know something about Kirsty MacColl that isn't on this page, let me know. You'll get credit, we'll all get knowledge. (Tacky sentiment, but hey . . .)

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