Friday, 25 December 2009
44. In These Shoes, Kirsty MacColl (2000)
Christmas Day, watching the TV at Mam and Dad's, three weeks after Kentucky, so very far away. Away from my new grown-up life in London as well, no longer 22 and worldly but 12 in pink pyjamas, drinking tea on the settee, listening to Mam's kitchen chorus as I stared at the screen (switched on as always, just like the kettle peeking over the mugs and the teabags). The words on the television – Kirsty MacColl, 1959-2000 – still not looking, sounding or feeling right, a nasty mistake among the baubles and the tinsel and the soft focus smiles.
Fairytale Of New York had made me – and many other people – cry long before Kirsty died. It reminded me of Andrew, a fourth year chemistry student I'd met at university when I was an English fresher, a boy who had fallen off some stairs one night after a drunken college festival, threw up in my toilet, let me give him a new toothbrush, and then sat up and talked to me until the morning came. It wasn't an auspicious start to any whirlwind romance, but what followed was lovely. We went out for eighteen months that we thought would be forever, before I dumped him on a whim, and sat at Digbeth Coach Station in Birmingham on a cold, icy Sunday, listening to David Essex singing A Winter's Tale through the speakers, his voice no longer melancholy, but slyly accusatory.
That Christmas, I listened to Fairytale Of New York on repeat – one of Andrew's favourite songs – and its middle-eight took on new meaning as I tried to justify my actions. To my overly dramatic 20-year-old mind, Andrew had took my dreams with him when I first met him. He thought he'd taken them with him, put them with his own, and built his dreams around me.
Two years after Andrew and I had broken up, after a few ill-advised reconcilations in Midlands bedrooms and London pubs, I'd got to know Kirsty's voice better. I'd bought Electric Landlady on CD with some birthday money, and fallen in love with her warmth and her humour. I'd also heard a few songs from her new record, Tropical Brainstorm, and adored In These Shoes, the strummed harp as it started like a door swinging open. And I listened to its versus and choruses – so exquisite and elegant, so ballsy and wry – I imagined the spirit of Celia Cruz coming through the no-nonsense patter of a Croydon redhead. I loved it beyond measure.
After Kirsty died, I read about how much she had fell in love with the music of Cuba and Mexico, how it had fired her up, made her someone new. And earlier this month, I finally got round to reading the book her mother had written, Sun On The Water, which talked about her daughter's brilliant life, and urged us to remember it. The campaign for justice for Kirsty ended a few weeks later, but many of us will never ever forget her – and this is why, every Christmas, I look past Fairytale Of New York, past its huge, emotional swing and the memories it conjures, especially the memory of those strange days in 2000. Instead, I remember the woman with the sense of adventure, whose songs still make so many people feel strangely alive.