Saturday, 18 December 2010

Ten years without Kirsty

In early December of 2000 I came home to my parents' house from a not entirely unsuccessful first term reading social anthropology at Sussex.

At the time I was writing a lot; I had recently started writing online for pleasure with a group of friends, and those two weeks would see me spend a lot of time sitting on the sofa by the Christmas tree tapping away on my laptop.

On Monday December 18th I was sitting in the front room with the radio on, and about mid-afternoon, as it was beginning to get dark, the news came on and told me that the singer Kirsty MacColl had died in Mexico.

The story bears repeating; Kirsty had been on holiday with her children, scuba diving at a place called Cozumel. Whilst diving in a restricted zone, a powerboat entered the area illegally and, in attempting to move her sons from danger, she was struck and killed.

It is thought that the owner of the powerboat, a Mexican supermarket magnate, paid off a deckhand to take the blame, and the corruption at the heart of Mexican government means he has never been held accountable for his actions. The family's campaign for justice continues a decade later...

Kirsty was not a particularly well-recognised singer, or even especially famous, but even if you think yourself unfamiliar with her work then trust me, you are not; for example, 'In These Shoes', a track from her last and possibly best album, the Latino and jazz-influenced Tropical Brainstorm, was later used as the theme tune to the Catherine Tate Show.

These days, she is probably best remembered for her collaboration with The Pogues on 'Fairytale of New York', probably my favourite Christmas song and one that I always keep on rotation on iTunes during December.

I prefer to remember her other work. There's not a lot of it; Kirsty did not record extensively, took long breaks between albums, and suffered from terrible stage fright.

All the same she recorded some wonderful, life-affirming and often hilariously funny tracks, from the powerful cry for independence of 'My Affair' to the beautifully observed vignette that is 'England 2, Columbia 0', and more besides, each song delivered in that unmistakable Croydon accent.

I'd love to know what albums she would have gone on to do, what tricks she still had up her sleeve. We'll never know.

Today marks 10 years since Kirsty's tragic death, and like I do every year, I will be playing her music as loud as I can.

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