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Famous Like Me > Singer > M > Kirsty MacColl

Profile of Kirsty MacColl on Famous Like Me

Name: Kirsty MacColl  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 18th December 1959
Place of Birth:
Profession: Singer
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Kirsty MacColl on cd cover , 1998

Kirsty MacColl (October 10, 1959 – December 18, 2000), was a British pop singer-songwriter.

Family life and career

MacColl was the daughter of dancer Jean Newlove and noted folk singer Ewan MacColl.

Her initial career followed a substantially different path than that of her father; she first came to notice when Stiff Records released an EP by the band the Drug Addix, a punk-pop band she fronted under the pseudonym Mandy Doubt. Label executives were not impressed with the band but liked her and signed her to a solo deal.

Her debut solo single "They Don't Know", released in 1979, was an huge airplay hit in the UK, but never reached the shops due to a distributors' strike. After another single, "You Caught Me Out" failed to chart, MacColl felt she lacked Stiff's full backing and moved to Polydor Records in 1981. She had a UK Top 20 hit with the witty yet meaningful "There's A Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis," taken from her critically acclaimed debut album Desperate Character.

Lasting success again failed to materialise and in 1983 Polydor dropped her just as she had completed recording the songs for a planned second album. She returned to Stiff, where pop singles such as "Terry" and "He's On the Beach" went nowhere 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 by Bragg for MacColl, and caused sniggering when she released it, as she had to sing the line I loved you then as I love you still; Though I put you on a pedestal, You put me on the pill while in the latter stages of pregnancy.

MacColl was probably most recognizable in the United States 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" for much of the show's run.)

When Stiff went bankrupt in 1985, MacColl was left unable to record in her own right as no record company bought her contract from the Official Receiver. However, her talents meant she was rarely short of session work as a backing vocalist, and she frequently sang on records produced or engineered by her husband, Steve Lillywhite, including tracks for The Smiths, Van Morrison and Talking Heads, amongst others.

MacColl re-emerged in the British charts in December 1987, reaching Number 2 with The Pogues on "Fairytale Of New York", a duet with Shane MacGowan. This led to her accompanying The Pogues on their British and European tour in 1988, an experience which she said helped her temporarily overcome her stage fright.

She then bounced back as a songwriter and artist of substance, with Kite LP in 1989, widely praised by critics and featuring David Gilmour and Johnny Marr. MacColl's lyrics addressed life in Margaret Thatcher's England on "Free World", ridiculed the vapidity of fame in "Fifteen Minutes" and addressed the vagaries of love in "Don't Come The Cowboy With Me, Sonny Jim!"

Although "Kite" contained many original compositions of great quality, MacColl's biggest success from the album would be the cover of the Kinks' song "Days", which gave her a UK Top 20 hit. Another song on "Kite" was a cover of the Smiths song "You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby". These songs, and MacColl's success with "A New England", garnered her a reputation (mostly undeserved) as being a "cover queen".

During this time, MacColl was also featured on the British sketch comedy French and Saunders, appearing as herself and singing songs, including "15 Minutes", (from "Kite") "I Ride" and, with Ken Bishop, the Frank Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra hit "Something Stupid". She continued to write, releasing the album Electric Landlady (a play on words of the Jimi Hendrix album title "Electric Ladyland"), including her most successful chart hit in North America, "Walking Down Madison" (co-written with Marr and a Top 30 hit in the UK), in 1991. Despite its U.S. chart success, "Landlady" was not a hit for Virgin Records, and in 1992, when Virgin was sold to EMI, MacColl was dropped from the label.

She released Titanic Days, inspired by her divorce from Lillywhite, in 1994, but again, MacColl was at the mercy of the industry; ZTT Records had agreed to release the album as a "one-off" and declined to sign her to a contract. The following year 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 reached the Top 20 of the UK album charts, 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.

Several trips to Cuba restored MacColl's creative muse, and the world music-inspired (particularly Cuban and other Latin American forms) Tropical Brainstorm, often described as her finest work, was released in 2000. "Brainstorm" melded the Latinate music with her droll British lyrics to great effect. It included the song "In These Shoes", which garnered airplay in the U.S. and was covered by Bette Midler, featured in the HBO show "Sex and the City" and adopted by Catherine Tate as the theme tune for her BBC TV show.

MacColl's lyrics, at turns humorous, biting, and achingly sad, are hard to categorize, which sometimes presented a challenge to the commercial viability of her work. She developed a severe case of stage fright, which first struck during her early tours and which she never truly overcame. She was also devoted to her children, and would spend long periods of time away from the spotlight to focus on raising them.

MacColl's death and posthumous career

On December 18, 2000, while swimming in a restricted diving area with her family on a holiday in Cozumel, she was killed in a collision with a powerboat while managing to drag her son out of its path. The boat was owned by Mexican supermarket millionaire Guillermo González Nova (owner of Comercial Mexicana and the national Costco franchise), who was on board with several members of his family. A boathand, José Cen Yam, claimed to have been driving the boat and was found guilty of culpable homicide and, under Mexican law, allowed to pay a fine of 1034 pesos (about U.S.$90) in lieu of a prison sentence of that many days. However, eyewitnesses contradict Cen Yam's claim to have been driving and also González Nova's claim that the boat was travelling at a speed of only one knot.

MacColl's family are campaigning for a judicial review into the events surrounding her death, including an application to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The BBC has featured on several of its channels a documentary by Olivia Lichtenstein, entitled "Who Killed Kirsty MacColl?"

Since MacColl's death, Billy Bragg has always included "her" extra verses when performing "A New England". She was honored in 2002 with a memorial concert in London at the Royal Festival Hall, featuring a number of musicians that had worked with her, or been influenced by her.

In 2001, a bench was placed by the southern entrance to London's Soho Square as a memorial to her, after a lyric from one of her most poignant songs: "An empty bench in Soho Square/ If you'd have come you'd have found me there".

MacColl continues to receive media exposure; in 2004 a biography of MacColl authored by Karen O'Brien, Kirsty MacColl : The One and Only, was published. As for her music, a retrospective three-CD set spanning her full career, From Croydon To Cuba, was released in 2005. Titanic Days was re-released in 2005 as a deluxe 2CD set, and Kite and Electric Landlady were also remastered and rereleased with additional tracks. Her first album Desperate Character remains out of print, but some tracks from that work were included in the box set. On 7 August 2005 The Best of Kirsty MacColl (a single-disc version of From Croydon To Cuba, including the 'new' single "Sun on the Water") made its debut on the UK album charts at number 17.


  • Desperate Character (July 1981)
  • Kite (April 1989)
  • Electric Landlady (June 1991)
  • Titanic Days (February 1994)
  • Galore (March 1995)
  • Tropical Brainstorm (March 2000)


Year Title Chart Positions Album
US Modern Rock
1991 "Walking Down Madison" #4 Electric Landlady

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Kirsty MacColl