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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 15:40 GMT
Kirsty MacColl's life of music
Kirsty MacColl
Kirsty MacColl: Began career aged 16
Singer and songwriter Kirsty MacColl was born in England in 1959, and grew up surrounded by music.

She was best known for her country and pop songs, with sharp and witty insights into contemporary British life. Latterly her music was influenced by Latin American sounds.

Once described by U2's lead singer Bono as "the Noel Coward of her generation", her talent was likened to "the wit of Ray Davies and the harmonic invention of the Beach Boys" by former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr.

Her father was Ewan MacColl, the celebrated folk singer, and her mother, Jean was a choreographer.

Kirsty MacColl
The singer, pictured in 1985
MacColl started her career young - by 16 she was signed to Stiff Records, but her first song They Don't Know did not make much of an impression on the charts.

It was not until comedienne Tracey Ullman took the song on that it hit number two in the UK hit parade.

MacColl's first chart recognition came six years later when she signed to Polydor Records in 1981.

Her rendition of There's A Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He's Elvis made the top 20, and that single and her album Desperate Characters finally put her firmly in the public eye.

In 1984 she returned to the charts with a memorable version of Billy Bragg's A New England, and in the same year she married producer Steve Lillywhite. The couple split in 1997.

Shane MacGowan
Shane MacGowan: "Why is she not massively successful?"
In the next few years she had two children and worked regularly as a backing singer for artists including the Rolling Stones, Morrissey, Van Morrison, Talking Heads and Robert Plant.

But her chart peak came in 1987 with her duet with infamous Pogues singer Shane MacGowan.

Their poignant rendition of Fairytale of New York, about Irish emigration, hit number two in the charts and is still a Christmas favourite.

She went on to record Kite, an album which included the highly successful cover of the Kinks' song Days, which hit the top 20.

 Van Morrison
MacColl sang backing vocals for Van Morrison
Several of the tracks featured Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr, who also appeared on her follow-up Electric Landlady, released in 1991.

MacColl hit the top 40 with her single Walking Down Madison, a dance-influenced track.

But some critics believed she sold herself short over the years and, after 20 years on the fringes of stardom, she commented: "I've never been fashionable. But I've never been unfashionable either."

MacGowan, who was in awe of her talent, once asked: "Why is she not massively successful?"

Her next album, Titanic Days, released in 1994, reached number 46 in the charts, followed by 1995's Galore, a compilation album released in 1995.

Mick Jagger
She also sang for the Rolling Stones
And in March this year Tropical Brainstorm, her Latin-influenced album was released.

MacColl said it was heavily influenced by her experiences in Cuba and Brazil, reflecting her love of their music.

Following a trip to Cuba, she immersed herself in the country's sounds, learned Spanish and planned her next trip, this time to Brazil.

'Pop is my first love'

Tropical Brainstorm has been feted as the best work of her career, producing a culture clash of world music with references and observations from closer to home.

She toured following the album's release to great acclaim, with an accomplished seven-piece backing band made up of bass, percussion, drums, guitar, sax, trombone and trumpet.

She spoke of her views on modern music during an interview with The Times last October.

"Pop music has always been my first love," she said.

"I don't mean what's in the charts - I have always thought that about 90% of the Top 40 is unlistenable - but pop across the board, from old classics to world music."

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See also:

19 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Singer Kirsty MacColl dies
19 Dec 00 | Entertainment
Music industry mourns MacColl
20 Dec 00 | Talking Point
Kirsty MacColl: Your tributes
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