IT’S the classic hit that’s widely regarded as the best Christmas song ever produced.
But The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York might not have become the most frequently played number of the festive season had they followed their original plan — to set the song in Co Clare.
According to a radio documentary, the 1987 hit, which is at No 7 in the Irish charts this week, was almost called Fairytale of Co Clare.
Frontman Shane MacGowan and bandmate Jem Finer, who both feature in an hour-long BBC special on the origins of the song, said early demos told the story of a sailor from west Clare staring out to the Atlantic and dreaming of what life would be like in New York.
Banjo player Finer said it took two gruelling years to perfect the classic song, complete with new MacGowan-inspired lyrics which transferred the original story to its setting in the Big Apple.
He admits some of the original lyrics, which included the verse “One Christmas Eve on the west coast of Clare, I looked across the ocean to see what’s over there”, were “pretty bad”.
Guitarist Philip Chevron said: “In the earliest incarnation it took place not in New York, but in the west coast of Clare. If you listen to the early demos we did of that song at a certain point, in each case, they kind of just stop developing. They just fall into a hole where they can go no further.”
Finer stressed it was only when acclaimed producer Steve Lillywhite — who had worked with U2 and the Rolling Stones — came on board and persuaded his then wife, late singer Kirsty MacColl, to perform the duet with MacGowan, that everyone was happy they’d produced a masterpiece.
“We tried to record it twice before it finally got nailed with Steve Lillywhite,” said Finer.
“So it went through a lot of revisions. There were always things that didn’t quite work and Shane did a lot of editing of the lyrics, coming back to it again and again over a period of about two years, and we played about with the arrangement until it sort of sat properly.
“But when it was done, it was a very moving moment, because it was so obviously perfect. I burst into tears, because I knew it was so special. Kirsty brought the heart to that record.”
Lillywhite stressed that MacGowan, who turns 54 on Christmas Day, had to up his game once MacColl laid down her flawless vocals on the song,
“When we finished it, it was plainly obvious that Shane’s vocal was not as good. Now Kirsty had really raised the bar he sounded sort of slurry. So he re-did his vocal and that was it.”
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