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This programme contains very strong language.
The opening line's good. "It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank."
You know it's not an ordinary Christmas song when you start a song with that.
-# You're handsome!
-You're pretty... #
For the first time, all eight Pogues go back to the studio where they recorded it 18 years ago.
It's the first time they have been into any recording studio in 14 years.
Discover what happened when Matt Dillon got completely Pogued.
There was a lot of drinking going on. That is the Pogues - drinking.
# For Christmas Day. #
It's the great Kirsty MacColl song that nearly wasn't.
When we started recording it, we didn't have anyone lined up to sing it.
# You're a bum, you're a punk... #
-'Meet the man who brought it all together...'
-Now we have a harp.
There is no harp player in the Pogues!
# You scumbag, you maggot... #
'And we find out why Shane MacGowan enjoys Christmas so much.'
You can't enjoy Christmas. Christmas is hell.
# And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day. #
This is the story of Fairytale Of New York.
# Never gonna give you up Never gonna let you down
# Never gonna run around and desert you... #
1987. Britain's worst hurricane leaves boats on the beach and trees in houses.
'This pile of flotsam is all that's left of the famous Shanklin Pier on the Isle of Wight.'
Billions are wiped off shares on Black Monday.
Tea boy Rick Astley cruises up the charts, and professional drinker Shane MacGowan
finally stumbles into the studio to record the song that will keep him in Long Island Iced Teas for life.
# The boys in the NYPD... #
What they recorded is one of the greatest Christmas hits.
It's the aural antidote to tinsel and sleigh bells.
You don't normally get Christmas songs that are so utterly hopeless.
A sentimental song of booze, bars and massive cars.
It's like a little symphony. Every little bit is bang on.
The Irish jig that leaves Emerald Islanders crying into their Guinness.
It was one of those songs that you held on to tightly
cos in the video, you imagined that's how New York looked.
And a lasting testament to singer Kirsty MacColl, killed in a boating accident in the year 2000.
Whenever I hear Kirsty singing, it gives me pleasure and joy.
# And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day. #
To tell the fairytale, our handsome prince must meet his beautiful princess.
To do that, we must travel back to London in the late '70s
where both Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl's careers began.
First up, Shane MacGowan - an angry young punk with an idea for a band, seen here at an early Clash gig.
We used to basically want to sound like the Pistols.
# You, I need you... #
Shane's first band was the Nipple Erectors, or the Nips.
They made lots of noise, but no hits.
They were a brilliant band and I really liked his songs.
I thought they were funny and clever, and very catchy as well.
# You gotta let go You gotta come
# I need you! #
It's a classic of its type.
It became number one in Italy.
We broke up the same day.
With the Nips in tatters, Shane went back to his first love,
Irish folk music, but with an inspired dose of the Sex Pistols.
It was a combination that provided the foundations for Fairytale Of New York.
# I'm sick to my guts of the railway... #
Shane had a lot of Irish records - Dubliners, the Furies and so on.
He would often play them.
And there's this misconception - people all think we come from Dublin.
Shane is the only sort of thoroughbred Irish person in the band, really.
And he'd spent most of his life in England.
# In 1843, I broke my shovel across my knee... #
One day, we went round to a friend's house and he picked up a guitar
and started playing Poor Paddy On The Railway. And it was kind of...
like about 900mph, I should say.
Shane had discovered the elusive Pogues formula - Irish folk punk.
# In 1845, when Daniel O'Connell he was alive
# When Daniel O'Connell he was alive and working on the rail... #
We went through every fucking stylistic fucking rock'n'roll thing you could go through...
except for that.
It really was so glaringly obvious
that the most surprising thing about it was that nobody had thought of it before.
-Get out of Oxford Street!
Unfortunately for the embryonic Pogues, the UK was in the middle of an IRA bombing campaign.
Playing Irish republican war songs was asking for trouble.
The first version of the Pogues were the New Republicans.
25 years later, Pogue Spider Stacy, takes us back to where they played their very first gig.
And it's now an Irish theme pub.
This is where the New Republicans did their one and only gig.
I couldn't see that anyone would actually take us seriously.
And then I sort of realised that of course they would, because
we were actually really good.
When we played here and we were doing Irish rebel songs in 1980, 1981, whenever it was,
it was definitely not a good thing to be Irish.
There was a lot of racism against Irish people.
To make matters worse, the club was full of British soldiers.
Fortunately, the only weapons they had were fish and chips.
There was a bunch of squaddies in the audience.
I mean, like, it was a perfect ending - the squaddies started pelting us with fish and chips.
# There's a guy works down the chip shop, swears he's Elvis... #
While the New Republicans were dodging fish and chips, Kirsty MacColl was singing about them.
She started her career in a punk outfit called the Drug Addix.
But life in a band was not for her.
She soon signed as a solo artist to Stiff Records.
She was with one band who were all boys. She used to come back
very depressed that they didn't listen to what she had to say.
It was quite funny when Stiff heard them...
they only wanted Kirsty and they didn't want the boys!
# But he's a liar and I'm not sure about you. #
She really understood country-music.
She understood a lot of folk music, really.
She understood blues music, she loved Ray Charles.
She kind of got all the different elements.
# I went up to Monto town To see Uncle McArdle... #
As Kirsty ditched the Drug Addix, so Shane and the group changed their name from the new Republicans
to Pogue Mahone, Gaelic for "kiss my arse".
By now, they were a six piece, with drummer Andrew Ranken, bassist Cait O'Riordan,
accordionist James Fearnley, Jem on banjo, and Spider on beer tray.
A recording contract followed,
mainly on the strength of their raucous live shows and charismatic lead singer.
# Your aul' wan to my aul' wan I'll hawk the old man's braces... #
Shane was incredibly shy. There was a rehearsal in West Hampstead,
and I remember sitting there and there was no music happening.
I was waiting and I looked, and I saw Shane was looking at me really uncomfortably.
He didn't want to sing with me in the room. He was just shy, you know.
I said, "You better get used to it. I'm your manager. I'm going to hear you sing a lot of times!"
From the start, they mixed traditional songs with Shane's originals.
Shane was just a brilliant songwriter.
But their reputation was that they were just cracking live -
exhilarating, boisterous noise, basically.
Where's Spider? I'll focus before I start being bossy.
OK, I'm going to take a picture.
Bleddyn Butcher first photographed the Pogues in 1982.
Today, he's taking publicity pictures for the 2005 reissue of Fairytale Of New York.
Acting the goat?
The band is now an eight-piece. The current line-up includes Terry Woods on mandolin,
Philip Chevron on guitar, and Darryl Hunt who replaced Cait O'Riordan on bass.
It doesn't look better.
I did their first photo session as a band, yes.
I took the photos behind King's Cross.
I didn't know anything about them then, although the experience was sufficient to make me follow up.
They were very weird.
Jem wanted to have his banjo in it, so I just went, "OK",
and Shane wanted to have his pint glass in it.
The Pogues' live reputation helped sales of their first two albums -
Red Roses for Me and Rum Sodomy and the Lash.
By 1985, manager Frank Murray wanted to turn them into an international act. It was time to visit America.
Shane had never visited before, but it was a place that was already
alive in his imagination through films, books and music.
The experience of touring America would inspire the Pogues' greatest song.
Shame was pretty obsessed with America. He had never been before the band went,
so he had this whole mythological America in his mind from films and books and music and so on.
New York turned out to be pretty much the way I imagined it would be.
Fact and fiction merged into one on the tour bus.
Shane and Spider were totally into Once Upon a Time in America, and were in character the whole time.
We were watching that round the clock for the purposes of memorising the script.
It was just "motherfucker this and motherfucker that".
# In 1845
# When Daniel O'Connell he was alive... #
This previously unseen footage of their first American concert was shot by Pogues fan Peter Dougherty.
This is Second Street, and just here on the corner
is what used to be a club called The Whirl. That's where I first saw the Pogues.
They played their first American gig there and it was fantastic.
# I'm sick to my death of the railway... #
I do remember having a good time, and the woman I was with was saying,
"Let's go. Why d'you wanna go backstage? What's your problem? Why would you wanna talk to them?"
But Peter did go backstage and another part of the Fairytale of New York jigsaw was in place.
Peter would go on to direct the song's video and he was about to meet its Hollywood star.
Matt Dillon was in the dressing room. There wasn't that much interest in me.
Backstage was packed with celebrity fans, many of them Irish American.
It was the kind of thing I liked. It reminded me of the Dubliners
or the Clancy Brothers mixed with the Clash. Immediately I was a big fan.
Their blend of nostalgia and punk had struck a chord
with Irish-Americans like Matt Dillon and Peter Dougherty.
At the same time, Shane MacGowan had been inspired by stories of ancestors who had struggled
to make a new life thousands of miles away from Ireland.
In Ireland, like, you were either dead or in America.
If you're in America, you're not coming back.
# Why d'you never listen to me?
# I could be invisible to you... #
Three years before the Pogues' trip to America, Kirsty MacColl
had caught the eye of the man who would go on to produce Fairytale Of New York.
I met Kirsty when I was producing Simple Minds.
She came down to do some backing vocals
and she was a big fan of Simple Minds.
She was out doing the vocals and I thought, "I'm gonna marry that girl".
The couple were married within months.
Kirsty's career was also going well thanks to a string of bittersweet songs about relationships.
A lot of her songs were quite vitriolic about men and people would always say, "Is that song about you?"
I would go, "No". She would always say, "They're not about anyone - they are mixtures of people I meet".
You know, great social comments, a great girl's girl.
# Anyway it doesn't matter... #
While Kirsty was getting married, the Pogues were getting famous.
They were growing all the time.
They kept going from strength to strength.
Every time we got...
we caused enough damage to get barred from a club, we moved up a notch, you know.
But the band needed a big single to break into the mainstream.
I thought it'd be really interesting to see what they would do on a Christmas song.
So that's why I asked them initially to do one, and we were supposed to be covering a song.
Instead of looking for a song to cover, banjo player Jem and Shane attempted to write a duet.
But at the time, they didn't have Kirsty MacColl in mind.
It was written for the Pogues' female bassist, Cait O'Riordan.
She was a great singer and she had an amazing pair of...
She was a beautiful looking girl, and none of the rest of us were, by any stretch of the imagination.
Jem started with a traditional approach.
I wrote one Christmas duet,
which was actually - the words were crap and the whole idea behind it
was sort of sentimental Christmas rubbish.
He came up with something more Pogue-like about a couple down on their luck at Christmas.
Then took it to Shane, who came up with the New York connection.
We decided to make it about two Irish immigrants on the way out -
you know, they had had their glory days in...
Well, it explains it in the song.
# They've got cars big as bars... #
Here, exclusively, is the demo of Fairytale Of New York.
It also features original vocalist, Cait O'Riordan.
With the song taking shape and demos laid down with producer, Elvis Costello,
all that remained was the final recording session and the small matter of a title.
Elvis Costello said, "What are you gonna call it? Christmas Eve in the drunk tank?"
amazing imagination, that guy.
"That's not pretentious enough," I thought.
Yes, Fairytale Of New York. I was looking at the book cover here -
A Fairy Tale Of New York.
A Fairy Tale of New York was written by Irish-American JP Donleavy in 1973.
It is a story of a young man who arrives in America from Ireland.
Shane met Donleavy in Dublin.
He explained that his father was a big fan of mine
and read most of the books, I believe.
He did this as a favour to his father
to recognise the fact that his father read my books and was a fan.
I was surprised. I thought it was a really striking piece of music with wonderful overtones.
I realised straight away that it didn't really have anything to do with my book at all.
The Pogues' Christmas single was really coming together.
It had lyrics, a tune and a title.
But despite repeated attempts, they weren't happy with the recordings.
The song wasn't really whole.
It was a great song, but we hadn't given much thought to it.
The band couldn't play it very well, either.
I think time kind of ran out.
If you're gonna have a Christmas song, it has to be out for Christmas.
The band went back on the road, becoming tighter and more ambitious,
but they kept working on their Christmas single.
# Five o'clock in the evening... #
We started putting the sets, so it became a different song - very tight.
But the constant touring was too much for bassist Cait O'Riordan.
She married producer Elvis Costello and decided to leave the band.
That was extremely distressing cos they didn't really know what to do.
They deputised Daryl, and it worked, but I think it was just basically from partying too hard.
The band replaced their bassist, but in 1986, Fairytale had lost its female voice.
It was never gonna be scrapped.
It was just... You know, Shane was always tinkering.
I was trying to finish the bloody song.
Whenever we got together to rehearse and there was a new fiddle about, we would try and play it again.
Shane finally nailed the lyrics in Scandinavia after a bout of pneumonia.
You get lots of delirium and stuff
and so, I got quite a few good images out of that.
The Pogues' New York Christmas epic was about to be recorded,
but when they arrived at the studio in the summer of 1987,
there was still no female vocalist to sing alongside Shane.
When we started recording it,
it was still written as a duet, but we didn't have anybody
really lined up to sing it.
Despite this, the band went into the studio in London with their new producer, Steve Lillywhite.
Steve was used to working with stadium rock acts like Simple Minds and U2,
not with penny whistles and banjos.
If you had have said beforehand that we would get Steve Lillywhite, it would have been a no.
We wouldn't have thought of using Steve.
But when the band came off that 18 months of touring, they had become this really, really tight unit.
I knew I was getting a band who were at their best.
I was very lucky to get them when I got them
cos there was a great feeling of momentum towards the Pogues. I helped ride that crest.
# You can have my husband, but please don't mess with my man... #
Steve didn't only bring top-end production to the Pogues, he also brought his new wife.
Kirsty MacColl had tried out a range of musical styles across a number of albums
but had never managed a mainstream hit.
# Used to buy me some rights... #
Kirsty just had her own way. She was a great singer she wrote great songs.
They didn't have mass appeal.
If you listen to her album, Galore, which is like her greatest hits,
it's a great album. There are really great songs on it.
One of the many great things about Kirsty was the fact that she had
a great understanding of all sorts of music. There were no musical barriers.
# Walking down Madison I swear I never had a gun... #
Despite her strengths, Kirsty was never comfortable performing live.
She suffered from stage fright which was at its worst on a tour of Ireland.
I was concerned for her.
I got a postcard which really worried me because it wasn't written by Kirsty at all.
It was written by one of the band.
And it was...
"things are going rather better. I have stopped throwing up."
# I saw two shooting stars last night
# I wished on them but they were only satellites... #
It took her a long time to feel at home on stage.
It really did.
She wasn't a natural performer.
# I don't want to change the world I'm not looking for New England
# Are you looking for another girl... #
In 1985, she hit the top 10 with a cover of Billy Bragg's "New England".
Two years later, Kirsty would discover a cure for her stage fright
when she recorded an even bigger single in a duet with Shane MacGowan.
Kirsty's contribution to Fairytale Of New York happened almost by accident.
She would often pop into the studio to see Steve
and on one visit Shane suggested she had a go singing the female lead.
Shane sung the whole song
and he gave me a set of lyrics and said, "This is where Kirsty sings - this bit that bit".
It was good that he did that.
Steve had a recording studio at his house and took the demo back for Kirsty to try out.
So I played it to Kirsty and then cleaned the sections of where she should sing,
so she responded to his vocal as if he was there but he wasn't there and she didn't ever sing it with him.
# You promised me Broadway was waiting for me
# You were handsome... #
# When the band finished playing they held out for more... #
They did some work on the home studio and they came in with this vocal and it just sounded perfect.
# The boys of the NYPD choir still singing Galway Bay... #
Then he brought it back and played it to us and we thought it was really good. That's it. Bingo!
Finally, Fairytale had its female lead.
Producer, Steve Lillywhite, takes us through the master tapes.
Now we have a harp...
There is no harp player in the Pogues! How did this come about?
Rak Studios, North London.
For the first time in 14 years, the instruments are being set up for the arrival of all eight Pogues,
including notoriously unreliable Shane MacGowan.
Shane thought he was going to a rehearsal tomorrow...
Um...maybe it's best to let him keep thinking that, actually.
But maybe not, cos usually when it's a rehearsal, he turns up six days later.
The band started work here in July 1987 and spent four weeks
working on their third album, "If I Should Fall From Grace With God".
It was these sessions that produced Fairytale Of New York.
Hopefully, today, all eight musicians are back.
Andrew Rankin on the drums.
Darryl on the bass.
And Philip Chevron.
..and Spider Stacy.
And just two hours late, Shane MacGowan.
Still going despite extraordinary rock-and-roll indulgences.
Rak Studios represented a move up in the world for the Pogues.
Before recording here, we had recorded in Elephant Studios
which is kind of a cold, damp basement in Wapping.
Being here with a bit of light coming in was quite nice.
Also because the place is quite big, you can play live as a band.
We're just learning the song that we didn't learn the first time round.
Recording wasn't always easy for the band - their DIY punk roots means they don't all read music.
We had countless arguments because people would count things in different ways.
So you'd say, "Right, there is eight of that bit and then there is four of the other bit",
and their one is twice someone else's one.
Our communication of musical ideas was sometimes quite fraught.
I do know it.
I think all we need to know is the first one is the one that goes...
-The first one when there's still the singing?
-Not at that point.
Once I had no idea how to play this. I don't know if it was not on the set list, or something like that.
I couldn't get past the first couple of notes.
I beseeched Phillip to tell me how it went.
And he kept shouting it to me but I couldn't hear because the crowd was just going mad. It was hopeless.
HE PLAYS INTRO
HE HITS WRONG NOTE
It's all Bohemian Rhapsody, you know what I mean?
This was a new level of sophistication. It took a while to get it.
People always say the Pogues are a rabble-rousing drinking bunch,
but they're so serious about their music. I learnt a lot.
Their arrangements were very good in terms of keeping the listener interested.
Steve now lives in Manhattan, but he has gone into a studio in America
to revisit the multi-track master recordings of Fairytale Of New York.
I've not heard this song for about 18 years.
I'm going to attempt to give you some idea
of what it was like to record the song.
What a fantastic start! I think that was James Fernley.
# It was Christmas Eve, babe... #
It's a song of three parts.
I think we recorded this intro separately
and the voice was recorded at the same time as the piano.
If I solo the voice, I'll find out.
SILENCE That's not the voice.
VOCAL Hear the piano in the background.
# I turn my face away... #
It is a performance between piano and voice only.
The piano opening was recorded separately to the main body and the two where edited together.
An edit coming up here.
MANDOLIN COMES IN
Terry Woods there!
During the recordings, certain instruments like Terry Woods' mandolin
were multiplied to help give the song an epic feel.
# The boys of the NYPD choir Were singing Galway Bay
# And the bells... #
That mandolin there, we did some masked mandolins...
I think maybe even at half speed.
We slowed the tape down and it goes like "B-r-r-r...",
and when you speed it back up, it goes, "BRRRR..." - much faster.
Very nice. I had forgotten about that. Damn, I need to remix this song.
PENNY WHISTLE PLAYS
Everyone talking in the background.
PENNY WHISTLE CONTINUES
FROM TAPE: "Agh!"
You have got to use that, haven't you?!
Spider would do that a lot, whenever he made a mistake. "Agh!"
Spider Stacey's penny whistle was key to the Pogue's sound,
but it wasn't an instrument that stadium rock veteran, Steve, was familiar with.
I would be mixing away, and every time I would go back to the beginning and it'd start,
I'd go, "Ooh, that whistle's a bit loud." Cos I'm not used to hearing it.
Every time, I'd make the whistle quieter and quieter because of its high-pitchedness.
Your ear always goes to it, so I would always keep turning it down.
Then the band would say, "Sounds great, but where's Spider?" I'd say, "He's really loud!" "Oh... He isn't."
# ..singing Galway Bay And the bells were ringing out... #
Anybody got a favourite bit?
OK, now we're in the home stretch.
The soaring orchestral climax, that's quite good.
-Yeah, towards the end.
The final verse.
I mean that's the best bit, I think.
The ending is important, yes.
The song really moves me, I have got to say.
At long last, the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl had pulled it off.
After two years writing and a month's recording, Fairytale Of New York was complete.
All it needed now was a video.
It got a black-and-white classic with a cameo performance from a Hollywood heart-throb.
I don't remember much about it but the reason I don't remember much
is different than why other people don't remember. Cos I wasn't drunk.
That is the truth. I can say that.
Matt Dillon played a police officer who has to throw a drunken Shane MacGowan into a cell.
It sounded straightforward.
I wanted him to just grab Shane by the elbow, but he wanted to know "How aggressive am I"?
I said, "It's Christmas Eve. You don't wanna be working,
"you're sick of picking up drunks,
"but you certainly won't throw him down the stairs.
"So you're not happy but you're not beating him on the way upstairs."
He was pretty liqoured up anyway, so when I was holding him,
he could have gone down the stairs, you know.
Peter Docherty was going, "Look, Matt, just forget Shane is your friend.
"Just fucking beat the shit out of me! Push me through that fucking door and get things done.
"You're an actor!"
In the end, he did it perfectly.
It was great.
The start of the video was shot in a New York police station.
This is it here on the left.
Manager Frank Murray and extra Dennis Driscoll are going back for the first time in 18 years.
Behind Shane and Matt, you can see Dennis - he is on the right
with his back to camera, arresting a genuinely drunken Father Christmas.
I was trying to hold onto him to make it authentic
and he was saying, "You're not gonna take me alive!" and screaming.
Everybody thought it was in quite a state.
-I guess it was just the theme of it.
Down below in the tombs here, we have cells,
and they were...
We were using them as dressing rooms and a place to hang out before you got called.
It was quite funny because what was going down in the cells,
if anybody had known about it, we would've been put IN the cells and locked up.
Shane had a Margarita under his jacket and they saw it immediately
and grabbed him and said, "No, no, no."
We nearly all got arrested as well because we did the jail scenes in a real nick
and we were all getting really pissed.
So they stuck me in a holding room, like a holding cell.
It was a jail cell with Shane and, I think, the road manager.
The guy had long blonde hair and he was dressed in a Santa Claus costume.
The two of them, there was no way, even if I wanted to jump in,
I could never catch up with them because they were so out there at that point.
All the drinking in the cells was starting to make the police anxious.
Thankfully, there was a screen icon to smooth the ruffled feathers.
Matt Dillon being sober was a big plus. He pretty much saved the day.
Peter was getting a lot of flak from the cops. They were not having it. They were not happy at all.
Matt went over and talked to them and we just did it and got out.
It worked really well. I think him being there really saved the day.
-# You were handsome
-You were pretty Queen of New York City
# When the band finished playing They held out for more... #
The biggest challenge in the video was the chorus, "The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay".
# The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay
# And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day. #
"The boys of the NYPD choir..."
I don't think that really exists.
"The boys of the NYPD choir" - there is no NYPD choir, so it was...
what are we going to get that is a sort of a group of police doing something we could call musical?
They ended up with the police department's Irish pipe band.
They don't play Irish pipes and there are a few culturally confusing elements.
I remember the night pretty well cos I was fairly new in the band
but we had a performance that night up in one of the big hotels.
After that, we had a bus to take us to the video.
Everybody wanted to go. We all wanted to go, no matter how cold it was.
We filled the bus up with beer and we went down to meet them.
The Pogues got wind that we had beer on the bus, so they came on with us.
They drank a lot of our beer, I remember that.
But the Pogues maintain it was the police who were the real drinkers.
These guys got out of the coach and they were legless, whatever WE were.
They were drinking all day and they were chanting, "No beer, no show!"
They weren't getting off the bus until they got beer.
# The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay... #
I don't think they knew Galway Bay. I can't remember what they sang.
It wasn't Galway Bay.
They asked us to sing a song that we all knew the words to.
They didn't have exactly a repertoire of Irish songs. Put it that way.
We were singing the Mickey Mouse theme song.
I remember us doing that. That was quite funny, singing Mickey Mouse.
# The boys of the NYPD choir still singing Galway Bay
# And the bells are ringing out for Christmas day... #
In December 1987, the video was complete and the record was released in time for Christmas.
I absolutely adore this record. I hope it's number one for Christmas!
The Pogues and Kirsty MacColl and the fabulous Fairytale Of New York.
# It was Christmas Eve, babe... #
Before it came out, I went to a bookies in Camden Town
and I asked what would they give me on the Christmas number one single.
They said, "We're not doing anything. Who d'you want to bet on?" I said, "The Pogues." "Who are they?"
"Just put down the Pogues." They rang headquarters and gave me 50-1.
A lot of people started betting on it really early.
Friends of ours. And it spread.
Then, at one point, it was down to 20-1. I'd get braver every day and I'd put a little bit more on it.
# But I'm the lucky one
# Came in 18-1... #
It started to hot up because it did start to go up the charts
and then it became, "Shit, this could actually be like a hit!"
Stand by your turkeys. Here comes the Christmas Top Ten.
All I can remember is lying on the floor listening to successive numbers,
always hoping as they came to announce that it wasn't going to be Fairytale Of New York.
They played number three, whatever that was.
So, Fairytale was gonna be either number two or number one.
Then they announced number two and it was like that horrible instant
where you're just waiting for the first syllable, and as soon as it...
you know, shit...
Up six at two, Fairytale Of New York from the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.
If you ask any artist, they'll tell you that the most prestigious chart position is the Christmas number one.
What was that song - the Elvis song?
Anyway, there was two queens and a drum machine beat us.
Here are the Pet Shop Boys, "Always On My Mind".
It was actually really annoying and disappointing.
I thought it was a disgusting fucking record.
It was just a cynical jaded pathetic sort of...
I quite liked the Pet Shop Boys before that.
# Maybe I didn't treat you
# Quite as good as I should... #
The record was a hit and the video is a classic, but what makes a good song great?
We speak to the finest musical minds.
I think having it lay on the shelf for two years was probably very good for the song.
Pieces turn up in Beethoven that were first sketched out
sketched out 15 years before they actually found their rightful place. Yes, let them marinade.
One of Fairytale Of New York's main influences
was Ennio Morricone's score for Once Upon a Time in America,
a film the band watched repeatedly on their tour bus.
The main influence for the first notes is Ennio Morricone, basically.
HE PLAYS FIRST NOTES
That is from Once Upon a Time in America.
Fairytale is a mix of two distinct songs, the piano start and then the main body,
as Gary Carpenter, a classical composer from the Royal Academy of Music demonstrates.
It's kind of like, "A Day in The Life", by the Beatles, which is also two songs that are grafted together.
Whereas this, cos he actually takes the opening tune which is this...
..and uses that later in the song so that he does...
HE CONTINUES TO PLAY
So in other words, it provides a kind of unity.
So, if it is two songs, it doesn't feel like it.
The Pogues also stole a musical trick from the classics,
but they weren't the first modern songwriters to do it.
That is a very expressive harmonic gesture.
It's what, in classical terms, is referred to as an appoggiatura.
# It was Christmas Eve, babe
# In the drunk tank... #
You get it, for example, in the start of "Yesterday".
If it went, # Yesterday... #
I don't think it'd be covered 212,000 times. Who cares?
That...is what gives it a particular effect. And the same goes here...
It's that little symphony, every little bit is bang on.
The way the whole thing is constructed
is a beautiful work in itself. You can admire it just for that.
It feels like it's been constructed. It's a craftsman-like song. It's very well put together.
A feature of Pogues songs are Shane MacGowan's lyrics.
Heavily influenced by the greats of Irish literature, they stand up well to close analysis.
It is a classic New York tale, isn't it?
Two people coming to New York, all wide-eyed,
and she ends up as a junkie.
And he is in a drunk tank. So it is a great Christmas song. There should be more of them.
Singer Nick Cave and Shane MacGowan have been friends for years but they work in very different ways.
He would sing these songs that he had written
and I mean great stuff, great lyrics, which a lot of them never saw the light of day.
And he would be picking up scraps of paper from the floor and going "I've got another one", type of thing,
and singing stuff. It was really powerful stuff.
Shane MacGowan's lyrics are consistently good
but Fairytale Of New York is considered one of his best.
It can be reduced by the likes of me
into an old couple having a bit of a barney on Christmas Eve.
But that's not really what it's about.
To really understand the lyrics to Fairytale Of New York, we need to know about Irish-American history.
For over 250 years, Irish immigrants have been arriving in America.
The lyrics are about their dreams of a new life and their memories of home.
We gathered together three Irish-American historians at Ellis Island, the immigration centre
where new arrivals, after travelling for thousands of miles,
were screened before being allowed into the US. It's now a tourist attraction.
You finally get here, see the Statue of Liberty
and you hold your breath to make it through the checkpoints.
Then on to wherever you were going.
Many a dream would end right here in these very halls.
They made it this far, on whatever journey to get to this point,
and then they realised they weren't getting through.
# For all the gold the world might hold... #
Many Irish immigrants who did manage to get through US Customs had a struggle ahead.
Songs like "Galway Bay" and the "Rare old Mountain Dew"
are mentioned in the lyrics of Fairytale Of New York",
tapping into Irish-American nostalgia.
# And I lay my bones 'neath churchyard stones
# Beside you, Galway Bay... #
The world of Galway Bay is the world of
John Ford's "Quiet Man" -
the world of an imagined Ireland is very much a diasporic world.
That's one that's heavily nostalgic and heavily sentimental
and bang, we are being hit up against this in the very song, where sentiment meets sadness.
"Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it's our last".
These are clearly immigrants cos they're saying "Happy Christmas"
rather than "Merry Christmas, your arse".
References to "Sinatra swinging" and "cars as big as bars" point to the '50s.
But the song has a more contemporary relevance.
Shane MacGowan wrote it at a time when many of his countrymen were forced to leave Ireland
and head to America.
It's the timing of it -
1987 was really the peak period of immigration, new immigration out of Ireland, to the United States.
That young generation of people, who were listing to the Pogues in the bars,
they'd relate to it on a very serious level.
-# I could have been someone
-Well, so could anyone... #
Around 100,000 young Irish moved to the US in the mid-'80s when the song was written.
For the families they left behind, America was the place of their dreams.
My eldest brother went in '85, '86.
Because there were no jobs, really, in Ireland.
We were constantly chatting to him on the phone
and he was telling us the stories of New York and how amazing it was.
I guess, I was next. When I got to the age, I would've gone myself,
but luckily, I got into Boyzone.
When that song came out, it was one of those songs that you held onto tightly,
cos you imagined, from the video, that that's how New York looked.
The song has a filmic quality. Not surprising when you remember what they watched on the tour bus.
But it has this view of New York which is actually totally unreal
and romantic and right out of the movies.
I think Shane MacGowan's work, in that funny way,
it actually does capture something about America
and particularly New York City.
But something you would never be aware of.
"I kept them with me babe, I kept them with my own.
"Can't make it on my own. I built my dreams around you."
That's a really strong moment and that is beautiful.
A lot of people think they can write songs but to be that poetic
is very hard to achieve with a certain simplicity and hitting the nail on the head.
But one of the strengths of the song is that it doesn't tell you everything.
Like what happens in the end.
# Can't make it all alone I've built my dreams around you... #
You don't know what happens at the end.
It is unlikely they get round the Christmas tree and swap presents,
but in the end, I don't know what happens.
But it has an uplifting ending, you know what I mean, because love never dies.
# I kept them with me, babe
# I put them with my own
# I can't make it all alone... #
The song's mix of emotional lyrics and complex melody has attracted several cover versions.
Irish folk singer, Christy Moore, recorded it as a solo vocal.
# You're a bum, you're a punk You're an old whore and junk
# Lying there on the drip Nearly dead in the bed... #
Christy Moore's is really good.
He takes a totally different side to it and does it not as a duet,
but as Christy Moore in his own unique style.
# ..choir were singing Galway Bay... #
Not all versions have been so well received.
# The bells were ringing out on Christmas Day... #
The only thing you can ever do with a cover of "Fairytale Of New York"
is try and find a different approach to it.
Try and find something in it that we haven't said.
-# You're handsome.
-You're pretty Queen of New York City... #
Because I have so many brothers and sisters living in America, that song became very important to me.
I always try to cover songs that are important to me and that I have great memories of.
# The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay... #
Ronan's management had reservations about him "going all Shane MacGowan" on them and censored the lyrics.
The only problem, I think, was the faggot phrase.
But we had to change it. What can you do?!
If you're going to sing "Fairytale of New York" and you're going to change the words, why bother?
"You scumbag, you maggot, you're cheap and you're haggard" was the lyric we had to change TO.
It's fair enough. It doesn't really do any harm to the song.
# You scumbag, you maggot You're cheap and you're haggard... #
Ronan Keating, I thought that was good.
The best versions I've heard are of people singing it in bars, actually.
Exactly like the audience at a Pogues gig.
Shane and Kirsty's performance was a show-stopper.
Kirsty was in her element with the band
and the fans just loved her, they really did.
When her name was mentioned, there was such an outpouring of...love.
This song's called "Fairytale Of New York".
Performing with the Pogues was the perfect cure for Kirsty's stage fright.
She went back in front of a crowd for the first time in seven years.
It was very moving. I found it so moving, and that is what is so extraordinary.
I am so glad that I saw her. That was really so exciting.
There is the part of the song where Shane sings,
"I could have been someone", and Kirsty goes, "Well, so could anyone."
You'd have a hall full of three, four, 5,000 people all singing, "So could anyone" back at the band,
and it was an extraordinary moment. Spine-tingling sometimes.
# I could've been someone
# Well, so could anyone...
# You took my dreams from me
# When I first found you... #
I used to just wait for it every night cos I would catch Kirsty's eye in the middle of it, if I was lucky.
# Can't make it all alone I built my dreams around you... #
Fairytale is not a Pogues song. It's the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl.
# The boys of the NYPD choir Still singing Galway Bay
# And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day... #
The week before Christmas 2000,
something happened which meant the song would never again be played in its original form.
Pop singer, Kirsty MacColl, has been killed in an accident in Mexico...
Kirsty was hit by a speedboat while swimming with her two sons on holiday.
Her mother got a telephone call at home.
He just said, "There has been an accident, a boating accident, and Kirsty is dead."
Well...what can I say...
I miss her.
# The wind blows right through you It's no place for the old
# When you first took my hand... #
When we were in there listening to it, it sort of choked me a little bit.
Whenever I listen to Kirsty's voice in a studio situation, it takes me back.
# Sinatra was swinging The drunks, they were singing... #
It was so sad when she was taken from us.
It was a real horrible shock,
kind of unbelievable and incomprehensible and nightmarish.
It still is, actually.
Every year near her birthday, Kirsty's relatives and fans
gather around her memorial in Soho Square to sing her songs and remember her life.
This is their 5th year.
What would be lovely would be if Kirsty was here singing her bit,
"So could anyone..."
I sing that, like everybody does, with a real...power.
# I could have been someone
# Well, so could anyone... #
Whenever I hear Kirsty singing, it gives me pleasure and joy.
# They've got cars big as bars They got rivers of gold
# The wind blows right through you It's no place for the old
# When you first took my hand on a cold Christmas Eve
# You promised me Broadway was waiting for me
-#You were handsome
-You were pretty Queen of New York City... #
When "Fairytale" comes on, first I go, "Oh, no, not that again!"
Within a minute, I'm sucked into the song all over again as if I'm hearing it for the first time.
# The boys of the NYPD choir Still singing Galway Bay... #
I want the families sitting round the Christmas table singing it. "OK, you be Kirsty and I'll be Shane!"
I'm proud of us
and everybody involved in it and Kirsty...
I'm proud of everybody involved with it.
# You took my dreams from me When I first found you... #
It's a great Christmas song. You don't normally get Christmas songs that are so utterly hopeless.
# Can't make it all alone I've built my dreams around you
# The boys of the NYPD choir Still singing Galway Bay
# And the bells are ringing out For Christmas Day. #
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
For the first time in 18 years, all eight members of The Pogues return to the studio where their biggest hit - and the nation's favourite Christmas song - was recorded. The song's producer Steve Lillywhite strips Fairytale down to the basics, and director Peter Dougherty reveals the tricks behind the making of the video - including how a cameo from Hollywood star Matt Dillon stopped The Pogues from almost being arrested. With contributions from Matt Dillon, Nick Cave, Jools, Holland and of course Shane MacGowan and The Pogues, it lifts the lid on this seminal track and reveals the secrets behind its making.