Saturday 25 May 2019

‘It's a classic - I wouldn't change the original lyrics’ - Gavin James on Fairytale of New York controversy

Gavin James. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Gavin James. Photo: Kyran O'Brien
Gavin James during the Windmill Lane Sessions
Gavin James is among the latest acts to join the 2018 Live at the Marquee line-up
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Gavin James says he will continue to sing the original lyrics of The Pogues' classic, Fairytale of New York, despite recent controversy over a word which is offensive to members of the gay community.

Debate about the word ignited recently after two 2FM presenters objected to the fact that is not censored on radio or in clubs, prompting Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan to release a statement explaining that the word was used to make the character authenic.

Gavin (27), who is headlining the New Year's Eve 3Countdown concert at the Custom House on December 31st, has performed the 1987 song in its original form many times.

"I sing it with the original lyric.  I think it's a classic.  I wouldn't change the original lyrics," he tells Independent.ie.  "It's a world now where people get annoyed over little things, but obviously it's a harsh word.  It's not my favourite word."

The singer says that it boils down to the context in which an artist sings it and that it had a particular meaning to him when he was a child.

"My mam used to call me that when I was younger.  It was lazy - it meant lazy back then.  In my mind that's what the song is going for - 'you're a cheapskate and you're lazy and do nothing'," he says. 

"But it's obviously not in my top ten of words and it always depends in what context you're listening to it.  If it does offend somebody they can say they're offended.  I would say the vast majority of people are not offended by it.  I'm definitely not.

"I think we live in a world now where everybody is unsure about what to be annoyed about and what to be offended by. I don't think it's offensive whatsoever.  I'm not going to stop - I sang it on the radio today."

Gavin included Fairytale of New York on his Christmas album, Winter Songs, which he released in 2015.  The following year he performed the song at Other Voices, and he has had a variety of reactions to his version, although mostly positive.

"It's a funny one to do," he says.  "There's either extreme hate towards my version of it or mostly its been really really nice.  People seem to like it.  It's one of the best songs ever written, of all time, so you have to be very careful.

"Obviously I don't think anybody should ever go and do Bohemian Rhapsody because I think that would be impossible, but [Fairytale] would nearly be in the same realm.  But it's one of the best Christmas songs of all time and I had to do a version of it."

Winter Songs almost had Gavin's version of East 17's Christmas hit, Stay Another Day, but he jokes, "It was too sad and I said I'm not going to put people through the shittiness of my version of Stay Another Day."

Having spent many years traversing the clubs up and down the country, Gavin's career exploded in 2015, even before he released his debut album, Bitter Pill, which went platinum. 

He signed to Sony in the UK and Capitol in the US and toured in support of Sam Smith, Kodaline, and Ed Sheeran, and performed on US shows, Dancing with the Stars and The Late Late Show with James Corden.

The past three years have involved almost relentless touring, and there's a world tour looming next year, but that's just the way he likes it.

"The more I use my voice the better it feels," he says, revealing that he lost his voice "a little bit" after he took a three month break last Christmas to record his second album, Only Ticket Home, which released in October (and was launched into space - literally).

"I went back touring and I thought, I sound crap, so I had to build it back up," he says.  "It's literally a muscle so if you don't use it all the time it goes away.  The more I use it the stronger it gets.  Look at Bruce Springsteen - he's been touring forever and his voice is still on point."

While Bitter Pill was an album channelling the angst and melancholy of young adulthood, Only Ticket Home is a little more uplifting.  It's a reflection of where he is in his life right now.  Life is good.

"I was never like a sad basket case for the first album," he grins.  "I was grand like.  I was actually quite happy!  But the sad songs are easier to get out of my system. 

Gavin James at The Olympia Theatre
Gavin James at The Olympia Theatre

"But I think for this album life has totally changed.  I've been going around the world and meeting loads of different people and I'm in a relationship now for three years so everything feels a little more.... fluffy.

"The first album was my whole life in school to the point when I started writing the album and I could reflect on that.  I feel like I covered all the bases - I talked about how shitty school was.  I had a hard time in school.  And then friends and family and after that I was done.

"This album I wrote about travelling and wanting to come back home and realising that everything back home doesn't necessarily change that much even if I'm away six months."

Gavin lives between Dublin and London but says he is a home bird and Dublin is his "favourite place" and he "can't wait to move back".  He credits FaceTime with keeping his relationship ticking over, as well as the luxury of meeting at locations across the world.

"I'm lucky I found someone who is very straight and to-the-point and understand what I'm doing.  Otherwise it would be a nightmare!" he says.

"Also it's kind of handy being away and being being able to say 'I'm doing a gig in Nashville, do you want to pop over? I'll meet you half way.  I'm off for two weeks'.  So it's nice to be able to have those little moments."

However, while exotic locations are on the cards for next year - across Europe, the US, and Australia - the Dublin singer is spending Christmas at home, with a gig at the INEC Killarney on December 28 and Castlebar the following night before he ushers in the new year in Dublin.

"Hopefully I remember how to count," he laughs.  "I would not be surprised if I mess up the 10, 9, 8 and forget one second.  It's a lot of pressure isn't it?  Nobody ever says 'count down from ten'.  It's hard, it's like walking while somebody's videoing you.  It's f***ing hard!"

Gavin James will headline the 3Countdown Concert at Custom House Quay with special guests Hudson Taylor, Wild Youth and Inhaler. Tickets (which include entry to the Liffey Lights Midnight Moment event) priced €29.90 including booking fee are on sale now from Ticketmaster

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