Sunday 21 April 2019

Still a Fairytale after 25 years, no thanks to Ronan

IT'S hard to believe 25 Christmases have come and gone since Shane MacGowan first serenaded Kirsty MacColl from the drunk tank in 'Fairytale Of New York'.

Regularly voted the greatest Christmas song of them all with over 15 million combined views on YouTube the Pogues classic shoots up the charts at roughly the same time every December – it has been re-released this year to celebrate it's anniversary – as Santa Claus is preparing to shoot down the chimney. Not that there's any mention of our white-bearded friend and red-nosed Rudolf in 'Fairytale'.

If our friend from the North Pole did suddenly appear inside the prison cell, you can imagine what the response from MacGowan's sozzled narrator might be: "Screw you, and the reindeer you rode in on."

And this is part of the reason why the Pogues' epic duet has stood the test of time – it refuses to wallow in the cloying sentimentality that sugar-coats most Yuletide ditties, preferring to splash a bucket of ice cold water on our face.

Hard liquor and hard drugs have brought the warring couple to their knees, as they trade insults: "You're a bum, you're a punk," declares our heroine; "You're an old slut on junk," is her man's charming riposte.

"You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot," she coos back.

Clearly, we're now on a different planet to Bing Crosby's silver bells and Perry Como's roasting chestnuts – it's the one where we all actually live, called Earth.

We love the gritty realism that grounds the story of the down-at-heel lovers on the boulevard of broken dreams. Which is why some recoiled at Ronan Keating and Moya Brennan's supine cover.

The former Boyzone frontman had the gall to change the line "You cheap lousy faggot" to "You're cheap and you're haggard", presumably on the grounds of political correctness.

Christy Moore also had a shot at it, and stayed true to its spirit, but even the man himself would admit that he doesn't quite have the golden pipes of Kirsty MacColl.

But the novelty of hearing Shane & Kirsty turning the air blue is only part of the story. 'Fairytale Of New York' would not have become the seasonal classic for the ages that it is if it didn't have a beating heart full of tenderness to balance out the toughness. Who hasn't dreamt of being romantically swept off their feet in Manhattan? "We kissed on the corner and danced through the night" is the line that lifts us out of the gutter and into the glitter.

The Pogues, when they made their bet in the mid-1980s with their producer, Elvis Costello (he dared them to pen a decent Christmas song), could hardly have imagined just how integral to the season their Irish ballad would become.

As the holiday approaches, from sea to shining sea, from Galway Bay to Sydney Harbour, at office parties, and in bars and nightclubs, men and women will drunkenly hug their friends – and complete strangers – and sing of the Irish-American carol-singing boys from the NYPD Choir. So, you see, Shane and Co's fairytale really did come true.

Irish Independent

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