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Voice of an Angel, with British Wit
A look back at singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl

Scott Simon's report Listen as Scott Simon remembers Kirsty MacColl in a report for Weekend Edition Saturday

Scott Simon's report Listen as rock critic Ken Tucker reviews "Tropical Brainstorm," Kirsty MacColl's final album, for NPR's Fresh Air

August 4, 2001 British singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl's tragic death last December was a great loss to the music world. The accident happened while she was swimming in the Gulf of Mexico during her vacation, hit by a speedboat in an area reserved for swimmers. She was 41 at the time.

Kirsty MacColl
Kirsty MacColl's tragic death was a great loss to the music world.
Photo: Instinct Records

English folksinger Billy Bragg, one of her many musical collaborators, sums up her talent this way: "unpretentious, inimitable, writes like a playwright, sings like an angel."

One of MacColl's trademarks was her dry British wit, which helped her create unflinching and endearing lyrics for her songs. "It's irony and understatement, and she was the absolute mistress of that," Pete Glenister, a musician who worked on her last album, Tropical Brainstorm, tells Weekend Saturday's Scott Simon. "Just a little turn of phrase which, on the one hand, is funny. On the other hand, it's incredibly sad, often."

MacColl began her own music career early. She started performing as a teenager in a punk band called the Drug Addix. During her career, she released four original albums and also recorded back-up vocals for a number of rock groups including the Pogues, the Smiths, the Rolling Stones and Talking Heads.

Musicians Dave Ruffy and Pete Glenister
Musicians Dave Ruffy (l) and Pete Glenister shared their memories of Kirsty MacColl with NPR's Scott Simon
Photo: Caroline Richard-Simon

On Tropical Brainstorm, MacColl's witty lyrics combine with Latin rhythms to create songs that stand apart from the rest of her work. "She was always visiting Cuba or Mexico or that general area... once or twice a year," adds Glenister. She would come back with ideas -- music, lyrics, inspiration.

The place where she died was not far from the place she loved and where she finally journeyed to in her music. Weekend Saturday's Scott Simon interviewed MacColl's friends and collaborators about her songs, her devastatingly honest lyrics and a life that was tragically cut short.

Other Resources
Tropical Brainstorm
Cover of Kirsty MacColl's final CD, Tropical Brainstorm
Photo: Instinct Records
audioListen to cuts from Tropical Brainstorm.

    Mambo de la Luna
    In These Shoes?
    England 2 Columbia 0

Visit her fan sites: Kirsty MacColl on the Web and Kirsty MacColl - Voice of an Angel

Look at media coverage of Kirsty MacColl from Rolling Stone, The Washington Post, New York Daily News, London Evening Standard and The Guardian