It’s one of the most unlikely all-time festive favourites, given that it revels more in darkness and despair than peace and goodwill, but there’s no denying that Fairytale Of New York is a masterpiece.
That it should emerge out of a merrily-shambolic, punk-infused, hard-drinking Irish trad band makes these majestic four minutes and 33 seconds of Yuletide bliss all the more extraordinary.
In truth, it’s because of the brutal, foulmouthed honesty of this 32-year-old Pogues offering that Fairytale Of New Yorkhits most people straight in the feels. This is as much one from the liver as one from the heart, the broken dreams and defiant decadence of a drunken, damaged couple wondering, on Christmas Eve, where it all went wrong far easier to sympathise – and empathise – with than chestnuts roasting by an open fire or Jack Frost nipping at your nose.
Recently declared the most-played Christmas song of the 21st century in the UK, and having just been certified triple platinum there, with close to 1.5m sales, as with so many classic songs, Fairytale Of New York was lightning in a bottle, something Delgany’s Fiachra Trench – who has worked as an arranger for everyone from Van Morrison to The Corrs – was very much aware of when he was asked to add French horns and strings to The Pogues’ final recording for their 1987 album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God.
It was the final day in Townhouse Studios, in Shepherds Bush, and the band’s keyboard player, James Fearnley, suggested a few ideas for Fiachrato work his magic on. The band had been watching Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In New York incessantly on their tourbus that year, and the lush soundtrack by Ennio Morricone was their one major reference point for Fiachra when it came to theorchestral arrangement on Fairytale Of New York.
It was only years later that Fiachra realised just how much of an inspiration the mighty Morricone had been on writers Jem Finer and Shane MacGowan, with Deborah’s ThemefromOnce Upon A Time In New York bearing more than a passing resemblance to the opening phrase of The Pogues classic.
Having made the Top 20 in the UK charts every December since 2005, – the title taken from former Kilcoole residentJP Donleavy‘seponymous 1973 novel – is clearly a Christmas classic that’s here to stay. Hard to believe then that it took two years of false starts, departed band members and fired producers, a fever dream in Sweden, and the last-minute arrival of the perfect female foil to Shane’s old sodden drunk before Fairytale Of New York finally emerged, somehow perfectly formed.
As Fiachra delves into the genre again – with the release of partner Carmel McCreagh’sOn Christmas Evethis week – we decided to dig deeper into The Pogues’ perfect creation with the man who soundtracked a perfect pop moment…
You can chart the full Fairytale Of New York here, and catch Fiachra, Carmel & Flo McSweeney’s show Two Divas & A Piano at The Whale on Saturday, February 15th here.