It’s there in the roll of ‘Walking Down Madison’, written with former Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr, and to the fore in the bossa novas and rumbas of the songs around her late-1990s Tropical Brainstorm period. There’s much that’s hilarious: ‘England 2, Colombia 0’ details an affair over before it starts. It shouldn’t be funny, but it is. But it’s the duets that stand out: a sultry ‘Libertango’ with Sharon Shannon; an exquisite cover of ‘Perfect Day’, Lou Reed’s hymn to heroin, with Evan Dando; and, par excellence, the ‘Fairy Tale’ with Shane MacGowan. What a celebration, what a loss.
While it’s still uncertain as to who it was that killed Kirsty MacColl in that speedboat strike in Mexico, what is beyond dispute is that Britain lost one of its finest songwriters on that day in December 2000. As a singer, MacColl was a great storyteller, and as a songwriter a sharp observer, as anyone who’s felt the chill that howls through ‘Fairy Tale of New York’, the song she cut with the Pogues, can testify.
There’s little in a 21-year recording career that From Croydon to Cuba’s 65 songs miss. The first tracks have a Motown feel with their harmonies and swing. By the mid-1980s, MacColl had found her sweetly sour edge, something brought out to full flavour on Billy Bragg’s ‘A New England’. If this anthology has one virtue, it’s to remind us that MacColl never lost that dance beat.