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May 05

Mike’s Pop Pilgrimages No.6 – An Empty Bench in Soho Square

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I didn’t realise how much I liked Kirsty MacColl’s music until she died.

I sometimes feel sad listening to her voice, it carries weariness even in the happy songs. An anthology released earlier this year captures it well, all the heartbreak and make-ups and curious diversions. She wrote so many good songs about herself and when her own life dulled, she covered others wisely. There was also a period as the 80’s flipped to 90’s when every single record in the charts featured Kirsty on backing vocals.

I loved the Tracy Ullman version of her first single, the way the guitars chimed and the baaaaayyyyyyybe yell that could shatter glass at fifty paces. I remember sitting in a school girlfriend’s garden and kissing her enthusiastically as this record soared from an upstairs window. Her parents were in the kitchen and I thought it prescient, they don’t know about us. I also didn’t know she had glandular fever and kissed my way to a fortnight off school.

And so it’s Soho Square where I find myself. One of those windy days when the sun is dancing through the clouds and you’re forever taking layers off, then hastily replacing them. Grey skies then shocking sunlight and where is my brolly? The pigeons shiver in the naked breeze she wrote in the song, Soho Square. Maybe, but they also poo on the bench to your memory. A shiny plaque gives the years of her life. She was just 41.

Kirsty’s bench was free so I sat down and munched through three veggie sausage rolls. Soho Square was buzzing with life; office workers quickstepping to the tube, twitching nutters with hands glued to dark beer tins. Everyone else was Japanese. I threw the end of my sausage roll onto the grass and started a pigeon riot.

I thought of Kirsty and that early kiss to her song, then all those years when I never really paid attention until a pub conversation with a friend in late 2000. “What about Kirsty MacColl, then?” I didn’t know what he meant, but the look on his face told me she was dead. And she died the most un-rock’n’roll of deaths.

The Justice Campaign for accountability for her death

Anthology track listing and reviews

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