English singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl was killed Monday in a boating accident while vacationing in Mexico; she was forty-one. MacColl was reportedly swimming with her two sons near the island of Cozumel, off the Yucatan peninsula when she was struck by a motorboat.
“Kirsty MacColl was a bright, fun-loving person as well as a talented singer and writer who was loved by anybody and everybody she came into contact with,” read a statement issued by MacColl’s management. MacColl’s manager Kevin Nixon wrote that he was “absolutely distraught” by the incident. According to the statement, MacColl was an accomplished scuba diver and was in an area designated exclusively for swimmers when she was struck by a speedboat.
MacColl was born on Oct. 10, 1959, and was the daughter of U.K. folk-music legend Ewan MacColl who penned the classic “Dirty Old Town.” MacColl joined her first band, the punk-minded Addix while just a teen, and eventually landed a label deal with Stiff Records when she was just sixteen years old. In 1979, MacColl wrote and recorded “They Don’t Know,” which failed make any major ripples, though five years later it cracked the Top Ten singles chart in the U.S. when covered by Tracy Ullman. MacColl made her own splash on the U.K. charts with “There’s a Guy Works Down the Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis” in 1981.
A musician’s musician, MacColl’s solo career never took flight to stardom heights, but her list of admirers and collaborators within the music industry was vast. In 1985, MacColl married producer Steve Lillywhite. That year they collaborated on a cover of Billy Bragg’s “A New England,” which broke into the Top Ten on the U.K. singles charts. Lillywhite also produced MacColl’s first two American releases, Kite (1989) and Electric Landlady (1991). Her solo work featured appearances by the Smiths’ Johnny Marr, Marshall Crenshaw and Steve Nieve. Likewise, MacColl returned the favor, adding vocals to songs on albums by the Rolling Stones, the Talking Heads, Morrissey, John Wesley Harding, the Happy Mondays and Bragg. MacColl also made a high-profile appearance on “Fairytale of New York,” a duet with Shane MacGowan on the Pogues’ 1987 release, If I Should Fall From Grace with God. The song just missed the top slot on the U.K. singles chart, and is one of the most successful Christmas singles in Britain.
MacColl’s appearances in the Nineties were a little more limited. She and Lillywhite split in the middle of the decade, after collaborating on Titanic Days in 1993. The album was the beginning of a seven year drought for MacColl. But the past year was a busy one for the singer. In April MacColl released Tropical Brainstorm, which reflected her recent interest in Cuban music; she had also recorded a series for BBC Radio 2, “Kirsty MacColl’s Cuba” which was to debut this week. The series includes a number of interviews with Cuban musicians, a number of whom appear on 1997’s Buena Vista Social Club album.
MacColl is survived by her two sons.