[Excerpt from Be Stiff: The Stiff Records Story]
Frank Murray suggested the group finance the record themselves and they managed to set up their own label Pogue Mahone Records under Warner Music Ltd. Steve Lilywhite was recruited to produce it thanks to Murray’s acquaintance with his wife Kirsty MacColl. The band, having extricated themselves from their obligations to Stiff, adjourned to RAK Studios to record what would be If I Should Fall from Grace With God. In a cruel twist, one of the songs that would appear on the record might well have been Stiff’s saviour had it come sooner. But it was too late.
‘Fairytale Of New York’, a MacGowan composition, had been recorded as part of the sessions for Rum, Sodomy And The Lash with MacGowan and Cait O’Riordan singing the duet and producer Elvis Costello accompanying them on the piano. However, it wasn’t included on the album and Costello had decided against its release as a singe.
MacGowan explains: “We had left Stiff by the time we did that. But we were touring with it before we left Stiff, so we had got a better sound and we didn’t have to deal with Elvis Costello! I don’t know why Elvis Costello decided not to put it out as a single, but as a producer that was his shout. Cait did a great version of it.”
Two years later, with the Christmas song being dusted down and Lilywhite in the producer’s chair, it was decided that MacColl sing the female parts of the drunken ballad. MacGowan says MacColl “went off and did her bit on her own; she produced herself”. Still favouring a studio over a stage, the self-conscious singer had continued to be apprehensive about performing in public. ’Fairytale Of New York’ not only gave her a share in a huge hit record, but playing with The Pogues bolstered her confidence.
MacGowan says: “She didn’t like playing live, so Frank put her on a tour of Ireland, which is abut the fucking worst thing you can do to somebody with stage fright, you know what I mean? You have to get used to it and she got used to it. She was very comfortable by the time she was working with us. We’d known her for a while. She was really confident; she used to smack me round the place, ’You’re out of it again, aren’t you? It’s disgusting’.”
‘Fairytale Of New York’ reached number 2 in the UK in December 1987 and stayed on the chart for nine weeks. But for the label that had launched them, there would be no merry Christmas or happy ending. Time was about to be called on Stiff Records.