The Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” has been a left-field Christmas classic since Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl first sang it in 1987, but this year — three weeks after MacGowan’s death (and 23 years since MacColl’s) — the song feels more maudlin. The Libertines recently gave the song a couple of performances in tribute.
In the first, the group’s Pete Doherty and Carl Barât recorded a typically free-wheeling performance and posted it to Instagram, leaning deep into the tune’s natural sodden sentimentality. “RIP Shane, this one’s for you, matey,” the band wrote.
The short clip begins with Barât pounding out the chords on a piano as he and Doherty trade off the rare complimentary lyrics MacGowan and MacColl sang to each other: “You were handsome/You were pretty/Queen of New York City … ” stumbling a bit through the chords before leading into the tune’s familiar refrain. “The boys of the NYPD choir were singing Galway Bay,” they sing, “And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day.” That’s about all they can remember (and that’s OK, since that’s about most anyone seems to remember, skipping over the insults and slurs in the rest of the song) before Barât puts an end to it and wishes Pete a Merry Christmas, leading up to a warm hug.
The band also posted footage of the whole band performing the song, with hundreds of fans waving their hands and singing along. It ends in a typically shambolic way, with the group saying, “Rest in peace” to the late Pogues singer. “Another one for Shane ❤️,” they wrote.
Doherty previously paid tribute to MacGowan in an interview with BBC World Service’s Newshour (via NME). “[He was] kind of an old romantic, who told tales, told stories in songs, strong characters,” he said. “He painted a lot of pictures and fairytales.” He also spoke of the friendship they shared and how MacGowan looked out for him during a rough patch in his life. “When I was in jail, he knew some people, who knew some people and he helped me out of a few spots and I just felt close to him,” Doherty said.
MacGowan died on Nov. 30 of complications related to pneumonia. Thousands of people filled the streets of Nenagh, Ireland, where his funeral was held on Dec. 8. Nick Cave, Johnny Depp, and Ireland’s President, Michael D. Higgins, all attended the service, which featured Cave’s performance of another Pogues classic, “A Rainy Night in Soho.”
“Shane, you did what you dreamed,” MacGowan’s sister, Siobhan, said during her reading. “You did what you said were going to do in those long-ago days in Tipperary, and you did it with such heart and fire – a fire that is not dimmed by death.”