They made it to America in 1985, played their first gig on 2nd Street in the East Village, and they were an immediate sensation.

Matt Dillon, who was at their first gig, later told a BBC documentary, “I really liked them, they reminded me of a mixture of the Dubliners, the Clash and the Clancy Brothers.”

In the summer of 1987 the group decided on a Christmas song and Finer and MacGowan began working on it .

They had been watching the movie,  “Once Upon a Time in America” over and over about the American dream and immigrants and it heavily influenced them.

The title ‘Fairytale of New York’ came from a JP Donleavy short story of the same name. Shane says the inspiration for much of the haunting lyrics came from a period when he was delirious recovering from pneumonia in a sanitarium in Sweden.


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The band had lost their main female singer Cait O Riordan who had left to marry Elvis Costello so  Kirsty MacColl, married to the album producer Steve Lillywhite, filled in.

The video was shot on location in New York, with Matt Dillon playing a cop who arrests MacGowan for drunkeness. It was filmed in an actual police precinct but almost canceled because Shane and others in the band had too much to drink. Dillon however, intervened on their behalf.

The NYPD choir is really a group of  NYPD pipe and drum band members who showed up feeling no pain themselves near Washington Square Park on a bitterly cold night for their role. They were supposed to be be singing ‘Galway Bay’ but did not all knew the words so they sang the theme to Mickey Mouse instead.

Either way, what emerged was a Christmas classic, perhaps one of the greatest of all time.

It has also stood the test of time and is as famous and sought after today as it was when it was released in Christmas 1987.

Ironically it never made it to No 1 on release, finishing second in Britain to a Pet Shop Boys number, now long forgotten.

Originally published December 22, 2010.