Nick Cave Says BBC 'Neutered' The Pogues’ ‘Fairytale of New York’

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Sam Barker

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds

Nick Cave has weighed in on the BBC’s decision to censor certain, abrasive words in The Pogues’ classic Christmas song, “Fairytale of New York.”

It’s a spectacular fail by the Corporation, who should know better than to mess with genius, Cave explains. And “Fairytale,” he enthuses is “an artefact of immense cultural value,” a song that “stands shoulder to shoulder with any great song, from any time."

BBC Radio 1 last week announced it would will not play the original version because “young listeners were particularly sensitive to derogatory terms for gender and sexuality.”

The original cut will continue to be played on BBC Radio 2, while 6 Music DJs can choose between the two versions.

Writing on his Red Hand Files blog, the U.K.-based Australia alternative rock icon addressed the controversy with a cerebral -- and cutting -- essay.

“Now, once again, Fairytale is under attack,” he writes, in response to a question posed by fans Joseph and Roy. “The idea that a word, or a line, in a song can simply be changed for another and not do it significant damage is a notion that can only be upheld by those that know nothing about the fragile nature of songwriting. The changing of the word ‘faggot’ for the nonsense word ‘haggard’ destroys the song by deflating it right at its essential and most reckless moment, stripping it of its value. It becomes a song that has been tampered with, compromised, tamed, and neutered and can no longer be called a great song.”

With the Corporation wielding the editing axe, it’s a song “that has lost its truth, its honour and integrity,” he continues.

Recorded in the summer of 1987 and released later that year, "Fairytale of New York" makes its annual pilgrimage up the U.K. singles chart each December. Based on midweek data published by the Official Charts Company, "Fairytale" currently rises 18-7 and is on track for a return to the Top 10.

The song never reached the top spot, though it’s close to the heart of many Brits. So much so, in a public survey published in 2019 by collecting society PRS for Music, “Fairytale of New York" was voted the U.K.’s most popular festive song.

And each year, as the song makes its climb up the charts, controversy erupts about its lyrics, in particular the line delivered by the late singer Kirsty MacColl, “You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot.”

Cave, who was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2007, is close friends with the song’s creator, Shane MacGowan, who was born on Christmas day 1957.

“I am in no position to comment on how offensive the word ‘faggot’ is to some people, particularly to the young — it may be deeply offensive,” writes Cave. “I don’t know, in which case Radio 1 should have made the decision to simply ban the song, and allow it to retain its outlaw spirit and its dignity.”

Read Cave’s essay in full here.