Sunday, 21 July 2013


‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.’ The Pogues were the best night out in the 1980s and could bring a nostalgic tear to your eye at
the same time.
Rum, sodomy and The Clash (Image: Daily Telegraph)

And fifteen minutes later we had our first taste of whisky.
There were uncles giving lectures on ancient Irish history.
The men all started telling jokes and the women they got frisky.
By 5 o’clock in the evening every bastard there was pissed.’
I first heard of The Pogues in 1985 when I wondered what the hell that awful racket was, which sounded like Irish folk music on speed, coming from my friend Mike Boles’ room as I tried to listen to Meat is Murder. The first time I sat up and took notice was with the following year’s ‘Fairytale of New York’, impressed that someone had taken the trouble to write an anti-Christmas song that still held hope for the future.
The live experience was where The Pogues really had me. On the tour supporting If I Should Fall from Grace with God, they had guest appearances from Godfather of punk Joe Strummer, Kirsty MacColl and Lynval Golding of The Specials. The party anthem ‘Fiesta’ would end with the stage covered in novelty string. Artificial snow fell as Kirsty and Dickensian front man Shane MacGowan danced in the middle of ‘Fairytale’ like two awkward lovers at the school disco. Everyone who was there was on stage for the last song, ‘A Message to You Rudi’. Walking down the escalator at Brixton tube station, the ticket machines rattled as we all sang the chorus of ‘The Wild Rover’.

My favourite album is Peace and Love. Probably not the one favoured by Pogues purists, for me it’s a diverse mixture of styles and moods and is never far from my CD player. There are songs about the White City area of London, Irish writer Christy Brown, getting pissed on the boat train and Oliver Cromwell. Sonically, it’s experimental too: witness the Jesus and Mary Chain melancholia of ‘Lorelei’ (sadly, one of the last things Kirsty recorded with them), the Velvet Underground stylings of ‘Down all the Days’ and the throbbing psychedelia of ‘Tombstone’.

The Pogues’ tales of alcohol sodden romanticism, of lives lived looking up from the gutter, were authentic as many of the band had been through that kind of life. With this background, it was ironic that just as they were becoming well known internationally, Shane’s hedonism got the better of him.

Strummer, never a man to stand by while his mates were in trouble, stepped in as front man on the 1991 autumn tour. Despite the thrill of hearing The Clash standards ‘Straight to Hell’, ‘Brand New Cadillac’ and ‘I Fought the Law’ in The Pogues’ set, it was clear it was all over. Despite the collective brave face put on by the band, when Shane was sacked the soul of the band had gone with him.

The Pogues – all of them – continue to play Christmas gigs, and when they do ‘Fairytale’ it still brings the house down. They were also McNulty’s band of choice in The Wire, and there’s no higher accolade than that.

With the boys from the County Hell, there’ll always be time for one more round.

I highly recommend accordion player James Fearnley’s warts-and-all memoir, Here Comes Everybody: The Story of The Pogues (Faber and Faber, £14.99)

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