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The Pogues

Contrary to popular belief (or unliterary pub pundits), The POGUES are not from the Emerald Isle, but from Kings Cross in north London. The Celtic connection however stems from Tipperary-raised Shane MacGowan, their English-born frontman whose parents were indeed from Ireland; of course some of the other personnel had roots in the country – bassist/singer Cait O’Riordan’s father was Irish, while later additions Philip Chevron (from The RADIATORS FROM SPACE) and Terry Woods (from SWEENEY’S MEN and STEELEYE SPAN) had full Irish passports. From their formation in the autumn of 1982, to their manifold bust-ups over the course of nearly three decades, Shane and The POGUES have been at the pinnacle of folk-rock music, whether it be Celtic or otherwise.
Alongside female punk artist Shanne `Hasler’ Bradley (later co-founder of The MEN THEY COULDN’T HANG), MacGowan had earlier been part of punkabilly outfit The NIPPLE ERECTORS (through 1978-1980). This motley crew released a solitary single `King Of The Bop’ before shortening their name to The NIPS and enlisting future POGUE guitarist James Fearnley. A few follow-up singles appeared, and even an album recommended for diehard POGUES fiends only was released.
Pogue Mahone (Gaelic for “kiss my arse”) as they were briefly named were subsequently formed by the aforementioned MacGowan, Fearnley, O’Riordan (a tad later), plus former Millwall Chainsaws band alumni Spider Stacy (on tin whistle) and Jem Finer (banjo); the sextet was completed by drummer Andrew Ranken (who joined in ’83 with Cait). By spring ‘84, they’d formed their own group-titled imprint, issuing the classic debut single, `Dark Streets Of London’ not long afterwards; the B-side was a reading of ERIC BOGLE’s `And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’.
Boasting all the Celtic melancholy, romance and gritted-teeth attitude which marked the best of the band’s work, the ballad rather unfairly, but predictably, received an official BBC Radio ban (apparently after the Beeb managed to translate their rather rude moniker). A month later they secured a deal with Stiff Records, opting instead for The POGUES when they supported punk pal Joe Strummer and The CLASH.
Their Stan Brennan-produced debut album, RED ROSES FOR ME (1984) {*8} dented the UK Top 100 as they acquired growing support from live audiences the length and breadth of the country. Whether interpretative trad Irish folk songs (`Waxie’s Dargle’, `Greenland Whale Fisheries’, `Poor Paddy’ and Dominic Behan’s `The Auld Triangle’) or reeling off bawdy but brilliant MacGowan originals, The POGUES were apt to turn from high-spirited revelry (`Streams Of Whiskey’) to menacing threat (`Boys From The County Hell’) in the time it took to neck a pint of Guinness – in Shane’s case, not very long at all.
April ‘85 saw the release of perhaps their finest single (and first Top 20 hit), the misty-eyed, ELVIS COSTELLO-co-produced `A Pair Of Brown Eyes’. The man himself also oversaw the accompanying album RUM, SODOMY & THE LASH (1985) {*9}, a debauched, bruising-ly beautiful classic which elevated The POGUES (who’d added guitarist/co-producer Phil Chevron) to the position of modern-day folk heroes. MacGowan’s gift for conjuring up a feeling of time and place was never more vivid than on the likes of the aforementioned `A Pair Of…’, the rousing `Sally MacLennane’, EWAN MacCOLL’s `Dirty Old Town’ and the cursing malice of `The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn’, while O’Riordan put in a spine-tingling performance as a Scottish laird on the traditional `I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day’.
On the 16th of May 1986, Cait O’ married COSTELLO and when she subsequently bailed out that November (after writing their Top 50 hit `Haunted’ for the Alex Cox film Sid & Nancy), a vital component of The POGUES chemistry went with her. Around the same time, the group played “The McMahon Gang” in Cox’s cowpunk movie Straight To Hell, combining soundtrack duties and on-set thespian abilities with ex-Clash frontman STRUMMER: the veteran punk would subsequently deputise for the absent MacGowan on an early 1988 US tour.
This period also saw The POGUES peak at No.3 in the album charts with IF I SHOULD FALL FROM GRACE WITH GOD (1988) {*8}, an album which spawned an unlikely near-chart-topping Christmas ‘87 hit in `Fairytale Of New York’. A faux-drunken duet with KIRSTY MacCOLL (daughter of the aforementioned Ewan), the ballad was certainly more subversive than the usual yuletide fodder and for a brief period, The POGUES were bona fide pop stars, their rampant collaboration with The DUBLINERS on `Irish Rover’ (earlier that year) having already breached the Top 10. Escalating to an untenable 8-piece ensemble when they enlisted Darryl Hunt and Terry Woods, the band were untouchable live, MacGowan’s errant, tin-tray-wielding genius the stuff of legend, particularly for many who witnessed their blood ’n’ guts gigs in places such as the Glasgow Barrowlands. Propagating overseas Eastern and Mediterranean-type folk respectively on `Turkish Song Of The Damned’ and `Fiesta’ (another massive party hit), the album was er… graced by Chevron’s immigration ballad `Thousands Are Sailing’ and the highly-charged Woods-penned piece `Birmingham Six’.
Inevitably, MacGowan’s hard-drinking ways were beginning to affect his writing and PEACE AND LOVE (1989) {*6} signalled a slow slide into mediocrity; a swing/jazz intro `Gridlock’ was ambitious and ill-advised. Taking inspiration from their home city, rather than just Dublin, Ireland and the like, tracks such as `White City’, `Misty Morning, Albert Bridge’ and `London, You’re A Lady’ showed the cracks in spades, although `Gartloney Rats’ brought back their Celtic wit and banter.
1990’s HELL’S DITCH {*5} carried on in much the same rawkish vein, although this was to be MacGowan’s final album under The POGUES banner, his failing health incompatible with the demands of a successful major label band. Tracks like `Sunny Side Of The Street’ were stop-me-if-you’ve-heard-this-one-before styled cuts, others like set saviour `Summer In Siam’ were breaking free from the folk shackles that made them great in the first place.
While the gap-toothed frontman eventually got a solo career together, The POGUES bravely soldiered on with a surprisingly impressive hit single, `Tuesday Morning’, the opening salvo from their 1993 UK Top 20 album WAITING FOR HERB {*5}. Two years on, a nostalgically titled follow-up set POGUE MAHONE (1995) {*6} failed to rekindle their former glory, while a solo MacGOWAN (and The POPES) continued to dominate the limelight. Alongside individual contributions from mainly Finer (Hunt and Ranken penned a few), their rootsy appeal was intact on two covers: RONNIE LANE’s `How Come’ and BOB DYLAN’s `When The Ship Comes In’. In 1999 some of the POGUES (Stacy, Hunt and Ranken) got together as The Wisemen, while Finer has emerged with the band Longplayer.
From Christmas 2001 and on other celebratory days (as with the perennial hit `Fairytale Of New York’ with the sadly missed Kirsty), The POGUES with Shane on his best behaviour reunite for global concerts.
© MC Strong 1994-2011/GRD-GFD2 // rev-up MCS Jul2012

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