Publication: The Boston Globe
Date Printed: Friday, March 11, 1994
Section: Arts & Film
Page: 73
By: Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff

There is simply no way around it: The ghost of Shane MacGowan hovers over the Pogues.

MacGowan is not dead, of course. But he's no longer a Pogue, and according to the band's tin whistle player Spider Stacy, he never will be again. ''Shane rejoining the Pogues?'' Stacy says, repeating the question. ''I'd say absolutely no chance at all.''

MacGowan -- the oft-brilliant but oft-troubled and inebriated lead singer and main songwriter -- got the boot 2 1/2 years ago for falling down on the job too many times. Joe Strummer, the former Clash singer and a longtime pal of the Pogues, filled in for MacGowan on the band's last US tour in 1991, but Strummer declined permanent membership.

Did the Pogues, who play the Orpheum tonight, worry about which direction they'd take in their post-MacGowan period?

"There wasn't any problem with which direction we were going in," says Stacy, who was bumped up to lead singer-frontman status. "There was a little uncertainty as to whether we were going to be going in any direction at all."

The Pogues of 1994 might be summed up by this line from ''Once Upon a Time,'' a song on their latest album, ''Waiting for Herb'': ''I'm down, but I'm still on my feet.'' Determination. Resilience. Perseverance. Or, as Stacy says, ''It's the Pogues. (Expletive). Let's go for it.''

The Pogues, a London-based band that frequently mixes traditional Celtic music and punk rock, puzzled out the lead singer replacement conundrum this way, according to Stacy: ''We sort of decided without really even talking about it. I think that it was not good to get somebody else in from outside the band. I was the logical person to do it. It sort of devolved on me naturally. I was very uncomfortable initially because I didn't know if I could handle it.''

Stacy, an affable, candid sort who has long been the Pogues' primary spokesman, is on the phone from the band's London hangout, a pub called Filthy McNasty's and the Whiskey. Between questions and answers, Stacy quaffs Guinness. Occasionally, he burps and apologizes. Stacy hasn't had a phone at his home for a year -- something about an unpaid bill . . .

Stacy sings most of the leads on ''Waiting for Herb,'' the band's first album in nearly three years. He readily admits that it's a transitional album. ''I'd love to be able to re-record it 'cause I have acquired considerably more confidence since we did that . . . I wouldn't try to fill Shane's shoes. That would be foolish of me. I can only try to fill my own. The band was very supportive, I have to say that. I don't think I'm as good, or that I'll ever be as good, as Shane is capable of being when he was on form, but that doesn't necessarily follow that I can't do it.''

On form. That was the problem.

MacGowan was a brilliant writer whose songs often coursed along an embittered, defiant, spirited track. He expressed the tangled-up impulses of futility and hope as well as anyone plying the trade today. He lived; he loved; he fought; he drank. He screwed up. He rose the next day to do it all again. But his performances became increasingly shaky. Sometimes, he wouldn't show up at all. Finally, push came to shove.

Stacy, who served as MacGowan's foil on stage and has been a mate for more than a decade, bears no animosity. ''There's no bad blood or anything,'' he says, ''but I think we've moved on.'' Stacy says he played whistle for MacGowan on an upcoming solo album. And MacGowan briefly joined the Pogues on stage in London during their last British tour.

''Call me a sentimentalist,'' says Stacy, ''but the reaction from the audience was really good. He's pulling himself together in a positive way. His attitude has improved dramatically.''

Is MacGowan still drinking?

''He's never going to stop enjoying himself,'' answers Stacy, diplomatically. ''But I think he's happier, basically. The split was, in a way, as much for his good as for ours. God knows what could have happened. We might have been talking body bags, and that's the last thing anybody would have wanted.''

During the latter part of the '80s, the songwriting chores began to get spread out among the band members. Now, without MacGowan, it is even more a group process. ''I don't feel like songwriting is so much everyone's responsibility,'' says Stacy, asked about added pressure. ''There's a constant undercurrent of things bubbling away.''

Yet, Stacy admits to a basic problem. ''I think people have begun to realize that after you spend so much time with somebody who is such a talented songwriter, it's easy to get intimidated. (Banjo player) Jem (Finer) has never been intimidated by Shane's presence. (Guitarist) Philip (Chevron) and (mandolinist) Terry (Woods) have an independent pedigree, if you like, but other people . . . Shane was just churning them out seemingly effortlessly . . .''

Stacy says he gets the impression that the Pogues supporters are rooting hard for the band, that there's an uncommonly strong bond between artist and audience. Yet, Stacy volunteers that there has been friction and dissent. For example, the official Pogues fan club in Germany changed its name to ''Friends of Shane.''

''They can't stand us,'' says Stacy. '' They're appalled and disgusted by the fact that we sacked Shane, or whatever, but they still come and see us just so they can say how bad they think we are. My girlfriend says those guys are a bunch of nerds, a bunch of train-spotters.''

Stacy is hopeful about the Pogues' US tour. ''I'm not so arrogant that I just assume everybody's gonna tell us how great we are . . . But the feeling about the music hasn't changed at all. When it works, it works brilliantly. Most of the time, it does seem to work. We have done gigs where either we've been bad or the audience just didn't want to know but . . . they're much more the exception than the rule.''

Copyright 1994, The Boston Globe

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