New Look Pogues Starting to Pick Up the Pieces After the Split
When the Pogues booted Shane MacGowan two years ago, critics and fans believed it was tantamount to breaking up the band. And well they might have thought so. For MacGowan's departure was followed in quick succession by the loss of the band's record contract, the collapse of its new label, the permanent departure of accordionist James Fearnley and the current absence - said to be temporary - of mandolin maestro Terry Woods.
But losing MacGowan was the cruelest cut for the London-based group. It was MacGowan, after all, who fronted the band, lurching about the stage and slurring out lyrics through his rotten teeth.
And it was MacGowan who wrote most of the songs, giving the Pogues' lyrics their volatile - and very Irish - mix of melancholy, drunken exhilaration and debauchery.
But by late 1991, MacGowan was living out his own lyrics to such an alarming degree - including blowing gigs and recording sessions - that 'we took drastic steps,' says Spider Stacy, the tin whistle player and sometime singer who has stepped forward to front the reconstituted Pogues, who play the Orpheum tonight. 'Shane was obviously discontented with the way things were going, and he was manifesting his discontent in ways that were detrimental to his health - not to put too fine a point on it,' says Stacy. 'It was becoming impossible.'
Having survived that traumatic amputation the Pogues next had to face the critics and fans who thought they were done. 'We were never a one-man band,' Stacy says. 'Some people actually did perceive us that way, and their attitude was, 'Well, there's no way you can make it now.' Our feeling was, '(Bleep) you, we're gonna prove you wrong.' And I think we've done that.' And to a certain degree, they have. Merely surviving MacGowan's departure, the loss of Fearnley and Woods and persistent break-up rumors would be proof enough. But there's also 'Waiting for Herb' (Chameleon-Elektra), which proves there is life after -- Shane - even if it's not quite as exciting as it was when he was around.
'Waiting for Herb' is a milder album than the Pogues are accustomed to making, hewing closer to souped-up Brit-Irish traditional territory than the corrosive, clenched-fist blend of Irish, punk and Eastern music they developed with MacGowan up front. Moreover, Stacy's warm buzz of a voice is no match in intensity for MacGowan's menacing croak.
Stacy himself is first to admit things are different without MacGowan.
'It's made a difference in sound of course. And there's a significant visual difference as well,' he says, chuckling, 'now that we don't have the Tipperary Adonis with us anymore. 'And, partly out of necessity maybe, some different people are writing songs and finally getting the opportunity to spread their wings a little bit.'
But Stacy - even as he denies reports MacGowan may rejoin the band - doesn't try to pretend the split was all for the best. 'I mean, it can never really be an entirely good thing. But it's not by any means all negative. I think we're doing very well,' he said in an interview conducted before the departures of Fearnley and Woods.
Asked why the band persists in the face of such obstacles, Stacy gave an answer worthy of the Pogues
'...Let's face it What the (bleep) else are we going to do?'
All rights reserved
Great wadges of thanks to Adrian Leach for help with this article.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.