The Pogues: Back In The Graces Of God
The Season Of Green is indeed in full swing, and it just so happens to coincide perfectly with The Pogues’ latest trip through America. Though there’s likely to be no shortage of St. Patrick’s Day revelry at any of this month’s engagements, the seminal Celtic-flavored rockers are also banking on a few other factors, from their constant influence upon younger arse-kicking generations to the more tangible spring release of a box set chock full of rarities.
Appearing: 3/5-6 at Riviera Theatre (4750 N. Broadway) in Chicago.
Given the group’s storied past and somewhat dramatic lineup shifts, die-hards aren’t likely analyzing the reasons, but rather rejoicing over the somewhat miraculous reformation of original frontman Shane MacGowan, vocalist/tin whistler Spider Stacy, accordionist James Fearnley, guitarist/banjoist/saxophonist Jem Finer, drummer Andrew Ranken, plus veterans like guitarist Philip Chevron, mandolin/cittern player Terry Woods, and bassist Darryl Hunt.
The nucleus originally splintered in 1991 and didn’t return to the road until 10 years later, though a test trip through America was delayed until 2006 (and excluded the Windy City).
“When we started coming back through the States, we’d done both coasts, but left the middle a bit blank,” notes Stacy, phoning from home in England. “I don’t really know why we didn’t come to Chicago that first round because we’ve always had an audience there, but maybe the promoters were testing waters to see how it would go. I never had any doubts, especially because I played at the Metro with The Tossers back in ‘04 and that was a sell out. If we had a bit more time on our hands and were a bit younger, we’d be more than happy to do a few other places in the Midwest, but I understand there are certain limitations as to what we can do at the moment. We don’t want weary carcasses going around North America for weeks on end!”
When the band appeared in 1982, the road schedule was quite the contrary to six select cities, exhaustively chiseling away at the London club and pub scene, followed by Ireland and Europe in general. Additional exposure came from a 1984 outing with The Clash, which paved the way for The Pogues’ first full-length release, Red Roses For Me on Stiff Records, that same year. Besides securing immediate notoriety for their partying attitudes, the group also earned acclaim for incorporating an inventive blend of traditional Irish instruments with punk rock insistency.
“One of the things that surprised us [when we first started] was that nobody else was doing this before us,” he recalls. “Those early days of touring were really our starting point, which was basically us doing Irish songs in the punk style, while leaning more towards traditional instrumentation than electric guitars. It worked so well, but was really surprising to me that no one else had done it, especially because it’s very immediate and accessible. When it hit, we were like ‘Fuck, we can do something with this!’”
With the formula connecting (if only for the sheer originality) The Pogues earned more mainstream attention by 1985’s Rum Sodomy & The Lash, thanks in part to production from Elvis Costello. In America, college radio ate up quirky Celtic romps “Dirty Old Town” and “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda,” which have since landed the album on Q magazine’s “100 Greatest British Albums Ever” and Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Albums Of All Time.”
Yet 1987’s If I Should Fall From Grace With God proved to be a bigger breakthrough across the globe, thanks to entering the major label leagues via Island and landing red-hot producer Steve Lillywhite (U2, Peter Gabriel). The album also spawned the holiday-themed smash single “Fairytale Of New York” (a duet with Kirsty MacColl), topping the Irish charts (and climbing to second in Britain), along with being named the “Best Christmas Song Ever” by VH1 UK. But success proved to be a double-edged sword for the band, leading the already excessive, oftentimes slurred MacGowan down an even more extreme path of substance experimentation.
The most infamous case came during the band’s 1988 tour supporting Bob Dylan, when MacGowan simply didn’t show up. In his shock absence, the band were sent scrambling for a last-minute solution, opting for Stacy to step to the microphone.
“Shane just didn’t turn up and that was really, really nerve wrecking,” says the substitute in a somewhat nonchalant tone. “Each day he didn’t turn up was like being thrown into the deep end again. I [would] say to myself after the show, ‘I really don’t want to go through that again,’ and then I did all over again the next day.”
To find out how The Pogues pulled it together and finally pulled McGowan back in, grab the March issue of Illinois Entertainer available free throughout Chicagoland.
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