Pogues' Fearnley and Shane MacGowan are like 'old couple'
Despite everything, Pogue bandmates are "like a family"
There has been so much written about Shane MacGowan’s partying lifestyle that Pogues bandmate James Fearnley’s description of his relationship with the legendary singer is disarming in its sweetness.
“We’re like an old couple,” he says "There is this resilience now that will never go away in our relationship.”
Fearnley has by MacGowan’s side longer than anyone else. He was in the Nips, a punk band that MacGowan started before the Pogues.
“He is as keen as he ever was,” Fearnley says. Based on the enthusiasm in his voice, it would appear that time heals all wounds.
“Shane and myself have an acceptance now,” he says. “We came offstage at a festival in Spain recently and I gave his knee a pat. He reached out and we held hands. It’s completely ordinary and such a nice gesture. I do worry about him because I love him and I have known him for a very long time.”
Fearnley recalls the days with the Nips with fondness. He laughs when I ask if drummer Jon Moss ever tried to recruit him away from MacGowan in the band to be part of Culture Club, the group Moss formed with Boy George.
“I remember when Jon brought a tape of the band he was forming,” Fearnley recalls. “The tape player in my apartment was broke, so we went down to his car and popped it into the dashboard.
“The car is rocking from us listening to the music, and based on what we now know of Jon’s sexuality (he and Boy George were once an item), I am sure it would look suspect. They had a guitarist that they thought would leave the band, and then they went onto other fame and fortune.
“I have no regrets. I did okay for myself. There is fun wondering what the parallel universe would look like if I did join the band, but I don’t think too much about it.”
Fearnley also doesn’t think much about the wide influence that the Pogues have had on Irish culture.
“I kinda knew that, but not in a conscious sort of way,” he replies. “I never thought about it in those terms. It is completely and utterly gratifying to see a second generation coming to the shows. The older you get the more wisdom you get about it.
Fearnley is now 54 and playing music better than ever, as anyone who has seen Pogues reunion show will tell.
“It is extraordinary to see what this music does to people, and has been from the very beginning,” Fearnley says.
“You knew you were onto something when you saw what the reaction you got from neighbors and friends onstage. You get the charge when you are up there, and I am amazed that none of that charge has fizzled after 25 years.
“We have been through a lot together and that has bonded me with those guys in a way that will never be duplicated,” Fearnley adds. “There is alcoholism and sobriety that binds, and there is a lot of listening going on when you come out the other side of it. We are really like a family; the deaths, the illnesses, the whole nine yards.”
Of course, those ups and downs have been well chronicled over the years. Fearnley offers a poignant, weighty assessment of MacGowan’s hard living.
“I know there are cracks in everything, but it’s what lets the light in,” he says. “Through people like him the light came in.
“There was a documentary on Shane that wasn’t particularly good. I was invited to do Q&A and someone asked me how I lived with myself letting some human being end up like that.
“I felt stricken with guilt as I floundered my way to an answer. To be sure, he’s put himself fully in a ship storming toward whatever life will throw at him, and we need people at the front of the ship like that. I fear for him, but he is like a conduit for all of us in some way.”
Hard living isn’t the only thing that has hamstrung the band over the years. In June 2007 it was announced on the Pogues’ Web site that the band's guitarist Phil Chevron has been diagnosed with throat cancer. Fortunately he recovered - and was well enough to tour with the band last year, even singing the classic “Thousands Are Sailing” in each performance.
While fans are excited by the band’s second coming, Fearnley dashes hopes of any new music despite rumors that MacGowan is sitting on a treasure trove of new material.
“This is a prickly thing because there are legions of bands out there that split up, hiatus and then they come back and make a record that is crap,” Fearnley warns.
“There is something that scares me about that. If we record now, it runs the risk of sullying what we have done before. People want to hear the old stuff. I love hearing new music, too - but the Pogues mystique is too sacred.”
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