Pogues Once Again, Straight Up
EVER since the Pogues reunited back in 2001 after a hiatus of almost 17 years, their annual tours have been the hottest tickets of the St. Patrick’s Day season.
Thankfully band member Philip Chevron has just successfully beat throat cancer, and he will be packing his guitar to join original members James Fearnley on accordion, Jem Finer on guitar, banjo and saxophone, Darryl Hunt on bass, Shane MacGowan on vocals, Andrew Ranken on drums, Spider Stacy on tin whistle and Terry Woods on mandolin and cittern.
They are coming to America with something new under their arm. Fans can look forward to a comprehensive 5 CD retrospective titled Just Look Them Straight in the Eye and Say.... POGUE MAHONE!! The collection includes demos, rarities and BBC recordings.
Alas, there is no new material, something that Pogues fans have been hoping for since the band started touring again.
“There is also the fear that if we do that, we would break the spell of what we are doing at the moment,” says Woods when asked if there is any new material on the horizon. “So it is a conversation piece that has gone not far beyond that.”
I spoke with Woods, 60, an accomplished Irish folk musician. While enjoying success in such folk rock outfits as Steeleye Span, Sweeney’s Men and Dr. Strangely Strange, he joined the Pogues in the early days.
When asked to explain why he made an about face to hook up with a Celtic punk outfit at the time, he says he joined the Pogues for one reason — to play the songs of MacGowan. He gets his wish once again this year in the U.S. on a string of dates that includes March 15-17 at Roseland Ballroom in New York.
Our interview took place over the phone. The cell phone service was not always the best as he made his way through the streets of Dublin, but it was a great chat nonetheless. Here’s how it went:
I am sure I’m not the only one who has told you this, but my parents turned me off Irish music and I ran into the arms of punk rock. When the Pogues came along and mixed Irish and punk, I understood the beauty of my culture again. So, thanks!
Wow. That’s great of you to say that. I know what you mean about getting turned off to Irish music. As a child I went to the Christian Brothers school and it was heavy handed to say the least. They were so heavy handed about drumming the Irish music into us. It was a real hard sell and it was really bad, so it took me years to pick up Irish music again.
I know Phil Chevron has been battling cancer. How is he doing?
He seems to be doing very well. As far as we are aware, he has gotten clear from cancer and will be with us in America. We are very grateful for that.
You’ve been a dormant band for decades until you started up again back in 2001. Were you surprised by the fact that the fans were still there, and their reaction to you was no less intense?
Initially when we got together in 2001, it was originally for a small group of shows. We were so knocked out by the reaction and the audience was so up for it that we thought we would continue.
Not too many bands get a second chance the way we have. It is incredibly humbling experience. You know how dodgy a musician’s life can be. The audience loves going to the shows and it is magic. It is as much fun for us as it is for them. I get such a kick out of watching the antics of the crowd from the stage. Sometimes you’d just die from the laughter.
What are some of the crazier things you’ve witnessed?
Years ago, they used to dive from the stage. Not anymore. The moshing and pogo-ing up front is always hilarious to watch. My daughters go to the front now as well.
I usually go to the safety of the VIP balcony when the moshing starts. I guess I am getting too old.
I hear you. It is amazing how some people go into the mosh pit to get roughed up. They go out of their way to go there, like it is some ritual. The energy from the crowd really is a knockout. The Pogues gigs are a mad party. Everybody, from the band to the audience, make it work. It would not work if you had one without the other. We never took ourselves too seriously, and I think that kind of fun is what the gigs are all about.
How do you think the band is playing now? Do you think age has improved you?
For me, the band is playing better now. We have gotten older and are more appreciative of what we have, I suppose. Don’t ask me to explain that to you. It’s one of those things that just happens.
What are your favorite Pogues songs to play live?
I do love “Bottle of Smoke.” I wish we could do “Sitting Down by the Fire” but we haven’t been able to make that one work live for some reason. I do love “Fall From Grace” as well.
Since the band is getting along so well and there is such an appetite for all things Pogues, I am wondering if you’ve ever discussed going back in the studio to record some new stuff?
We have had conversations and we have talked about doing another album, and we all have other things in our lives. Of course, the music business has changed as well which presents obstacles, but I would think the biggest obstacles are the physical things about getting together. It is the scheduling, getting everyone in one place with all the things in our lives right now which makes this such a complicated thing to pull off.
I have to ask the obligatory Shane questions — how is he doing?
Shane is at the moment the best he has been for years. He is very interested in doing this with us, so it is not a struggle. Shane wants to do this now. He loves working with it. It’s not like the way he was before we split. Back then we had managers and lawyers forcing us all to work together, which made the work so hard that it was debilitating at times.
Still, his appetites are legendary, and I know that has gotten in the way of performances and what not. He even rode a wheelchair out on stage the last time around, which was sad to see.
The funny thing about the wheelchair incident is that it had absolutely nothing to do with his intake. He tripped over a lead and came down on his knee and he tore the ligament. He couldn’t walk. That was the first date we had to pull.
Having said, that, he is who he is, you know? We just accept that this is who he is and we get on with it.
The Pogues have inspired a new generation of bands, from Flogging Molly to Young Dubliners and the Dropkick Murphys. How do you feel about the movement, and does any one band stand out?
I don’t think about it one way or another. I am aware of them but I don’t pay any attention to them.
You mentioned that your kids go to the gigs now, and I am sure that it must be cool as a parent to show them what it was like back then?
It is. The first time around my kids were too small to understand. This is what Dad did and it didn’t mean very much. Now that they are older they give me kudos for it. I may be old and decrepit, but I am cool now to their friends.
The Pogues March U.S. tour dates are 5-6, Riviera Theater in Chicago; 9-10, 9:30 club in Washington, D.C.; 12, Ram’s Head in Baltimore; 13, Electric Factory in Philadelphia; 15-17, Roseland Ballroom in New York; 19-20, Orpheum in Boston.
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