After the fall
An influence on countless Irish-American punk bands, the Pogues are raising a toast to their beery, bawdy past
At this point, the boys in seminal Irish-punk act the Pogues could hardly be blamed if they just sat back on their aging laurels and enjoyed a bit of retirement. Along with releasing two certifiable masterpieces—1985's "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" and 1988's "If I Should Fall From Grace With God"—and a string of lesser but still solid albums, the Pogues also gave rise to an entire genre of music. A host of proudly Irish-American punk bands—including Flogging Molly, the Tossers and the Dropkick Murphys—simply would not exist in their current incarnations without the influence of the Pogues' fusion of Irish folk sentiments with punk swagger.
But after several years without Shane MacGowan, the band's archetypal drunken prophet/poet-philosopher/frontman, and then several more years of nonexistence, the Pogues reunited in 2001 and have performed off and on since then. I reached founding member, tin whistle player and occasional lead singer Spider Stacy at his home in London to discuss the legacy, the love and the lager. Pausing only for drinks and throaty chuckles, he held my rapt, fan-boy attention.
Tell me about starting back up again with the original lineup after putting two albums out without Shane.
Yeah, we did some shows in Britain and Ireland that Christmas, but then we didn't do anything again until 2004. We went as full-tilt as we're inclined to, of course. … And now, we do every Christmas in Britain and Ireland, every March over with you. First time in Florida this time; first time ever actually.
I was excited to see you managed to book a gig after Langerado was canceled.
I was guttered when that festival went, so I'm really glad that we were able to do another show. … It's a part of the country that we've kind of neglected, which I think is a real shame, because we've had a good time down there. I'd like to do more shows in Dixie. It's warm this time of year?
Well, I can tell you in Fahrenheit, but I'm not sure in Celsius —
We've got Fahrenheit here.
Ah. Shows you what I know. Well, it'll probably be about 75 or so.
Nice. Very nice. We should definitely do more shows there.
So what can folks expect out of a Pogues show these days?
It's kind of a greatest hits, but we don't just breeze through a couple numbers and then just piss off. Anyone who loves the band should love the show. … It's really so enjoyable now, and it wasn't always in the past. We were on the treadmill, earning money just to keep the band going. We were just playing gig after gig after gig and you're doing really stupid stuff to keep going. Shane just really didn't want to go on tour anymore and I think he dealt with that in the best way he knew. Looking back on it now, instead of going our separate ways, we maybe should have just taken a year off, but we didn't see that as even a possibility then. I think we're playing better than we ever did before, probably because people aren't medicating themselves against the rigors of constant touring.
Have you ever thought about releasing a new album now that you're back together and touring regularly?
It's been discussed, but it would be quite a major undertaking after such a long time. My own feeling is if you can't improve on what you've done before, I'm not inclined to really do it. … It would be nigh on impossible to recapture the feeling of those first five albums. I just don't see how we could do that, and I don't see how Shane could reasonably be expected to write songs like that 25 years down the road.
But have you or Shane written any new material?
I haven't seen anything new, so I can't speak to Shane. When I tried to write Pogues songs, I personally found myself falling into this dreadful faux-Shane mode, which is just awful. "Tuesday Morning" [Stacy's lone songwriting contribution on the band's first post-MacGowan album, 1993's "Waiting for Herb"] is obviously an exception, but it was more natural, coming just out of my head.
You're playing at the Pompano Beach Amphitheatre. Interestingly, another Langerado fallout, Flogging Molly, is playing there the night before you. How do you see your influence on bands like that?
Well, to hear [Flogging Molly frontman Dave King] tell it, you wouldn't think we influenced him at all. He says he listens to Johnny Cash. But we're quite clearly a major influence on them.
Now that you're older, do you still play the beer tray with your head?
Well, yes, but I only do that on "Fiesta." I don't know that I could keep that up for a whole show.
Besides, not a lot of songs call for beer trays on percussion.
Right. It's kind of an overlooked instrument.
Why do you think you still attract such a loyal fan base, all these years after your recorded work?
I guess that's — hmm. You know, I can't say exactly, but I will say I think we've got the best audience of any band going. I've never seen an audience react to a band the way our audience reacts to us. The closest thing I've seen is maybe the Spice Girls in 1995, when my wife and I took the kids and we were just surrounded by these screaming girls.
Except that your audience is older and more inebriated.
Right. A bit more beery and hairy.
With that great audience interaction, can you see yourselves keeping this up now for the foreseeable future?
I can see that definitely, as long as people want us and we're capable of doing it. I like it when we squeeze in a West Coast tour, too, and maybe get back to Japan.
You're big in Japan?
Well, I don't know as I'd say that. We've been back there twice. In Japan, if we have a festival to do, it'll pay a lump sum and then we can do some theater shows. Because you have to think about that when you're traveling that far.
I'm sure it's tough, logistically speaking.
Right. And the audience there. Well, they're polite, but it's still an amazing crowd, just slightly less rowdy.
Anything else you want to add about the Florida show?
It's funny, actually. One of the things about coming to Florida, there's this guy, an English guy. He was previously living in Ohio. I got an e-mail from the guy who runs my Web site, from a girl married to a guy who'd claimed to be me. This is like about 10, 11 years ago. And then, he moved to Florida, and it got kind of … we were getting e-mails from people in Florida, that this guy's making me look bad, going around all the bars claiming to be me. And this is how it ended up—I got a MySpace message saying you were at a friend's party and said you were interested in going ghost-hunting.
Exactly. So if there's anyone there in Florida who says they've been wronged by Spider Stacy, it wasn't me.
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