Celtic Pride: Seminal Irish Rockers The Pogues Return to Party up St. Pats
THE hard-partying Pogues were on top of the musical world in the '80s until the band - led by the poetic and gaptoothed Shane MacGowan - tumbled over the edge. Almost literally.
"The most nerve-wracking time was when Shane was standing on top of a boulder overlooking a 150-foot drop into a Norwegian river," recalls Pogues cofounder Spider Stacy.
"He had bottle of vodka in one hand and was holding onto a very young tree, not even the size of pencil, and swaying... "
He's not crazy," adds Stacy. "That's why he's still here."
And that's why the Pogues, who mixed traditional Irish folk with raw punk, then drowned it all in whiskey, are here with Mac-Gowan for a St. Patrick's Day bash at Roseland Ballroom (239 W. 52th Street at 8th Avenue,  777-1224).
The Clash-influenced group, formed in London in 1982 by MacGowan and tin whistle player Spider Stacy, was just as notorious for alcoholism and drug abuse as it was heralded for its stirring music.
And while the Pogues' biggest hit was "Fairytale of New York," inside the band, it was no happy story.
"There was a lot of abuse going on one way or another," banjoist Terry Woods told The Post. "It's not easy going around the world like that. You start behaving the wrong way, doing things you shouldn't do. You'd find yourself in lovely places, but couldn't be bothered to leave the hotel because you're physically and mentally exhausted. That's when you take drugs or drink and it's a vicious circle."
The constant tumult took a toll on the band, forcing MacGowan out in 1991. The Clash's Joe Strummer filled in for a bit, then Stacy took over, but the group disbanded in 1996.
They reunited with MacGowan in 2001 for a now annual Christmas show in London.
When they first got back together, Woods says, they talked about going back to America, finally returning to New York for the first time in 15 years last St. Pat's Day.
"We had forgotten how much fun it all was," says Woods.
Because the new tour schedules are short, being on the road is more relaxing. The substance-abuse fueled tension is gone, as well.
"People are older now and your body just can't take it. Things starts falling off," kids Stacy, who still smashes a tray over his head on stage.
Driven to the Pogues by musical descendants such as the Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, the party-ready audience is younger and celebrates more than the band does.
"A lot of the band doesn't drink any more, but that doesn't stop the audience," says Woods.
MacGowan, 49, still brings the same mix of passion, gruff vocals and booze to his lyrical ballads and singalongs as he used to.
"Shane doesn't drink as much as everyone he thought he did," says Woods, a co-founder of '70s British folk-rock act Steeleye Span. "He was always awkward - he didn't have to have drink in him to be awkward."
MacGowan still gets in the papers for his off-stage antics as well, which have including hanging out today's substance-abuse poster boy, Pete Doherty.
The bandmates seem all used to it by now.
"Shane hasn't really changed at all," Stacy says. "His stage persona has changed - he's not as startling as he used to be. He used to be a good performer - now he's extraordinary."
"Shane is more like like he was like he was in the beginning," says Woods. "Even though there's more water under the bridge. He really wants to [perform] now. At one point he couldn't do it and didn't want to do it."
And he may want to do a new album. There hasn't been a new MacGowan Pogues album since 1990's "Hell's Ditch" which, along with the other five albums, was re-released by Rhino Records last year.
"I know Shane's been writing and talking about possibility of another album," says Woods. "But right now it's just talk."
MacGowan may be the necessary element to keep the Pogues fired up, but he's also the x-factor.
"I do worry about him," says Woods. "But he'll do what he wants to do. At one point, I thought he had a death wish, but now I know he doesn't. It may seem like a strange life to other people, but he enjoys it."
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