The Pogues, rockin' since 1982, mellow with time
Time was when you might have called the Pogues a drinking group that sang to excess.
Times change, of course, and everyone gets older. Now, some 27 years after they formed, and eight years after they re-formed following a mid-’90s breakup, members of this seminal Irish punk-folk band are as likely to be seen onstage clutching a Red Bull as the beer, or harder stuff, that is their trademark.
But drunk or sober, fans still prize their what-the-hell attitude – on and off stage – as much as their edgy, angry, memorable music.
"I think that comes with the territory of being in a band," says Peter "Spider" Stacy, one of the founding members of the hugely influential group, making its annual St. Patrick’s holiday appearance at Roseland Ballroom this weekend.
"It does take a toll on your body and your mind, the various kinds of – how shall I put it? – lifestyle choices that you do or do not make, that are peculiar to this particular field of endeavor," says Stacy, who sings and plays tin whistle. "That’s a euphemism piled upon a euphemism.
Fans know what to expect. They know that the band’s fabled lead singer and chief writer, Shane MacGowan, will in all likelihood lurch onstage, lit up on God-knows-what devil’s brew, and make some introductory remarks in a voice so slurred that barely a syllable will be recognizable as English.
But miraculously, when he rasps out a song, the words always seem to come through:
"Clouds are drifting across the moon
"I think maybe part of it is, when he’s singing he knows the words, but when he’s talking in between songs, he doesn’t always know what he’s going to say, so sometimes it comes out as a bit of a jumble," Stacy says. "And the lack of teeth doesn’t make diction any easier."
MacGowan is associated with much of the excess of the band, but other members were not far behind. Stacy himself famously appeared on a U.K. music show repeatedly smashing himself over the head with a beer tray.
"We’ve always had this reputation of being a bunch of real hell-raising drunks," Stacy says. "But I don’t think that’s something that’s peculiar to the Pogues, in all honesty. I remember the first time I started encountering other bands backstage and thinking, 'Well, they’re worse than we are.'"
Stacy and MacGowan met – true story – at a 1977 Ramones concert at the Roundhouse in London. In the lavatory.
"Actually, I went in to [use the bathroom]," Stacy says. "Shane was already in the toilet, talking to a couple of guys about a fanzine he had."
You might say that the band they formed in 1982, along with original members James Fearnley (accordion) and Jeremy "Jem" Finer (banjo), stayed true to those roots.
Pogue Mahone — the band’s original name — is Gaelic for "kiss my [expletive]." And the band that emerged over the years, with the assistance of many additional players (drummer Andrew Ranken, guitarists Phil Chevron and Terry Woods, and bassist Darryl Hunt are in the current lineup), was very intentionally a purgative for the folksy, maudlin Irish-Eyes-Are-Smiling kind of Celtic music that seeps out of the pubs every St. Patrick’s Day.
"I think all we were doing is reminding people that those [angry] qualities were always there in Irish music," Stacy says. "It’s just that you’re not expecting to find them there. But it’s all there, all that kind of savagery and misery and everything else."
The vogue for the Pogues spawned a whole generation of hard-core Irish bands, with names like Flogging Molly, the Tossers and Dropkick Murphys – none of whom is in any danger of being mistaken for Irish tenor John McCormack.
"[We] always felt that this is music that should be alive and shouldn’t be placed up on some sort of a pedestal," Stacy says. "Its natural home is in some sort of raucous surroundings."
Though the Pogues have their traditional Irish influences, Stacy – if he had to categorize them at all – would consider them a punk band. Certainly their legions of fans think so.
The crowds who continue to buy records like 1985’s "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" (the Pogues have not made a new recording in years, and have no plans to) and show up in droves for their concerts can mosh, slam-dance and crowd surf with the worst of them.
"That sort of behavior is a common occurrence," Stacy says. "The Japanese seem to be able to drink more without necessarily having to be carried out. But they’re just as crazy."
Copyright © 2009 North Jersey Media Group
All Rights Reserved.