On Their Own
Here's the situation: The band's co-founding singer and main
songwriter - often brilliant but frequently unsteady - is asked to exit
the group because of his increasing inability to not incapacitate himself
with alcohol. He slinks of into the dark, cursing and muttering. The band
fills his position on a US tour with with a famous punk-rock star. Then,
then punk-rock star goes back to his own life and the band is left with...
|| Publication: The Boston Globe |
Date Printed: Friday, April 5, 1996
By: Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff
A new life?
Not to get all starry-eyes, but it's worked something like that for the
Pogues, the London-based Celtic-punk band that Shane MacGowan once led, that
ex-Clash singer and longtime Pogues pal Joe Strummer helmed in the interim
and that co-founder and tin whistle player Spider Stacey now fronts. The
band comes to Avalon next Friday.
Make no mistake, Stacey does no claim MacGowan's songwriting gifts. But
he has ably stepped in as the primary singer and frontman. The songwriting,
which began to expand in the late '80s as MacGowan contributed less, is
now spread among the seven band members. The Pogues of today, who just released
their second post-MacGowan album, "Pogue Mahone," may not have
quite the bark and bite, but they've risen to the challenge and have penned
a lilting, lovely, melonchonic album. With MacGowan having staged an astounding
comeback on his own last year, perhaps, it's a case of twin peaks.
"Well, I think so," says Stacey, on the pay phone from the Union
Tavern, a London pub. "He made a brilliant album. I mean when all is
said and done, if you want a songwriter, you couldn't find a better one
If this seems unbecomingly gracious - keep in mind, MacGowan has run roughshod
over the Pogues and virtually everything else in interviews - it also sounds
sincere. Stacey says there's no competition between the two entities, the
Pogues and MacGowan and his band.
"I know people would like that to be the case," says Stacey, of
a heated rivalry. "But we're adults. I mean, maybe if we were 17 years
old, or 7 years old, or something we might act like that. But there is no
need for it because we've proved we can stand on our own two feet and don't
need to compete with him. All I want to see is for him to do as well for
himself as possible. I think we actually complement each other. I mean,
I'd like to do a tour with him, in fact. Let the two of us go out with two
bands, headlining on alternate nights. That would wipe the smirks
off people's faces!"
What about the way MacGowan tends to deal with the Pogues in a very dismissive
or derisive manor? This, MacGowan did last year in a slurry chat with us.
"Tell me about it," says Stacey, with a laugh. "I've known
the man for years, and if he chooses to be a bitch he can be a real bitch.
It's just that you caught him in a bad humor. He's like that. He has mood
swings." As to MacGowan's claim that he left the Pogues voluntarily
because of the band's swing toward wold music and away from the Celtic base,
Stacey says "the truth of the matter is that Shane was pushed rather
than jumped, but he appreciated the reasons for why we did what we had to
do. ... You can't completely trust him, because he says one thing one day
and completely changes his story the next. I'm not calling him a liar. He
says what he believes to be the truth at that particular moment."
Actually, the Pogues have lost not just MacGowan, but three others over
the past few years. Mandolinist Terry Woods and accordianist James Fernley
left in 1994, replaced by David Coulter (on mandolin, violin and, says Stacey,
"anything he can lay his hands on:) and James McNally (on accordion,
low whistle and piano). Guitarist Philip Chevron was the latest to go, both
because of ill health - the touring was becoming too grueling for his fragile
constitution - and his desire to get back to more traditional Irish music.
(He is currently living in Los Angeles, writing songs, and well.) Jamie
Clarke has stepped in on guitar. All the players left of their own accord,
on amicable terms. And the Pogues soldier on. Co-founders Jem Finer (banjo,
hurdy-gurdy, guitar) and Andrew Ranken (drums) with longtime bassist Darryl
Hunt round out the crew.
Stacey has the role that's changed the most. With MacGowan in the band,
Stacey played something of a sidekick or foil. He's has to learn the front-singer
role while he's been on the job. "It's just really a question of becoming
more confident in the role with the passage of time," he says. On their
first post-MacGowan records, "Waiting for Herb," "I sat there
most of the time we were making it, rigid with nerves. I was stepping into
not only Shane MacGowan's shoes but Joe Strummer's as well. But I've become
accustomed to it, more confident." Songs, Stacey says, are chosen without
thought to who the composer was, simply, "making the best of the available
material." They also cover Bob
Dylan's "When the Ship Comes
In" on "Pogue Mahone."
Without MacGowan the Pogues are free, perhaps, to be a less cynical outlet.
MacGowan was a rocking Brendan Behan with a microphone, writing songs from
the gutter looking up. It's hard to imagine MacGowan getting through Hunt's
winsome "Love You 'Till
the End" without a caustic cackle. On "Pogue Mahone"
- the band's original moniker - there is less roughness, more romance, still
an edge. "It's more cohesive," offers Stacey. "I think there's
a lot more yet to come out of this whole situation. At least, I hope so.
Fingers crossed, you know?"
Copyright 1996, The Boston
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