It must be lav that keeps The Pogues playing live
IT ALL started in the toilets at a punk gig. Here, in the not-so glamorous setting, and while the Ramones blasted a set of New York punk, a young Shane MacGowan met Peter Stacy and Jem Finer. This brief social occasion was life-changing and eventually, the trio would form The Pogues. It was Peter Stacy, aka 'Spider' that coined the band's name The Pogues, after the phrase 'Pogue Mahone' the anglicised version of the Irish 'pσg mo thσin,' which means 'kiss my arse'.
Now, 30-odd years since the meeting in a lavatory, The Pogues are touring the UK with their Christmas show, a festive tradition that any Pogues fan would hold up there with mince pies or carol singing.
"It's always fun doing this tour," says Spider, "There's a perverse enjoyment in trawling round England and Ireland at this time of year."
The band's fan base crosses folk, punk, pop and rock the breadth of the band's audience has contributed to their success. Songs tell tales of gritty London streets, drinking and heartache.
"We always knew what we were doing. We didn't need to move away from music that speaks directly to people. Our songs go straight to the heart and stomach."
Indeed, The Pogues repertoire could illustrate the life of millions. Ewan MacColl's Dirty Old Town could be set in any British industrial city: "I met my love by the gas works' wall / dreamed a dream by the old canal / I kissed my girl by the factory wall." It's fiddles, flute and Celtic rhythm could warm the cockles of the coldest hearts. But despite the layers of traditional Celtic instrumentation, Spider says, "We never saw ourselves as a folk group. We were always more punk."
And the band certainly fulfilled their punk quota. "There are a lot of stories about the band and they're probably all true," laughs Spider. "But a lot of people say we fight but I have not been in a broil since I was 10 years old those stories are fallacies."
"People say stuff they want to be true. I saw Babyshambles at Reading a few years ago and I was standing right at the back of about 3-4000 people. As he (Pete Doherty] walked on stage from behind the stacks a man said: 'look at the state of him, he's out of his head,' but you couldn't even see him! They see what they want to see."
But the penny-whistle player agrees that there are occasions in which the quality of The Pogues' performances has been compromised by alcohol. "There are times when we are not that good it gets a bit shaky and can be a near disaster. When that happens we just steer (Shane] through it and normally we can just about get away with it."
McGowan's drinking eventually led to him being evicted from the band in 1991. The Pogues continued without him but eventually split up. Then, in 2001, the group reformed.
The Pogues are not writing any new material at the moment. "It's been a long time since Hell's Ditch and if we were to write again it wouldn't sound like The Pogues.
"I don't think you can pick it up like that. There are some singer songwriters like Tom Waits and Nick Cave who can churn out album after album but I don't think it would work with us."
With a repertoire that spans 25 years, the band is in no desperate need for new material.
Reflecting on his songwriting career with The Pogues, Spider says, "The album I enjoyed making the most though it's not my favourite is Hell's Ditch. I also enjoyed making If I should Fall From Grace With God, though my favourite album is Red Roses for Me."
Asked as to what he enjoys playing most he says: "Rainy Night in Soho that one is very poignant."
And while, for a minute, Spider dwells on the poignancy and human nature of the romantic song, he then follows with a story that rips all the romance out of The Pogues. "We always used to share rooms with each other which could be interesting and unpleasant in many ways.
"There's a classic vignette about James Fearnley and Andrew Ranken, who were sharing a room. Apparently James was making strange movements with his mouth, emitting a bizarre sound. Andrew came on the tour bus and said: "Have you ever seen a toad eating a butterfly? Well, James was a human version of the toad today."
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