Publication: The Tmes 
Date Published: Saturday, December 14, 1991 
By: David Sinclair
Section: Features

The Pogues, Brixton Academy.

 With the announcement earlier this year of his retirement from The Pogues on grounds of ''ill health'', Shane MacGowan joined the ranks of contributors to rock who have gone missing in action. Others include Syd Barrett (Pink Floyd), Brian Wilson (Beach Boys) and Peter Green (Fleetwood Mac). 

 Nobody familiar with The Pogues will have been surprised by the news of MacGowan's demise. The gormless singer's alarming if entertaining portrait of drunken self-abuse could not have been sustained indefinitely, and it seems in retrospect a minor miracle that The Pogues have held together long enough to transform themselves from a novice rabble, inspired by the comic extremes of punk, into a top folk-rock crossover act.

 The search for someone with sufficient experience, charisma and technical incompetence to fill MacGowan's shoes ended at the door of Joe Strummer an inspired choice, even if it is rather a jolt to be reminded that the former frontman of The Clash, and a key player in the punk revolution, will be 40 next year.

 However, if there is one golden rule of rock lore that has been writ large during the last decade, it is that even the most implacable excess will eventually gives way to moderation, and led by Strummer, The Pogues have fully and finally retreated from the brink. Without MacGowan propped up at the front and liable to fall apart at any moment, the eight piece band suddenly looked rather orderly and dependable; even dare one say it a little staid.

 Which is not to suggest, heaven forfend, that they sounded polished or unduly smooth. Nearly everyone had a stab at the singing, with uniformly dreadful results. Andrew Ranken (drums), Terry Woods (citern) and Spider Stacy (whistle) each produced a deep growling noise like a disgruntled lion, while guitarist Philip Chevron managed a quavery approximation of the melody of his own composition ''Thousands are Sailing''. Strummer, whose range encompasses about one octave and a strangulated yell, employed his peculiarly glottal delivery to mangle such favourites as ''Dirty Old Town'' and ''The Sickbed of Cuchulainn'' with a ervour of which MacGowan would have been proud.

 But he was not MacGowan, and somehow one could never quite forget that these were not his songs to mangle. The contrast was particularly striking when he cut loose on the old Clash numbers ''London Calling'' and ''Straight toell'', suddenly acquiring an authority which the rest of the performance lacked.

 History suggests that, having weathered the loss of their singer and key source of inspiration, The Pogues can probably last forever. But from now on it is a job, not a calling. They and their fans probably know it.

©Copyright 1991 Times Newspapers Limited 
All rights reserved 

Your intrepid maintainer is DzM