The Ninth Life of the Pogues

Publication: Word Magazine

Author: Craig MacLean

Date: December 2004

The word goes out in Tipperary, in County Meath, in Los Angeles, in Nottingham, in North London: the pogues have reformed to play live and, maybe this time, claim their rightful inheritance. Craig MacLean goes among the wounded.

The end when it came, was a blessed relief. For everyone. The Pogues were on tour in Japan. They had just come from or were on their way to Australia. It's hard to tell now; The Pogues were always on tour somewhere. The previous year they had released Hell's Ditch, produced by Joe Strummer. It had a couple of fine moments - Lorca's Novena, Summer In Siam. of the making of that fifth album, Terry Woods (banjo, mandolin) remebers sunny summer days at Rockfield studios in Wales, the World Cup being on good fun being had with Strummer. "Everybody was in great nick, apart from Mac..."

Shane MacGowan recalls guitarist Philip Chevron, was clearly not enjoying himself Midway through recording he had done one of his disappearing acts. It wasn't too much of a worry. "We needed him for vocals but we didn't necessarily need him for anything else. And he came back to do them. I was in the studio when he came in. I had my head down, 'cause I was listening to a track. So I saw his feet first. His shoes looked nice - he tended to his shoes, generally. Then there was a nice pair of light grey slacks, and I got all hopeful. But as my eyes travelled up and I saw his body and his face I thought, 'oh fuck'. He really wasn't in a good way."

The Pogues were on their uppers. On tour things got worsee, as they had to. By the time they reached Japan, things had reached crisis point. "Shane was unhappy being in the group," says bass player Darryl hunt, "but he couldn't just stand up and say, I'm quitting'. His behaviour became his way of quitting."

MacGowan was getting more trashed than usual. He was taking the stage but being next to useless when he got there. "he can perform when he's wasted if he wants to perform," says drummer Andrew Ranken. "But he didn't want to perform."

Spider Stacey (tin whistle, beer tray): "It was kinda obvious that he really, really didn't want to do it any more. it was jsut to difficult." A meeting of all The Pogues, bar MacGowan, was called in a Jpanese hotel room. He had to go. According to MacGowan, Hunt was the only one who had the "guts" to confront him. According to Hunt, he volunteered because he felt he had the least to los - having only graduated from roadie/driver to the rank of bass player following Cait O'Riordan's departure in 1986, he hadn't known and worked with macGowan as long as most of the rest of the band. According to accordion player james Fearnley, they drew straws to see who would talk to MacGowan.

However it happened quickly. Hunt told MacGowan the rest of the band had decided it was doing none of them any favours to carry on working together. "Then Jem [Finer, banjo and guitar] said, 'You're not enjoying it any more are you?" is MacGowan's recollection. "And I said, 'no' And I said is that it? And people shrugged and said 'yeah whatever...' And I said, 'Great! See you later!!"

Stacey: "Then all went out for dinner." MacGowan: "i'm glad they let me finish the Japanese tour because I love Japan. They give you far more days off there, you're on stage at six o'clock you're off at fucking eight, and the rest of the time..."

They flew out of Japan together. What was Shane thinking on the plane? Freedom?



"Yeah. Everybody was happy!"

Spider: Cause it had been resolved."

That was November 1991. The original, proper Pogues - that eight-strong bunch of London-hish hellions who had blazed a boozy worldwide trail for almost a decade - were no more. "I was quite relieved when we asked Shane to leave," reflects Hunt, "because I was worried that he was very ill. I thought he shouldn't be doing it any more because it was actually a danger to his health. As the years rolled on, it turned out that that the group was quite a danger to a few people's health."

The rump of the Pogues would continue for another few years and two albums, briefly recruiting Joe Strummer on vocals but steadily shedding members. They would finally peter out at a gig in the Boston Arms pub in north London in summer 1996. The last song they played, Darryl Hunt thinks, was The Boys From County Hell. Shane MacGowan was there that night, and joined them for a song. When it was announced from the stage that this was the last Pogues gig, the dearly departed former singer shouted: "About time too!"

Shane MacGowan is unwell. In fact, he looks dead. His body is sitting on a sofa, an array of drinks set out before him - a tumbler of wine, a half-full bottle of Pinot Grigio, a Bloody Mary, some brown liquid in a glass, a scummy mug of stuff - along with three cigarette lighters, a pair of sunglasses, a cheese and tomato baguette that has seemingly been gnawed at by a passing woodland animal, and a hefty clay ashtray that has somehow come a cropper and now lies in bits on the table and the floor. It must have been some party. MacGowan is oblivious to this tableau, as he has passed out halfway into the shoulderbag that is positioned next to him. As if the effort of rummaging for, say, a fourth Clipper has exhausted his body's final reserves. Heslumps there, immobile. Then, with a jolt of the shoulders and a shake of the head, his hands resume their excavation of the bag's shallow interiors. But oh no, it's all too much. He conks out again.

It was a scratch after 1pm on Wednesday, 6th October 2004. The Boogaloo Bar in Highgate, north London was deserted save for the sound of a workman fixing the lavs and the sound of me shifting uneasily on my feet. I was standing behind the (in every sense) oblivious MacGowan. Pub landlord and sometime MacGowan "handler" Gerry O'Boyle - erst- while proprietor of muso hang-out Filthy McNastys Whiskey Cafe in Islington, promoter of pub,-based literary evenings, and early sponsor of the Libertines -was here a minute ago. Whenever Shane's in town from his home near Tipperary in Ireland, Boyle lets him kip upstairs. But for an uncomfortable few minutes it was just me, looking at the back of Shane MacGowan's big, hairy head. Wearing what looks like the only clothes he'd brought with him - black shirt, black coat, black trousers - Shane MacGowan was unconscious and dishevelled, not ready to be interviewed. Presently Spider Stacey would show up. A thinner, almost gaunt and teetotal version, certainly, but it was him ahight. Stacey had beaten his alcohol addiction in the eight years since that pub gig swansong, a final act he had little say in due to booze-induced incapacity. Now he sat, upright and twinkly and compactly proportioned, next to the hulking, waicy-faced figure of MacGowan. He would chip in with his own comments, and occasion- ally try to steer his old mucker back onto the anecdotal straight and narrow. Sometimes Stacey and MacGowan would talk at the same time, each ignoring the other. Other times, Stacey would gently distance himself from one of MacGowans more lurid recollections.

The reason for this sitdown is that The Pogues are back. Yes, sure, in late 2001, 10 years after that fateful night in Tokyo, Shane MacGowan rejoined The Pogues for a short series of shows (followed by two big concerts in London and Dublin the following summer). Yes, they went well, save for a sticky first show at their spiritual home, Glasgow Barrowlands. Well enough to record one of the three Brixton Academy nights with a view to making an as-yet-unreleased live album. And well enough to spur them all to try to do it all again last year, before logistical issues got in the way.

But in late 2004, 22 years since their debut gig as Pogue Mahone, The Pogues are properly back-back-back. For the first time since Elvis Costello carried her off in 1986, original bass player Cait O'Riordan has rejoined, too. The Pogues'most famous song, Fairytate Of New York, was written with her in mind; the original demo of the song has her and MacGowan duetting and singing different lyrics. Given the painful absence of Kirsty MacColl, who died in a motorboat accident in Cuba in 2000 ("murdered," spits MacGowan), who better than O'Riordan to sing it now? This "full original line-up" have reconvened for eight shows over the course of their traditional Yuletide stomping ground. This is the reunion for which the faithful have been waiting.

A few miles across north London and a few days later, Darryl Hunt and Andrew Ranken would also sit down and talk about burying old grievances. They were the only two original Pogues who had been fully there at the bitter end in summer 1996. They would tell how the road to reunion started three years ago when Jem Finer had, Blues Brothers-style, gone over to visit MacGowan in Ireland to discuss Putting The Band Back Together. It had been his 1996 announcement that he'd had enough that had signalled the beginning of the end. Terry Woods, reached by telephone at home in Navan, County Meath, would explain why he too was all for another get-together, 11 years after he had followed MacGowan out the door. In the typically short gap between a tour of Germany and a tour of America, he had realised he was working his socks off for no money. He had already managed to knock his drinking on the head, but for his general wellbeing, he had had to escape The Pogues. So shell-shocked was he by his time in the band that Woods, a veteran musician whose career stretched back to Steeleye Span, would- not play in bands for eight years after leaving.

Guitarist Philip Chevron had shipped out shortly after Woods on account of his own battles with drink. Speaking at home in Nottingham, he also pronounced himself eager to let sleeping dogs lie. He offered that Cait O'Riordan, with whom he occasionally plays in The Radiators, was certainly up for performing again with the band she left in 1986, "but she feels it might be a little presumptuous to speak after 18 years". She wasn't asked to the last reunion, it seems, because then she was still married to Costello.

Finally there was accordion player James Fearnley, who had left The Pogues at Christmas 1993. Then, he'd married an American actress, had a child and set up home in California. Travelling the world on the never-ending Pogues tour had become incompatible with his situation. But chatting on the steps of the Los Angeles Public Library, he was chipper at the prospect of hooking up with the crew he hadn't seen in a long time.

The Pogues were a band who were always so much more than the sum of their misshaped parts. Their return is undoubtedly a cause for celebration. The fact that they're all happily talking to each other, too, is cause for a minor miracle. Heck, as more than one member will opine, the fact that they're all alive is astonishing.

To the casual observer, Shane MacGowan seems to have had a particularly rough old time of it these last few years. Not all of it was self-inflicted. In April he was beaten up in the toilets of a Belgravia pub. His (male) assailant would later claim that MacGowan had offered him money for sex, and so he'd duly pommelled the singer in the face with a scaffolding buckle, fracturing his cheekbone and knocking out two of his few remaining teeth. "He could easily have killed me," said MacGowan. 'He didn't because I've got the luck of the devil, even though I'm a God-fearing man, sheeeksle-shekselk..." Here he emitted the infamous MacGowan laugh, a sibilant, saliva-drenched hiss which at that particular juncture recalled an asthmatic gargling gravel. In August, a 23-year-old scaffolder was imprisoned for three years for the assault. "I didn!t have to grass him up, and I wouldn't have. Why not? That's just the way I am."

There was another rumpus in 2001, around the publication of A Drink With Shame MacGowan. It's an autobiography of sorts, in the form of transcripts of conversations between MacGowan and his long-term girlfriend Victoria Mary Clarke. As we might surmise from the title, it gave plenty of detail on his extra-curricular activities, from barstool to Borstal and back... Well, from drinking two bottles of stout a night (aged five), to a drug- enforced exit from Westminster public school, to Tower Hamlets juvenile court, to a psychiatric hospital (aged 17), to St John Of God's, "a loony bin for alcoholic nutters in Dublin" (in 1988), to another nervous breakdown when his last album came out (in 1997). There was also plenty about literature, religion, Irish Republicanism, and a fair amount of bile for the rest of The Pogues. It was very entertaining. If not wholly reliable. 'It's not a biography," he would backtrack in 2003. 'It's just a garbled bunch of tapes of me out of my brain's talking to my missus, yeah?"

In November 199, the long-running rumours of his death came perilously close to being accurate. Sinead O'Connor shopped him to the police, so concerned was she at his Class A drug habits - six months previously, a friend of his had died at his then-home in Hampstead from a cocaine overdose. After a lifetime of indulgence MacGowan had, in the manner of Charlie Watts, come to heroin late in life. 'I love Shane and it makes me angry to see him destroy himself," O'Connor was quoted as saying in The Sun. MacGowan shot back that he would see her in court, "on three counts [of] defamation of character... One, she said I was an addict; two, that I was skint; and three, that I was incapable of functioning at any level. That's just rubbish, so I'm suing her." He never did. (O'Connor declined to con- tribute to this story.)

So far, so good for headlines... but what about the music? It's been 13 years since he was kicked out of the Pogues, and seven since he released an album (The Crock Of Gold, made with post-Pogues band The Popes). MacGowan has been talking about a new set of songs called Twentieth Century Paddy for ages now, describing it as 'the most political one yet. It's the story of the 20th century... and I'm gonna use the RTE Orchestra..." He still hasn't recorded it, no doubt in part because he is "between record deals". Although he did claim in the summer that it was coming soon and would feature Johnny Depp on guitar. The actor had played on the first Popes record, The Snake, and the pair had renewed their acquaintance during the recent filming of a new Depp film called The Libertine, a 17th century romp in which MacGowan stretched himself by playing a "drunken minstrel".'Then, a few months back there was the unusual case of a single released to raise money for the Motor Neurone Disease Fund. A "triple A-side", the CD featured MacGowan, Celtic legend Jimmy Johnstone (who suffers from the disease), Jim Kerr of Simple Minds and John McLaughlin, a Scottish pop songwriter who was involved with Busted in the early days. Welcome, then, to MacGowan's World: a scary, slightly seedy demimonde lit by fading glory and the light bouncing off the optics. It's a strange place he's come to. A place not many dare enter, few would even begin to comprehend, and from which no-one save Shane would emerge alive. A place, you might say, of unfulfilled promise and talent squandered. But now, in late 2004, it seems like he's been thrown a lifeline.

Why do a reunion? Shane MacGowan (46): "Money, cackle." Spider Stacey (45): "Filthy lucre. That's always a good reason. Been three years since the last one. It's not the sort of thing you want to keep doing all the time - it starts to lose its allure. But every now and again..."

James Fearnley (50): "I've lived with these guys in my head since I was in my twenties. I dream about Shane the same amount as I dream about my dad. He's just one of those figures you can't get shot of And nothingas riding on it, nothing's happening next."

Terry Woods (56): "To be honest, I'd like it ifthe Pogues did some more work. When we got together three years ago the reaction was so good, and people were genuinely interested. That kinda surprised me. Some bands have their sell-by-date - some manage to come back years later to good effect. But [with] most bands, when it stops, it stops. We've been lucky in that we obviously meant a lot to a lot of people. Although I'd never go back to the way it used to be -Jeez, it was like being on a never-ending merry-go-round..."

Andrew Ranken (51): "To take some more drugs, heh heh."

Philip Chevron (47): "It was such a hoot [in 2001] we thought we'd do it again. But being The Pogues it took all this time. Everything has to be agreed, argued over and signed in triplicate."

Darryl Hunt (54): "It's like lining up the planets. Is everyone available? Are they in agreement? It's not like a normal group where everybody sits down and goes right we're gonna do this and this and this. Anthony {Addis, long-term band accountant and fixer] juggles it all, says' they've offered you do this and this, can you do it?'Then when the record company heard about the tour they decided to get the stuff out quickly..."

Spurred on by this uncommon amount of coherent activity from these nine individuals scattered round England, Ireland and America, Warner Bros are reissuing The Pogues'seven studio albums. Depending on who you talk to, this plan was originally set in motion after: (a) Fearnley discovered that only the last album (1995's Pogue Mabone) was available in the US, or; (b) Hunt, Chevron and Stacey approached the label about doing a Pogues boxset of outtakes. As is the way of the reformatting/repackaging-crazy record industry, assorted extra tracks - B-sides, singles, EP tracks, album out-takes - have been added to each album. As is less the norm, the albums come bolstered by testimonials from an eclectic bunch of cultural big-hitters: author Patrick McCabe, film director Jim Jarmusch, activist Bob Geldof, revolutionary Steve Earle, actor Matt Dillon, legend Tom Waits and foot-baller Stuart 'Psycho' Pearce.

"From the moment Shane walked on stage at the Manchester Apollo on their reunion tour in 2001," writes Pearce, now coach at Man City, "and announced that it was good to be back in Liverpool, through to the last song, I realised I'd forgotten just how good The Pogues were. Having watched them perform over the last couple of decades, turning out classics like Fairytale Of New York and Thousands Are Sailing with that great energy that they give to their performances, I for one hope they carry on entertaining us music fans for years to come."

That was The Pogues for you: they were fixed in the popular imagination as a bunch of rabble-rousing, hurly-burly entertainers who mixed traditional Irish music, rock'roll and punk, as well as an awful lot of drink and drugs. All that, and a frontman who couldn't tell if he was coming, going or had been already. As MacGowan confided in the on-the- knuckle A Drink With... , "people didn't want another bunch of straights, playing 'world music'. People wanted The Pogues, which was a bunch of rowdy, out-of-it nutters playing headbanging Irish music."

Or, as he would say later on in our Highgate afternoon, considering why the band struck such a big, rambunctious chord in early'80s Britain, "we weren't a faggot and a guy with a synthesiser. I've got nothing against faggots - we have one! [This was a reference to Chevron] I'm leaving out the exceptional case of Soft Cell, ABC, all that. In fact, Soft Cell were playing down Cabaret Futura the week me and Ollie asked Richard Strange politely for a gig..." This account, plus his general demeanour, summoned up the other stereo- typical view of The Pogues' frontman: the acid-tongued, sardonic, rambling drunk cursed with short-term memory issues but blessed with a vivid memory for long distant detail. (We'll come to "Ollie" and the 1981 Cabaret Futura gig in a minute.) And throughout the course of our afternoon he didin't do much to dispel this view. Having seemingly woken from his sofa slumber under a stormy cloud, he more or less stayed there.

But there are other versions of Shane MacGowan. The youthful literary prodigy who won a scholarship to top drawer London public school Westminster, his entry secured by an essay on TS Eliot's Preludes. The young punk tyro who wanted his new band - despite the aggravatory tone of their first name, Pogue Mahone, which means "Kiss my arse" in Gaelic - to dress smart in suits and shirts. "Brendan Behan uniform," he called it in A Drink With....

There's the Shane who knows the history of Irish music inside out, and of Irish literature back to front. Discussing in our interview the period when Elvis Costello (one of his favourite whipping boys) occupied a berth on The Pogues'tour bus while dating O'Riordan, MacGowan likened him to Ambrose "the foul smelling pig" who takes over the house in Flannery O'Brien's The Poor Mouth. Indeed, the most animated he got all afternoon was when describing the new Penguin edition of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake. Apparently it's missing the sub-chapter headings. To MacGowan's mind, that's something like sacrilege.

He had his shades on and kept them on. He had refused to start the interview until his chosen tunes played on the jukebox. He glanced at me with something like disgust when I mistook his selection of an early Van Morrison tune for something by Arthur Alexander. "Although he is on there too," he offered, which was as close to conciliatory as he would get. When, three questions in, I asked whether they'd managed to get rid of tensions that presumably surrounded his being kicked out of the band in'91, he replied (with feeling): "What tensions?"

As to his match-fitness, he replied: "I've never stopped gigging since I left The Pogues. But I'm seriously thinking about jacking it in after this."


MacGowan [irked]: 'What?"


"Gaarghh, I'm forty-six... forty-seven years old this Christmas [MacGowan was born on 25th December 1957], and, you know ... That's not to say I won't ever if it was.... I'm just not gonna go on tour anymore."

But you're doing a month-long Sunday residency at Ronnie Scott's in Soho in the new year...

MacGowan [ignoring the comment]: 'Thinking about it, I've had a few short holidays this year. Next year I intend to have a lot of holidays."

Ha ha. But what about the residency at Ronnie Scotts? MacGowan: [annoyed] "What?"

You're doing...

"No I'm not."

Says on your website that you are.

"Well it fen through."

Why did it fall through? "I don't know. But I'm glad it fell through because I wasn't looking forward to it. The relief is great."

And here he made a noise like an asthmatic dolphin. He began to attack his baguette, feeding it into the side of his mouth and masticating it with a great deal of gummy jaw action. There were no teeth as such visible, only the glint of bits of metal, set centimetres apart, in an unholy maw.

Maybe I'd caught him on a bad day. But overall I found myself recalling the famous words of the judge describing that other quixotic songwriting son of the Irish diaspora, Stephen Patrick Morrissey. This Shane MacGowan fellow was devious, truculent and unreliable.

But what did I know? "Spider said Shane was on good form," offered Darryl Hunt when I met him and Andrew Ranken a week later. Really? I'd hate to see him on bad form.

Spider Stacey first encountred Shane MacGowan in the bogs at Camden Roundhouse during a Damned gig. MacGowan was talking to two other blokes about his fanzine, Bondage. It was a labour of love that featured, uniquely for the time, lots of graphics. Its sole issue featured an article, written by MacGowan, on The jam. Stacey recognised MacGowan as a'face'on the punk scene. He had entered punk history when he was photographed at a Clash gig in 1976, blood pouring from his ear. He and a female friend had been sufficiently moved by the proceedings to start clawing lumps out of each other.

Jim Jarmusch remembers that vintage Shane, too. His earliest Pogue 'relic" comes from 'a scrap of super-8 film shot by the ubiquitous Don Letts in the mid to late-'70s. It's a pre-Pogues image of the young Shane MacGowan, wearing a shirt cut from the Union-Jack, and pogoing wildly in a grim London punk club.'

After The Damned gig, Stacey and MacGowan got to talking outside as MacGowan relieved himself. "Are you having fun?" MacGowan asked Stacey. "Yeah." "That's what it's all about", replied MacGowan, while pissing over Stacey's shoes. "Accidental", MacGowan clarified all these years later.

The second time they met was in Euston when they both had houses in a street full of squats. At the time Stacey was lead singer with The Millwall Chainsaws, while MacGowan was in The Nips, née The Nipple Erectors. They shared a rehearsal space, and once occupied the same bill at a film college in Camden. Madness, then known as the North London Invaders, were headlining.

Stacey: "But The Nips didn't turn up."

MacGowan: "The story of our career was not turning up."

As MacGowan tells it, what would become The Pogues began life when Ollie Watts, the Chainsaws' drummer, approached Richard Strange, promoter of a trendy club called Cabaret Futura. "Ollie grabbed him by the neck and said, 'we're playing here next week, OK? We do Irish rebel songs'. Well, he didn't grab him by the neck, but he was a very demonstrative guy, shekekslesheleke.'The new band, christened The New Republicans, duly took the stage. Their set was composed of covers of traditional Irish songs. By all accounts it was a chaotic night.

MacGowan: "For some reason that night there were 15 squaddies in the audience. And they started pelting us with chips and stuff, we started pelting them back..." Stacey: "My memories are a bit of a haze."

The gig was a riot, and has entered Pogues lore. "There was about several hundred thousand people at that gig!" a chuckling Darryl Hunt would tell me the following week. Ranken: "And there was one disabled British squaddie who threw one chip!"

The New Republicans were finished as quickly as they had begun. But Jem Finer, a fellow King's Cross squatter and musician pal of MacGowan's, spotted that Stacey and MacGowan had hit on something special and persuaded them to carry on. The new band was christened Pogue Mahone and, with Finer on guitar Nips alumnus James Fearnley on accordion, the band made their debut at a King's Cross pub called The Pindar Of Wakefield in October i987.. Darryl Hunt saw them at the same venue early the following year. "I thought it was great. I really liked The Dubliners when I was little, and it reminded me of a punk Dubliners."

Over the following year the line-up solidified. Pogue Mahone began to make a name for themselves. Initially, it was about having a good time and popularising Irish music by giving it a hefty boot up the arse courtesy of a bunch of London-Irish hedonists.

MacGowan: 'We didn't start out with any intention of anybody writing any songs."

Stacey: "It was just covers, then [Shane] came up with Streams of Whiskey and Dark Streets of London." In early 1984 they released Dark Streets Of London as a one-off single on a label set up by Stan Brennan, who had employed MacGowan in his Soho record shop and produced the first of the Nipple Erectors'three singles (the final one of which was produced by Paul Weller). Stiff picked up on it and signed Pogue Mahone... on the condition that they shortened the name. BBC Radio Djs had cottoned on to its meaning, making airplay problematic. A more onerous compromise was the need to modify their behaviour, at least a bit.

"When we first signed to Stiff we had to pretend we'd stopped drinking," said MacGowan in The Lost Decade, Ann Scanlons 1988 book covering the Pogues'early years. 'So in the photo sessions, we had to hide our drinks. And in the pictures we look really miserable and uncomfortable because we're sitting on our beer cans."

No matter, The Pogues had lift-off A record deal secured, the writing, recording and gigging - and the hellraising - could begin in earnest. For the next seven or so years they barely stopped. Their debut album Red Roses For Me was swiftly followed by Rum Sodomy And Tbe Lash. Their live shows were legendary and incendiary, with fights occurring onstage as much as they did off.

MacGowan: "We knew each other as friends for years before we made the horrible mistake of joining a band together, shekkelsse! The chemistry was based on intense friendship. The other side of that is intense hatred. It was there from the start. That's the kind of energy you need in a fucking band."

For a while, they rode the rollercoaster, touring the world time and again. The Pogues were the archetypal People's Band, a huge live draw across the Celtic diaspora - ie, most places in the world. But other songwriters recognised the artistry in the band's music, too. In Chicago they hooked up with Tom Waits, a big favourite on the Pogues' tourbus. The feeling was mutual, and Waits took them on a memorable night on the lash in the Windy City. They always wanted Waits to produce them, but it wasn't to be. At an early New York show in '86, Matt Dillon came backstage. He was effusive in his praise, and would later star in the video for Fairy Tale Of New York. Darryl Hunt remembers that the actor had some "rather strong substances". Andrew Ranken remembers that night for different - and similar - reasons.

Hunt: "That was the night he walked offstage because he didn't want to hurt his drums!" On tour in America The Pogues had been hearing about this new wonder drug called Ecstasy. They couldn't get any anywhere. But a short while before showtime in New York, a consignment appeared.

Ranken: "Me, being the drummer, I thought,'oh I'll take mine before the gig...'I'd heard so many great things about it I thought, 'it can't do any harm ......

Ranken duly came up just as he came onstage. "I thought,'this is fantastic!'Then I realised, 'I can't do this. It's really barbaric! 'The savagery" I was feeling all lovey-dovey and playing drums was much too aggressive. So I stopped...'Ranken walked away from his kit, to the puzzlement of the band, then jumped into the audience and started dancing. "I thought they sounded magnificent. They did cajole me back onstage from time to time..."

In 1988 they released their masterpiece, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, which featured Fairy Tale Of New York. The single reached Number Two in the charts that Christmas. For a brief moment The Pogues were pop stars too. How did commercial success impact on the band?

Hunt: "Very positively and in some ways negatively. We were thrust with this responsibility and that put pressure on. And unless you're looking after yourself you can start to go a bit Libertines..."

The Pogues were beginning to get bent out of shape. Huge gigs with U2 - who had always been loud supporters of the band - were a thrill, but sat ill with MacGowan. He hadn't got into this to be part of a stadium rock band playing Wembley. The excess-all-areas spun out of control. On the one hand, The Pogues were being pushed out on the road all the time. Fearnley remembers being in Rak recording studios and overhearing The Cure talking about their next batch of touring.

"We were so jealous of them, that Robert Smith could say,we're not going there, we're going there...'We never had the opportunity to say to our manager we didn't want to do something. One thing you can say about The Pogues was that individually we were very clever but collectively we were very stupid. I remember the manager saying, "lads, give us the next two years of your lives and we'll make successes of you'. That turned into four, six, eight years... but once your head's jammed so far in the railings, it's hard to get it out."

Pressure, too, was put on Shane. He'd been in need of time off but was told that he'd be letting the rest of the band down if he took a break. "Divide and conquer" was their advisers'tactic, says Chevron. So the Pogues rolled on. Something had to give. And it wasn't just MacGowan whose health and behaviour deteriorated. Terry Woods, Philip Chevron and Spider Stacey all developed alcohol problems. But at least they could escape the spotlight. For MacGowan it was more difficult.

In 1989 The Pogues landed a week of shows supporting Bob Dylan in America. But when MacGowan, the worse for wear, tried to get on a plane in London he was refused permission to board. Three times. The rest of the band, over in California, waited. Each day they thought their singer would turn up; he never appeared. Spider Stacey was forced to step up to the mike. MacGowan missed the stint with Dylan, and spent the time in his London flat, "[lying] on the floor being supplied with Mekong whiskey and Thai Singha beer, tended by my old man and my loving, live-in love Victoria and my landlady."

Hunt: "I think Dylan was a little bit disappointed. I think he was quite looking forward to seeing the full shilling. 'Cause he'd been listening to the records and had made some connection with the songwriting or the attitude, or with the band-yness of the group."

Stacey acquitted himself well - it wasn't the first time he'd had to step into the breach. Still, it must have been disappointing for The Pogues too.

Ranken: "But we were used to it." The writing was on the wall.

Shane MacGowan's exit from the band was obviously a body blow to the rest of The Pogues. Both personally - they'd been friends for years, and for all the fights and letdowns and contrary behaviour, they still cared about his wellbeing - and professionally. He wasn't the only songwriter, nor even the only singer, in the band, but he was the public face of - the folk hero at the heart of -The Pogues. Wouldn't if have been better if they'd disbanded the band there and then?

Hunt: "Yeah, in a way. It might have been better to do a Rolling Stones. Quit for three years then get back together. But at the time we had to do this tour. We were committed. By the time a group gets to that stage your diarys filled up with a whole year of tour contracts to go here, there and everywhere. That's when Joe Strummer came in and helped us out for six months."

Stacey: "If we had to lose Shane I cannot think of a better person who could have possibly taken his place."

Hunt: "It was marvellous the way [Joe] took it on the chin. It must have been hard for him to fill Shane's shoes. Even though he's Joe Strummer, there were all these people who might think he was an impostor. But it was fabulous. And some of the versions of his songs we did, like Straight To Hell, were great. Then by the time he had his own thing to do, we were in a situation where we were rolling. On to the next thing, see what happens..."

Woods: 'The Pogues for me were too important to let it dwindle away."

Chevron: "The more unreliable Shane got, the more we had been forced to operate as a unit. If you know there's an element you can't depend upon you compensate in other ways. We became one of the best playing, tighest bands around - we were used to having to cover up the errors and the fuck-ups. We had to busk a whole Bob Dylan tour without a singer! That gave us a lot of confidence to continue. There would always be limits to what we could do without Shane but we wanted to explore those limits. And we weren't as mentally and physically fucked as he was. We weren't far behind him, but we didn't know that at the time."

Fearnley: "A part of me retrospectively thinks, maybe we should have [split]. But a bigger part thought, for the sacrifice of one, why should we spoil it for the rest of us? I had six other friends there. I love those guys, always have done, always will."

But gradually they too peeled away. By the time 1996 rolled around The Pogues were a ghost of their former selves. "I was fucking sick of it," said Andrew Ranken. "So many people had left. It's like what Rod Stewart said when Ronnie Lane left The Faces - all the bollocks went out of it."

In the reissues' sleevenotes, Jim Jarmusch is great on the Pogues'appeal, and is worth quoting at length: "The Pogues: definitely one of the most soulful rock bands Britain has ever produced. But the Pogues aren't just a punk band, or a soul group, or an 'Irish band rooted in a folk tradition. They're all those things and a hell of a lot more. The Pogues made ancient songs sound new, and new songs sound somehow ancient. I don't think they were even concerned with where their inspirations came from, but instead were driven by where their own very particular musical flow could carry them. For me, and all Pogues fans, that music has taken us to so many places - darkened back streets of London, old factory towns, cotton fields, Summer In Siam, New York City engulfed in snow and melancholy; poetic, cinematic voyages into Irish social history, or deep inside a Pair of Brown eyes'or 'a ghost of a smile"...

"Hats off to all The Pogues - for music the colour of tobacco smoke and alcohol, sad dreams, underdogs and lost love. Their deep connection to Irish music isn't a reinventions exactly, but more like an uncontrollable channelling and celebration of its resilience. I love the Pogues. I always will .... They may have disbanded some years ago, but you couldn't kill the soul of their music with a fucking shovel."

And now they've re-banded. There seem to be no hard feelings: they were never a group for nursing grievances or letting resentment simmer. Arguments would explode and subside. That's all whiskey under the bridge. The rest of them understand MacGowan, and have long ago reached an accommodation with his "ways" - Fearnley knows that he and the rest of the band get the rough end of MacGowan's tongue in A Drink With... but has blithely elected not to read it. "We're too old, life's too short" say the forty- and fiftysomethings.

Chevron: "Ultimately we had stayed friends all those years. There was never any great severance. Even with the more dramatic partings and we bandied insults across the newsprint, it was all just good showbiz.'

Hunt: "The last time we got together we all seemed to have got rid of a lot of the attitudes that cluttered up the group. Everyone did their job and had respect for the other."

At the gigs in late 2001, Shane MacGowan was still chasing the heroin out of his system. By the two shows the following summer he was off it completely. "Sinead did me a favour. I was furious at the time, but I'm eternally grateful to her now."

Was heroin any use for writing songs?

"Not really. Um, except, you know, when I sing about junkies, pimps, whores - at least I've done 'em A, sheekles shselekse! I write about what I know."

Will there be another studio album?

Stacey: "I dunno. Who knows?"

MacGowan: "I'm not a fortune teller."

You wouldn't rule it out?

MacGowan: "I wouldn't rule anything out."

Stacey: "It's not on the cards. But that doesn't mean anything. Five years ago a Pogues reunion wouldn't have been on the cards. Even three years ago a reunion wouldn't have necessarily been on the cards."

MacGowan: "We did one three years ago!"

Stacey: "Oh yeah..."

So: is it an older, wiser, cleaner Pogues that is abroad this late 2004?

Ranken: "Oh it is."

Hunt: "If it wasn't half of us would be dead. So it's a good job it is."

MacGowan: "Next question! Shekeskdlsses."

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Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.
Transcribed and made available by Zuzana.