Here´s the story of The Pogues from a record collector view, first published in the “Record Collector” May 1988
Pogues - very collectable modern band who have combined irish roots, new wave attitude and rock´n´roll influences with increasing commercial success.
It was a
Scotsman who figured it out in the end, a well-educated producer at BBC Radio Scotland who suddenly realised that every time one of his DJs said Pogue Mo Chone they were actually inviting listeners to “Kiss my arse” - in Gaelic.
The best-kept secret in British pop was out, and the offending outfit´s latest single, “The Dark Streets Of London”, was immediately banned from the airwaves.
The band contracted their name, and became the Pogues. Since then, they have garnered a strong cult following, and enjoyed a
Christmas hit single with Kirsty MacColl; and a band that at first seemed little more than a drunken joke has become one of Britain´s most respected rock acts.
The Pogues have few antecedents in the history of British pop, but
their influences are plain to see. In an interview with “Sounds” their manager explained: “Shane (the prime Pogue) doesn´t rescue ballads from the era of the Penal Laws. Instead he´s definitely a 20th century man, concentrating on
the urban and often unashamedly commercial ballad tradition, the music of the Fureys, the Dubliners, and the man who straddles all traditions, Christy Moore. Shane himself told the NME: “I like Tom Waits, the Velvet Underground,
the Dubliners and Brendan Shine.”
Although they wre swiftly picked up by the mainstream rock press, the Pogues never looked - or sounded - like a traditional rock band. Their instrumental line-up showed how far they strayed off
the tracks - the band included Shane (vocals/guitar),
Jem Finer (banjo),
Caitlin O´Riordan (bass), Spider Stacey (“the donkey jacketed demon of the tin whistle”), Andrew Ranken (on minimal drums) and James Fearnley
(accordian). They sounded like an Irish showband, but with a shade of dementia that Spider Stacy admitted wouldn´t pass muster in the cancehalls of Eire, “because they couldn´t dance to it.”
Shane MacGowan first came to notice in 1976 when he appeared on the cover of “Sounds” as “The face of ´76” - one of the new breed of beast
known as Punks. He reached further prominence when Jane Modette bit off his earlobe during a Clash show
at the ICA (an exaggeration, but it made a nice story), when he got so carried away by the Jam at Ronnie
Scott´s that he smashed up their speakers, and when he put together a fanzine called “Bondage”, and the lost interest before the first issue was even hot of the photocopier. And then he formed the Nipple Erectors.
At a time when punk was already sliding down the slippery slope to self-parody, the Nipple Erectors brought a bit of fun back
into things. Originally there were just three of them, Shane, ex-Laundrettas bassist Shanne Bradley, and future NME writer Adrian Thrills
, recording demos in Shanne´s bedroom. Their first song, written ba Shane, was “My Degeneration”. Later a new guitarist, Roger was recruited, along with a drummer called Arcane.
The band´s name was never antything more than a joke; but not only did the Nipples find it hard to get gigs, they found it hard to get peaople to attend them as well. Jane Suck of “Sounds”
was an early champion of the band, the owners of the Rock On record stall in Soho Market were also impressed, to the extent that the Nipples became one of the first signings to their Soho Records label.
“King Of The Bop” / “Nervous Wreck” was released in a picture sleeve in June 1978. “When we
recorded it we were all drunk and on drugs”, Shane later confessed. “Shanne was in a coma”. All in all, it was fairly accurate assessment of the band in full flight but the single never got
played, it didn´t get bought, and a decade later, copies are selling for as much as 10 pounds.
Two months later, the band tried again, Roger had left by this time; he was last spotted selling
postcards in the National Gallery. Gerry, who replaced Arcane shortly before they cut the first single, also left, turning up in an early incarnation of the Pretenders, Shanne changed her name
to Dragonella, and the band shortened theirs to the Nips.
Their new guitarist, Larry Hinrichs, was a familiar figure on the punk scene, and was so close to the Damned that when Dave Vanian forgot to turn up for a gig one night, Larry filled his boots
without a second thought. Bernie Torme´s drummer Mark Harrison had taught him to play guitar; Larry returned the favour when he landed Mark a place in the Nips. Phil Rowlands, drummer with Eater, also had a spell in the band.
Working Saturdays at the Rock On stall, it didn´t take Shane long to see where the music scene was heading. Rockabilly was making an unheralded street level comback, and of course
the Nips had to give it a go. The only trouble was, as Dragonella later admitted, “We couldn´t play it very well, so they called us Punkabilly instead.”
By contrast, the Nips´ second single, “All The Time In The World”, was a driving R&B number born of Shane´s hatred for what the pop press wre calling “New Music”. It showed a healthy
respect for bands like the Inmates and the Bishops, but came as a shock to anyone who had got off on the original Nipple Erectors.
Six months separated “All The Time In The World” from “Gabrielle”, the Nips´ third single - a
period in which Larry was replaced by Fritz, “Zigzag” magazine described Shane as resembling Plug from “The Bash Street Kids”, and Shane grew ever more dissatisfied with current pop.
“Records by the Police and Tourists don´t mean anything to what´s happening in the world today. Music should reflect the mood of the times, but now it´s just fucking escapism. It´s got
absolutely nothing to do with the way people feel any more. Bands like the Sex Pistols and Moby Grape both summed up the mood of the times; only Public Image and the Pop Group really sum up today.”
He threatened to send the Nips careering off in a totally new direction, borrowed from the Pop
Group, but in the event “Gabrielle”, the next single, issued early in 1979, turned out to be more of a classic pop song than a step into the avant-garde. Chiswick Records were so impressed
that they picked up the record for distribution. In fact, the Nips seemed to be on the edge of a major break-through. “Gabrielle” picked up some respectable airplay, while the band gigged
alongside the Jam, Dexy´s and the Purple Hearts. Paul Weller sang their praises and talked of producting them.
But the Nips never did make it. An album, the terrific “Only At The End Of The Beginning”,
appeared to muted praise towards the end of 1980, and one final single, “Happy Song”, was unleashed by Burning Rome close to a year later. But the band were dead on their feet. When
they did finally call it a day, nobody outside their immediate circle even noticed. And even today, their importance is scarcely realised: when Big Beat released “Bops, Babes, Booze And
Bovver”, a budget-priced compilation of their finest moments and first three singles, late in 1987, it died as drastically as anything the Nips did in their own lifetime.
Shane´s presence has at least given the band´s singles considerable value in collecting circles.
At 10 pounds, “King Of The Bop” is by far the most expensive, although “Happy Song” is probably the hardest to find. The remaining singles can usually be picked up for 3-5 pounds, and the album for no more than 8 pounds.
One night in October 1982, Shane and a friend decided to put on an impromptu performance at Richard Strange´s Cabaret Futura, playing a set of Irish rebel songs. Shane recalled: “The point
of it was to shock these ponces out of this smug little synthesised heaven, and when we went on they didn´t know what was going on. But there happened to be about twenty British Army
squaddies there, and they didn´t like it. The manager went apeshit and we were pelted with chips. But we caused a real reaction, and then I thought I had enjoyed this a hundred times
more than the Nips. So we made it a going concern.”
The still unnamed Pogue Mo Chone´s first “gigs” were in pubs and tube stations. But gradually they developed their performance as they built their audience. According to Shane, the band played “a bit of rockabilly, a mixture of Irish and Scottish folk stuff, country - all those sorts of
music that are played in bars.”
In May 1984, Pogue Mo Chone released their first single, “The Dark Streets Of London”, on their own Pogue Mahone label, pressed and distributed by Rough Trade. Backed by another live favourite, “The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, the single instantly picked up acclaim and
airplay, and in June the band were snapped up by Stiff, who celebrated by reissuing their debut.
“Dark Streets Of London” dealt, in no uncertain terms, with London´s “cardboard city”
underbelly. It was a haunting performance, which was a refreshing change from the pop pap of the era. But what happened next was best summed up by David Quantick of the NME: “The
band have just had their debut 45 banned by the BBC - except between the hours of 8 and 12pm, when it is apparently permissable to say “Kiss my arse” in a language no-one understands.”
The deal with Stiff had the band pledge that they would drink nothing more than halfpints on stage, a ruling they may or may not have complied with. They were also forced to abbreviate
their name - Shane´s second brush with that form of censorship. He recalled: “Mike Read had been playing the single, and it was just after “Relax” got banned, so he was rather sensitive. But it got us a lot of publicity.”
“Red Roses For Me”, the Pogues´ new single, was issued in October, together with an album of
the same name. (<- this must be wrong, I´ve never heard of the Red Roses single). The LP peaked at No. 89 almost a year after release, but is still available, though a green vinyl edition,
released in Europe, is harder to find. (<- it was released in Germany only and there is also a blue-grey and a dark-red version). Shane described the set as “half our songs and half
traditional stuff like “Kitty” and Brendan Behan´s “The Auld Triangle”. And we´re happy with that, ´cos what´s the point of doing all your own stuff when there are other songs that are better?”
In the new year, work began on the next Pogues single, “A Pair Of Brown Eyes”. The producer was Elvis Costello, one of two mainline attractions the band had recently supported (the other
was the Clash). At the same time the band also went out with Alex Cox to shoot their first video, choosing him after Cox described them as “quite interesting” in an interview.
Costello also turned out as unannounced support when the Pogues played the Clarendon Hotel on St. Patrick´s Day, midway through the album sessions; but the four songs he played were
nothing more than a preamble to the real business of the evening. “Uncle Brian” may have taken the band under his wing, but even before the new LP was completed the band were flying as high as he was.
“A Pair Of Brown Eyes” was issued in March 1985, becoming in the process the band´s first (very collectable) 12” single. Apart from an extended reworking of the A-side, it also included a
bonus cut, “Muirshin Durkin”, the number´s only appearance on vinyl. Another single, “Sally MacLennane” , followed in June, backed by “Wild Rover” and, on 12”, “The Leaving Of Liverpool.”
“Brown Eyes” had peaked at No. 72; this time around, Stiff pulled out all the promotional stops to ensure a better performance. Initial copies of the 7” came with a double-sided wraparound
colour poster sleeve, some further copies pressed in shamrock green vinyl. A cassette single with a further bonus-track, “Wild Cats Of Kilkenny” was issued. And finally, the basic two-track
coupling found its way onto a shamrock shaped picture disc. All of these permutation are now hard to find, but at the time the result of so much activity was to push the Pogues to the very brink of the Top 50.
With a title borrowed from Winston Churchill´s succinct description of life in the NME (“far and away the best title of the year according to “Melody Maker”), “Rum Sodomy & The Lash” was
released in August 1985, shortly after the band were the surprise hit at the Cambridge Folk Festival. The CD version, the band´s first, featured an extra track, “The Pistol For Paddy
Garcia”, which also appeared on the cassette version. And a green vinyl import version of the album also appeared briefly on the shores.
That same month, they headlined a Niquaraguan benefit at the Brixton Fridge, augmened by
several of the muscians who had guested on “Rum”. Among them was Phil Chevron, now a full-time Pogue, and former a member of the Radiators From Space, Dublin´s finest contribution
to punk. Sad of most of the nine singles and two albums they issued in their three-year existence have been completely overlooked since, with only the debut, the powerful “Television
Screen”, still commanding the attention of collectors.
Chevron, now an accomplished band-player, also produced the Pogues´ version of Ewan
MacColl´s “Dirty Old Town”, released in 7” and 12” form simultaneously with the album. This time around, only those two formats were released, though early copies came with a free colour
poster, and the 7” was also sighted shrinkwrapped to a copy of “A Pair Of Brown Eyes”. This giveaway offer has since been applied to several other Pogues singles, although it is uncertain
whether this has been carried out by Stiff, or by individual record shops. However, the unopened “double-pack” is certain to costs more than the normal value for the two singles it contains.
Finally “Dirty Old Town” was coupled with “Sally MacLennane” and a French TV interview as a semi-official 12” picture disc.
1985 ended with tours of Britain and Ireland, the promise that the band would start dominating
the world next year”, and the unfulfilled threat of a Christmas single “Fairytale Of New York”. Test pressings of this track (recorded without the eventual co-singer, Kirsty MacColl) allegedly
exist, though they don´t seem to have appeared on the market.
Melody Maker summed up the year best: “If it hadn´t been for Live Aid, then 1985 would surely
have gone down as the year of the Pogues.” And in the new year, they added America to their list of conquests, with ten wildly received shows. But not everything was running smoothly. Cait
- the future Mrs. Elvis Costello - walked out on the band in New York, to be replaced by roadie Darryl Hunt. She returned a few days later, but the writing was on the wall.
Another proposed single, a cover of “Do You Believe In Magic”, failed to materialise in the
spring; in its stead, the Pogues delivered “Poguetry In Motion”, a four-track EP that contained “London Girl”, “The Body Of An American”, “A Rainy Night In Soho” and “Planxty Noel Hill”.
Released in 7”, 12” and cassingle forms, it reached No. 29, the band´s biggest hit to date.
July saw the release of Cait´s “Haunted”, on of two Pogues tracks on the soundtrack to Alex
Cox´s Sid Visious biopic “Sid & Nancy”, issued the same month. Backed by “Junk Theme”, and with “Hot Dogs With Everything” on the 12”, this reached a lowly No. 42, and is gradually
becoming scarcer as Pogues collectors latch on to a release that many missed the first time around.
Their live work continued unabated. In May, the band played the Dublin Self Aid gig with Chris
De Burgh and U2 (once described by Spider as “William Blake if he´d been exposed to lead pollution as a small boy and then been given an electric guitar”!); in June they headlined the
Glastonbury CND festival; and in August they headed the YIVA benefit in Birmingham. One reminder of this spate of activity has since been released - a live take of “Dirty Old Town”, on
the “Live For Ireland” compilation (MCA MCG 6027), issued in November 1987).
The band also found time to star as the “gun-toting homicidal coffee addicted McMahon family”
in Alex Cox´s spaghetti western “Straight To Hell”, wo which they contributed four new songs and a cameo appearance in the ensemble rendition of “Danny Boy”. Two tracks from the set
“The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” and “Rake At The Gates Of Hell”, were scheduled as a single but then withdrawn before release.
The Pogues´ own chart career was still high on the list of priorities. On March 6th 1987, they
stopped off at the Dublin studios of the Late Late Show to help celebrate 25 years of the Dubliners. U2 and Christy Moore, plus odd members of the Fureys and Stockton´s Wing, also
appeared, but it was the Pogues who received the plaudits, especially after a single recorded in partnership with the Dubliners, “The Irish Rover”, was released to instant Top 10 glory on St. Patrick´s Day.
The band´s crowning glory was still to come, however. “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” had flopped in July; but just in time for Christmas, “A Fairytale Of New York” was resuscitated, with
Kirsty MacColl joining Shane on vocals. It was kept from the No. 1 spot only by the Pet Shop Boys; and it also offered a prize to collectors, in the form of a CD single featuring (like the 12”)
“Shanne Bradley” as a bonus track. The 7” was also briefly available with a gatefold sleeve.
“Fairytale” was the first release on the newly revived Pogue Mahone label, distributed by EMI
following the near collapse of Stiff Records during the autumn. It was followed in January 1988 by the band´s third album, “If I Should Fall From Grace With God”. On the back of the hit
single, it smashed straight into the chart at No. 3, going on to top several of the music paper charts.
David Byrne of Talking Heads had originally been proposed as the album´s producer; imagination alone can tell us what that combination might have sounded like. But he dropped
out, to be replaced by Mr. Kirsty MacColl - alias Steve Lillywhite. And while the single and album were setting the world alight, the Pogues were conquering America, touring with former
Clashman (and “Straight To Hell” co-star) Joe Strummer as an auxiliary Pogue - ending every evening with riotous readings of “I Fought The Law” and Joe´s own “London Calling”.
From the U.S., the Pogues moved on to Britain, where Strummer dropped out; and then came their first trip to Australia. Only eighteen months behind schedule, the Pogues were dominating the world.
The title track from the album has now been issued as a 7” and 12” single; and a special “St. Patrick´s Night” EP includes all the 12” tracks, plus “Dirty Old Town”. And, as the band´s
110-olace jump in this year´s readers poll demonstrates, the Pogues have become one of Britain´s most collectable modern bands - something reflected in the ever-increasing prices of their back catalogue.