Celtic Soul Rebels

Soon afterwards, Shane got together with his Burton Street neighbour Jem Finer and they began to carve out a clear musical direction for their new band. "We just wanted to do something that nobody else had ever done and take it as far as it would go," says MacGowan. "We, knew that people didn't want retro-punk. They wanted fast dance music with good tunes,.somedthing they could whoop and scream and cry to. And what fits the bill better than Irish music?"
On Spider's suggestion, they named themselves Pogue Mahone - Gaelic for 'kiss my arse' - and played their first gig in The Pindar Of Wakefield (now the Water Rats) in King's Cross on October 4, 1982. The following day, MacGowan invited 17-year-old Cait O'Riordan, a Nips fan who had become a friend, to join the band. After trying out several drummers, the full line-up settled in March 1983 as Shane (acoustic guitar/vocals), Spider Stacy (tin whistle), Jem Finer (banjo), James Fearnley (accordion), Cait O'Riordan (bass) and Andrew Ranken (drums). "The thing that I liked about them is that they were very specific about what they wanted," says Ranken. "I was only allowed to use two drums and I had to stand up to play them. It sounds very simple but it was quite a challenge."
Paraphrasing The Clash's 1977, the band coined their own battle cry: "We are the Pogue Mahone/Fuck The Clash and The Rolling Stones", and began to blaze a trail across the bars and venues of north London. MacGowan took traditional Irish songs like Waxie's Dargle and Poor Paddy and, instead of trying to modernise them, he sang them as if they belonged to no time at all. The same was true of his own compositions. Streams Of Whiskey and The Old Main Drag were the first: songs written in the Irish tradition but which brought the streets of modern day London to ultra-vivid life. And despite the band's reputation for drinking, arguing and occasionally fighting on-stage, they were all deadly serious about the music.
"We went over the songs, again and again," says James Fearnley. "it was really intense to do that kind of rehearsing and we did a lot of talking as well. We had band meetings in the Pindar Of Wakefield every week and I had to keep the minutes, I was the secretary. One of the things on the early agenda was Spider's haircut. He was forbidden to have it cut by his girlfriend again. In one of the meetings, we wanted to win the Eurovision Song Contest, and at another we decided to play our next gig in maroon sweaters. And we did."
The sweaters were a one-off, however, and the band were soon back in the black suits and white shirts that were their sartorial code. It was, says MacGowan, "a classic Paddy look" chosen to make them look, as well as sound, like they could have come from any decade. It certainly made an impression on Philip Chevron, who had fronted the Irish punk band, The Radiators From Space, and thought that Pogue Mahone had stepped straight out of a Sean O'Casey play when he first saw them at Camden Town's Dingwalls in 1983.
"What struck me most about them was their sheer theatricality," he says. "They looked like they had just walked in off The Plough And The Stars orj Juno And The Paycock. It was at the time when the whole New Romantic thing was happening, everyone was dressing up in flouncy blouses and shit like that, and these guys just looked the business in their old-fashioned suits. They created a very striking picture."
Another big part of the early visuals was the sight of Spider bashing his brains out with a beer tray. "The beer tray was Shane's idea," says Spider. "I went along with it, then I found out the downside - the metal allergy and the lumps and bruises, especially when I was trying to do it on my knees as well, which Shane insisted was the correct way: 'It's your forehead and your knees.' But knees didn't work, I've never played football since." MacGowan: "Every time I offered to beat myself with the beer tray, Spider said, 'No, I'll do it.' That was what was great about him, he had the guts to beat himself shitless with it every night, he was a brilliant natural tin whistle player and an unbelievable MC. I was the straight man, he was the foil. I didn't want to be a front man, I jus wanted to play the guitar, sing a few songs and be the musical director.' In March 1984, the band released a 2,000-limited edition of their first single, Dark Streets Of London, which was picking up serious airplay until a Gaelic-speaking producer on BBC Radio Scotland heard the words "Pogue Mahone" and it was banned in Scotland and frozen by Radio 1.

The band shortened their name to The Pogues when they signed to Stiff Records in May, and a few weeks later Elvis Costello invited them on hisa utumn tour. "That's probably when we were at our most anarchic," says MacGowan. "We were thrown off three times and reprieved because Costello fancied our bass player. The closest shave came when I covered the crew's gear truck with IRA slogans and Spider covered it with the other lot [UDA]. We were being dialectic. " The Costello tour coincided with the release of The Pogues' debut album, Red Roses For Me. Taking its title from a Sean O'Casey song, it captured their attitude and energy, as well as the tear-stained heart beating beneath it. "That album will always encapsulate better than anything else legally on sale what the band were all about," says MacGowan.
During the Costello tour it had become obvious that the band needed a manager (the responsibility had previously fallen on Jem Finer). So they brought in Frank Murray, a Dubliner who had long-standing ties with Thin Lizzy and who also managed Kirsty MacColl and Philip Chevron. "Frank was the first person to say, 'This is the greatest band that's been on the London scene since the Sex Pistols'," says Chevron, who joined The Pogues when Jem Finer went on paternity leave in April 1985 and stayed on to replace MacGowan on rhythm guitar. "He nurtured and encouraged the band and allowed it to come to fruition."
Murray put The Pogues on the road, then accepted Elvis Costello's offer to produce their second album, Rum Sodomy &The Lash. "I'd go down to the studio, Elephant in Wapping Dock, and each day they would have recorded something amazing," he says. "Things were working out with the band and with Elvis and it was a great feeling." James Fearnley: "I think we might have been a little bit in awe of Elvis despite the fact that he was getting it on with our bass player. There was an unmistakeable air of romance in the studio in an oblique sort of way, because it wasn't obvious, but it was obvious. I think they were trying to be coy for a long time and then (laughs) they weren't coy at all."
By the time The Pogues took Rum Sodomy &The Lash on the road in September 1985, they had been joined by Terry Woods, a founding member of Sweeney's Men and Steeleye Span, and one of the most respected musicians on the Irish folk scene. "One thing that had pissed me off about the Irish music scene for years was their straight, back-to-back attitude to music," he says. "It took away from the enjoyment of it, and that was something that came across loud and clear to me from The Pogues that the music was there to be enjoyed."
From here on The Pogues were on a roll. They did two American tours in the first half of 1986, briefly becoming the toast of the East Coast when Matt Dillon, David Johansen, Iggy Pop and even John Kennedy Jr turned out to see them; in Chicago, they hung out with Tom Waits and Aidan Quinn. They spent that August in Spain shooting the the Alex Cox spaghetti western, Straight To Hell, as part of a cast that included Dennis Hopper, Grace Jones, Joe Strummer, Jim Jarmusch, Courtney Love and Kathy Burke (See this article from Mojo September 2004). On October 29, they recorded The Irish Rover with their spiritual forefathers The Dubliners, Darryl Hunt replacing bassist Cait O'Riordan, who had quit the band two weeks before. And throughout it all the songs that set MacGowan apart from any other songwriter of the 1980s kept on coming-A Rainy Night In Soho,The Broad Majestic Shannon, Lullaby Of London, Birmingham Six. The Pogues were still on a "high from their first Top 10 hit (The Irish Rover) when they started recording their third album with Steve Lillywhite at RAK Studio on May 9, 1987. 'A lot of production is raising your game to meet what the band gives you and if it works you have this wonder" chemistry of everyone giving the best they can," he says. It was with Lillywhite's wife, Kirsty MacColl, that The Pogues at last nailed Fairytale Of New York, a song that MacGowan and Jem Finer had written in 1985. "That's chemistry," says Shane. "Kirsty knew exactly the right measure of viciousness and femininity and romance to put into it and she had a very strong character and it came across in a big way. The guy in the song is any drunken waster bastard, that's what I represent on that record, well, on loads of them actually (laughs), but in operas, if you have a double aria, it's what the woman does that really matters.The man lies, the woman tells the truth."
Spider: "Every time Virsty did Fairytale with us and Shane would sing, 'I could have been someone', the whole audience would yell accusingly with her at him, 'Well, so could anyone'. I always got the impression that the audience were going,You bastard, MacGowan, you ruined her life! How could you do that to Kirsty?' Well, that's how it played in my head."