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
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."