Here Comes Everybody: The Story of The Pogues, By James Fearnley
The beat of the Irish diaspora, via King's Cross
Sunday 29 April 2012
Famously, Spike Milligan wrote I, his comic novel of small-town Ireland, before visiting the island. Likewise, the Pogues (first formed in 1982 as Pogue Mahone, Gaelic for "kiss my arse"), came to represent the place, despite including several Englishmen.
The diaspora travels both ways, of course. More Irishmen joined the band, as well as a manager determined to see the lads crack his homeland. In an era when sons of Erin lorded it over the Brits, at least on the field of entertainment, they went from rowdy pub-fillers to arena attraction.
Living in short-life housing around King's Cross, they had an ultra-urban take on Irish folk music that filled a void no one even knew existed. James Fearnley, who became their accordionist, picked up the soubriquet "Maestro" on account of his ability to tune the band's instruments.
The frontman Shane MacGowan – dyspraxic, unhygienic (a description of his pee-on-a-tree technique is, er, sobering), so world-weary that he refused to credit the existence of goodness – was key. His songs touched an audience that expected nothing. Yet banjoist Jem Finer, the son of a university lecturer, drove the band forward, as determined as MacGowan was detached.
The Pogues' singularity was recognised by their inspirations. Dylan invited them to tour, and they collaborated with the Dubliners, whose Ronnie Drew broke a vow never to spend the night in Ulster when the RUC took him in for drink-driving. (He awoke complaining about the terrible accommodation.)
It wasn't all such larks. Intelligent adults, some of them family men, the Pogues compared touring life to the U-boat movie Das Boot. The gay guitarist Philip Chevron fixated on whomever he was rooming with. Shane simply sank for good. Although the classic line-up is still alive, the old road-crew are not. The original band lasted less than a decade, yet even that seems miraculous. As for that Christmas song, the producer Steve Lillywhite sorted out the structure and suggested his then wife Kirsty MacColl as a vocal foil.
Here Comes Everybody is a great tale, but be warned: Fearnley's thesaurus must have caught fire as he gathered his memories. You'll find no bald drunks here: such types are inactive of follicle, pellucidly inebriate. This can prove wearing, but one must surely forgive a man – to paraphrase Dorothy Parker – who once played the accordion and now does not.
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