Shane MacGowan and The Popes – Wulfren Hall, Wolverhampton UK (March 18, 2004)

Had been looking forward to this one for a while and was pleased to find out that it was in the Wulfren Hall and not it’s bigger and less intimate sibling that is the Civic Hall as I’d suspected. We arrived late on in the evening having stopped in a couple of local hostelries for a meal of Arthur Guinness’ liquid lunch rather than pay the exorbitant £2.80 a pint (that’s approx. $5). Because of this we missed the support NECK whom I’m not a huge fan of anyway. Unfortunately at all the other gigs on the tour except ours, support also came from THE FAMILY MAHONE, hosted by singer and drummer Mark Radcliffe; one of the UKs top Radio DJs. Check ‘em out if you like Pogues type drinking songs. Supremely good and funny as hell live.

So we missed the support and got pissed on cheap stout. Looked like a few people in the venue had done the same. Quite a few drunks and quite a few Glasgow Celtic t-shirts too. Average age was about 32 so at 35 I didn’t feel too old.

Well now… gigs in the UK seem to be starting earlier and earlier these days. Great for the kids… great for getting the last bus out of town. Not Mr. Tombstone Teeth himself though. He made us wait and I’d guess that there was a fair bit of teasing judging by the occasional band-just-walked-onstage cheers coming from the auditorium. We made the wise decision of hanging around in the bar until the first chords strike out at which point we find a comfortably empty corner.

First think I notice is how well Shane looks tonight. He appears to have lost some weight since I saw him last July. He’s not even drunk!!! In fact so sober is he that he stands throughout the set even though his chair is present. Last time I saw him at the Holidays in The Sun punk festival he remained seated throughout although he’d didn’t look like he’d be capable of staying in the chair so pissed was he.

The venue is all but sold out tonight so at a guess they’re playing to about 500 people. This hall has notoriously bad sound problems but these have the good grace to stay away tonight so all instruments and vocals sound crystal clear. Well, as clear as Shane is these days.

We get a heavy biased Pogues set tonight with only the Donegal Express and maybe three of four other tracks (none of which I recognise but guess that they are post The Snake Pope tracks.) An early showing of Dirty Old Town is dedicated to Kirsty and results in the usual arms aloft singalong. A fine moment as always.

There’s no way I can remember all the songs played since I was well on my way to being one over the gallon at the time. What I do remember is thinking how lacking in spirit it all sounded. Almost as if they were just going through the motions. I think this was in some part to do with the sound levels though it struck me towards the end just how much that tin whistle sound can raise a tune from good to great. Such a powerful instrument in the right hands. Don’t get me wrong… this wasn’t a bad gig. It just wasn’t a great gig. It had some great highlights, for me two of my favourite songs; “Sally Maclennan” and “Wild Cats of Kilchulan”. One thing I would have enjoyed would have been the spine tingling version of the “Auld Triangle” that he played at HITS. We also get “Pair of Brown Eyes”, “Broad Majestic Shannon”, “Turkish Song of The Damned”, a number of other Pogues greatest hits and the only really low point of the gig was a murdered version of another of my all time favourite songs. It was on the way back from a piss break that I heard a song “unknown” to me. It was only in the fade out chorus that I finally realised they were covering “Me And Bobby McGee”. Absolutely ghastly! His voice was so slurred that it was virtually incomprehensible.

So! What a night… it was a gig that had everything. The good, the bad and the downright fuckin’ ugly. Enjoyable as ever but not at his best.
Review by Mark (Rock ‘Em Dead Records)

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