I’d never actually managed to see the Pogues before. Even after Shane was booted out. I never seemed to be in the same place as them at the same time. I’d seen Shane McGowan and The Popes supported by Stiff Little Fingers before, which was a night to remember. Shane was about an hour late taking the stage that night. His opening very drunken, very slurred comments to the crowd were “It’s great to be back here in Wolverhampton!” Which would’ve been fine had we not been 80 miles away in Nottingham! So with memories of the great man’s gaff in mind we set off for the Big Smoke… the dirty old town that is London. The gig in our adopted town of Birmingham had sold out before we even knew about it.
My cohort on the day was one Rich McCormack, singer and guitarist for old skool punkers DOGSHIT SANDWICH and head honcho for PUNK SHIT record label. Now Rich comes from a small village in the middle of the Republic of Ireland and came to these shores after the Pogues had split. So here’s two mad-keen Pogues fans who’d never got to see ‘em first time around and we’re heading down to the hell that is London. We drive 115 miles down the motorway followed by some late Friday rush hour city driving to get across to the South of the Thames. We get to the place we’re staying at with only a vague set of directions then jump in a taxi to Brixton (one of London’s nearest equivalents to bits of the Bronx, Oakland or South Central LA). After a quick toss of a coin we pass up on a jar or two at the nearby cheapest Irish pub in London and head straight in to the Academy for some very expensive beer from cans. I head for the tiny bar with the huge queue and slow bar staff whilst Rich heads for the large toilets with the larger queue. As the young lady behind the bar siphons the last drops of ale into our ‘plastic’ glasses and Rich finishes siphoning the last drops from the proverbial python we hear the first strains of Stream of Whiskey. Not bad timing considering the distance we’d traveled.
Now, unfortunately we have tickets not for the downstairs drunk-as-fuck, leap about Punk rock Ciledah, but for the upstairs-seated balcony. But, hey, was that going to stop people dancing? No bleedin’ chance!
By the time we get up to the balcony there’s no sign of the great poet, and that sets the scene for about the first half of the set. Shane limps on, sings a song or two and then limps off again whilst the band do a song without him. I later asked an acquaintance about this and he assures me that three nights earlier Shane had no limp. He couldn’t have fallen over in a drink riddled stupor at sometime between could he? Well, looking at the state of him that night I should say that he wasn’t sober for the whole of the tour. The small amount of banter with the crowd was indecipherable at best but the songs… well they were as clear as he ever gets. That great tumble of slurred words that fall out of his crumbling-tombstone toothed mouth is just as great ever. Who cares whether he can sing or not. It’s one of the most distinctive voices in music and also the ultimate singalong voices. And singalong the crowd did.
We get a blast through all the greatest moments that the Pogues have to offer and then some. They seem to play early on several songs that I wasn’t aware of and some old trad songs interspersed with the likes of “Turkish Song of the Damned”, “Misty Morning, Albert Bridge”, “White City”, “Repeal of the Licensing Laws”, “Waxies Dargle” and then saving the best until last we get some of the best from what I consider to be their greatest moment… “Rum, Sodomy and the Lash”. “Dirty Old Town” slows the crowd for a moment. Their legs are rested and their lungs take over as they bellow that great folk song written by Kirsty Macoll’s father back in the faces of the band. We get “The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn”, “Sally Maclananne” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes”.
The greatest moment of the night has to be the sound of couple of thousand drunks singing “Fairytale of New York” which I swear almost drowned out the band. “This one’s for Kirsty!” and for Kirsty we sang! Glasses and hands are held aloft and voices half shouted and half drawled the greatest Christmas song ever. If they didn’t hear us in New York City then I’d be amazed. I didn’t catch the name of the young lady who sang Kirsty’s parts but she sure did it justice.
A couple of encores give us an old trad song that I didn’t recall hearing before followed by the greatest party song of all time… “Fiesta”. Ever seen the video? See those weird mosaic Mediterranean seats and buildings in the background? Well that’s in the Gaudi Park in Barcelona. I was there a few months earlier and with the combination of beer, my jumping imagination and that song I was temporarily transported back there. Brandy and Half-Corona indeed! And then… the song that they couldn’t have left out… “The Irish Rover”. It’s over. That’s it. Rich turns to me and tells me exactly what I’m thinking. “I wish we had tickets for Tomorrow night”. Hell, yes!
Out into the streets of London we go armed to the teeth with Pogues t-shirts and hooded tops and music spinning around our heads along with the animated chattering of a couple of thousand drunks. All there is to do now is dodge the drunks, drug dealers and pigs in riot gear and make our way back to our hosts with our tales of glory.
By Mark V. (Rock ‘Em Dead Records)