Kiss My Arse
The first time I came across the Pogues was when they appeared on the Channel Four show ‘The Tube’. This was 1984 and they were singing a song called ‘Waxies Dargle’. I had never seen anything like it. Here was this man with the most rotten teeth on the planet singing a mixture of punk and Irish folk music. The clip was only a few minutes long, but I became a fan instantly. There name had just recently been changed from Pogue Mahone which means ‘kiss my arse’ in Irish Gaelic; this language was my worst subject in school, but even I could appreciate the humour.
The strangest thing was this band weren’t even that Irish. Most of them were of Irish decent, but they had been born and grew up in England. In fact it was this that made their music so special. It was their mixture of English and Irish music and culture that worked so well; London punk and Irish folk. I regretted being born too late for punk, but here was something that definitely seemed to be offering that same sense of rebellion. I had no real interest in Irish folk music before this; it just seemed a bit old fashioned. The Pogues put a completely different twist on it and made it easy to appreciate.
Red Roses for Me
It was a few months before I actually managed to get my hands on the first album called, ‘Red Roses For Me’. I had left my Dublin home to go to school in Cork for a year; this album became the soundtrack for this time. I was only fifteen and had just discovered alcohol. The Pogues offered the ideal soundtrack for my walk into alcoholism which lasted almost twenty years. Almost every song on that album was a celebration of drunkenness, and I took it all to heart.
Despite the fact that this album was there at the start of my journey of self-destruction, there is no doubt that it is a fantastic collection of songs. The first few seconds of the first track start off slow and eerie, but within seconds you are thrown into this bouncing tune called Transmetropolitan. This was still a time when a curse in a song was something special, and Shane made the art of swearing his own. The Boys from the county hell and Sea Shanty were more songs full of humorous cursing and punk anger.
The Pogues and Brendan Behan
I had been a Brendan Behan fan for years (read about this here) and so it was great to see that two of the songs were connected with this great writer. The third track is The Auld Triangle and this is song that Brendan wrote for his play The Quare Fellow. The eight track was called Streams of Whiskey and it was all about following Brendan Behan into active alcoholism. I later made the same mistake as both men by believing that there could be something glamorous or artistic about being a drunk.
The Death of the Pogues
The next album was called Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash, and for many of us fans this was the peak of their talent. The albums that came later all had memorable songs, but never quite managed to surpass the first two releases.
The band achieved a lot of success in Ireland and the UK. It all had to end though. Shane McGowan’s alcoholism meant that he could no longer write good songs or perform live. He came very close to following his hero Brendan Behan into an alcoholic death.
These days my years of addiction are well behind me. I can still occasionally listen to the Pogues and remember just how good they actually were. Shane McGowan is still out there singing his songs. He is one of the most talented lyricists ever.