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Pogues Accordionist Squeezes Out Anarchic Band's Story

The Pogues circa 1990
The Pogues circa 1990
pogues.com

Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues By James Fearnley Chicago Review Press, 416 pp., $18.95.

It's interesting to note that, despite their status as one of the contemporary groups most identified with traditional Irish music, none of the members of the Pogues are actually Irish. Nevertheless, their insertion of punk-rock energy into the familiar sounds, instruments and themes of the Land of Erin have made records like Red Roses for Me, Rum, Sodomy & the Lash and If I Should Fall from Grace With God essential listening.

Accordionist James Fearnley has been with the band since its 1982 formation, when the group was called Pogue Mahone; roughly translated into "Kiss my ass," they changed it for obvious reasons. He offers this memoir (or, as he calls it, "creative non-fiction") of his run with the group from its early days to their 1991 sacking of troubled front man Shane MacGowan.

And, let's face it, any tale of the Pogues has its built-in star with the self-destructive, alcoholic, erratic, dentally-challenged, and brilliant MacGowan, who (naturally) emerges as the most memorable character -- so much so that he is the Pogue whose face you see on the cover of this very book!

As anyone who has seen the 2001 documentary If I Should Fall from Grace: The Shane MacGowan Story can attest, viewers run the gamut from "I feel so sorry for this guy" and "How could anyone put up with him?" to "What an arseshole" and "I can't believe he's still alive." Fearnley's narrative here has the same impact.

In one telling incident, MacGowan and his girlfriend show up to Fearnley's wedding reception late, loaded, and cause a commotion. And their hastily-wrapped wedding gift? A series of photo stills from a Pogues video shoot that MacGowan had made into placemats. Most of the photos were of MacGowan.

But when the band is taken to task on a radio program, with a panel of "experts" no less, on if an English band has the "right" to play Irish music, you find yourself rooting for this scrappy band of (eventually) eight to make it. And few other rock books have made the grind of touring -- the shitty hotels, cramped vans, drunken inter-band fistfights and scummy clubs -- sound more realistic.

Story continues on the next page.

 

Despite his admitted use of creative dialogue and incident mash-ups, Fearnley's attention to detail is impressive. From rattling off the first pub he shared a drink with MacGowan after his audition (Skinners Arms on Judd St. near Kings Cross, if you're keeping record), to the name of the limo driver they had on their first U.S. tour, the information is there, if not necessarily artfully written.

But MacGowan is not the only strong character remembered in these pages. The in-your-face teenage bassist Cait O'Riordan is as formidable as she is frustrating. And the stories Fearnley tells as the band's not-always-copacetic with producer (and eventually O'Riordan's husband) Elvis Costello are fascinating.

Also shining is the oft-put-upon Jem Finer, the group's banjo player whose work at keeping the band functioning and together makes him the level-headed Pogue, the glue who kept (and still keeps) it all together.

Today, the Pogues continue to tour occasionally with the bulk of their original/classic lineup, including Darryl Hunt, who replaced O'Riordan in 1986. Guitarist Philip Chevron died of cancer in 2013.

And while their performances (and the state of MacGowan) can sometimes still be unpredictable and anarchic, fans would probably not have it any other way. Here Comes Everybody may be Fearnley's subjective take on the Pogues and their history, but it's also an insightful travelogue into dirty old towns and darkened pubs.

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