It was two years ago today that I saw The Pogues, live in concert, for the last time.
I discovered The Pogues in 1985 while browsing the new release bin during my stint as a college radio DJ at KTEQ in Rapid City, South Dakota. The Pogues’ second album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash had just come out and the title perked my interest. When I threw it on the turntable, lo and behold, I was hearing “Irish music”, but Irish music like I had never heard before. The aggressive way this band attacked the music was infectious and those Shane MacGowan lyrics were nothing short of brilliant. At the time, I had no idea that I was listening to the godfathers of Celtic punk.
First Pogues’ Concert March 15, 2006 Orpheum Theatre, Boston, MA USA
I purchased tickets to see The Pogues, minus Shane MacGowan, in 1996 but had to give my tickets to my brother Brooks and his wife Gwen as a business trip cancelled my plans to see them at the First Avenue in Minneapolis. After the show, Brooks and Gwen were hooked.
While visiting Brooks at his home in Austin, Texas I listened as he waxed on about seeing Shane with his new bandmates The Popes but he regretted never getting to see Shane perform with The Pogues. As luck would have it just a few weeks later The Pogues announced a return to the United States in 2006 for 9 East Coast dates in 4 cities with their original front man Shane MacGowan. When I learned of this, I snapped up tickets and met Brooks in Boston for my very first Pogues show. I was hooked.
When The Pogues returned to the US in the fall, Brook’s and I flew our wives to Las Vegas to catch their West Coast stint. Now my wife Candace was also hooked.
For the next 3 years, The Pogues returned to the East Coast in the spring and the West Coast (except for 2008) in the fall. Candace and I never missed a tour. I always justified the expense by telling myself “This could be the last chance we ever get to see Shane MacGowan”. I mean who could blame me based on Shane’s well publicized history following in the great Irish writer “Brendan Behan’s footsteps” of hard drinking.
DOC HARRY AND PHILIP CHEVRON
In 2007, Candace and I made plans to see The Pogues in Chicago and Candace had the idea to try and contact the band to see if we could get a souvenir for a local neurologist who was born and raised in County Caven, Ireland and had recently diagnosed himself with ALS. Doc Harry was well versed in all things Ireland so of course he knew all about The Pogues. Candace found a fan forum on the Pogue’s website and posted a request to the band. The guitarist Philip Chevron responded and indicated that when the time got closer he would see what he could do. Turns out that for whatever reason, that escapes me now, we did not hook up with Philip in Chicago. During one of two shows we saw in Chicago I noticed the woman standing just behind us had a “back stage pass” and she informed us that a band member had arranged it through the Pogues’ fan forum where her username was “territa”.
Rum Sodomy & The Lash
The very next day, I signed up for the Pogues’ fan forum, Wake of the Medusa, which takes its name from The Pogues’ album cover for Rum Sodomy & the Lash and features, The Raft of the Medusa (French: Le Radeau de la Méduse), the masterpiece by French painter Théodore Géricault. However, The Pogues version of this painting displayed each of band members heads transposed to the figures on the painting’s raft. The members of the forum fondly refer to each other as “Raft Mates”.
Doc Harry – St. Patrick’s Day 2007
Well Philip did not forget about Candace’s request and a week or so later a package arrived on St. Patrick’s day from New York City, where The Pogues were playing that night. I called up Doc Harry and informed him we had a gift, so he insisted we meet at the local watering hole for a few beers where we presented him with a personalized glossy band photo, signed by all 8 members. Doc Harry was delighted and returned the favor by giving me more Celtic music by Moving Hearts, The Bucks, Christy Moore, Steeleye Span and Ron Kavana. After our exchange, Harry and I became great friends and over the next six years Harry mentored me in all things Ireland of which he was well versed. Harry was a connoisseur of books which enabled him to give me dissertations on any subject that came up over the course of our hundreds of conversations. Just before Harry passed, we shipped his book collection back to his family in Ireland which filled an entire 20’ shipping container which I packed like a jig-saw puzzle from floor to ceiling so as not to waste any space.
In addition to Harry’s tutelage, I paid close attention to Philip Chevron who was a regular visitor to the Pogues’ fan forum where he graced us with his insight, knowledge, wit and humanity. Philip was a class act who saw to it that Candace and I always had after show passes waiting for us at the will call window for every show we attended.
THOUSANDS ARE SAILING
Philip missed the fall tour in 2007 while he sought treatment for throat cancer which finally took his life two years ago. In 2008, Philip just back from treatment dedicated his fan favorite Thousands are Sailing to our girls Seattle and Jamaica who were sitting in the front row during their very first Pogues’ show in Boston.
POGUES IN PARIS
Raft Mates at Kitty O’Sheas in Paris
In 2012 The Pogues announced they would be filming 2 shows at the Olympia Theatre in Paris, France to produce their first concert video since 1988. This sounded like an event too good to pass up so Candace and I made plans for the trip to Paris including pre-gig meet ups with our Raft Mates from California, Sweden, Ireland, Slovenia, Germany and Canada.
Pogues In Paris Teaser Video
#1 CHRISTMAS SONG
In the United Kingdom, it is very prestigious to have the number one song on the singles chart during the week of Christmas. In 1987, The Pogues released their Christmas Classic Fairytale of New York from their forthcoming third album If I Should Fall from Grace with God which was produced by Steve Lillywhite. Kirsty MacColl , Lillywhite’s then wife, dueted with Shane MacGowan as a couple bickering on Christmas Eve. Not exactly the format one would expect for a Christmas song, however Christmas is not always a happy time for everyone and this song lays bare the problems people face in real life. The official video starts out featuring a young Matt Dillon hauling Shane’s character into the drunk tank on Christmas Eve. Shane’s lyrics are genius and heartfelt. I especially love the call and response of:
SHANE: I could have been someone
KIRSTY: Well, so could anyone
You took my dreams from me, when I first found you
SHANE: I kept them with me babe, I put them with my own
Can’t make it all alone, I’ve built my dreams around you
The song was released in November and quickly rose up the charts. Fairytale of New York appeared to have a real shot at the charts top spot but was ultimately edged out by the Pet Shop Boys cover of the American country classic made famous by Willie Nelson, Always on My Mind. The Pogues hit however has secured its rightful place in history as Fairytale of New York was announced as Britain’s “favourite Christmas song” in 2012, following a nationwide survey of ITV viewers. In the UK it is the most-played Christmas song of the 21st Century and claimed the Number 1 slot in the VH1 greatest Christmas song chart three years running, from 2004-2006.
Fairytale of New York Official Video
A CHRISTMAS TRADITION
It was a Christmas tradition for The Pogues to play dates in various UK cities just before Christmas and it was high on my bucket list to see The Pogues sing Fairytale of New York in their home town of London at Christmas time just once before I died. Yes, many people are surprised to learn that the Pogues came out of London, not Ireland. Only two members of The Pogues were actually born in Ireland, Philip Chevron and Terry Woods.
When the UK Christmas tour dates were announced for 2013, the fan forum was all a buzz and our Raft Mates who attended the shows in Paris the previous year were trying to decide where to meet up for the Christmas shows. It was decided the back to back gigs at Brixton Academy in The Pogues home town of London would be the site of our reunion. There were representatives from 7 counties and more than 20 in our group. The first night we headed straight for the venue and skipped the pre-gig main gathering so that we could meet one of our Raft Mates “firehazard” who was wheelchair bound and was limited by the handicap unfriendly pre-gig pub.
Canterbury Arms Pre-Gig Meet Video
The second night however we joined the main group at the Canterbury Arms for a night that will forever be etched into my frontal lobe. Oh what fun we had and The Pogues were in top form. I was amazed that our large group managed to find each other on the floor in a jam packed Brixton Academy. I have a huge smile on my face now just recalling that evening. The only disappointment was that our dear friend Philip Chevron was not on stage as his cancer returned and took him away from us only months before.
That was my last Pogue’s gig and quite possibly the last time I will ever see the band as they played only a handful of dates the following year and have remained silent ever since. However, if you happen to be in my neck of the woods on Christmas Eve you are welcome to stop by the house to join friends and family as we listen to the greatest Christmas song ever written, Fairytale of New York – a Christmas tradition.