Fifty thousand people have already declared their love for an acidic Christmas single called ‘Fairytale Of New York’. the story of a young Irish-American couple rapidly falling out of love. And thousands more look forward to The Pogues’ new album If! Should Fall From Grace With God. But the 32 year-old Irishman from a bleak housing estate in Belfast. alluded to in Chris Mullen’s book Error of Judgement as one ofthe real culprits. will not be so sure. The album will remind him ofa barely suppressed and painful secret. One track in particular. ‘Birmingham 6‘. the harrowing talc ofthe six lrishmen still in jail wrongly (as many believe). convicted ofthe Birmingham Pub Bombing. will provoke the most anxiety. It will remind him that he is the bomber and the only irrefutable key to justice being done.
For The Pogues, the track is a brave decision. It will almost certainly complicate their already tangled relationship to Ireland. The group’s banjo player Jem Finer, son ofan Oxford University professor and a product ofStoke-On-Trent. feels the relationship has been over- emphasised.
‘People overplay our responsibility to Ireland. I‘m not Irish. halfthe group’s not Irish, but we obviously have an identification. ‘Birmingham 6’ is the nearest we‘ve ever come to making explicitly political music because we are more comfortable with songs that are implicit. In this case it’s a subject we feel strongly about, it’s an injustice every reasonable person sould care about.‘
Nonetheless, the group is invariably part of the cultural shrapnel thrown up by sectarianism. When they play a sell-out series of concerts this week at the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow, the Irish tricolour will be in evidence and many of their hardcore fans will be wearing the green and white hoops of Glasgow Celtic. The Pogues would probably prefer them to come in Cecil Gee cardigans but how do you arouse fans without arousing the emotions they carry around with them?
‘I’d feel a greater cause for concern if they were right-wing skinheads,‘ says .l em, ‘the Glasgow connection doesn’t really bother me. We’ve been accused of being bigoted because some fans wear Celtic
jerseys. We’ve never solicited that support nor have we played up to it. If people feel alienated from our
it’s a reflection of a sectarian reality outside of music. We are not a sectarian group and we don’t want anyone to be alienated from out shows.’
Image has played some cruel tricks on The Pogues. If ever a group deserved to be taken seriously it’s the boys of the old brigade. They may not have the same command of
or the same taste for dialectical philosophy as Working Week, but they are undoubtedly one of
shows that’s a really sad situation but
post-modern theory as Hue And Cry
Stuart Cosgrove talks to The Pogues about poetry, politics and posturing.
Europe’s most intelligent pop groups. Their two previous albums, Red Roses For Me and Rum, Sodomy And The Lash were studded with oblique references drawn from Yeats, Joyce and Behan and a track from the forthcoming album If I Should Fall From Grace With God even quotes from Lorca. Not the usual poetic domain of Celtic fans.
J em Finer laughs ruefully at my accusations. He’s heard The Pogues have been described as drunks and degenerates, they’ve even been accused of desecrating the history of Irish music, but The Pogues have never been called a bunch of swots.
‘I suppose we read a lot and we’re certainly capable of holding an intellectual debate, but we’re not like those groups who pride themselves on being intellectual. We’re basically too humble as people. It’s a case of making music with ideas. On the album we’ve included a track called ‘Metropolis’, a kind of jazz instrumental mixed with traditional Irish music. I wrote it so you can imagine it’s very sophisticated . . .‘ his wry smile is
now on the verge oflaughter. . . ‘the sort of thing you would expect The Pogues to do on The South Bank Show.’
‘Music with ideas’
The very mention of Melvyn Bragg carries us into an adenoidal discussion of The Smiths, who were recently canonised as Britain’s leading ‘art’ group, in a South Bank documentary. Every sixth-former’s favourite group was dutifully placed in a tradition of great English lyricism. The Pogues, products of a more earthy poetic tradition , are unconvinced.
‘Shaiie McGowan is the best songwriter around. He shits on people like Morrissey. He writes great melodies, the words are beautifully crafted and the emotions are extremely complex. Shane is like Tom Waits, he lives his own life, he’s very charismatic and he’s not contrived. He doesn’t ﬁll a bottle full of Ribena then drink it in one to impress journalists. It’s not an explicit thing, but if you forced us,
we’d say his behaviour is anti-stardom. He’d hate to be called a poet, it’s a word that smells of privilege.’
Some say Shane's behaviour is paralytic rather that poetic. He’s the victim of his own image. The press can barely see past his tombstone teeth and rough-house antics. One right-wing music journalists opinion has passed into popular prejudice. It goes something like this: ‘1” wanted to hear a bunch of drunken lrishmen singing, I‘d hang about Kilburn at closing time.’ .lem has heard it all before and it drives him to distraction. I suppose he could rave on about two songs on their next album, ‘Fiesta‘, a kaleidoscope of Spanish-inﬂuenced sounds, and the self-explanatory ‘Turkish Song’. But why bother? Why pander to someone else‘s limitations?
‘That’s their loss. It’s an obvious
angle to say we’re a bunch of
drunken Irish idiots. Personally I‘m sick of the press obsession with it. Anybody with half a brain knows there‘s much more to The Pogues than that. preople can’t elevate themselves above those sort of prejudices then we don’t want them at our shows. People who hold those sorts of views are much more dangerous than a gang of boys wearing Celtic strips.’
Hopefully, ‘Fa'irytale Of New York' will play its part in redefining people’s perceptions of The Pogues. No other contemporary pop group could have crafted such a bitter-sweet story of displaced love. As the boys of New York Police Department sing ‘Galway Bay‘, Shane and Kirsty McColl rant their way through a love-hate duet, the best since the Womack’s ‘Love Wars’ and the most vicious since Swamp Dogg and Esther Phillips recorded ‘The Love We Got Ain’t Worth Two Dead Flies’.
‘Fairytale’ deserves to be the Christmas Number 1. Sadly, there’s still time for Simon Bates to oil the wheels of fawning emotionalism and put his considerable weight behind another charity record. Worse still there‘s still time for Radio 1 to object to Kirsty’s classic line ‘You scumbag, you maggot, you cheap lousy faggot. Merry Christmas you arsehole, I hope it’s your last.’ It’s 1987 and the smell of censorship is still in the air.
The thought has already crossed the group’s minds. ‘It might happen. The nearer it gets to Christmas, the more family attitudes will dictate. In a cold climate they could easily take it offthe air. But there’s 50,000 advance orders so fuck them. If you write songs for Radio 1, you might as well give up.’
But surely every pop star wants to be Number 1 at Christmas? ‘Quite right,’ says Jem, wide grin and perfect teeth to the fore, ‘The Pogues are no exception, we want to be part of a great tradition that dates back to Clive Dunn’s “Grandad”.’
Chris Mullen '3 Error 0f Judgement is published by Chatto & Windus and is also available in paperback. J
The List 11 Dec l987—7Jan 198813