October 1982: ABC, Culture Club, Shalamar and Survivor dominate the top twenty when the Pogues barrel out from the backstreets of King's Cross, a furious, pioneering mix of punk energy, traditional melodies and the powerfully poetic songwriting of Shane MacGowan.
Reviled by traditionalists for their frequently fast, often riotous interpretations of Irish folk songs, the Pogues rose from the sweaty chaos of backroom gigs in Camden pubs to world tours with the likes of Elvis Costello, U2 and Bob Dylan, and had huge commercial success with everyone's favourite Christmas song, 'Fairytale of New York'.
Yet, the exuberance of their live performances coupled with relentless touring spiralled into years of hard drinking and excess which eventually took their toll - most famously on Shane, but also on the rest of the band - causing them to part ways seven years later.
Here, their story is told with beauty, lyricism and great candour by James Fearnley, founding member and accordion player. He brings to life the youthful friendships, the bust-ups, the amazing gigs, the terrible gigs, the fantastic highs and the dramatic lows in a hugely compelling, humorous, moving and honest account of life in one of our most treasured and original bands.
In the 1980s and '90s the Pogues inspired an entire music genre Celtic punk with their combination of original punk-rock song mixed with traditional Celtic music played by British musicians celebrating their Irish heritage. Fearnley was an original member of the Pogues short for "pogue mahone," or "kiss my arse" and his book is less a traditional history of its career then a relentlessly detailed and paced view of the band's first nine years, from its formation in 1982 by Fearnley and lead singer Shane MacGowan to the band having to fire MacGowan in 1991 for his increasingly self-destructive behavior. Fearnley celebrates how MacGowan was the band's fiery engine in its first years, a charismatic front man and songwriter whose "carriage, his contours, the attitude he copped, from which he did not break, were simultaneously authentic and artful." But even while the band was achieving recognition and support from stars like Elvis Costello and Bob Dylan and almost constant touring MacGowan slipped into a haze of drugs and alcohol that Fearnley unflinchingly recounts. "I couldn't understand how anyone could let himself become so bereft of responsibility for anything and yet write songs of such incisive beauty, full of chastening pity for the human condition." Fans of the Pogues which occasionally reforms and tours will be moved by this brutally honest account of a still much beloved band.
Loved the book
A very candid memoir about a great band. Saw the gig at Newcastle City Hall supporting Costello and been a fan ever since. One of my best memories was standing in Washington Square in the snow watching the video for Fairytale of New York on my iPod, on the exact spot where the band are standing. Thank you.