The rabble-rousing Pogues are back in Birmingham on Monday night for a show at the Carling Academy. Polly Weeks caught up with founder member and tin whistle player Spider Stacy.
Having formed in 1982 with influences ranging from traditional Irish music to punk rock, The Pogues attracted attention for not only their music - including songs such as Fairytale Of New York and Rainy Night In Soho - but also the on- and off -stage antics of lead singer Shane MacGowan, who eventually left the band and was replaced by former Clash frontman Joe Strummer.
Having called it a day in 1996, the band reformed in 2001 for a Christmas tour, complete with MacGowan, which proved to be an instant hit with fans and has become an annual event.
ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT THE CHRISTMAS TOUR? This is the fifth and it just seems to get better and better. The whole thing has been really enjoyable. When we were on tour before, we were always slogging around trying to sell records, just to keep the band afloat. Now we’re doing it more for ourselves and for the people who come to see us.
IS FAIRYTALE OF NEW YORK A GUARANTEED CROWD-PLEASER? It’s just become one of those songs! It’s really entered the public domain and it’s no longer ours, I guess. That’s fine, it’s great. We’ll be performing with Ella Finer who’s been doing it for the past few years, she’s [songwriter and guitarist] Jem’s eldest daughter.
IF YOU WERE GOING TO DO ANOTHER CHRISTMAS SONG ,WHAT WOULD IT BE? Personally, I always like 2000 Miles by The Pretenders, which always seems to get overlooked when it comes to Christmas lists. But I can’t speak for the others. Shane might like to do Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer!
DOES IT ANNOY YOU THAT, OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, THE CHRISTMAS NO 1 HAS BEEN THE X FACTOR WINNER? Not really. The real shame is that Fairytale Of New York didn’t go to No 1 when it should have done. With all due respect to X Factor, Fairytale is going to be something that will be around for many years. By and large, X Factor and that kind of stuff tends to be pretty disposable.
HOW DOES TOURING NOW COMPARE TO THE OLD DAYS? It’s much easier. It’s much more toned down than it used to be, because we’re all a lot older. Generally it’s a lot more relaxed: we don’t do overnight drives anymore, we stay in quite decent hotels and try to make it as easy on us as we can. Like I said, we’re now doing it for us rather than to fulfil someone else’s schedule.
ARE YOU NOW MORE LIKELY TO BE DRINKING HONEY AND LEMON AFTER A GIG RATHER THAN ALCOHOL? It depends who you’re talking about! Certain members of the band will not be drinking honey and lemon after the gig or indeed before the gig, or at least if they do it’ll have vodka in it!
DO YOU THINK IT’S LIKELY THE POGUES WILL RELEASE ANY NEW MATERIAL? I can’t see that happening in the near future, but I’ve never ruled it out entirely. I’d never have thought we’d be back playing together on stage; too much time had elapsed and I didn’t know whether anyone would want to turn up to see us if we did.
WHAT ARE YOUR FAVOURITE SONGS TO PLAY ON TOUR? Rainy Night In Soho. I’d really go for that one because of the way Shane sings it now, although he always sang it really well. He wrote that when he was 28 and to hear him singing it now when he’s over 50 - it’s got a real power and resonance. The song was written from an older person’s view, someone who’s kind of seen life and I think that really comes over as a powerful song.
WHY DID THE POGUES INITIALLY DECIDE TO CALL IT A DAY? Shane left in 1991. For him, the sheer amount of work we had to do - just endlessly touring - had not just become a chore, but a real drag. He really felt like he was dragging himself around the world and didn’t want to be doing it. It became apparent he was really unhappy with touring, so we said maybe it would be better if he stayed at home and wrote and we went out on tour. But we all knew that wasn’t going to happen, so we went our separate ways.
The rest of us continued for five years and did another couple of albums but we were shedding members as time went on and the band had really just run its course.
DID YOU CONSIDER QUITTING AFTER SHANE LEFT? There was never any bad blood or anything like that. We effectively sacked Shane, for want of a better word, but there was never any big confrontation. It was done in a very reasonable manner and we went out for a meal afterwards. Shane was as relieved as anybody because he probably wanted to do it, but didn’t know how to tell the rest of us. He felt very responsible.
A lot of other bands would have thought, ‘well, we’ve lost the main songwriter let’s call it a day’ but we did feel there was still some life in us. We also had some contractual obligations to fulfil - we were paying peoples’ wages and we didn’t want to cast them adrift.
We got Joe Strummer in as a replacement, which really gave us all a massive kick up the arse and a confidence to think, ‘yeah, we can do this’.
I think Joe lasted about six months to a year - it’s all a bit hazy, unfortunately. His whole input was a massive boost for morale and enabled us to keep going, so I tip my hat to Joe Strummer.