The Pogues are a London Irish band who combine traditional Irish music with the spirit of punk rock.
They blazed a trail through the 1980s, bringing Irish music to a new generation of fans. They have a passionate and loyal fan base although they have had their controversial moments and have not always been everyone’s favourites.
Their singer, Shane McGowan, has a reputation as a hard drinker, but he is also an outstanding songwriter. The Pogues recorded Fairytale of New York, which is one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time.
The Pogues were originally called the Millwall Chainsaws. They formed in the late 1970s after singer, Shane MacGowan met tin whistle player, Peter ‘Spider’ Stacy in the toilets at a Ramones concert. In 1982, they added accordion player, James Fearnley and changed their name to Pogue Mahone, which is an anglicisation of the Irish for ‘Kiss my arse’.
They worked hard, playing several gigs in pubs, clubs and even in the street in London. They quickly gained a reputation for their energetic and exciting live performances. In 1984, they went on tour with the Clash, who were idols to MacGowan.
The Pogues’ trademark sound built on a mixture of folk and punk reflected Shane MacGowan’s twin musical interests from his youth. He was a keen fan of Irish bands like The Dubliners and The Fureys and could play many of their songs. At the same time, he was drawn to the punk sound of The Clash and The Sex Pistols.
Tin whistle player Spider Stacy describes how the two sounds were sledgehammered together in one eventful afternoon. “One day we were round at a friend’s house and Shane picked up a guitar and started singing Poor Paddy Works on the Railway at about 900 miles an hour.”
Everyone stopped to listen and there was an immediate recognition that this was something different. MacGowan said: “We’d been through every stylistic thing you could go through in rock ‘n roll – except that sound we made that day.”
It was the beginning of the band’s folk-punk fusion which was to define their sound ever since. Stacy said: “It really was so glaringly obvious that the only surprising thing was that nobody had thought of it before.”
They changed their name to the Pogues because Pogue Mahone was deemed too offensive for the BBC after some Gaelic Scottish viewers had complained. The band released their first album, Red Roses for Me, in 1984. It gave them their first taste of success, reaching number 89 in the UK album chart.
The album included the classic Irish traditional song, Waxie’s Dargle. They performed Waxie’s Dargle for The Tube, which was a popular music TV show in the UK. It was hugely popular with viewers and helped the band raise their profile in the UK.
In 1985, they teamed up with Elvis Costello to record their second album, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. The phrase is said to have been coined by Winston Churchill to describe life in the navy.
The album featured more original material as MacGowan’s song writing ability began to flourish. His songs were placed alongside classic covers such as And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, and Dirty Old Town.
The album reached number 13 in the UK Charts and was a hit with fans and critics. Robert Christgau said: “None of it would mean much without the songs–some borrowed, some traditional, and some proof that MacGowan can roll out bitter blarney with the best of his role models.”
In 2000, Q magazine placed the album at number 93 of the best 100 British Albums of all time.