The Pogues @ Festival Hall
“In blood and death ‘neath a screaming sky / I lay down on the ground / And the arms and legs of other men / Were scattered all around / Some cursed, some prayed, some prayed then cursed / Then prayed and bled some more / And the only thing that I could see / Was a pair of brown eyes that was looking at me.”
It was enough to send tears from my eyes; raw and haunting sentiments from a masterful songwriter and disheveled individual. Shane McGowan limped across the stage once graced by The Beatles; cigarette alight, sunglasses on. The jeers boomed from blokes and lasses, pinching themselves to witness a full Pogues lineup that has miraculously survived three decades of rough seas.
They formed in London’s Kings Cross, 1982, amid the horrific bombings that protested British occupation of Northern Ireland. Not the best place for an irish outfit to begin their musical careers. However, if they could establish a following in an anti-IRA fuelled London, these Celts could succeed anywhere.
Quite appropriately the military drums sounded, Spider Stacy’s tin whistle leapt to life and all eight members of The Pogues stood shoulder to shoulder, beneath green-tinged lights, to beckon Streams of Whiskey. Irish flags waved, small whiskey bottles did the rounds between half-drunken men and McGowan held his peace sign aloft before giving the crowd a thumbs up and muttering, ‘nice to be back, a real treat to be back’.
If I Shall Fall From Grace With God saw die-hard fans unite, beer cups fly and the front few rows go nuts. From there a back drop of stars lit up The Broad Majestic Shannon, Greenland Whale Fisheries hand-clapped to precision instrumentation and A Pair of Brown Eyes became our undoing. It was an unbelievable start.
Stacy lead Tuesday Morning accompanied by banjo as McGowan returned to his beloved for The Sunnyside Of The Street, an immaculately uplifting irish tune. His muffled speech, direct contrast to the husky and forthright conviction of his singing. It no longer emits the youthful vibrancy of early recordings but the spirit remains; The Band Played Waltzing Matilda and The Body Of An American proof of that.
Dirty Old Town, Bottle Of Smoke and the fluttering floor toms of The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn was the catalyst for a rambunctious conclusion to the main set. James Fearney slid on knees, launched himself and his accordion from the drum riser and we stood gobsmacked at the joy The Pogues shared during two encores with Sally MacLennane, A Rainy Night In Soho, Irish Rover and the final frenzy of Fiesta.
How Shane McGowan is still standing, still sounding and how Spider Stacy repeatedly belted his own head with a beer tray; it’s the stuff you’ll be telling your kids about. Just don’t show them a picture of McGowan too close to bedtime.
BY JOHN DONALDSON
LOVED: All the rambling boys of pleasure and ladies of easy leisure.
HATED: What’s there to hate when you’re witnessing musical history.
DRANK: The shrapnel from beers being hoisted through the air.