STACEY ENGINEERS YET ANOTHER POGUES COMEBACK
Spider Stacey was eventually tracked down at the Union Tavern in King's Cross, London, on Tuesday, less than a day before his band, The Pogues, were to embark on yet another American tour.
Over a crackly telephone connection, he started off the conversation with this column with a defiant challenge: "The name has changed, but the attitude hasn't."
We had to think about that one a while - the entire point of Spider & Co. touring the U.S. was exactly that the name had not changed - the band was still The Pogues, despite losing practically its entire leadership. Spider seemed to realize his verbal mistake, answering the question of "howya doin" rather unsteadily: "I just got up and I haven't had much time to work that out. But I'm up, at least."
And therein lies the true slogan of these heroes, The Pogues, who are still alive and who remain awake despite every possible setback.
In the past five years the band has lost Shane MacGowan, Terry Woods, Philip Chevron and James Fearnley, and yet they have released another album and are starting this week another U.S. tour. That's like Chicago losing Jordan, Pippen, Rodman and Kukoc but still fielding a team, with Luc Longley at the helm.
"You can expect pretty much the same as usual," said Spider, referring to the tour. "We'll be doing mostly the Pogues songs from the last two albums, waiting for Herb and Pogue Mahone, with old stuff as well."
The latest setback for the band is the change in personnel at the new American label, the small, California-based Mesa Records. A Mesa spokesperson told this column that the radio relations person at Mesa left the label just before the release of Pogue Mahone, and thus radio programmers have been slow in adding the Irish punk sounds of Pogue Mahone to their playlists.
This is very typical for the Pogues, who have succeeded despite disasters galore.The album before this one, which was the first one without leader Shane MacGowan, was huge disappointment in part because its release in the U.S. coincided with the collapse of the label which the band then belonged to. I remember talking to Spider then in the midtown Manhattan office of Chameleon Records, just before Chameleon went out of business. The Pogues, it would seem, are the kiss of death.
"Naah," says Spider from across the Atlantic. "We're alright."
It was a difficult conversation, but Stacy managed to get a few things across.
For starters, the band's current lineup, which includes the following long-standing members: Mr. Stacy, bassist Daryl Hunt, drummer Andrew Ranken, and Jem Finer, on banjo, guitar and other stringy things.
They are joined by three newcomers: James McNally on accordion and piano, Jamie Clarke on guitars and David Coulter on mandolin.
Spider also gave updates, some of them more tongue-in-cheek than the others, on the departed members of the band. They are as follows.
Shane MacGowan: True to rumor, Shane has been hospitalized recently, thus explaining the cancellation in March of his U.S. tour with new band, The Popes.
"He's fine now," said Spider, who started that band with Shane in 1983. "He has stomach ulcers and he'd not been very well - he very nearly burst it there, but he'll be okay."
Philip Chevron: The Irish punk rock pioneer is also not physically fit. "He's not very well," said Spider. "Nothing sinister but he was never the healthiest.
"He left the band because he was doing too much, he decided he was better off calling it a day. He's resting, doing some writing. He hasn't written anything for us yet but it's always welcome."
Terry Woods: the break-up here seemed to be much more bitter, and as had been established, was based on a differing opinion on the band's musical direction.
"That grumpy old f -?" said Spider. "He's back in Ireland, where he should stay.
"Terry wanted a purely Irish sound, and we've never been that way in the first place. He wanted a purely Irish angle, doing what sounds to me like half-baked Appalachian music. Wasn't very Irish at all if you ask me."
And finally, James Fearnley: "James had the best reason to leave of them all," said Spider.
"He got married to an extremely beautiful woman in Los Angeles and they had a baby there. She's an actress. She was that one, you know the one who was Richie Valens' girlfriend in La Bamba. It was simply impossible to be traveling all the time with us, so he packed it in.
"He's in a band out there in L.A., I don't know the name. But
he's doing well." At this point the noise in the bar was beginning to swell,
and Spider started to become distracted. He said, "Paddy MacDonald
is doing effin' great too, and he says hello," leaving yours truly to wonder
was this yet another new band member. It wasn't - Paddy MacDonald
is the Tavern owner, we think. "I'll see you at the gig on Thursday,
mate," Spider concluded. "I can't guarantee you anything except that
we definitely won't be playing 'Honky Tonk Woman.'"
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.