It's a Long Way from Tipperary
YOU'VE GOT GUINNESS ON YOUR BREATH
It was somewhere near old Checkpoint Charlie that we first caught sight of the thin white droog. He is dressed in black from head to toe and has somehow managed to get half a toilet roll wrapped around his left shoe. His shirt is covered in a mixture of horrible stains from last night's gargantuan intake of all things liquid and the residue from the messiest laugh in show business.
It is in fact this latter noise, more of a gush than anything else, which finally convinces the keen-eared Caitlin that we do indeed have the man we are looking for. Hey you, you with the bog roll on your feet and the Guinness on your breath, you must be the singer and chief songwriter with the very wonderful Pogues. I say you are Shane MacGowan and I hereby claim my long-awaited lost weekend.
WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE KIDDING MISTER HITLER?
Serious? Let's get that way right now and talk for awhile about the rather unsavoury events that took place in a venue way out in the American part of town, in a three tiered building called The Loft. Looking back on it now, we should all perhaps have paid a little bit more attention to the guy in the dressing room who casually happened that today was, ah, Hitler's birthday and a few of his spiritual descendants might just take this very public, unity to let the locals know that the old goosestepper may be gone but certainly is not forgotten.
The end result of this piece of particularly bad timing was that the sheer unadulterated thrill of seeing the Pogues play live to a foreign audience for the first time was tarnished by the very different sensation of wondering what the best form of torture would be for the bunch of Nazis down in the front, who were making a very good go out of ruining the fun for everyone else.
The increasingly glamorous Rocky O'Riordan, or Cait as she calls herself this month opted for the Redskin school of audience appeasement by offering to take the meatheads on at their own game, temporary banjo picker and legend in his own lunchtime Philip Chevron delivered an inspired and perfectly pitched piece of verbals on how insulted he and his colleagues felt by the sieg-heiling antics of the noisy minority, and I just stood at the back and felt all sorts of little shivers go up my back when the proud strains of "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" came cutting through the Berlin air like a knife. The Pogues left the stage to a tumultuous roar and it suddenly hit me after all this time that they may just be the greatest band in the whole wide world. I went to tell Shane MacGowan this exciting snippet of news and he collapsed in a heap on the floor.
IT'S A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY. A LONG WAY TO GO
Sometime between this initial collapse and Spider being sick on my new travelling bag, six Pogues, a toilet roll, their manager and the increasingly manic MM team made their way through East Germany in a van. And just before the traffic Polizei fined us 100 marks and I'll buy you a drink, a tape recorder somehow replaced a bottle in Shane MacGowan's immediate line of vision.
He took one look at it and proceeded to tell it all sorts of things about life with the Pogues, Martin Sheen, Elvis Costello, and the joys of looking at the world through the bottom of a glass.
"It's the first time I've been abroad since I went to France when I was about 14. Yeah, it's alright, but I'm getting pretty sick of it now and looking forward to going home. The best thing has been the reaction from the crowds, apart from last night, but everywhere else they seem to have really got into it in a big way. Which is brilliant, cos it shows that there are loonies in every town in every country, people who just want to go out and get pissed and have a good time at the shows, Brilliant."
The mad urge to get home however, is probably something to do with the fact that Elvis Costello, or Uncle Brian as he seems to be called around here, is about to start producing the Pogues' second, and obviously crucial album.
"Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it, you know? I'm not sure just how big an effect he is going to have on how it turns out, because we already know it is going to be quite different from the first one. There'll be a lot more slow stuff on it, a lot more ballads in the vein of 'Pair Of Brown Eyes', and hopefully it will sound even better than last time.
"I don't that means it will necessarily be any cleaner or more professional, because one of the numbers on it will be the fastest thing we have ever done, and a couple of the others are fairly rough as well. You'll still know it's the Pogues."
All this recording and touring business must sap the freshness a bit, no? "Ha! I lost any freshness I ever had for this band a long time ago. I've just decided that the audience might as well suffer along with me."
It might be prudent here to mention that the above comments and most of the ones to follow were accom0panied by the aforementioned messiest laugh in showbusiness, that enormous gush which is hard to describe exactly but it's something like the noise a very fat badger might make if you threaten it with immediate extinction. However...
"So yeah, I've lost most of my original motive for doing this which was ah, well there wasn't one really I suppose, apart from to get pissed and play down the local pub. Like if you'd said to me two years ago that I'd now be worrying about being professional on stage and all that, I'd have laughed at you. That wasn't the original idea at all."
Laugh away, but if the original motive has now gone down the drain, then what's taken it's place?
"Ambition. And greed. (gush) Cos I'm prepared to compromise to the hilt so long as it gets me lots of money. (enormous gush) So far we haven't made anything even though it all seems to have happened so quickly. It took off around the time of the Costello tour and the last time we spoke and since then I don't really know what the fuck's going on. But I do know it's got nothing to do with luck.
"We deserve every single accolade we get because I honestly believe that this band is doing something better than the rest of the shit around. The Men They Couldn't Hang were the only ones close to us when they started off and now they've turned into a rock band, which is fine and they're good at it. I think we're unique, definitely."
But they all say that till the first hit single comes along.
"I don't really think that will make too much difference to us in terms of any pressures we might have to face. And anyway, I find it pretty pathetic to carp on about pressures and all that shit when you compare it to the boring horrible jobs I had to do before this band. Even if I drink myself to death doing this, I'd still prefer that to all those other jobs put together."
Well, you sure don't get to meet the director of "Repo Man" or Elvis Costello when you're working on the railways. How did you first get to meet the great Alex Cox?
"We just read this interview where he said that he reckoned the Pogues were quite interesting and we got together as soon as possible because we knew it would work for he's such a nutcase as well. It's a bit of a laugh, cos we're being used as guinea pigs for Alex Cox to make a good video and for Elvis Costello to produce a good album for once. That is only a joke, yes?"
Yes, and somewhere round about now the tape recorder gets edged out of the way to make room for the retsina and all I can hear are bizarre references to Martin Sheen being Shane's second cousin, and the equally strange tale of how the chief Pogue started off in one of the country's top private schools but left when he had to sit next to Mat Snow. By this stage we're nearly back on the autobahn so let's just have a final message for the folks back home.
"Yeah, tell all the women in my life that I love them." Ah 'tis such a shame that he drinks so much, or else"You shouldn't worry about me drinking too much. I only worry if I don't drink quite enough, because then I become all sober and a very miserable person. And we don't want that now, do we?"
VORSPRUNG DURCH ALKOHOL
Nearly 24 hours into it now, and still Spider Stacy, tin whistle and beer-tray basher extraordinaire, has failed to speak one coherent word of English. He did, however, agree temporarily to call a halt to the new language of first form German mixed with some inspired lateral thinking in order to deliver the following collection of thoughts to a hungry world.
"Hello, I am really surprised at how well Germany likes the Pogues. Seriously, it's been great and there's been a couple of nights when we have really come together more effectively than before. It's a bit weird cos, I thought the people here only be into Test Department or punk or EinsturzEinsturtwhatever they're called, but it's just not the case.
"And they also seem to know quite a bit about us even before we go and start playing. Like as soon as we walk on they all go 'oi, buy us a drink' and stuff like that which is pretty funny when you think about it."
And when you think about it a bit more, it's more or less your own fault.
"Well, I admit that we are primarily responsible for this drunken Irish image we have, but its also a lot to do with how the press write about us. True enough, we don't really go out of our way to play it down or anything but I think the new album might show people that we're not as stupid as they think. But I'm not really too worried about all that at the minute cos I'm more concerned at the fact that I've lost me hankie."
Anything else while you're at it?
"Yeah, Vorsprung Durch Alkohol."
THE WORLD IS MY OYSTER
The Pogues are, of course a deeply divided band in the very best sense, with the Shane/Spider/Rocky camp doing the majority of onstage ranting and leisure time drinking while the solid triumvirate of drummer Andrew, philosopher and accordion player James and the temporarily out of action Country Jem ("he is having a baby, no?" - Spider) provide a more mature and more enlightening perspective on the raison d'etre of the whole wild shabang. Suitably enough, the ancient and Hanseatic city of Hamburg is just coming into view as James takes over in the hot seat from his schnapp-happy hankieless partner.
"I think the most important thing for me is that we are still an honest band and it's that belief that keeps me going in the whole thing. I hope that never goes, because then I'd probably pack it in and I don't want to do that. I mean, this has to be one of the best situations you could possibly find yourself in. Going across Europe and you can't even do your job properly!
"Although, we have improved quite a bit since the early days both in terms of our ability on the instruments and in the dynamics of actually playing together."
So what will James do when the storm breaks?
"Oh, I've got quite a few plans up my sleeve. I'd like to act, write a book, buy a canal barge, go up in a hot air balloon, all the usual things. The world is my oyster, Barry, I'd even fancy being a woodman for a while."
Spider: "A woman?"
JUST A WEE LUCOZADE FOR ME
And somewhere between the opening bells of "Transmetropolitan" and the closing verse of "Jesse James" it became all too clear that James need not worry about the barge or or whatever for sometime to come. Uncle Brian is rocking away at the side of the stage, about 900 Hamburgers are drowning in thunderous streams of whiskey and I don't really want to go home in the morning.
Much later on that night, Spider coughed about a gallon of beer onto my bag, the manager tried to beat up the roadie and we all ended up in an Irish bar just off the Reeperbahn that was run by a middle aged man from Dungannon. And he told me that he had laughed more on this trip then he ever had before and Shane poured a bottle of vodka over the accordion player's head.
This may or may not have something to do with the fact that the original boy from the county hell ended his stay in the Federal Republic with a night in the local hospital and a very sore jaw. Me, I'm eagerly awaiting the new album with Uncle Brian at the controls, and the doctor even says that I might be able to go back to work before the summer.
This is Barry McIleheney, for Melody Maker, in a nursing home somewhere in Surrey
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