Publication: San Jose Mercury News
Date Printed: Friday, March 25, 1994
Section: Eye
Page: 27
By: JOHN PAPAGEORGE, Special to the Mercury News

"I wish people would just leave me alone so I could drink in peace"
-- Shane MacGowan

GUITARIST Philip Chevron of the Irish folk-rock band the Pogues remembers the night in 1991 when the band finally decided -- after almost two tempestuous years -- to fire alcohol-abusing singer and songwriter Shane MacGowan.

"The actual act of asking him to leave the band was the hardest part," Chevron says. "But when we finally confronted him -- after having put off the decision for so long -- he wondered why we had taken so long."

MacGowan and the Pogues parted ways, and the band finished its 1991 tour with the spur-of-the-moment addition of long-time associate and ex-Clash lead singer Joe Strummer.

Now, after a three-year hiatus, the Pogues are back singing, drinking and touring to promote their new album, "Waiting for Herb" (Chameleon).

Although the group has just switched record labels and lead singers -- a Pogues founding member, tin-whistle player Spider Stacy, has taken over vocal duties -- the group has not changed its musical recipe of Irish folk combined with an eclectic mix of rock and ethnic stylings.

Catchy melodies, such as those on the title track and first single, "Tuesday Morning," abound on the album, which was produced by Michael Brook, a protege of Brian Eno. Still, the members prove they haven't lost their penchant for raucous Turkish dance songs, with such cuts as "Drunken Boat."

The Pogues' current tour, which meanders to the Warfield in San Francisco on Monday night, has not been without its casualties.

Chevron, 37, admits the cracked ribs he suffered from falling in a hotel bathtub a few days ago have kept him feeling a little less than effervescent. But he insists the other band members -- Jem Finer on banjo, Darryl Hunt on bass, Andrew Ranken on drums, Terry Woods on cittern and mandolin and James Fearnley on accordion -- are enjoying themselves on the road. He credits Strummer, who did one of his first fill-in performances at the Warfield in 1991, for keeping the band from falling apart.

"Joe Strummer helped restore confidence within ourselves when it was an obviously low point," recalls Chevron. "He showed us that we could carry on." Strummer's affiliation with the Pogues included producing their 1990 album, "Hell's Ditch," and starring with the band (who portrayed a wild band of coffee-drinking bandits) in the Alex Cox film "Straight to Hell." But Chevron believes the musical collaboration, though comfortable, was never meant to be a long-term arrangement.

"Joe felt it was great while it lasted, but it wouldn't have worked out in the long run, because we never wrote any music together," says the guitarist. "I don't think that Joe wanted to spend his life touring the world, which is what you have to do if you're in the Pogues."

The Pogues got started in the Irish section of North London in 1982, rising from the ashes of the punk movement. "I had come from Ireland to London and recognized some of the other members from going to gigs. . . . We would all go see Shane's band," Chevron says.

MacGowan and Stacy began as a duet, singing "rebel songs," which were greeted with a thorough pelting by audiences. The twosome quickly added drinking buddies Finer, Ranken and bass player Cait O'Riordan as musical reinforcements. The quintet soon formed the band Pogue Mahone (Gaelic for "Kiss my butt").

The group's reckless energy and traditional Irish folk melodies became an immediate sensation in London pubs, attracting an audience as wild as the band. "The Irish folk music seemed very natural to us because it was the music that we came up with," says Chevron. "And as we became more proficient, we mixed in European melodies, rock 'n' roll and New Orleans music. It wasn't deliberate, (but) these colors and textures organically found their way into the songs."

The members shortened the band's name to the Pogues in conjunction with the release of their spirited 1984 album, "Red Roses for Me." The group's second LP, the darker "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash," gained international recognition.

The Pogues' popularity grew as their live shows, especially their heralded St. Patrick's Day concerts, became hot tickets.

The 1988 release of "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" marked the full-time addition of Chevron, Woods and Hunt, who replaced O'Riordan (she married Elvis Costello). The LP marked the height of the group's critical recognition, with the song "A Fairytale of New York," which enjoyed chart success in both Britain and the United States.

The record which followed, "Peace and Love," was considered a disappointment. The album's inconsistent song selection also triggered the first rumors of strife in the band, and of MacGowan's excessive drinking.

MacGowan's binges led to publicized no-shows at concerts. "It became impossible for his drinking to go hand-in-hand with our endless touring," says Chevron.

Chevron and the band's other members feared that, without MacGowan, a colorful element of the Pogues' identity would be lost. MacGowan's lyrical landscapes, which encompassed drunken escapades, dirty towns and the love between down-and-out losers, defined the band's gritty appeal. His sloppy stage presence and toothless grin were an intrinsic part of the performances.

But the band has played on. Chevron says rumors that MacGowan will rejoin the group are untrue. "The fact is we're completely happy without him, and he's happy without us. MacGowan has his own band, his own album and his own living to make -- he didn't just end up in the gutter because we bagged him."

The Pogues
Where: The Warfield, 982 Market St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Monday
Tickets: $17.50, $18.50
Call: (415) 775-7722

Copyright 1994, San Jose Mercury News
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