A BAND OF OUTLAWS BATTLES BACK
With records such as "Peace and Love" and "Hell's Ditch" and others, they have created a singular sound that is neither traditional nor contemporary but a sort of bastard combination that kicks at the spleen and heart simultaneously.
With vocalist/bard Shane MacGowan leading the way, the group has sold more than a million records, toured with U2 and Bob Dylan and gained a devoted group of fans.
Now the Pogues are on a tour that comes to the Warfield Monday and Tuesday. But this time, MacGowan isn't with them. In his place is Joe Strummer, formerly of the Clash (who also toured with the Pogues in 1987).
Lost in action
''Shane's position in the group is somewhat ambiguous at the moment," says the group's tin whistler, Spider Stacy, speaking from his home in London. "He isn't touring with us temporarily because of, shall we say, combat fatigue? But he is going to continue to write songs for us."
MacGowan and Stacy inadvertently founded the Pogues in 1982 when they got up onstage at London's Cabaret Futura and performed a few Irish rebel songs. They did it as a lark, but over the next year and a half, they were joined by Jem Finer (banjo), James Fearnley (accordion), Darryl Hunt (bass) and Andrew Ranken (drums) and the Pogues became a reality.
In 1984, they released "Red Roses for Me," a heady brew of Irish/punk sounds that immediately became a hit with critics and fans.
''We never had a strategy," Stacy says. "We were just having fun playing the traditional Irish songs very fast and giving them a punk sound. We didn't really think it would go anywhere, this sort of raggle-taggle Irish music. I don't think a shrewd gambler would have bet on it. But then Shane started writing his wonderful songs and we were on our way."
Along the way, the group picked the name Pogue Mahone -- Gaelic for "kiss my . . .") -- then decided to shorten it when the translation got out.
But the name's sentiment lived on in the Pogues' music, image and shows. Records such as 1985's "Rum, Sodomy and the Lash" and 1988's "If I Should Fall From Grace With God" thumbed noses at tradition while, oddly, giving that tradition a new freshness and energy. In the group's publicity photos, MacGowan proudly displayed his rotten-toothed smile (which the record company promptly whitened). And onstage, the group usually made a point of coming out with its instruments, lagers and cigarettes. A Pogues show wasn't a performance as much as it was a pub crawl.
Which, in its way, made sense. "Anyone who spends time in a London pub hears Irish music," Stacy says. "Many of them are owned by Irishmen and they play the old songs in the pub. We just absorbed them, really." Which brings up an interesting bit of Pogues trivia: the Pogues, or rather, most of them, aren't Irish.
''Most people think we are an Irish group," Stacy says. "But only Shane and Philip Chevron and Terry Woods (who joined in 1986) are Irish. But we all have a feel for Irish music."
Pure ragged emotion
That feel is at the core of the group's sound. "At the risk of sounding big-headed about all of this," Stacy says, "I don't think what we are doing has much to do with technical matters. Our music has an emotional content that is like that of Irish music. It strikes directly at the heart. I think what we have accomplished musically speaks for itself; it proves we're not a band of drunks -- which is not to say we're always sober!"
He laughs at the joke, then lowers his voice. "It is an obvious stereotype that the Irish themselves probably wouldn't deny. And we've never strenuously denied it ourselves. But at the same time, we don't conform to any stereotypes, musically or personally."
But where has it gotten the Pogues? At the moment, the group is without a record contract in the United States. And there is that matter of MacGowan's "combat fatigue." And although Strummer did a fine job of subbing for Chevron on the previous tour, it is another thing to try and do the same for MacGowan.
''We'll be doing the usual songs (at the Warfield shows)," Stacy says. "And a few of Joe's songs, like 'London Calling.' And we don't have to think about making a new record (for the European division of Warner Bros.) until next summer. Right now we are just going to play the way we usually do and enjoy ourselves."
When: Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m.
Where: The Warfield, 982 Market St., San Francisco
Tickets: $20. Call (408) 998-2277 or (510) 762-2277.
Copyright 1991, San Jose Mercury News
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