Music, not personality, is the top priority

Publication: Vancouver Sun 
Date Published: April 18, 1996 
By: Katherine Monk
Section: Calendar, Pg. C1

He's one of the newest Pogues. He has a background in the elite arts of theatre and dance. During a stint in Paris, he was one of the first white people to play a didjeridoo.

And if that doesn't sound like a stretch for a member of London's near mythic celtic punk outfit, figure this: he doesn't even drink. 

But David Coulter says he's still 100-per-cent Pogue.

"Seeing the Pogue experience soberly is wonderful in itself. The surreal sheen of being a musician on the road is just that much thicker when you see everything clearly," Coulter says from New York City, before the band heads northwest for a show at the Commodore Ballroom Monday night.

A Pogues fan since his hard-drinking days in school, the world-travelling Coulter has been a Pogue for about five years.

He fully understands the longstanding Pogues tradition of drinking your face off on Irish whisky and dancing until the perspiration makes you soggy.

Shane MacGowan's drooling interpretations of classic Irish folk wails were the stuff of legend.

But like all things -- even the bent and sordid ones -- there comes a time to move on.

"I've always been attracted to the self-destructive quality of genius. I'm reading the work of [French poet] Antonin Artaud right now and that dark place he lived in is a part of most people -- but you can't stay there forever. You burn out too quickly.

"We've all been there, but most don't ever want to go back -- even to visit."

So when the Pogues, who are almost all pushing 40, parted ways with MacGowan on the Hell's Ditch tour back in 1991, things started to get a lot clearer.

"Without Shane, I think the rest of the band had a chance to move the forefront -- where before they were really overlooked. People didn't seem to notice that a band is only as good as the material and Pogues material was a product of everyone in the band. Darryl [Hunt], Jem [Finer] and Spider [Stacy] are very prolific writers in their own right.

"I don't miss Shane -- I don't think anyone does. He was sort of made to walk the plank... if you know what I mean.

"Who wants to pay $20 to see someone fall down drunk? Anyway, it's not my place to really say a whole lot more. I wasn't in the band then."

Coulter joined after MacGowan precipitated more departures, bringing in mandolin, violin and percussion -- along with James McNally (accordion, banjo, whistles) and Jamie Clarke (guitars) -- when James Fearnley, Terry Woods and Phil Chevron quit before recording the latest album, Pogue Mahone.

Fans of the raucous Pogues will still get everything they expect from their beloved party band, says Coulter, one of the youngest at 33.

"If anything, I think the band's sound has really come together in the best possible way: everyone is playing together, and playing to one idea that's bigger than all of us: the music itself."

As one of the original lo-fi bands to emerge from London's alternative circus in the '80s, Coulter says the Pogues pioneered the idea of unplugged punk.

"At the very foundation, it's a butt-kicking show. But with the power of the acoustic instruments, there's a certain rootedness to the sound that goes right to your unconscious.

"Sound can do that. I played didjeridoo to my son Otis [named after Otis Redding] while he was still in the womb, and he definitely connects to the noise. You can absorb so much on a subliminal level that you're never really aware of," says Coulter.

"That Celtic sound has survived centuries. It's dance music that makes you move. It could be the speed at which the songs are played, or the instrumentation, but I've found that when you let it take you, it's an Aladdin's cave of exotica -- with the hurdy gurdy and whistles -- it's a different landscape."

Laughing, Coulter says: "It's a Pink Floyd kind of thing. ... Next, you'll catch us in huge stadiums bringing that landscape to the masses."

The Pogues play the Commodore Ballroom Monday night. Tickets through TicketMaster, 280-4444.

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