The Pogues / Urban Voodoo Machine / DJ Scratchy
I have only ever been to one other place where I was so comprehensively the youngest person in the room by a good twenty years. That was at a W.I. Market and I bought a lemon drizzle cake. At Newcastle Academy however, on a crisp Christmas night, I came away with tinnitus and several bruises that were curiously shaped like forty-year-old elbows. The Christmas spirit is clearly alive and well in the north-east.
Nowadays, The Pogues are, for anyone’s money, the embodiment of everything festive; a commercial sell-out, and, having long-since abandoned the original motivation and credentials which were the celebration of what they stood for, now rely on annual tours to keep the spirit going. I am, as you may have gathered, a slight cynic of modern-day Christmas, but the fact still stands that, to most, The Pogues are very much the personification of my cynicism: no-one cares about them until they are brought back into vogue at a certain, and increasingly earlier, time of the year. After all, of course, they do have THAT song which is so intrinsically tied to Christmas that it has become THE soundtrack to the lead up to December 25th.
They will, of course, play it in their live set, we all know that. But when? Certainly not whilst the support acts – the eclectic and worldly DJ Scratchy and the bizarre ‘Celtic-BigBand-Punk’ creations of Urban Voodoo Machine – are on stage. And not whilst opening tracks such as ‘Boys from the County Hell’ and ‘Turkish Song of the Damned’ are being belted out to a surprisingly boisterous middle-aged crowd. Shane McGowan certainly does not help to tell us.
Seemingly resigned to the fact that he is incomprehensible to everyone, he instead resorts to blurting out arbitrary sounds in a form of unintelligible Tourettes. Like a toothless uncle at Christmas he is happy to drink, smile at everyone and be glad to somehow still be alive. Maybe there is something profound in his cries, perhaps lying at the bottom of a bottle of whiskey. I look for clues in the exclamations, taking the sound “Urghh” to mean “Ergh” and thus mark the beginning of ‘Dirty Old Town’. Instead it is ‘The Irish Rover’, and my anticipated track comes later, bringing with it a scrum of slightly wrinkled limbs and beer guts.
I am injured but not deterred, eager to see the gig out until THAT song. It still has not arrived by the time the first encore approaches and people are starting to get edgy. Surely not? And then the band is leaving the stage after an encore including ‘Rainy Night in Soho’ and I almost let out a scream of disgust. Are the Christmas shoppers to go home empty handed? How will the ‘Christmas spirit’ possibly continue?
But then suddenly McGowan and his motley crew are walking back onto the stage again, and this time they are joined by a woman and I know everything is going to be alright after all...
It was an enjoyable gig. Even if I did feel a bit out of place. ‘Fairytale of New York’ was met with a shower of artificial snow and sing-along, ensuring that the gig closed on a high and the throngs of people could return home happy to their teenage children. The Pogues are clearly as popular as ever, albeit several decades older and several thousand brain cells fewer. No doubt they will be back next year to ensure that Christmas will continue.
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