Pogues guitarist Philip Chevron passed away today, after a battle with cancer. He was just 56.
Regarded as hugely influential on The Irish punk scene, he joined The Pogues around the time of their second album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. While frontman Shane MacGowan remained much of the focus, Chevron was a songwriter for the band too, including ‘Lorelei’ on Peace and Love and ‘Thousands Are Sailing’ from If I Should Fall From Grace With God.
‘Thousands Are Sailing’ was not released as a single but remains one of their most-loved songs, dealing as many of their songs did with the Irish diaspora.
‘Lorelei’ sounds different from many of the Pogues other songs, and is no less affecting for that.
Back in 1987, The Pogues with Kirsty MacColl on vocals released what many believe to be the greatest Christmas single of all time, ‘Fairytale Of New York.’ A bittersweet tale, it tells of an Irish couple in New York.
Mostly told from the husband’s point of view, Shane MacGowan’s Christmas Eve reverie thinks about holidays past while sleeping off a binge in a New York City drunk tank.
When an old man in the same cell sings a passage from the Irish ballad “The Rare Old Mountain Dew”, the MacGowan begins to dream about the song’s female character. The remainder of the song takes the form of a call and response between the couple, their youthful hopes crushed by alcoholism and drug addiction, as they reminisce and bicker on Christmas Eve. MacColl’s putdown of ‘You scumbag, you maggot you cheap lousy faggot/happy Christmas? Your arse!/I pray God it’s our last’ amazingly got past the censors at the BBC (who had baulked at George Michael’s ‘I Want Your Sex’ a mere matter of months earlier. Then again, fifteen years previously Lou Reed’s pretty bleedin’ obvious ‘But she never lost her head/even when she was giving head’ showed that it wasn’t always black and white). It remains one of the most vitriolic put-downs on record.
According to Wikipedia ‘In his Christmas podcast, musical comedian Mitch Benn commented that “faggot” was Irish and Liverpudlian slang for a lazy person, and was unrelated to the derogatory term for homosexuals.’
Though it’s hard to imagine the song without Kirsty MacColl singing the female line, it wasn’t intended that way. Originally the part was to have been sung by the Pogues’ original bassist Cait O’Riordan, who had previously taken lead vocals on ‘A Man You Don’t Meet Everyday’ and ‘Haunted.’ O’Riordan left the band in 1986, having married the band’s producer Elvis Costello, who had worked with the band on their sophomore album Rum, Sodomy And The Lash.
Funnily enough, it was the band’s next producer Steve Lillywhite’s wife, Kirsty MacColl who sung the lead, but she had only been asked to provide the guide vocal. The band liked her contribution so much, they asked her to record it for the real thing…and the rest, as they say, is history.
Kirsty MacColl died, tragically, in December 2000 , whilst Scuba Diving in Mexico with her two sons (see here for details about the Justice For Kirsty campaign, which has now been stood down). She is probably best known for her part in this song, but if you haven’t heard any of her other albums, may I recommend that you check out the Electric Landlady and Tropical Brainstorm albums, just for starters.
The song has been a hit many times since, and has made the charts in 1991, 2005-2011, this year it has already re-charted. It’s been 25 years -wouldn’t it be great if it finally reached the position it deserved?
The 1987 Top Of The Pops performance, introduced by Mike Read
Just Shane and Kirsty for Top Of The Pops in 1992…
Celtic Soul would, I suppose, bring to mind the likes of Van Morrison, Dexy’s Midnight Runners (maybe Deacon Blue if I was feeling very generous)…but what about the Pogues?
The song that the Pogues are unquestionably best known for is, of course ‘F**ryt*l* *f N*W Y*rk’ which comes out every year, a festive favourite for the Post-punk generations and those that followed. In 1987 it reached no.2, capitalising on what had already been a pretty successful year chartwise for the Pogues, who had enjoyed their first ever Top Ten Hit earlier in 1987 with their collaboration with The Dubliners on ‘The Irish Rover.’
So…was there a Christmas no.1 contender from the Pogues twelve months later…? Well, yes…and no. ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah’ is certainly not a Christmassy sounding song, which might, partly, explain the reason it only reached no.43. It does have a lot of brass on it, and yet bares no relation to that year’s earlier hit ‘Fiesta.’ If the Pogues had wanted another tearjerker song, i suppose they could have issued another single off the fantastic If I Should Fall From Grace With God LP, ‘Thousands Are Sailing.’ But perhaps two Christmas singles in a row dealing with the Irish diaspora (well, sorta) might have been a bit much.
This track wasn’t on the next Pogues album, Peace and Love*
Another Pogues single that wasn’t included on an official Pogues studio album had been the 1986 no.42 (ouch!) single ‘Haunted.’ This song was notable for several reasons:
a) It isn’t Shane MacGowan singing but Cait O’Riordan, who had also sung lead on the track ‘A Man you Don’t Meet Every Day (on their peerless Rum, Sodomy and the Lash LP
b) It came out on MCA, not their usual company Stiff
c) It was on the soundtrack to the film Sid & Nancy.
d) It was the last single that O’Riordan did with the band, as she left to marry Elvis Costello.
Hooray…after a lot of help, from my own record collection, 17 Seconds’ readers, eMusic, iTunes and the USB turntable, I have finally managed to complete one year of Festive Fifty for the iPod. And these final tracks were what completed it:
Much as I like 1984’s The Wonderful and Frightening World Of The Fall, I wasn’t always convinced by this track. But get past the first few seconds, and it’s bloody amazing.
The Fall -‘Lay Of The Land.’ mp3 (1984 Festive Fifty no.9).
The most famous track from This Mortal Coil ‘Song To The Siren’ had already made the Festive Fifty the previous year. But covers of Big Star and Roy Harper deservedly made it the following year:
This Mortal Coil -‘Kangaroo.’ mp3 (1984 Festive Fifty no.21)
This Mortal Coil -‘Another Day.’ mp3 (1984 Festive Fifty no.33)
Finally, a great early Pogues track from their debut Red Roses For Me:
The Pogues -‘The Dark Streets Of London.’ mp3 (1984 Festive Fifty no.45)
Keep it tuned, as it were, to 17 Seconds, there’ll be more music to come this weekend…