“The Pogues were formed as a band that played a mixture of Irish music, country music, rock, punk - well, rock and punk are the same to me,” Shane MacGowan told the New York Times in 1990. “The basis was traditional Irish music. We electrified it a bit and played in rock clubs…” Raw and raucous, tender and touching, the music of The Pogues channels the last century of Irish folk music into a potent contemporary energy. The band first appeared in 1984 as a seven piece called Pogue Mahone, Gaelic for “Kiss My Arse”. Shane MacGowan (vocals/lyrics/guitar) stood alongside James Fearnley (accordion), Jem Finer (banjo), Cait O’Riordan (bass and vocals), Spider Stacy (whistle) and Andrew Ranken (drums).
Their debut album, Red Roses For Me (SEEZ 55, featuring Dark Streets of London) appeared in October of 1984 and pitted seven original Irish punk riots against six uniquely Pogues-style covers of traditional folk songs, inspired by their heroes The Clancy Brothers, Christy Moore and The Dubliners. “All music is traditional,” Shane MacGowan told Melody Maker at the time, “it just depends which tradition it is. Personally I don’t really care whether it’s traditional or not.”
He was talking to the magazine at the start of their most prolific and successful period, represented by the songs on Rum, Sodomy And The Lash (August 1985, SEEZ 58,) and If I Should Fall From Grace With God (January 1988, NYR 1). The former boasted A Pair Of Brown Eyes and Dirty Old Town as its most influential pieces of ‘poguetry’ and was described by the The LA Times as “an unexpected pleasure”.
The latter displayed as much of the songwriting prowess of Jem Finer as Shane MacGowan on tracks such as Turkish Song Of The Damned, Birmingham Six and the classic Fairytale Of New York (featuring Kirsty MacColl), a Christmas number 2 in 1988 and later voted the best Christmas song of all-time by VH-1. People magazine decided that “the octet’s ability to infuse traditional Irish music with punk fervour have helped make If I Should Fall From Grace With God a favourite with critics and an odd assortment of fans, who run the gamut from yuppies to slam dancers.” But Bob Geldof sums The Pogues and their singles up perfectly: “Great words. Great music. Great band. Great art.”