March 18, 2009

In eighteen hundred and forty-six and on March the eighteenth day...

...We hoisted our colors to the top of the mast
And for Greenland sailed away, brave boys,
And for Greenland sailed away.

The lookout, in the crosstrees he stood
With spyglass in his hand;
There's a whale, there's a whale,
And a whalefish he cried
And she blows at every span, brave boys
And she blows at every span.

The captain stood on the quarterdeck,
The ice was in his eye;
Overhaul, overhaul! Let your gibsheets fall,
And you'll put your boats to sea, brave boys
And you'll put your boats to sea.

The harpoon struck and the line played out,
With a single flourish of his tail,
He capsized the boat and we lost five men,
And we did not catch that whale, brave boys,
And we did not catch that whale.

The losing of those five jolly men,
It grieved the captain sore,
But the losing of that fine whalefish
Now it grieved him ten times more, brave boys
Now it grieved him ten times more.

Oh Greenland is a barren land
A land that bears no green
Where there's ice and snow, and the whalefishes blow
And the daylight's seldom seen, brave boys
And the daylight's seldom seen.
Greenland Whale Fisheries

Sometimes things seem to connect with a past they don't actually belong to, but perhaps maybe should have. The Neil Gaiman/Charles Vess masterpiece Stardust seems as though it were the work of a nineteenth century disciple of William Morris. The iconic British Ploughman's Lunch conjures visions of medieval farmworkers relaxing from their heavy toil over a wholesome and filling mid-day refreshment, but it was apparently conjured up by the English Country Cheese Council in 1960.

Red Roses For Me (absolutely my favorite Pogues album), with its organic marriage of Shane MacGowan's brilliant compositions and rowdy performances of traditional Irish drinking songs and rebel balladry seems to embody hundreds of years of Ireland's musical history.

This astounding debut appeared fully-formed and gloriously unique, preceded only by their single “Dark Streets Of London” (in a slightly different version to that on the album), its surface shambolics belying a solid musical and lyrical depth and maturity. Red Roses For Me was produced by Stan Brennan, who ran Rocks Off Records in West One, where Shane sometimes served behind the counter. It was his long term mission to get the band off the ground, and he managed to pour the Pogue magic, unspilled and distilled, into the flagon at Wapping's tiny Elephant Studios.The former Shane O'Hooligan is the first to acknowledge his debt to the poets Brendan Behan and James Clarence Mangan, and musically to the Dubliners – not that a Dubliners record would ever be mistaken for one by the Pogues. The Anglo-Celtic sound of the Pogues, fermented in London's King's Cross, is a mixture of pub and punk - both Shane and Mancunian Maestro Jimmy Fearnley having been veterans of punk band the Nips - but played with an exuberance and an excellence that proved nearly impossible to resist (despite the rising tide of New Romanticism which threatened to overwhelm the London music scene of the early eighties). There were/are a number of the old guard Irish purists who despised this hybrid sound which they thought perpetuated the stereotype of the drunken Irish paddy…to be fair, it is rumoured that Shane likes a drink.

From the opening sounds of "Transmetropolitan" you're transported to the seedy underbelly of London, and its landscape of broken bottles and broken dreams, inhabited by folk even the dredges look down upon, and Shane McGowan channels each and every one of them. He does it with such conviction that whether the character is living in 1983 or 1843, you swear he was there and that he's recounting the story first hand. There is so much pain in his voice as he sings "The Auld Triangle" over guitar and tin whistle, that it's impossible to ignore, "Poor Paddy" could be his own old man working on the railway, and Shane is a bard in the most traditional sense of the word, as he retells the story within "Greenland Whale Fisheries."

It's not too hard to imagine McGowan and Company floundering amidst "Streams of Whiskey," or stirring things up with "The Boys From The County Hell," or wandering "The Dark Streets of London," accompanied with his band of merrymakers and miscreants. Despite the desperation, there is an attitude of defiant charm in the delivery these songs. The Rhino reissue embellishes the album’s original songlist with six vital bonus tracks. “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”, Eric Bogle's chilling account of Gallipoli, was revisited on Rum, Sodomy And The Lash, but this is the original flipside of their debut single, “Dark Streets of London” - you may know the song as performed by Eric Bogle or maybe June Tabor, but not like this. “Repeal of the Licensing Laws” was the B-side of the (cleaned-up) “Boys From the County Hell”. The band returned to Elephant in 1985 to record the B-sides “Whiskey You're The Devil” and “Muirshin Durkin”, both for the single “A Pair Of Brown Eyes”, and “The Wild Rover” and “The Leaving Of Liverpool” backed up “Sally MacLennane”.

Whether they're new interpretations of traditional tales, or original compositions, Shane is able to channel the spirit of a fighter and a survivor struggling against destiny and the drink while his bandmates provide the perfect musical accompaniment: a whirlwind assembly of banjo, tin whistle, acoustic guitar, rapid-fire percussion, and accordion, that is the equivalent of a punch in the face, a kick in the arse, and a raw shot of whiskey.

The Pogues
Red Roses For Me (reissue)
(2007 – Rhino Records)
1 Transmetropolitan
2 The Battle Of Brisbane
3 The Aud Triangle
4 Waxie's Dargle
5 Boys From The County Hell
6 Sea Shanty
7 Dark Streets Of London
8 Streams Of Whiskey
9 Poor Paddy
10 Dingle Regatta
11 Greenland Whale Fisheries
12 Down In The Ground Where The Deadmen Go
13 Kitty
14 The Leaving Of Liverpool (Bonus Track)
15 Muirshin Durkin (Bonus Track)
16 Repeal Of The Licensing Laws (Bonus Track)
17 And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda (Bonus Track)
18 Whiskey You're The Devil (Bonus Track)
19 The Wild Rover (Bonus Track)

Watch Greenland Whale Fisheries (Peel Session)…

Click HERE to download two Peel sessions from 1984…

1 comment:

b said...

beautifully written, and well said!

"Sometimes things seem to connect with a past they don't actually belong to, but perhaps maybe should have."

i heard that rumor about shane and the drink, too. . . and what a great picture of him.

i still remember the first time i consciously heard the pogues. they'd been playing "dirty old town" on the radio, but i never made the connection until my high school us history teacher played "thousands are sailing" for us to illustrate the influx of immigrants in the 19th century, as well as the patterns of settlement. he was a great teacher-- had seen the pogues once, when joe was fronting.

love "boys from the county hell"-- such a brutal song. and shane does the auld triangle justice.