The Pogues

  • Biography:

    The musical equivalent of a pub crawl, the Pogues have staggered through a career that combines the instrumentation and tunes of traditional Irish music with the energy and attitude of punk. The band was formed in 1982 when Shane MacGowan, then a member of a north London punk band called the Nipple Erectors —later shortened to the Nips —saw Spider Stacy playing tin whistle in a London tube station. They hit it off and, along with Nip Jim Fearnley on guitar, began to perform traditional Irish tunes in London's streets and pubs. Calling themselves Pogue Mahone (Gaelic for "kiss my ass"), they recruited Finer, Ranken, and O'Riordan and added MacGowan's earthy, Joycean original songs to their repertoire. The sextet garnered a reputation as a drunkenly raucous live act, and in 1984 released a single, "Dark Streets of London," on their own, eponymous label. Their reputation increased when they were hired as the opening act on the Clash's 1984 tour. (Some of the Clash's political fury rubbed off, as the Pogues became vehemently anti-Thatcher.) They signed with Stiff Records that year, and released Red Roses for Me.

    Rum, Sodomy & the Lash was produced by Elvis Costello, who married O'Riordan after she left the band. By then, the band had expanded to an octet. The Pogues did not record again until 1988. In the interim they appeared in Alex Cox's film Straight to Hell (1987) and moved to Island Records. Their initial release for the label, the Steve Lillywhite–produced If I Should Fall From Grace With God (#88, 1988), included the #2 U.K. hit, "Fairytale of New York," featuring singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl (the daughter of songwriter/playwright Ewan MacColl and then the wife of Lillywhite). The three Lillywhite-produced albums expanded the group's musical palette, adding Middle Eastern sounds on "Turkish Song of the Damned" from God and jazz stylings on Peace and Love (1989).

    Finer and Stacy began to take on additional singing and writing chores as MacGowan's drinking (he claimed not to have spent a day completely sober since he was 14) began to interfere with his musical duties. He missed a series of 1988 U.S. dates opening for Bob Dylan, and by 1991 he had become so unreliable he was asked to leave the band. He was replaced by former Clash singer Joe Strummer (who had produced 1990's Hell's Ditch). Strummer left in 1992, and Spider Stacy took over the vocals on 1993's Waiting for Herb. In 1994 MacGowan resurfaced, performing with a new band, the Popes, for the first time on St. Patrick's Day at a London club. That year the group recorded its first album, The Snake, filled with dark new songs by MacGowan. MacGowan toured to support its U.S. release in 1995, the same year the Pogues released its final album, Pogue Mahone, before disbanding in 1996.

    In 2001, the Pogues reunited with MacGowan and began touring in the UK and U.S.

    This biography originally appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001).