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Excess all areas
They were one of the most influential bands of the past 30 years but the Pogues’ reputation for boozy bad behaviour has obscured their legacy. Accordion player James Fearnley offers a clear-eyed account of the trad-punks’ glory days in his startling new memoir.
Olaf Tyaransen, 02 Aug 2012
When I meet James Fearnley in the resident’s lounge of a midrange Dublin hotel, my first thought is that the bald-headed 58-year-old doesn’t look much like a veteran member of The Pogues. His eyes are bright and clear. There’s not the slightest trace of dried vomit, blood or any other bodily fluids on his neatly-pressed suit jacket. And is that a cappuccino I spy on the table before him?
Okay, I’m being facetious. The Pogues might have a long-held international reputation as a wayward bunch of hard-drinking, rock ‘n’ roll desperados, but for the most part that’s down to their infamously badly behaved frontman. While Fearnley and the rest of the band were no strangers to excess, it was Shane MacGowan who set the, erm, bar for Bacchanalian behaviour.
Frustratingly for his bandmates and audiences alike, MacGowan’s inebriation reduced many Pogues gigs to embarrassingly shambolic farces, especially in the latter stages of their first incarnation. “The worst thing was watching Shane hanging off a microphone, incapable of doing any singing at all,” the accordionist recalls, speaking in a strong north of England accent. “He can’t leave so he’s just in the middle of the stage screaming his head off. That’s hard. And it’s always hard to talk about.”
Presumably slightly easier to write about though. After a string of successful albums and seven riotous years on the road, MacGowan’s drinking and drugging eventually got so out of hand that his fellow Pogues were left with little choice but to reluctantly sack their singer and founding member. Fearnley’s recently published memoir, Here Comes Everybody, opens at this painful juncture, which occurred on the eve of a festival gig in Yokohama in 1991, before rewinding 11 years to the moment where the solidly middle-class, Worsley-born musician first met the decadent singer – then trading under the moniker ‘Shane O’Hooligan’ – in a dingy London rehearsal room.
That audition led to a brief period playing guitar for Shane’s budding punk band The Nips (shortened from Nipple Erectors). Following their implosion, it was a couple of years before the pair hooked up again to form The Pogues, playing their first gigs in 1984 with a line-up that included Jem Finer, Spider Stacey and the fiery Cait O’Riordan.