Pogues touring without singer-songwriter MacGowan
It is, unquestionably, an odd time for Spider Stacy to be doing an interview, and even more of an odd time for the Pogues to be on their first US tour in more than two years.
That's because the Pogues, an English band that mixes punk, Irish traditional and a variety of world music, are touring without lead singer-songwriter Shane MacGowan. Their third tour stop is at the Orpheum in Boston tomorrow night.
MacGowan, who has never disguised his fondness for drink either in song or in person, has been an increasingly shaky performer. In 1989 at the Orpheum, he spent nearly half the set offstage and drank from a big blue cup when he was on stage. Before that, on a tour with Bob Dylan, MacGowan left for 10 days due to exhaustion. Several weeks ago, the Pogues returned from a Japanese tour, where MacGowan missed one show. When they returned to England, the decision was made that MacGowan wouldn't tour the States.
"He's not really well enough at the moment to come on the road and for it to be a viable proposition," says a subdued Stacy, the Pogues' tin whistle player and MacGowan's best mate. "For the time being, anyway, he's had enough of touring. It's quite obviously taking a toll on him. Hopefully, he is going to maintain an input into the band in terms of songwriting, but that obviously remains a case to be seen. The situation is somewhat elastic."
The consolation prize is that former Clash co-leader Joe Strummer, a part-time Pogue in the past, will fill in. At the time of our interview - a phoner from England last week - the band hadn't yet decided which vocals Strummer would take. Ironically, Strummer's voice was the one MacGowan's was most compared to when the band first took England by storm in 1985.
Stacy notes that other band members have been taking over both vocal and songwriting roles over the past several years, giving more breadth to the music. Multi-instrumentalist-songwriter Terry Woods, in particular, has given the band both some explicit political songs and some gorgeous, traditional melody lines. Drummer Andrew Ranken, guitarist Philip Chevron, bassist Daryl Hunt and Stacy are also more part of the singing-songwriting process.
"It's developed simply as a result of people gaining more confidence in their ability to write," says Stacy, "and actually putting that confidence to good use. Different personalities, different perspectives. The various styles all seem to complement each other. I think that's a strength we'll be able to draw on."
The Pogues' last studio effort was last year's superb, eclectic "Hell's Ditch." A best-of compilation called "Essential" is slated for an early November release.
What's it going to be like for Stacy hitting the stage without his best buddy by his side?
"It's going to be very peculiar," he says. "It's not had a chance to sink in yet, but it'll be strange."
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Great wadges of thanks to Adrian Leach for help with this article.
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