From Fiasco To Fairytale (London)

Publication: Evening Standard

Author: John Aizlewood

Date: ???

Original Location: Link

As if ascending to altered states equates to some kind of artistic redemption, pop music's drunks and drug fiends are indulged, cosseted and egged on by crowds pretending to encourage, but secretly eager for meltdown.

If Babyshambles leader Pete Doherty was brighter, he'd understand. Likewise Shane MacGowan, unreformed lead singer of the re-formed Pogues. Sing? The man can barely speak.

Initially, they were dreadful. MacGowan was distracted on Streams Of Whiskey and sat down on The Boys From The County Hell.

He introduced The Broad Majestic Shannon as Turkish Song Of The Damned while swinging his microphone at James Fearnley's accordion, lighting a cigarette and knocking his drink over.

The prospect of spending an evening with a drunk loomed wearyingly large.

His seven fellow Pogues - older, balder and tubbier than their last appearance at Fleadh 2002 - hung in there like the crack pub band they would have been without MacGowan and hoped things would come good. Oddly, they did.

Whatever happens to MacGowan, he'll always have his songs and no matter how contemptibly he treats his gift, he will always be the greatest London-Irish songwriter of the last century.

The invisible switch was flicked on the unspeakably beautiful Rainy Night In Soho. MacGowan concentrated, the relieved band gelled and suddenly they were a great and stately collective rather than a one-man freak show.

They held their nerve. Sensibly, MacGowan took regular breaks and was even unmissed on Philip Chevron's Thousands Are Sailing, the epic emigration song.

More surprising was the arrival of Cait O'Riordan. Once the dowdy Pogue, divorce from Elvis Costello has resulted in a startling transformation. She delivered I'm A Man You Don't Meet Every Day as if overdosing on oestrogen.

Even MacGowan noticed and for the first and last time became lucid: "What a cracker, eh ..."

Their version of Ewan MacColl's Dirty Old Town was closing time at every pub in the land at once, but before the boisterous closer Fiesta, there was that lullaby from the drunk tank, Fairytale Of New York, with O'Riordan taking the duet part of MacColl's late daughter Kirsty.

The pair delivered it with such conviction that the crowd - not, it must be said, wholly sober themselves - were in the drunk tank with them. At the end, the singers waltzed as the fake snow fell and there wasn't a dry eye in the house. Now, Christmas can begin.

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