POGUES DRAW FROM MANY SOURCES, ERAS
Shortly before leaving his London home to join Bob Dylan on his current West Coast tour, Jem Finer was asked to summarize the last seven years as a member of the eclectic Irish-rock band, the Pogues.
Finer weighs down his brogue with mock seriousness:
"To quote the Grateful Dead ..."
He pauses, leaving his listener skeptical yet impressed that anybody could find anything quotable from the Grateful Dead.
"...no, I won't quote them."
Keeping fans off balance seems to be a Finer trait, and a Pogue one, too. Take, for example, "Gridlock," the opening track on the Pogues' new album, Peace and Love. It is not a typical Pogues song. Actually, there is nothing typical from the Pogues, who open for Dylan tomorrow night at Starlight Bowl in Balboa Park. Topical yes, typical never.
From the Pogues you can expect traditional Irish folk, mixed with rock, punk, some jazz, whimsy and whiskey and a little anarchy.
But "Gridlock," which Finer wrote with drummer Andrew Ranken, is a bit of a shocker, especially for track one -- elegant, big-band jazz from the 1940s.
"I wouldn't say it is the start of a new direction," offers Finer, "but it is the logical conclusion of a track like "Metropolis," from the last album (If I Should Fall From Grace With God).
"I wouldn't take it as an indication of us turning into a hard Bach octet or something like that."
And yet, some of their influences go back nearly as far as Bach.
"Pogues music grew out of a timeless tradition," says Finer, who plays banjo, sax and hurdy-gurdy for the Pogues, "drawing on Irish folk tradition. Some of the songs we started out doing covers of were 250 years old. They're still as alive and punchy as anything you could write today. Good lively fast tunes."
The band grew out of the subway and pub-crawling adventures of Finer, Spider Stacy (tin whistle) and leader Shane MacGowan (guitar, vocals and songwriter) in 1982 as Pogue Mahone. The name was shortened to the Pogues after a BBC employee translated the name from Gaelic. If you're wondering, "pogue" means kiss.
With the recruitment of James Fearnley (accordion), Cait O'Riordan (bass) and Ranken, the band was shaped.
"I think we did it as something to do rather than a career move, says Finer, "just see how it developed. And this is where it developed to, from a tiny pub down the road to where we are now."
Along the way the band recorded several albums, one produced by Elvis Costello, who subsequently married O'Riordan out of the band. Philip Chevron was added as guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Terry Wood (ex-Steeleye Span) joined. Darryl Hunt replaced O'Riordan.
Pogue appeal is really international, rooted in ancient music yet burnished by contemporary themes.
"Shane's writing has been so central to the music," says Finer. "His writing is into redefining the Irish folk tradition, writing songs about now, documenting the life around one in a rather rural realistic way.
"There's lessons in the music rooted in that, rooted in the type of songs that describe situations and feelings common to people everywhere."
The Pogues' popularity took off in the U.S. with a jump to Island Records,
from MCA, and the issuing of If I Should Fall From Grace With God.
"We went to MCA because they had a licensing deal with Stiff, our label
here, rather than that they specifically wanted us. I don't think
they were ever that enthusiastic or saw the potential," says Finer.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.