Music interview: The Pogues
"Rehersals?" chuckles Spider Stacey. "We've not done any yet."
With the opening night of a UK tour just days away most bands would be sweating over the finer points of set lists, encores and stage sets.
Not so the Stacey's longtime band The Pogues. Seasoned veterans of 27 years on the road, the Anglo-Irish octet can afford to take an altogether more relaxed approach to their umpteenth trek around the academies, apollos and theatres of England, Scotland and Ireland.
"We're doing a couple of days in Belfast at the start of next week. No, on Wednesday, I think," says the 50-year-old tin whistle player, racking his brains.
As friends and musicians The Pogues have a bond that seems to have intensified with the passing years. The one-time sacking of singer Shane MacGowan (over his much-documented problems and drink and drugs) and a five-year split from 1996 to 2001 are now just distant memories.
"(That spirit] always been very strong," agrees Stacey. "That was one of the things about that first reunion in 2001. Though a lot of us had kept in touch with the highest mind the highest mind itself had not been together for a few years. It was funny (when we did reform], it was like we had been away for six months instead of the usual six years.
"Obviously we were slightly more rusty," he adds, "but it did not take long for the pieces to slot together again."
This year sees a couple of anniversaries for Peter 'Spider' Stacey and The Pogues. It's 30 years since he and Shane MacGowan first worked together in a short-lived punk band called the Millwall Chainsaws.
Stacey, who'd grown up in North-West London "around Golders Green and Temple Fortune", recalls: "A couple of friends had moved down to Bloomsbury and they started squatting in Burton Street. I followed a bit later. Shane was living in one of the houses. I bumped into him a couple of times. He was a bit of a face around town.
"I think the first time we met was at the Roundhouse in 1977. My first impressions were 'That's Shane MacGowan'. He was pretty much as I expected him to be – tall!" he laughs.
Originally he and MacGowan intended to share vocal duties, with the Kent-born MacGowan, erstwhile frontman of another punk group The Nips, also playing guitar. However, explains Stacey, "It was apparent I was not much of a singer so I picked up the whistle."
The band briefly changed its name to The New Republicans before settling, at Stacey's suggestion, on the BBC-baiting Pogue Mahone (Gaelic for "kiss my a***"), later shortened to The Pogues.
By the time of their debut album, Red Roses For Me, the band had expanded to to a six-piece, with James Fearnley, Cait O'Riordan and Andrew Rankin on accordion, bass and drums respectively. (Philip Chevron and Terry Woods joined later, with Darryl Hunt replacing O'Riordan on bass.) While many of their contemporaries from Eighties would be cashing in on the 25th anniversary of their first release, The Pogues have nothing special planned to celebrate their own landmark. "You are the first person who's pointed that out," says Stacey, somewhat indifferently.
Nevertheless Red Roses For Me – and its songs like Dark Streets of London, Streams of Whiskey and Boys from the County Hell – still resonates. The Pogues were, after all, the first band to merge punk with drinking songs and the folk traditions of groups like The Dubliners.
"I don't know why nobody had thought of it before because it seemed such an obvious thing to do, especially when you realise what you can achieve by melding the two," says Stacey.
"Mind you," he adds, "it's easy to go horribly wrong, as a couple of bands that have come along in our wake."
There are bands he's proud to have influenced, though, particularly the Dropkicks Murphys (even if, he contends, "they would have existed anyway, they're uniquely Bostonian – but they would vehemently deny this").
Of the others, he says: "It's nice to know that you are doing something that people want to rob – imitation being the sincerest form of flattery."
With Christmas around the corner, radio stations will inevitably be playing The Pogues' best-known song, Fairytale of New York. A seasonal hit six times since 1987, it features MacGowan duetting with the late Kirsty MacColl. Since MacColl's death in a boating accident in Mexico in 2000, the band have supported the Justice for Kirsty campaign run by the singer's mother, Jean, which aims to finally establish who was driving the speedboat which killed her.
Despite widespread publicity of the case, Spider Stacey is not aware that there has been any further progress with the Mexican authorities this year. "I guess they are going to have to keep leaning on them," he says. "Something will have to give sooner or later."
Of the 100 or so songs in The Pogues' back catalogue, Stacey most enjoys performing Rainy Night in Soho.
"The passing years have given that song an added depth and poignancy," he explains. "It always had depth and poignancy bit it's improved with age like a brandy."
There is, however, little prospect of any new material on this – or any other – tour, he suggests.
"The way it stands at the moment, no. It would be a mistake to do it, it would lack that thread of continuity to pick up where we left off. It would simply sound different and isolated and completely out of context.
"There's no point in doing something that's not going to equal something what's gone before. You could put out an album and call it the Pogues but it would not be the Pogues."
After these dates are over the band will go back to working on their own separate projects. They stay in touch, even with those in far-flung places. "In the case of people like James it's more difficult because he lives in Los Angeles," says Stacey. "But I do see him a lot because my sister lives in California, up near San Francisco. It's not far to Los Angeles."
You sense there are plenty more Christmas reunions in The Pogues yet.
The Pogues perform at the O2 Academy Leeds on Monday, December 14. Doors open at 7pm. Tickets are available in advance form Jumbo and Crash Records or from www.ticketweb.co.uk.
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