Strummer Week: The Pogues
We continue our week-long Joe Strummer tribute, leading up to the 10-year anniversary of his death on December 22, with a bit about the Pogues. The lives of the Pogues weaved around Joe’s for a number of years, beginning before the Pogues even existed. In the late ’70s, young Shane MacGowan was a visible fixture on the London punk scene, but more as a fan than as a music maker. The first known intersection in the lives of Joe and Shane came on October 23, 1976, at the Clash’s first headlining gig in London at the ICA on the Mall. Part of the reason the date is so memorable involves Shane.
Yes, you recognize him: that young man in the pinstriped jacket, with blood later streaming down the side of his head is the same person who would later go on to pen literary and poignant tunes like “Fairytale of New York” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes”.
A true punk, Shane wouldn’t let a little bloody tussle keep him away from gigs, and he was captured again at a Clash show in 1977.
In 1984, the Pogues toured in support of their first album Red Roses for Me, and a few of those gigs found them opening for the Clash. (This was during the end times of the Clash, after Mick Jones had been kicked out, and the band was collapsing in on itself.)
In 1986, a tour of Nicaragua was planned that would include Joe, the Pogues, and Elvis Costello. Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid & Nancy – the soundtrack to which Joe composed much of, and the Pogues composed the rest) was set to film the tour for a documentary while also scouting for locations for an upcoming film (that film would be Walker, to which Joe penned a beautiful, Latin-influenced score – Joe also had a bit part in the film). The tour never came together, but the musicians were recruited for a new idea: the sublimely ridiculous 1987 film Straight to Hell (named after the Clash song).
Straight to Hell excerpt
The Pogues were set to tour the U.S. in 1987 when guitarist Phil Chevron fell ill with a stomach ulcer. Pogues manager Frank Murray asked Joe to fill in.
“London Calling” – The Pogues with Joe Strummer
Joe was brought in to produce the Pogues’ album Hell’s Ditch in 1990. It was a tumultuous time for the Pogues as Shane seemed to be at odds with the rest of his bandmates and was at one of his low points at the hands of drugs and drink. Joe is said to have handled the situation with a fairly keen understanding of Shane’s temperament, sometimes recording the reluctant singer word-by-word, and then splicing the performance into a whole.
“Summer in Siam” – The Pogues
Shane left the band partway through the tour for Hell’s Ditch , and Joe was once again tapped to fill a space. Joe was understandably hesitant to jump into the fray the second time around, but he eventually overcame his doubts and threw in with the Pogues once again.
“If I Should Fall from Grace with God” – The Pogues with Joe Strummer
Joe became good friends with Pogues multi-instrumentalist Jem Finer over the years, and they had talked of recording together, but the talk never came to fruition.