…not just for Christmas.
It could be pointed out, if rather snarkily, that this is exactly what it says on the tin, sorry, label. It is six radio sessions recorded for the BBC between, well, you get the idea. Two apiece for John Peel and Janice Long, and one each for David ‘Kid’ Jensen and Phil Kennedy. (Eagle-eyed readers may notice that this is an expanded version of the LP set released for Record Store Day a few months ago, which omitted the Phil Kennedy session and the second Janice Long one).
The Pogues were formed in London in 1982, combining the energy of the punk movement with their Irish heritage to form a potent cocktail – nay, audio molotov cocktail that still holds up extremely well to this day. Originally known as Pogue Mahone, it was indeed under this name that the first four tracks from this album were played on John Peel’s show in the spring of 1984. ‘Pogue Mahone’ as even non-Irish or non-Gaelic speakers will tell you means ‘kiss my arse’ and there were reportedly complaints from Scottish listeners.
Thus the name was shortened to The Pogues. That first session is an absolute blinder – setting out their stall as much as any good debut single should do, the fiery showcasing of Shane MacGowan‘s songwriting genius on ‘Streams Of Whiskey‘ and ‘Boys From The County Hell‘ and stylish arrangements of ‘Greenland Whale Fisheries‘ and ‘The Auld Triangle.’ The latter is Exhibit A for how songs that have been played a thousand times could seem poignant in the Pogues’ hands – the second Peel session contains a rendering of ‘Danny Boy‘ that is still moving, even when most of us have probably heard it mangled many times whether or not we’re Irish.
The Pogues’ debut album Red Roses For Me is a strong debut, but it’s clear just how far they’d come on the even better follow-up Rum, Sodomy & The Lash. They recorded several of its tracks for these sessions, again a mixture of covers (Phil Gaston‘s ‘Navigator‘ and Ewan MacColl‘s ‘Dirty Old Town), and originals. ‘Sally MacLennane‘ appears twice, in slightly different versions. Yet it’s ‘The Old Main Drag‘ which really astonishes. The tale of a young lad who arrives in London aged just sixteen, and who ends up working as a rent boy in Piccadilly, losing himself in drugs as he heads towards a tragic early death. It’s effective on its parent album, but this version is even more poignant and heartbreaking.
The final session on the album was recorded for Janice Long in late 1986, and sees songs for their third, and arguably their best album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God. Though that album wouldn’t appear until 1988, it’s interesting to hear these songs in earlier form. For my money, the title track and ‘Turkish Song Of The Damned‘ are better on the album, where they are better for being faster, but these takes are still fascinating.
This album, whether you own the original studio albums or not, stands up in its own right, and has scarcely been far from my CD player over the past week or so. And yes, you will probably hear ‘Fairytale Of New York‘ (not on this album) many times over the coming weeks. There’s nothing wrong with that, it deserves its status as an evergreen classic – yet there is so much more to them than that
After all, the music of The Pogues is for life…