Ah, The Pogues. Clearly I had moved on to something a little different than Billy Joel by this time. My Billy Joel fandom ended in large part because I switched from listening to top-40 radio to “alternative” radio. Sometime in about 1984, I discovered WHFS, a legendary alternative station in the DC area, and my musical tastes were changed for good. I’ve written before about how R.E.M. kicked it all off. They were the spark, but HFS was the rocket fuel. I remember one particular night hearing Alison Moyet, Sade, Strawberry Switchblade, and Kirsty MacColl all for the first time on HFS. What does this have to do with The Pogues? I’m getting to that…
You see, I rushed right out and bought whatever music I could find by Alison, Sade, Strawberry Switchblade and Kirsty. That’d be Alf, nothing (Sade’s album wasn’t out in the US yet and there were no imports to be found), a 12” single of “Since Yesterday,” and a 12” single of Kirsty’s cover of Billy Bragg’s ”A New England.” Kirsty is probably best known in the US for her song “They Don’t Know,” which was covered by Tracey Ullman, and for (drum roll…) ”Fairytale of New York,” her duet with Shane MacGowan that appeared on The Pogues’ album If I Should Fall From Grace With God.
Because of some recording-contract ridiculousness, Kirsty MacColl was pretty much unable to release a new album for most of the 80s. I always kept an eye out for her, though, so when I saw a blurb in a music magazine saying she was recording an album with The Pogues, I thought I should check them out. The next time I was in a record store, I bought their album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash. Like Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures before it and Pixies’ Surfer Rosa after, I’d flipped past it many times in the record racks before deciding to buy. The Pogues’ wild mix of Punk and Celtic Folk was something new at a time when I was getting a little jaded by the whole Alt scene.
By the time I saw The Pogues in 1989, their masterpiece If I Should Fall From Grace With God was all over college radio and they were pretty well known in the US. It was also pretty well known that the quality of their shows varied depending on Shane MacGowan’s lucidity. It would be a couple more years before he’d be thrown out of the band for his drug and alcohol abuse, but going to a Pogues show was a bit of a crap shoot. We lucked out. He was obviously neither clean nor sober, but he careened his way through the performance with Punk aplomb. A great show.
If I remember right, proto-Queercore musician Phranc opened the show, mostly to slack-jawed disbelief.