on 3 August 2000
My Dad had a Clancy Brothers (the 4 jersey's)album which I loved as a boy; when I first heard the Pogues it was the Clancy Bros for nutters. It was the sight of Spider Stacy smahing a beer tray off his head on the Tube that first got me interested. Bought RRFM. My mum thought I'd joined the orange lodge the first time I put it on. What can I say, ultimately my favourite album ever. Not one bad song and each one a varying combination of passion and beauty and energy and roots and authenticity and roughness and total mentalness as well as cracking music. The genuine article. Got Shane McGowan's autograph once, it said ACAB,Shane. Thats what RRFM was all about, that attitude in music.
Sometimes things seem to connect with a past they don't actually belong to, but perhaps should have. Desiderata might seem to have been the work of a seventeenth century monk, but we now know it to have been written by a lawyer in 1927. The Ploughman's Lunch conjures visions of medieval farmworkers relaxing from their heavy toil over a wholesome refreshment, but was apparently conjured up by the English Country Cheese Council in 1960.
Red Roses For Me, with its organic marriage of Shane MacGowan's brilliant compositions and rowdy performances of traditional Irish drinking songs and rebel balladry, played on predominantly acoustic instruments, seems to embody hundreds of years of Ireland's musical history, but nobody has managed to come up any recorded precedents.
The former Shane O'Hooligan is the first to acknowledge his debt to such as the poets Brendan Behan and James Clarence Mangan, and musically to the Dubliners. However great they were, however, no Dubliners record could be mistaken for one by the Pogues, unless the Pogues were playing on it.
This astounding debut appeared fully-formed and gloriously unique, preceded only by their single Dark Streets Of London (in a slightly different version to that on the album), its surface shambolics belying a solid musical and lyrical depth and maturity. Red Roses For Me was produced by Stan Brennan, who ran Rocks Off Records in West One, where Shane sometimes served behind the counter. It was his long term mission to get the band off the ground, and he managed to pour the Pogue magic, unspilled and distilled, into the flagon at Wapping's tiny Elephant Studios.
The Anglo Celtic sound of the Pogues, fermented in London's glamorous King's Cross, is a mixture of pub and punk, both Shane and Mancunian Maestro Jimmy Fearnley having been veterans of punk band the Nips (formerly the Nipple Erectors), but played with an exuberance and an excellence that proved impossible to resist, despite the dark rising tide of New Romanticism, except by an old guard who thought the Pogues represented the stereotype of the drunken Irish paddy they were trying to escape. To be fair, it is rumoured that Shane likes a drink.
The album is embellished with six vital bonus tracks. And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, Eric Bogle's chilling account of Gallipoli, was revisited on Rum, Sodomy And The Lash, but this is the original flipside of their debut single. You may know the song by Eric Bogle or June Tabor, but not like this. Repeal Of The Licensing Laws was the B-side of the (cleaned-up) Boys From The County Hell. The band returned to Elephant in 1985 to record the B-sides Whiskey You're The Devil and Muirshin Durkin, both for the single A Pair Of Brown Eyes, and The Wild Rover and The Leaving Of Liverpool backed up Sally MacLennane. Those last two A-sides are from Rum, Sodomy And The Lash, your next essential Pogues acquisition after this one.
on 29 February 2008
Like most people, my initial introduction to the Pogues came via that perennial yuletide favourite, Fairytale of New York - a great song that would act as the creative yard-stick to which all future Pogue-related releases (and Christmas singles) would be measured, due in part to the excellent production of Steve Lilywhite - which managed to perfectly capture the instrumental prowess of the band at their most polished, whilst simultaneously making the evocative gutter-poetry of Shane MacGowan relevant to even the most bourgeoisie of middle-class musical aficionados. As great as that song is (and the album from which it came), The Pogues were always better when producing work that captured the same wild, rambling and often shambolic spirit and feeling that would make their legendary early live performances just so legendary to begin with.
So, here we have a record that delivers just that, with the sound of Red Roses for Me illustrating the band at the height of their energetic prowess, as they move seamlessly from a collection of traditional Irish folk standards (bolstered by that punk rock energy and that trademark Pogues sound) to wild and raucous MacGowan penned originals, which really helps set the scene for their follow up album, Rum Sodomy & the Lash. For me, it's probably a better album than the more celebrated (Elvis Costello produced) follow up, with the loud sound and wild, freewheeling performances here, managing to capture the true spirit of The Pogues in all their untamed glory.
Opening track Transmetropolitan is great stuff, perfectly introducing the sound of The Pogues with that clambering instrumentation and dissonant chorus of screaming voices, with Shane intoning that great sing-along chorus "going transmetropolitan -- yip-eye-ay!" as if his life depends on it. It is one of many MacGowan penned tracks on this album that points to the style of song writing and performance found on the next two albums, with other MacGowan tracks like The Boys From the County Hell, Sea Shanty and Streams of Whiskey being the obvious precursors to songs like Sally Mac Lennane, The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn and The Old Main Drag. Naturally, MacGowan's songs are the kind we would expect of him - lyrical, foul-mouthed, energetic, poetic drinking songs - however, the traditional pieces offer a further scope to the creative talent of the band, with instrumental pieces like Dingle Regatta and McGowan's own The Battle of Brisbane (which would seem to have been an influence on Phillip Chevron's great track A Pistol For Paddy Garcia on the next album) showing the Pogues to be capable of crafting beautiful and melodic pieces of music, far removed from the drinking and the screaming.
On songs like Sea Shanty, Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go and The Dark Streets of London we can seem him reaching the kind of peak that would lead to classics like Sick Bed..., A Pair of Brown Eyes, If I Should Fall From Grace with God, The Broad Majestic Shannon and London You're a Lady, whilst his vocal delivery, particularly on tracks like The Auld Triangle, Greenland Whale Fisheries and the beautiful ballad Kitty, we see him reaching the kind of vocal evocation of Nick Cave in some of his more lethargic and haunting moments.
The Auld Triangle is particularly impressive, if only for the fact that the Pogues could take a song that has been performed so many times by so many different people and still manage to put an original spin on it. I love the minimal instrumentation, with the song growing from a few pipe arrangements and a dash of accordion, with MacGowan really brining the most out of the song and evoking a real sense of loss and the emotional isolation felt by the song's incarcerated protagonist. Even better (in my opinion) is Kitty, which again employs pipes and accordion, but is also backed by acoustic guitar, banjo and the odd stab of tambourine and percussion. The melody here is lovely and shows that the band could do understated and restrained pieces of music alongside the more raucous drinking songs. MacGowan's eager and emotive performance here is ably backed by the rest of the band, with each member giving it their absolute all, whether it be Spider Stacy's screaming backing vocals and rhythmic beer trey head-banging, Andrew Ranken's great range of percussion, Jem Finer's plaintive banjo, James Fearnley's understated lead-guitar and Cait O'Riordan's cadenced bass. I think the production by Stan Brennan is great here, bringing out the rough and ready energy of the band in a way that Costello would attempt on their more celebrated follow-up. However, for me, this album is much more impressive, with the band really trying to prove their musical and lyrical dexterity with these songs... injecting them with a vibrancy and a sense of raw emotion that is perhaps lacking in the more polished renditions of other folk artistes.
The collection of additional tracks found on this release (all The Pogues albums were recently re-mastered and re-issued with a number of bonus tracks) add an extra level to an album that was already (for me at least) an integral purchase. If you already know and love The Pogues from songs like Fairy Tale of New York and A Pair of Brown Eyes, or, if you've picked up albums like Rum Sodomy and the Lash and If I Should Fall From Grace, then this album is a must have. This is the Pogues as they should sound, away from all the polish of later records, and closer to that early live sound that many of us have never experienced. Red Roses for Me is probably my favourite Pogues' album, and is one that grows better with age.
on 6 May 2010
The Pogues were typecast as Irish, but it should be remembered they were in fact Anglo-Irish, and this debut album actually evokes London more than Ireland. 'Transmetropolitan' is a love/hate paean to that very city, and my personal favourite track 'Dark Streets of London' is a catchy but deeply beautiful song which stands alongside 'Lullaby of London' from their third album.
Other tunes range from drunken cavorts ('Streams of Whiskey', 'Waxie's Dargle') to the plaintive 'Kitty', a sad ballad of love and loss. 'Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go' is a furious McGowan-penned piece of folkloric necro-horror, while 'Greenland Whale Fisheries' is a traditional whaling ballad which animal welfare advocates should like, because the whale wins!
This is a raw and kick-stomping debut, from a band who went on to even better things.