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A brilliant explosion
on 21 February 2006
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.