The opening of a world
In 1985 I was travelling Europe for the first time, with Greg L. I was 26 years old and still growing up. I wasn’t the best travel partner; selfish, grumpy, tired (It could have been worse, I could have looked like Shane MacGowan). There is a social maturity that comes to some people easily. It’s not something that has come naturally to me. I couldn’t stand being stuck with one person for days at a time. I hope I’ve learnt a little since then, maybe Marg would say that I haven’t. Marg and co have taught me a lot about family.
In London, Trish arranged for us to stay at various houses with various fantastic friends; Heather, Trish, Carolyn, and Teresa, a generosity not easily forgotten.
Onto the album; the Pogues and Shane MacGowan. When Shane MacGowan sings, it’s a surprise that he doesn’t cut his tongue and lips on his sharply filed teeth. His wife, Victoria Clarke, tells a story of waking up to the noise of Shane zonked out of his brain on 15 to 20 LSD tabs. He was in the Living Room with blood dripping from his mouth. He was tripping heavily and believed he was the boss of Ireland and World War III was about to begin. As the leader of Ireland he needed to prove that Irish culture was superior to US culture, this would avert the war. To do this he decided to eat you The Beach Boys Greatest Hit, volume 3. Images of his teeth were one of the triggers for me to confront (but not conquer) my fear of dentistry.
The cover for Rum, Sodomy, and the the Lash was taken from The Raft of the Medusa, a painting by Théodore Géricault, with the band members’ faces replacing those of the men on the raft. The album title comes from a quote that Winston Churchill wish he’d said, ” The only navy traditions are Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash.”
The music on this album is Irish music to put U2 to shame, this was a beginning of world music for me. It is an album of traditional instruments; banjo, accordian, pipes, fiddles, and songs you would hear in an Irish pub. At the same time it is a fusion of folk and rock in ways the bands like Renaissance and Steeleye Span would have never dreamt. No electric guitar, no strong bass drum, but this album rocks. The is the soul of punk, dressed as folk.
Listening to it again, I’m surprised about the number of quieter songs on this album. I remember it as a raucous pub bashing album. It is an album full of soul, full of quiet songs. The track, “I’m a Man you don’t meet every day” is a great ballad sung by bass player, Cait O’Riordan. Elvis Costello produced the album, met Cait and married her. Great song, small arrangement, lovely voice.
The big single from the album was another slower track, “Dirty old Town”. This is a cover of a song written by British folk stalwart, Ewan MacColl, communist, husband to Peggy Seeger (half sister to Pete Seeger) and father to the lovely and tragic Kirsty MacColl, who would later join the Pogues on their most well know track, “Fairy Tale of New York”.
The real heart of the album and of the Pogues is them cutting loose. On tracks like “The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn”, ‘Sally MacLennanane”, and “The Gentleman Soldier” is where you get the punk, and the image of the Pogues is defined.
Listen to this album, this is fun, and you will end up playing the drums on Sally MacLennanane. This is great!