Monday, December 20, 2010
The Pogues / Sparrow and the Workshop @ The Academy, Saturday 18th December 2010
Well, it’s nearly Christmas. And that can only mean one thing. The Pogues are back on the road for one more ‘farewell’ tour. Whatever you may think of Shane MacGowen he is, let’s face it, a bit of a legend. Having drunk himself into the Albert Steptoe / Father Jack of Irish folk punk many years ago it’s nothing short of a miracle that he’s still here to entertain us but, judging by the boisterous sold out crowd tonight, all of whom battled arctic conditions to get here, the cult of MacGowen and co is in much better shape than the man himself.
First up though...and brave souls they are too (can you imagine opening for The Pogues?) Sparrow and the Workshop. Taking folk down some distinctly dark and dirty alleyways this hotly tipped trio (consisting of a Scotsman an Irish woman and a Welshman...I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere) delivered a set that oozed confidence and self assurance. Although born in Ireland lead singer Jill was raised in Chicago, no doubt shaping that voice of hers (shades of Cat Power and Siouxsie Sioux at times), a hauntingly beautiful folky, bluesy, country-ish mix that’s just perfect for delivering the noir folk tracks that have become their signature sound. Noir folk? Well, just check out the opening line from one on tonight’s standout tracks ‘The Gun’, ‘I’d like to be the ghost beneath the floor’ sings Jill, spookily giving it the old thousand yard stare across the crowd. It’s lines like these (and there are loads of ‘em), coupled with Jill’s voice that make this band stand out from the current...pardon the pun...flock of folk bands out there. It’s the shadow in the woods, the creak of a floorboard, an almost Nick Cave-ian obsession with the darker side of life that makes this particular Sparrow well worth listening to. Speaking of that man Cave, Drummer and co-vocalist Gregor (nice ‘tache there fella) provides a suitably deep vocal counterpoint to Jill’s more ethereal tones, adding to the haunting sense of menace that inhabits a lot of their material. Plenty of set highlights (culled from their impressive debut album, ‘Crystals Fall) ranging from a ball busting ‘I Will Break You’ (tonight dedicated by Jill to the Tory party...I’m with you on that one sister) to the slow burning intensity of ‘Last Chance’. It was the Rawhide-tastic retro sounds of ‘Devil Song’ that stole the show tonight though, a giddy up romp of a track that really showcased the Jill/Gregor vocal interplay before culminating in some particularly ferocious drumming.
Okay, so what can you say about The Pogues? They are THE festive party band. After Glitter got caught doing his bit for the kids of the world The Pogues Christmas tours have justifiably become the stuff of legend. There’s some debate over whether this is actually their farewell tour (as it’s been billed) but, if it is, tonight ain’t a bad way to bow out. Of course much of tonight’s music has got its origins in the pubs of Ireland, so I reckon it’s entirely appropriate that Shane should look and sound like he’s visited every single one of them. Frequently. That said he actually seemed pretty on the ball this evening (the rumour has it that, whilst he drinks more than most of us, he’s actually a fairly modest boozer these days...just three bottles of spirits a day now). With a series of fags on the go (I guess when you’ve got a liver the size of a water melon lung cancer ain’t much of a worry) he seemed to remember every single word, snag as tunefully as he ever has and remained pretty much upright for the whole show.
Preceded by The Clash’s ‘Straight To Hell’ played over the PA the set (and the whole place) erupted into ‘Streams of Whiskey’, with Shane ambling on to the kind of reception that Lady Gaga would give her merkin for. Pints flew, limbs were (quite possibly) torn off and the mass of human life at the heart of the venue quickly became one big joyful sweaty mess. What followed was The Pogues greatest hits, delivered with all the vim and vigour of a band on their first tour. Just cop a load of the tunes from the first half of the set...’If I Should Fall From Grace With God’, ‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’, Thousands Are Sailing, ‘And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’...each and every one a true classic, greeted like some holy declaration by an adoring audience.
Amidst all of the party hearty celebrations there were a couple of touching moments too, with songs being dedicated to the recently deceased Captain Beefheart, and, ten years to the day since she was murdered (I call driving over someone swimming in an area clearly reserved for divers in a speedboat murder...wouldn’t you?), the late, great Kirsty MacColl, both of whom got an appreciative and well deserved round of applause. Kirsty’s dad’s tune ‘Dirty Old Town’ got one of the biggest singalongs of the night with Shane in particularly fine form, spitting out the lyrics in a haze of gin and despair. The encores (yes, there were several) had to include ‘Fairytale of New York’ (culminating in the traditional indoor snow storm) and a suitably rowdy version of ‘Irish Rover’. The whole thing climaxed with ‘Fiesta’ featuring Spider Stacey and Shane each trying to outdo one another by bashing themselves round the head with a tin tray. I think Spider pipped it this time...just to be on the safe side he then proceeded to trash his guitar too, smashing it to pieces by the side of the stage. That’ll take more than a bit of gaffer tape to fix up. Now that’s what I call a show. To paraphrase their biggest hit “Happy Christmas your arse, I pray God it ain’t their last”...