Born on 25th December and worshipped my many, revolted by some, with an unkempt beard and a penchant for red wine; it’s pretty clear who we’re talking about here. Every December the part time followers arise from their slumber and his words are sung by all; but there’s more to A Fairytale of New York than Shane MacGowan, and there’s much, much more to The Pogues than a Christmas song.
I won’t bore you with the rather tired tales of MacGowan’s taste for booze, or his much told sacking by the rest of the band two decades back, it’s been said before and I’d prefer to concentrate on the music. And what stunning music it is. There’s not an emotion that hasn’t been laid bare, smashed in the face and beaten into submission by a song from The Pogues, they cover everything. From the heartbreak and misery of A Pair of Brown Eyes, raucous revelry in Streams of Whiskey or the romance of A Rainy Night in Soho, whether you need a song to dance, cry or fall in love to, there’s one for every occasion. MacGowan’s way of setting a scene is unrivalled, especially in our capital. NW3, London you’re a Lady and Lullaby of London will testify to this. This talent can also be found along with storytelling at its finest in the grand Body of an American and Broad Majestic Shannon, while his crowning glory is The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn. MacGowan can take you across centuries of multi-continental political, literary and social history within seconds.
Live they are force to be reckoned with, having spent numerous hours being trampled from one side of a room to the other I can personally vouch for that. It’s here that they differ from most bands however. Whereas most will have their front man and leading light as the centre of attention, the real show stoppers here are the remaining members of the band. They play with such skill and unbridled ferocity that you can’t help but be drawn in by them. While MacGowan stumbles and mumbles into the microphone, Spider Stacy, Jem Finer, Terry Woods, Andrew Ranken, James Fearnley and Darryl Hunt thrash out tunes to warm the very heart of your cockles. Their talents don’t stop there either; the sadly and recently departed Phil Chevron wrote the haunting Thousands are Sailing, Stacey the joyously infectious Repeal of the Licensing Laws while Finer penned the heart wrenchingly beautiful Misty Morning, Albert Bridge and co-wrote A Fairytale of New York .
Which brings us onto the song itself. Now recognised for all eternity as the finest Christmas song there’ll ever be; it’s one you’ll often find a Pogues fanatic sneer at, if only for the age old “it’s too popular for me to like” theory. Me? I bloody love it. The upheaval of so many emotions from a love affair with utter joy through to anger and desolate despair drag you right inside, and the lover’s story seems doomed until the last. Then out of nowhere the lines “I kept them with me babe, and put them with my own / Can’t make it all alone, I built my dreams around you” bring the whole thing crashing down as it topples over with romance, what more can you say to someone than that in life?
It’s a gobsmackingly good song from a gobsmackingly good band. But once the tinsel is down and the turkey has all been gobbled come January, how about ‘Happy Christmas your arse’ and as far as Pogues songs go, make sure it’s not the last?