The Pogues’ wider reputation rests mostly on the ravages of singer Shane MacGowan’s drinking—namely his rotten-stump teeth, slurred lyrics and onstage vomiting. But it’s the band’s densely poetic lyrics, aptly veiled beneath punk-fueled, Celtic-rooted rock, that have kept their cult following riveted since MacGowan and the band parted ways in 1991. On the heels of having their first five studio albums re-released, the original Pogues lineup returns to Chicago this weekend for the first time in 15 years. But first, founding member and tin whistle player Spider Stacy clears the air on the break-up, being mistaken for an “Irish” band and a few other things even diehard fans don’t get about the Pogues.
In 1994, you told the press there was no chance Shane would return to the band. What changed?
Spider Stacy: All the stuff that was said in the early ’90s can be kicked out of the wind already. Things maybe got said in the heat of the moment.
So there’s no tension at all?
No! There never really was. It seems that journalists want that story, that, Oh yeah, there were always fights and such. That wasn’t the case with us. And it’s not just the press—it’s the fans as well. It’s really boring and almost disappointing I guess, but even when things came to a head in Japan and we sacked Shane it was more like, “Look, this is really stupid, you’re really not enjoying this,” rather than “You fucking arsehole,” etcetera.
I’m impressed with how you’ve been able to stick together, especially since it’s been about two decades now.
People, and I think it’s probably true of most bands, and I’m not having a go at you here personally, but a lot of the time it seems that journalists want that story, that oh yeah, there were always fights, and there was always this going on and that going on and I can’t speak for other bands, but really that wasn’t the case with us. And it’s not just the press—it’s the fans as well. It’s really boring and almost disappointing but it really was never the case. Even when things came to a head in Japan and we sacked Shane it was more like look, this is really stupid you’re really not enjoying this, rather than ’’You fucking arsehole,’’ da da da da da. Itwas never like that. Which is not to say we never had arguments. That would be a stupid thing to say—of course we had arguments. But I mean like we really, really had nothing at all, nothing to write home about, is what I’m trying to say.
There was a lot of drinking back then, but many of you don’t drink at all anymore. Has that helped, too?
Everybody’s a little older and possibly a bit calmer. Another thing that makes it easier is that we don’t have any sort of record labels or anything sitting on our shoulders. We’re doing this ourselves. It makes a difference when you’re going out on the road because you want to, not because you have to promote whatever product.
During your years apart, both Shane and the Pogues produced some pretty good material but people have often said the Pogues were more than the sum of its parts. What was the magic behind the ensemble?
I wish I could say, actually. I really wish I could but at the risk of sounding like I’m trying to dodge the question, I think the easy way to answer that is to listen to the records—the first five records. Then listen to the two that we did and the two albums that Shane did without us, and you see that there’s something there when we’re all together.
The fans are pretty demanding about what they want to hear. Do you ever get tired of playing the same songs over and over again? How do you keep that fresh and interesting?
It’s always good if you can inject a little bit of variety into it. We do have a big repertoire. There are certain songs that it would be very difficult for us not to do, however, if you know what I mean. I guess we’ve got to try to keep ourselves happy first, because if we get bored then the audience is certainly going to get bored, you know. I think the way I look at it, we kinda tend to approach them differently every night. And that might not necessarily come across but I mean like it’s I guess you just try to inject as much attack into it as possible. We do have a big repertoire. The difficulty is kind of getting everybody in time to work stuff out when we’ve got a tour coming up and we’re living all over the world. That can be a bit complicated.
Now that you’ve reestablished yourself as a band, is there any new material in the works?
Not as of yet, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I would be offering hostages to fortune if I were to say we’re never going to make another record.
You’re credited as the first band to meld traditional Irish music with punk. How did that come about?
By happy accident, really. I think it’s one of those things when you hear it you just think, Why the fuck didn’t anybody think of this first?
You and Shane were both in London at the time?
Everyone was in London at the time except for Terry who was living inIreland until he joined the band in ’85 or ’86.
So everyone was first or second generation Irish?
Or not at all. Half the band are English without any Irish. One of the things that should be born in mind is that the Irish thing is, it’s not a red herring exactly, but it does lead people up the wrong path sometimes. Because they tend to sort of look at the Irish side of the equation and possibly not give enough importance to the London side of the equation. And I think if anything the London is probably more important or at least equally important because the Pogues could NEVER have come out of Ireland, I don’t think they could never come out of if you like Irish America, out of Chicago or Boston or New York or whatever. They could have really come out of any other city in the world except London. They would be more likely to come from say somewhere like New York or Chicago or Glasgow even than they would from Ireland but really it had to be London. I think possibly the Irish communities in America are too Irish. There’s a different type of thing than the way it is London. The point about the Pogues is that they weren’t actually Irish, they were in fact a London band. With very strong London Irish elements. But first and foremost they’re a London band. That’s the thing there. Obviously the Irish thing is crucially important.
What do you make of this new generation of Irish-style punk bands? I’m thinking of the Tossers, the Dropkick Murphys or Flogging Molly?
I love the Tossers. I love the Dropkicks.
Now that you have a few side projects, like the Vendettas, how is that working out?
Everything has just been thrown into total confusion by this seemingly neverending stream of Pogues tours, which I don’t know, it’s always something very good to look forward to, but I’ve put things that I want to do for myself on the backburner.
Any thoughts on Chicago?
We have at least one really good memory, from our first time in Chicago, around ’86. Tom Waits was doing Frank’s Wild Years at the Steppenwolf Theatre. We were huge fans and we all went along to see him do [the play] and he came and caught the end of our set. I think we were playing the Metro. Then we went out drinking with him and it was fantastic.
Sounds like fun.
It really, really was. In fact, we found a bar with a piano and he was playing the piano and singing. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
The Pogues play Congress Theater Mon Mar 5 and Tue Mar6.