The Pogues, Birmingham Academy, 16th December 2007

I went to see The Pogues the other week. Really, I did.

I suppose I should write a review or something, but it all seems a bit redundant. A Pogues gig is everything you’d expect a Pogues gig to be, only moreso. It was boozy, bawdy, boisterous and – by bloody bejaysus – it was a whole lot of fun.

This wasn’t the first time I’d seen them live, and it won’t be the last. At least, I pray God it won’t be the last. Shane turned 50 on Christmas day and has spent most of those years living on a diet that would make Dr Gillian McKeith question her faith. He and the lads

[sadly minus the great Philip Chevron, recently diagnosed with throat cancer] belted out their Anglo-Irish splicing of Irish folk and punk rock like they’ve always done: with demented passion and shambolic gusto.

They’d mixed things up a bit since the last time I saw them. This time around there was less reliance on their excellent mid-80s masterpieces Rum, Sodomy & The Lash and If I Should Fall From Grace With God. Amongst other things, the capacity crowd were treated to blistering renditions of ‘Boys From The County Hell’ and ‘Streams of Whiskey’ from Red Roses For Me, ‘Summer in Siam’ and ‘Sayonara’ from Hell’s Ditch and ‘Rainy Night in Soho’ from 1986’s Poguetry in Motion EP. There were others, I’m sure, but I’m relying on memory here. This was, after all, a Pogues gig. You don’t take notes at a Pogues gig, let alone remember much.

But while there was a welcome extension to the catchment area of their setlist, in all other respects it was business as usual. They’re not the kind of band who do radical reimaginings of their classics. You won’t hear ‘Fiesta’ delivered a capella or a 180bpm drum’n’bass ‘Dirty Old Town’. No, The Pogues give their audience exactly what they want – and why shouldn’t they? This was, after all, a nostalgia gig. And don’t be getting sniffy about that: if a man can’t wallow in unbridled nostalgia at this time of year – with the band who were responsible for The Greatest Goddamn Christmas Song Ever – than when can he?

The atmosphere, of course, was wild and incandescent. It always is when The Pogues play, but this time it felt even more intense. At times it seemed more like a football match than a gig, although that might have something to do with the recurring chants of “One Shane MacGowan, there’s only one Shane Mac-Gow-an” to the tune of the Macarena. You get a lot of that at Pogues gigs.

You also get a lot of drinking. Not that I’m being judgmental: I did a lot of drinking, too. It wasn’t really an evening for the cappuccino crowd. But as I found myself caught up in the booze-fuelled, slam-and-embrace-the-bystander carnage, I couldn’t help but feel a sudden twinge of irony. Was I turning into a caricature of myself? Were we all turning into characters from a Pogues’ song?

Maybe, maybe not. Who cares? I was having fun. Everyone else was having fun. As soul searches go it wasn’t exactly thorough. In fact, you couldn’t call it cursory.

Brother Younger and I took our dear oul’ mum to the gig. Now, I wouldn’t normally be so irresponsible as to encourage a senior citizen (however feisty she may be) to go to a spit-and-sawdust, Rock-and-Roll venue like the Birmingham Academy. But The Pogues mean a lot to the Lennon family. Long ago and far away I got my Dad into the Pogues and my Dad got me into Johnny Cash. I like to think of that as a perfect, mutually beneficial cultural exchange programme. Dad passed away twelve years’ ago but Mum, Brother Younger and I still have vivid memories of family holidays in the Lake District with a soundtrack made up of ‘Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’, ‘Drunken Ira Hayes’ and ‘Sally MacLennane’. Like I said, The Pogues mean a lot to us.

The Academy is a standing-only venue and Mum has a slightly dicky knee, so she got herself a seat in a zoned-off disabled section with a perfect view. Mum’s very resourceful like that. While she was there she got talking to a middle-aged couple, a lady on a wheelchair and her able-bodied boyfriend/husband/significant other. Mum’s very good at introducing herself to strangers, too.

Anyhow, as the night progressed the man got more and more wasted. After a minor altercation with a bouncer, eventually and inevitably he chucked his guts up all over the feet of his wheelchair-bound significant other. She had to clear it up after him.

If that isn’t a scene straight out of a Pogues song I don’t know what is.

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