Thursday 19 October 2017

Review: Music: Here Comes Everybody – The Story of The Pogues by James Fearnley

Faber and Faber,£14.99, pbk,416 pages
Available with free P&P onwww.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

What will he do next?:
Shane MacGowan
What will he do next?: Shane MacGowan

In January 2010 I agreed to join Shane MacGowan's new band. For six months I heard nothing until one Wednesday morning in June when I got a call from his friend and keyboardist Sarge to say we had a gig that weekend at a festival in Cavan.

He didn't know exactly where or on what day. He then asked could they rehearse in my recording studio in Abbey Street. I said "sure, when?". "Tonight," came the reply.

That night bassist Cait O'Riordan, singer/guitarist Mundy, Sarge and myself rehearsed a bunch of songs as we waited for Shane. Eventually we heard bottles clanking on the stairway up to the studio.

I was actually quite nervous about meeting Shane but he quickly put me at ease with a few jokes and a gin and tonic. He was totally coherent which was not what I had been expecting.

We had one more rehearsal before The Flat Lake Festival and went there feeling confident that the set was tight and that Shane was back on his game. We were due on at 7pm so we gathered back stage at 6.30pm.

A white van arrived with Shane and his manager from the latter days of The Pogues, Joey Cashman. It was 8pm by the time Shane emerged from the van by which time he was in such a state he had to be helped up on to the stage.

He didn't stick to any of the arrangements we had worked on but the crowd adored him all the same. I've been flying by the seat of my pants at every gig with him since.

So I could relate to this memoir by James Fearnley, the accordionist with The Pogues.

Here Comes Everybody opens and closes like a scene from a film, with The Pogues gathered in a hotel room in Yokohama, Japan, in 1991, planning to sack their front man due to drunkenness and failure to perform or sometimes even to show up at gigs.

In between, James Fearnley gives us a complete picture of The Pogues, on and off the road.

Fearnley, a soul guitarist from Yorkshire, first met Shane while auditioning for his London punk band, The Nips, in 1980. He later became a founding member and accordionist with the Pogues.

In Fearnley's description of the firing in that hotel room it becomes obvious that Shane's behaviour had left them no choice. His hilarious response was: "What took you so long?"

The stories about Shane are many and colourful, ranging from his moments of genius to his drunkenness and general 'who gives a f***' behaviour.

On a tour of Australia he had to be locked into a room at night to stop him wandering off. When The Pogues went on tour as Dylan's opening act in the US, Shane refused to fly out. He somehow arrived in time for a series of gigs on their own just after the Dylan tour.

Fearnley is brutally honest in his recollections. On gay guitarist Phil Chevron, he describes how he had to get away from his unwanted fixation when they roomed together.

There is Cait O'Riordan's overdose, her tumultuous relationship with Elvis Costello and how she left mid-tour to fly off to him without telling anyone in the band.

How drummer Andrew Rankin lost his temper with Shane, beating him up and how manager Frank did likewise to whistle player Spider Stacey.

Terry Woods was brought in by manager Frank Murray to add more Irishness to the band; to gain respect in Ireland where they were seen by many as English and by the trad purists as charlatans.

Fearnley clearly holds the members who stuck it out to the end in high esteem, especially Jem Finer, who comes across as the sort of guy you would want at your back in the trenches of the music business.

Spider Stacey comes across as funny and intellectual but sails close to the wind becoming Shane's cohort, going drink for drink with him until he can drink no more.

There are two distinct styles to Fearnley's writing. Straightforward accounts of what happened, who joined and when, how certain songs were written and even some band in-jokes.

But every so often Fearnley switches over to beautifully written prose. Here he describes his first encounter with The Dubliners: "older men, portly, moist of consonant. There was an air about them simultaneously of the sea and of the suburbs."

Time and again in the book he throws in sumptuous lines or paragraphs that are worth reading again.

I was recently asked to write a brief timeline of my own band In Tua Nua in preparation for our 30-year anniversary next year. It took me two weeks of researching to get the basic facts down. So when Fearnley says this is his life's work, I understand.

Here Comes Everybody will be of interest to fans of music biographies, of The Pogues and especially of Shane.

Fearnley interweaves multiple stories of music, life, love and tragedy simultaneously so that we go to each chapter as interested in whether he gets the girl as we are in whether the band are going to sack the manager or whether Shane turns up for the next gig. It's a great read.

Paul Byrne is drummer with In Tua Nua, Shane MacGowan and The Shane Gang, and The Guilty Party. He runs Optophonic Studios in Dublin. In Tua Nua play Electric Picnic later this year.

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