A man’s ambition must indeed be small
To write his name upon a shithouse wall
But before I die I’ll add my regal scrawl
To show the world I’m left with sweet fuck all (from ‘Sea Shanty’)
You can’t beat a good bit of poetry can you? to my mind they really don’t come an awful lot more poetic than Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan, when he was in the right mood. I was astonished to see that I’ve owned the Pogues Red Roses For Me for just over 20 years now, picking it up on a market stall in Chester when I had £4 burning a hole in my pocket and couldn’t find anything I wanted to buy more – I’d owned Rum, Sodomy & The Lash for years and feared for my ribs when I’d seen them play one of the most riotous gigs I’ve ever been right at the front of, four years before*. My memories of the LP were that I liked the swearing jiggy ones, a couple of tracks bored me and there was something about the vocals on ‘The Auld Triangle’ that put me off the whole album for years, oh and I thought james Fearnley looked ‘king cool on the cover.
Punk and Irish folk were such an obvious righteous mix that I’m astonished no-one had really put them together to such effect before, you want anti-authoritarian? try a rebel song, or two out for size. What I really like about the Pogues was that they were knowingly all a bit fake too, all born in England or Lagos, it freed them from being too trad with anything, gave a bit of perspective and scope to be even more irreverent; hell at this stage in their career a lot of the playing was necessarily pretty damn basic. The best bits of Red Roses For Me are just a pure rush.
Drinking, fighting, falling over, getting up and doing it again are pretty much what this LP’s about. Plenty out there roister and sup but few got to slap it all down on vinyl so convincingly in such glorious, vomit-speckled, regretful high-fidelity as the Pogues. Crank up ‘Transmetropolitan’, ‘Sea Shanty’, ‘Dark Streets of London’ and, most aptly of all, ‘Boys From County Hell’, all great variations on a theme, all good splenetic fun; even as the cost of the ‘Dear dirty delightful old drunken old days’ starts to tell in ‘Dark Streets ..’.
The crowning jewel of Red Roses For Me, umm, for me is the wonderful ‘Streams of Whiskey’, telling as it does about a dream meeting with Brendan Behan; the writer of the second track here ‘The Auld Triangle’, which I’ve grown to really like. I’d just read Borstal Boy when I first heard this track and it’s a clever, clever lyric about chewing the fat with the great, rather dissipated, man:
Oh the words that he spoke
Seemed the wisest of philosophies
There’s nothing ever gained
By a wet thing called a tear
When the world is too dark
And I need the light inside of me
I’ll walk into a bar
And drink fifteen pints of beer
What’s not to love here? to my mind this is the start of the lyrical road for MacGowan that peaked years later with the sublime ‘Misty Morning, Albert Bridge’, ‘Rainy Night in Soho’ and, who can forget at this time of year, ‘Fairytale of New York’**. It can be difficult sometimes to see past the train wreck into the complex and rather romantic lyricist he was/is/could be.
There are bits of Red Roses For Me that sit less well with me, swathes of the second side basically and the instrumental ‘The Battle of Brisbane’ but, unlike some bands who seem to drop fully-formed from the sky, the Pogues needed a bit of time and space to grow into who they really were. What a good calling card Red Roses for Me is though and I still think James Fearnley looks cool as F on the cover.
On the first day of March it was raining
It was raining worse than anything that I have ever seen
Stay on the other side of the road
‘Cause you can never tell
We’ve a thirst like a gang of devils
We’re the boys of the county hell!
717 Down (in the ground where the dead men go)
*way rougher than Anthrax, Body Count and Slayer, easy. True story.
**Christmas song be damned, it’s pretty much one of my favourite songs full stop.