Shane MacGowan with the Pogues, 1986, coming to terms with how little champagne was in the bottle given to him (lifted from this clip)
Celebrated Vancouver scribe Aaron Chapman devotes a page of his book, Live at the Commodore: The Story of Vancouver's Historic Commodore Ballroom, to the times the Pogues played the venue - "legendarily beery affairs," as he describes them, which included a 1987 show where former Clash frontman Joe Strummer filled in on guitar (and sang a few Clash songs - "London Calling," "Straight to Hell," and covers of "I Fought the Law" and "Brand New Cadillac") and a 1991 show where Strummer took over entirely for "besotted lead singer" Shane McGowan, out of the band for a time due to his excess drinking. "By the late 1980's, the original energy of punk rock was arguably all but dormant," Chapman writes, "but if it could be found anywhere, it was in the anarchic spirit of the Celtic folk rockers from London." (That's on page 146, if you want to read more. What, you have the book, right?).
I don't know about the 1991 show, but I was at the 1987 gig - 19 years old, singing happily along (sorry, Mr. MacColl) to "Dirty Old Town," and seeing things I had never seen before, like Shane - staggering a little, but definitely functional, even cool - passing a half-full bottle of whiskey, which he'd been swigging from, down into the audience - something I've never seen since, either, and proof that Shane didn't have THAT much of a drinking problem at that point (or he'd never have let the bottle go!); and a girl, riding her boyfriend's shoulders, hiking up her top and flashing her tits, more on which below.
Chapman will be onstage tonight at the WISE Hall (1882 Adanac) with Shane's Teeth, a tribute act to the Pogues, also featuring local showman extraordinaire Rich Hope in the role of Joe Strummer. Aaron graciously answered a few questions, and Rob Thomson provided a gig poster; I'm in italics, below, and Aaron is not.
Allan: Did you ever see, meet, or otherwise interact with the Pogues? ...Were you at that epochal 1987 Pogues/ Joe Strummer show at the Commodore? (Shane was the first & only person I've ever seen pass a half a bottle of whiskey, which he'd been drinking from himself, down into the audience. Also the first and maybe the only tit-flash I've seen - as I recall, Shane had on sunglasses and tilted them up to see better, raising his eyebrows and pointing at the girl, who was riding her boyfriend's shoulders when she pulled up her top...).
What a classic memory of that show! I did meet the Pogues the times they came here, and Shane separately. A bunch of other guys in the band saw that 1987 show you’re referencing that I believe the Nervous Fellas opened, but I was too young to get in! (Little did I know even the stupidest looking fake ID near guaranteed you entry into the Commodore in the 1980s, otherwise I would have at least *tried* getting in somehow.
I caught the band on that 1991 tour, and saw the reunion tours they were doing in the 1990s. I would have loved seeing some of those shows they were doing in the mid 80s. Maybe that’s why I like doing these Shane’s Teeth shows so much because it’s a chance to try to capture a bit of that energy, hear those songs and the audience sing along to them. Just the fun of it. Maybe it’s easy to forget how different, raucous, and unexpected the Pogues were when they first came out. In an era of hair metal and synth music, a bunch of guys who came forward dressed like the Krays brothers, playing music that way was very refreshing and against the grain. The energy of that original punk movement was suddenly showing up in ska and Irish folk music. It got me thinking lately in regards to a book I’m working on about what was happening musically around the world then and that suddenly there would be such a bold answer played with accordions, mandolins, and whistles. That scene birthed the Pogues and The Men they Couldn’t Hang, and Billy Bragg might be included in that time as well. In Australia you have Weddings, Parties, Anything. Even here in Vancouver we had Spirit of the West, and dare I even include the early days of the Real McKenzies there, or the next step of it—I was shocked to hear the Dropkick Murphy’s count the McKenzies as an influence. So something globally in those years was happening surely—with the Pogues as the flagship band. A lot of the later imitators have not been as interesting as they were.
Shane's Teeth, provided by Aaron Chapman (top left)
Who, precisely, is in Shane's Teeth? I have only seen "members of" listings. I gather Rich Hope is Joe; is any one person tasked with being Shane, or do you wrestle each other for lead vocal duties?
The band is a group of Vancouver all-stars no stranger to many stages and bars you’ve been at. You’ll spot a number of Hard Rock Miners in there, former Real McKenzies, Spirit of the West, Town Pants, etc. We kind of restage the Pogues at their height at a famous show in London at the Town & Country, where guests like Joe Strummer joined them on stage, and Kirsty MacColl. Even Lynval from the Specials joined them in an encore for a big rave up—a tremendous party.
In regards to the full retinue: I suppose Rob Thompson from the Hard Rock Miners is our Shane since he’s singing most of the songs, but he’s on guitar too so I guess he’s a bit of Phil Chevron. Austin Space is our Terry Woods I suppose, Doug Kellam our Jem Finer on banjo, but he also sings a Phil Chevron song. Keith Rose is Darryl Hunt. Those are all Hard Rock Miners. I’m Spider Stacy on whistle. Ike Eidsness is Andrew Ranken—Ike is a Hard Rock Miner too, but we’re both ex-Real McKenzies, and I played with the Town Pants for many years. Tobin Frank is our James Fearnley and he of course played accordion in Spirit of the West. And yes, our pal Rich Hope is our Joe Strummer for the night, and Diva MacDonald is Kirsty Macoll. They’ve done the gig with us before.
Rich Hope at Richards on Richards, 2007, photo by Cindy LeGrier
We’ve also got a horn section for the night. Alex Jackson on sax, Dymitri Hanna on trombone—you’ll know him from Roots Roundup. Plus a couple of other horn players I believe if they can make it. You know horn players: they all started out normal like us, but became horn players and just got a little different.
Has Shane, to your knowledge, ever remarked on the band's name?
No, I feel a bit bad about that, because the name was my suggestion. I’m in touch with a couple of the Pogues now and I wonder if they wince when they see I post something on social media about it. They are all of good humour though, so I think the name rolls off. It’s a bit of a hat tip to the Mojo Nixon song "Shane’s Dentist" ["Shane's dentist don't work too hard/ always at the pub"]—and it started one night in the late 90s when Shane MacGowan and The Popes were supposed to appear in Vancouver at the Commodore and they cancelled the show, or didn’t get across the border or something. We all gathered at the Railway Club that night for a few pints to at least get together and somebody suggested we ought to do our own Pogues show just to hear the songs for ourselves if they weren’t going to play them. When I met Shane when he was last here years ago one night, I never brought any of this up!
Are you a drinker, yourself? What are your favourite drinks? Any recommendations from the WISE Hall bar? (I have never had green beer. Is that something people serve there, or just cheesy pub stuff? I am actually not much of a drinker. It's just beer with dye, right?).
I’m not a beer drinker. A gin and tonic always has stood me well. Especially after four of them—which is what I call a Sirhan Sirhan, because that’s what he downed before he shot Robert Kennedy. Did you know that? A few of the other Teeth are non-drinkers now, or just keep it to a pint or two, though you’d never know as they all seem like madmen on stage to me. I’m not sure if the WISE has any such things like green beer or the kind of “shamrockery” that you see at the Blarney Stone or something like that. I get that some people like that stuff, whatever. But I think this is a more alternative, sardonic crowd. You’re more likely to see somebody with a “Fist Me I’m Irish” t-shirt than something corny with a WISE Hall audience—and that’s a good thing.
Is the setlist all Pogues songs (or Clash songs that the Pogues did live with Joe, like "London Calling"), or are there other seasonally/ culturally appropriate songs imported into the set? Ewan MacColl, the Clancy Brothers, Nipple Erectors, or...?
They’re all Pogues songs, but included are the Clash songs that Joe notably played with the band when he lead them, or was a featured guest - three Clash songs in total. I fondly remember Strummer leading the Pogues in "London Calling" at the PNE Forum in 1991. I still have the poster for that. He played "Straight to Hell" and "I Fought the Law" and Rich Hope will lead the charge on those too. Ewan MacColl’s "Dirty Old Town" is done too, of course played as the Pogues did it. No Clancy Brothers stuff, but I think one Dubliners song is in there. It would be fun to have fit in a Nipple Erectors song, we’ll have to think of that next time.
James Joyce, left, and Aaron Chapman in DublinHaving only a wee amount of Irish blood in me, I've never really associated St. Patrick's Day with anything other than a pretext for drinking, partying, and maybe the odd parade. Does it mean more to other members of the band? (How many of you have Irish blood?).
I think there are a couple of people like me whose ancestry is strongly Irish, but some others with German or French background in there too. Scottish. But the Pogues of course for the most part were never an Irish band—they were from London, and just played a form of the music that they shook by the scruff of the neck. The Irish-ness of the date I suppose hold some significance to us, but it’s by far not a precursor to attend, or even if you don’t know any Pogues music, I think you’ll still have a good time. Drink or not, wear a mask or not. The show is being put on responsibly. Whatever you want to do is fine. But I think it’s a good time to come out and see each other again.
Anything else we should say about the show?
We’re all looking forward to it. People have told me who’ve seen the show in the past how much they thought it was a great night out, and all things considered these days, that’s a small good thing to appreciate. Seeya there—or Christmas Eve in the drunk tank. Whichever comes first.
Facebook page for tonight's show here! Read about Shane MacGowan's new, improved teeth here.