I drew 1985 and 1987 in Tom’s lucky grab bag tombola and my thought process went pretty much like this: ‘Okay, it seems like half the records I’ve brought to DRC have been from one or other of these years, so where next? ‘Psychocandy’? Too obvious. ‘George Best’? Would love to but can’t find a link to another record and Tom promised bonus points…’ and then this popped into my head and the deal was done.
This seems like such a strange and improbable cross-over record now, but at the time The Pogues were habitually bracketed with The Smiths, The Cramps and the other mainstays of the high school alternative universe. Listening back, it’s hard to see why. I recall the first time I shared this record with a trusted friend (hey Rich) having chaperoned it all the way to Gloucestershire in the back of my parents car. He expressed stinging disgust within seconds and made me feel slight foolish for liking it. He didn’t stop me though.
It’s a much more traditional Irish folk album than I remembered. Pop archaeologists scratching away for clues to the vaunted punk origins will dig right through and out the other side, wondering whether they’re listening to the wrong record. It’s also bracingly rough which cements the feeling that this could be an outfit caught gigging in the King William, or busking outside Brixton tube.
The playing is energetic and infectious and the songs, whether trad (‘I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day’, ‘Jesse James’) covers (‘Dirty Old Town’, ‘And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ – both songs that the Pogues essentially annexed for themselves) or originals (‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’, ‘Sally MacLenaane’) are rock solid throughout and form a bristling, bustling, exuberant and heartwarming whole. I would argue that ‘If I Should Fall From Grace With God’, which followed this, was their true masterwork, forging a genuine fusion of traditions and styles, but ‘Rum, Sodomy and The Lash’, its gruff, scruff of an older brother is the one that does it for me.
Nick listened: The Pogues exist in a bit of a black hole for me – aside from Fairytale of New York and Dirty Old Town all they are in my mind is Shane Macgowan’s teeth, which is probably why I’ve never had any inclination whatsoever to investigate them. (The Wedding Present are even more unknown – I don’t think I could even name a single song by them.) Rob hinted that he thought I might dislike them, but really I was completely neutral at the start of the evening. And I still am: I didn’t dislike Rum, Sodomy and The Lash, but I wasn’t struck by it, either. It was alright.
Tom Listened: We own Rum, Sodomy and The Lash (it’s more Karen’s than mine) and I always enjoy it when it’s on, but rarely feel the urge to play it. The Pogues are a funny one – so far removed from rock’n’roll that you sense that if it wasn’t for Shane McGowan’s past in the punk band The Nipple Erectors, they would have been found nestling in the World, Folk and Jazz review pages of the Guardian. He definitely gives The Pogues their edge and, listening again to this album the other night, a lot of it is pretty close to traditional Irish folk music, especially when McGowan takes a back seat, as on the Cait O’Riordan sung I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day. That said, it is thrilling and exciting Irish folk music containing as it does moments of shear beauty (A Pair of Brown Eyes for example), alongside more up tempo numbers such as Wild Cats Of Kilkenny and traditional songs (Jesse James, The Gentleman Soldier). I enjoyed listening to it at DRC and may even get round to transferring it from the dining room to the car!
Graham Listened: Not an album I have ever owned, but sure I had a copy on a C90 somewhere. Great to hear this again and tracks of almost chaotic energy and gentle beauty sit together brilliantly on this album.