Album Review

The Pogues – BBC Sessions 1984-1986: Album Review

Twenty three tracks of The Pogues ripping it up at the BBC.

Release date: 30th October 2020

Label: Rhino

Format: CD / Digital

As Irish dramatist Sean O’Casey wrote in Juno & The Paycock – “Th’ whole worl’s in a terrible state o’ chassis”. Probably soundtracked by Shane MacGowan and crew with their BBC sessions on loop.

From six separate live sessions, it’s also twenty-three different tracks – not like the Zep’s BBC sessions that yielded numerous versions of Communication Breakdown ( mind, we DO get two Sally MacLennanes and Boys From The County Hell…). Regular visitors through the doors of the BBC in the Eighties, the mainstream, Shane MacGowan and The Pogues might have seemed strange bedfellows, but they probably managed to stay on their best behaviour for long enough to hammer out four-song sets that have thankfully remained intact in the archive.

So we’re back to dateline April ’84 when they’re still Pogue Mahone and John Peel has awarded them the badge of honour that comes with the invitation to a Peel session. You can already hear the inspiration and appreciate the seeds being sown for many bands who took their template of ragged and raw, delivered with a passion as the one to follow. Folk music that was given a clattering. All folky tales of fish and whiskey and a few months later, they were The Pogues, diddly diddly-ing on the trendy ‘Kid’ Jensen show. Throughout, there’s barely any concession to brooding ballads or mournful tales of long lost loves and even Connemara Let’s Go sees them descend into some experimental instrumental maelstrom.

Another Peel session from December ’84 combines marching, whistle-led stomps with a seasonal Danny Boy and waltzing Navigator. If you didn’t know by now, you should start to appreciate what you’re going to get from The Pogues. The AC/DC of Irish music. The instantly recognisable, folk-inspired, shanty punk with lyrics spilling over the rim at twenty to the dozen. Often a race to the finish as the tempos get pushed and pushed. There might not a Fairytale Of New York – at that stage maybe no more than a twinkle in their eye – but we do get Dirty Old Town as the iconic and bonafide classic folk song moment in the set. Gawd bless yer, Ewan MacColl.

Janice Long kept the boys coming in as we headed towards the latter Eighties in an increased haze of alcoholic inebriation and there are subtle changes in the songs as the music and the band ‘mature’.’ The Rake At The Gates Of Hell and the snaking Byzantine style of Turkish Song Of The Damned that close proceedings are more refined and considered arrangements, not simply reliant on lightning fast delivery.

Trend setters and niche carvers with the irrepressible Shane MacGowan, The Pogues were destined to be unlikely standard bearers. This BBC set confirms the legend.

Listen to The Old Main Drag from the Janice Long 1985 session here:

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