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REVIEW: James Fearnley’s Here Comes Everybody

June 23, 2012

IN Fearnley’s brilliantly written memoir of The Pogues, Here Comes Everybody, it is interesting to note how little issues of Irishness or Irish music played in the band’s nine year career.

It is interesting because, for Northerners like me, The Pogues were the band that got us into Irish music. They were the band that fused punk with the ballads and jigs and reels which had previously been staid mainstays of RTE and BBC’s As I Roved Out folk programme.

But, if we are being honest now, or,  had we been then, we would have acknowledged that our cultural touchstones, from pop music to TV, to news media to football, were more British than Irish anyway. In that respect it is fitting that a band with a only a couple of Irish-born members and load of others with tenuous ties to the ‘oul sod, would be the ones that updated and gave us back the music of our past.

Fearnley’s memoir is unflinching in its honesty and depiction of self-destructiveness. Several members are on the abyss of alcoholic oblivion by the end – one member of the road crew is ultimately doomed. There are multiple fist fights and an impending sense of people trapped in a seemingly never ending cycle of touring that is killing everyone either physically or emotionally.

Boozing is off the scale, bottles of schnapps, vodka and champagne are emptied all over the place. At one stage they destroy a bottle of whiskey in next to no time with former SDLP leader John Hume in Derry as Ronnie Drew of The Dubliners falls off the wagon.

It is a also as compelling an evocation of a band as it explodes as has been committed to print. Band members are barely talking to one another as they depressingly trail from one gig to another across several continents.  For most of the book lead singer Shane MacGowan is clearly amid an alcoholic and narcotic breakdown. By the end he is incapable of singing any of the band’s brilliant songs.

For those youngsters dreaming of a rock and roll life on the road, Fearnley’s book is a salutary lesson in the realities of the life of a working musician in a semi-successful band.

Through it all, the commitment to the music shines through. From punk rock rookies to the Christmas No2 single in a handful of years, Fearnley is clear that The Pogues worked their ‘hoins’ off. Producer Elvis Costello’s guiding hand is more pronounced than I had realised and the affection that one and all have for Joe Strummer is evident.

The sections on the difficult gestation of their now ubiquitous Christmas song ‘Fairytale of New York’ are especially illuminating and show the twin influences of  hard work and kismet that are often hidden behind the success of great singles.

It’s a beautifully understated and honest exposé of the rock music industry. There’s no self aggrandisement and this book is a study in the tragedy that can be found in chasing your dreams. It’s all the more engaging for highlighting those tragedies and the mundane daily experiences from which they emerge.

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