Opening with the sacking of Shane MacGowan on a Japanese tour in 1991 and then backtracking to the author’s early forays into music with MacGowan’s The Nips, the first volume of Pogues accordionist James Fearnley’s memoirs is a highly readable and no-holds-barred account of the band’s original lineage presented, with a novelist’s skill, as being “creative non-fiction”.
The title is highly apt. Though the focus is on the band members, management and associates, Fearnley also produces vivid thumbnail sketches of notable figures passing in and out of their orbit. Elvis Costello seems full of self-importance; Joe Strummer variously inhabits the character he played in Alex Cox’s Straight To Hell film (in which The Pogues appeared) or his champion-of-the-underdog personae; UB40’s Ali Campbell is dismissed as a “brute”.
The key to the book, though, is in the dichotomies Fearnley identifies. Shane MacGowan is an unmanageable drunkard but, in fuelling his addiction, he also fuels his genius. Tours are unglamorous, claustrophobic affairs full of judgemental arguments among people who still love each other dearly. The writing creates a sense of place and situation through which you can smell every cigarette and every stale pint of beer. A razor-sharp set of recollections.