BOOK REVIEW: ‘RUM, SODOMY AND THE LASH’ by Jeffrey T. Roesgen

30 years to the day of the release of Rum, Sodomy And The Lash.

Fleshing out The Pogues second album into a pocket sized, historical and musical mix of fact, fiction and nautical friction. Perfect for yer summer holiday,

Rum, Sodomy And The Lash

 “You can smell The Pogues through the writing”

Today is the 30th anniversary of the release of The Pogues classic album ‘Rum, Sodomy And The Lash’. I dare say that their can’t be that many of us that heard it back then and didnt find it a life changing moment in the way that only music can be sometimes. Easy to forget that The Pogues were the first celtic-punk band and though first album, ‘Red Roses For Me’, introduced the band it was this album that really set off the fireworks!

As Melody Maker said back in the day

“The brightest, most intense moments of Rum…aren’t about particularities of style or delivery. This is, apart from anything else, music to hang on to other people by to stave off brutal fact and the weight of history. While The Pogues make music for drunks as well, probably, as anyone has they’re also dragging an oft-ignored folk tradition into the daylight with an altogether improbable potency… Rum… has soul, if not a great deal of innovation, and somewhere among the glasses and the ashtrays lie a few home truths”

The albums title was suggested by drummer Andrew Rankin who said

“it seemed to sum up life in our band”

and the cover of the album has The Pogues members faces superimposed on the Medusa’s shipwrecked sailors in the famous painting by Theodore Gericault called ‘The Raft Of The Medusa’. Nautical themes abound as well as tales of male prostitution, the Spanish civil war, peace-keeping in the Lebanon and a multitude of stories telling of Irish emigrant life. Jeffrey T. Roesgen has taken these tales and wrapped them up in a book that is half nautical novel and half a history of The Pogues. Though you would expect such a specific book to be aimed squarely at the die hard Pogues fan audience the book actually reads very well. Sure the characters in these songs (Frank Ryan, Jesse James, Jock Stewart, Sally MacLennane etc.,) lend themselves to great story-telling but Roesgen deserves credit for writing a book that would interest maybe not quite anyone but certainly anyone with the faintest appreciation of The Pogues.

Rum Sodomy And The Lash

The story begins with The Pogues arriving on the dock and boarding The Medusa and follows them till they find themselves on that raft suffering

“unrelenting heat and torrents of waves”

A incapable captain and a corrupt French Governor interweave with and drink and fight with band members and the characters from the album.

“An officer rushed over to our group.  He stood before Spider, rigid and ornate, and nodded to the bags and cases at our feet.
“Musicians” said Spider, releasing Shane.
The officer winced and brought up a collection of papers he’d rolled behind his back. He squinted at it. “Your name?”
“Pogue Mahone”
The officer made his eyes slender. “Pogue Mahone?” He fiddled with the sparse whiskers on his chin.
“A Gaelic expression”
“Gaelic?”
“Kiss my arse” Spider shot back.
The officer widened his eyes and poised his head above the group.
We were quiet, looking to our feet.  The officer shifted himself rigid.  He looked to Spider. “Aboard this ship you will be Pogues”

The chapters are short and each part of the story is interrupted by a smaller section explaining how the song came into being. These pop up as they appear in the book and not in the album’s order so having a good knowledge is not all that important, though some of it will sail over of your head I am sure.

Ewan MacColl

Ewan MacColl

The classic Ewan MacColl penned song ‘Dirty Old Town’ receives a chapter to itself. As The Medusa navigates a storm we are told that Ewan MacColl actually hated The Pogues version of his song. In an interview Ewan’s wife Peggy Seeger, a renowned folk artist in her own right, contends that when Ewan wrote the line

“We’ll chop you down like an old dead tree”

he was implying improvement of Salford rather than destroying it. Roesgen quite rightly sees another side to The Pogues version

“In the Pogues performance we have little trouble seeing Shane, with spite seething from his lips, wielding his axe like a banshee, hacking his dismal town to splinters”

Roegson tells a great tale of the story behind the album and brings out the connections between Irish music and punk rock as well as American folk as well. Steering clear of anything too overly dramatic this wee book is worthy of passing the time away one day and is small enough (only 119 pages) to be read in one go. Therein lies the problem though in that you are left gasping for more. So the only possible solution is to pour yourself a generous drink, put ‘Rum Sodomy And The Lash’ on, turn it up loud, sit back in your deckchair and enjoy!

“With Spider singing, Shane and Frank Ryan jigged among the band. Ryan hadn’t expected James’s theft and his canonization, but it played into his plan for revolt. And he danced. Together the two men gulped from the jug, embracing amid the music. “Jesse James,” the crowds called over and over, diluting even the music we played”

Buy The Book

Amazon  Bloomsbury  Audible(TalkingBooks)

33⅓ (Thirty-Three and a Third) is a series of books written about music albums, featuring one author per album and published by Bloomsbury Publishing. The series title refers to the speed (33⅓ revolutions per minute) of an LP album and as of June 2015 over 100 titles had been published.

For more information on the series there is a Blog here as well as the Bloomsbury site here

*if you’re interested in The Pogues we have a multitude of great articles on them-

‘From Oppression To Celebration- The Pogues And The Dropkick Murphys And Celtic Punk’ here 

‘A Wee Biography Of Shane MacGowan’  here 

‘30492-London Celtic Punks Top Twenty Celtic-Punk Albums Of All Time’ here

‘Film Review: If I Should Fall From Grace With God- The Shane MacGowan Story’  here

‘Book Review: Irish Blood, English Heart- Second Generation Irish Musicians In England’  here

‘Red Roses For Me And Me’  here

‘Film Review: I’m A Man You Don’t Meet Every Day’  here

The Best Pogues Related Sites

In The Wake Of The Medusa * Paddy Rolling Stone * The Parting Glass * Pogues Facebook Page

For me though the best place on the internet for The Pogues is this unofficial group on Facebook (here) all the diverse views you would expect from a bunch of people who follow The Pogues. Be sure and join up won’t you?

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12 thoughts on “BOOK REVIEW: ‘RUM, SODOMY AND THE LASH’ by Jeffrey T. Roesgen

  1. Jamie Porter August 5, 2015 at 3:26 pm Reply

    Defo my fave one!

  2. Ben Finnis August 5, 2015 at 4:41 pm Reply

    Yes. When my Great Grandmother – who was a wanderer , passed over. Her meagre belongings were sent to us. among other things in her suitcase – this album on tape was found and we listened to it and so surprised. Her husband was an Irishman from County Court. He wasn’t good to her but she loved him. I wish they would play it here on ANZAC day in Australia – And the band played. But its anti war. They don’t like that. Why an Irish band made a song About Aussie diggers. But yes , many of them Irish. I have two Irish bloodlines in me. Donovan and Nolan. Cheers.

  3. Joe Ballantyne August 5, 2015 at 4:46 pm Reply

    Def an album everyone should have in their music collection.

  4. Troy Hoare August 5, 2015 at 4:57 pm Reply

    will always be one the best albums cos it opened the doors for what followed.

  5. Seanie Ryan August 5, 2015 at 5:03 pm Reply

    Brilliant album..

  6. Manuel Galvez August 5, 2015 at 5:05 pm Reply

    surement l’un des meilleurs albums jamais créés

  7. William Grey August 5, 2015 at 5:23 pm Reply

    I remember first hearing of the Pogues and this album in a record shop in Edinburgh. Instant buy!. Great album with a stunning version of ” The Band Played Waltzing Matilda”

  8. Vinnie Magill August 5, 2015 at 6:04 pm Reply

    It was Celtic Punk’s Never Mind The Bollocks, it was the trailblazer for the rest. A superb album.

  9. Daran Crook August 5, 2015 at 7:03 pm Reply

    The first two lp’s red roses for me & rum Sodomy & the lash had a great raw energy thanks to the songs & production but the third, if I should fall from grace with god, had that energy + Terry woods, Phil chevron & of course 1000’s are sailing, most of this lp in fact was self penned material apart from the soaring traditional medley, which makes the third one just that bit more special, but they’re all good in my book!

  10. Terry Faulkner August 5, 2015 at 10:22 pm Reply

    Remember the day i bought this album,the fella behind the counter told me,there was a lot of bad language in the songs,i said thanks for telling me,but i am 33 years old.

  11. Eugene Mcgrath August 5, 2015 at 10:44 pm Reply

    cant believe i was only 15 when i bought this in a record shop in armagh 30 years ago!
    best pogues album ever i think!

  12. Jp O Malley August 5, 2015 at 11:00 pm Reply

    One of the greatest albums ever written. That is all! Elvis Costello’s production is sublime. Wild Cats of Kilkenny sounds like McGown has gone to hell and back on a bad acid trip, only then to wake up in a pub having the banter. The most original band to ever come out of British pop music, perhaps with the exception of the Smiths.

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