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,
“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.
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?”
The officer made his eyes slender. “Pogue Mahone?” He fiddled with the sparse whiskers on his chin.
“A Gaelic expression”
“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.
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
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.
*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
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?