After a couple of interviews with fellow Walker Roaders Ted Hutt and Marc Orrell, our man in NYC, Ray Ball, finally gets round to the main inspiration for the band, James Fearnley. There at the very beginning, on the 4th October 1982 in Kings Cross – James is best known from his days in The Pogues. However, he has had a long and varied musical adventure including as guitarist for the Nipple Erectors (the Punk band fronted and founded by Shane MacGowan), the critically acclaimed Low and Sweet Orchestra, and Cranky George (with brothers – screen writer Kieran and award winning actor Dermot Mulroney) before forming The Walker Roaders and releasing their self-titled #1 Celtic-Punk debut album.
So I may not be easily starstruck. Through the course of writing here and being part of music in general I’ve been able to make contact with some pretty amazing people.
However, I just got off the phone with James Fearnley, accordion player for the Pogues.
I’m still a little bit dazed.
As with anyone I talk to, I try to leave the card blank to sign by them-what is important to them is important to me as part of the Celtic music community and to share with you.
James got his start playing piano, I think about 10 he said, and he was a choir singer. I think I caught him off guard, when I said he played as I imagine Jerry Lee Lewis would sound on an accordion. I think he was amused by that, but I think understood what I was trying to say.
Somewhere in there we got to talking about his first accordion playing. I think he said that Shane had brought the instrument up in a laundry basket. I don’t think the point of it ever was to be the best accordion player, but to flesh out some of Shane’s songs. He had heard traditional playing in pubs etc, but sufficed that he couldn’t play like that.
We talked for a while about the Pogues years, and I made a point to ask how they ever kept that many people together whether in the studio or live. He just said there was a core group that just practised and practised, until the mayhem of that big lineup was gone.
At one point I asked James about the tune ‘London Girl’. In no small part because it’s got one of the fiercest accordion parts I’ve ever heard. If you haven’t paid close attention to it, trust me and do it. It’s insane that when I talked to Marc, I asked him if he’d ever learned the part and laughed in agreement that it’s really just a ridiculously intense and speed of light part. All James had to say about it was that when he was in the studio doing overdubs, someone came and put a note on the booth that said “Go Cajun”. I imagine the next take he just went wild and came to one of those moments after that was “holy hell, what did I just do?”.
Interestingly enough that was the only remark he made about certain styles of playing. The accordion player from a group I gig with, references styles that half the time (and sorry Tom) I don’t even know, much less understand. But, I enthusiastically at one point mentioned that the Pogues were the godfathers of Celtic-Punk.
He immediately disagreed and said to them they had just taken apart what the Dubliners and reassembled it just a little differently. He continued that he thought a lot of punk was like that. Taking things apart and putting them back together, just differently. He cited the Dropkick Murphys as very Punk, with the truly loud roaring guitars that sound, especially on their early records, in my opinion sounding like a mashup of the Buzzcocks melody and Washington hardcore intensity.
He talked a great deal about his band mates in the Pogues. We both especially paid attention to Phil Chevron’s “Thousands are Sailing” as a brilliant piece, may Phil rest in peace. Evidently-I had no idea of this-Cait had never played bass before. But then on the other side of that coin, neither had Paul Simonon from The Clash. Paul’s heavily Jamaican influenced lines are some of the most iconic in rock history. I suppose what I can take from that is you don’t have to have virtuosic abilities. It seems like the Pogues all learned and honed their instruments and just practised. And practised more.
The Walker Roaders were a street gang when James Fearnley was a kid growing up in Manchester who would slit your thumb with a knife if they came across you and felt like it.
It’s hard, if not impossible to capture all the Pogues years, but I brought it into the present with how the Walker Roaders came to be, his friendship with Ted Hutt over time and how Marc joined in. I think he must have found it refreshing to be able to write lyrics, but cited Shane’s prowess on the matter.
I asked, and I think I’ve asked the three Walker Roaders I’ve talked to, if there was anything more on that front. I told James that the album was something I think we all needed but didn’t know we needed. He had a good laugh at that.
From what I can tell, Ted, Marc and James don’t sit still long, there’s always a project on. But I think all three wanted to do more on that front.
Whatever comes on that front, or any of his projects, James was a pleasure to talk to and had a wealth of stories to share.
I can’t wait to see what comes next out of everyone, and I hope you all had a great and safe St. Patrick’s Day.
Our enormous thanks to Ray Ball. He has already featured on these pages as the driving force behind The Fighting 69th and his new band Ravenswalk from Buffalo. One of the most prolific and diverse artists in the Celtic-Punk scene we are proud to have Raymond on board our team. Writer, artist, musician he is a credit to the American-Irish community and you can find a wealth of his material available at his Bandcamp or the Ravenswalk site.
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