Today brought very sad news that Phil Chevron from The Pogues had died. I was lucky enough to meet him a few times, albeit very briefly.
In 1988, The Pogues were on tour promoting their magnificent “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” LP. I had a week off work booked with nothing much planned and I already had a ticket for their gig at my local venue the Brighton Centre. But then I noticed an ad in NME or Melody Maker that showed some other dates were not sold out. So me and my mate John hatched a plan to travel up to the frozen north of England by train to see 2 gigs in Leeds and Scunthorpe. John had a mate who was studying at Leeds University so we spent the day drinking in the university bar and crashed out in the halls after the gig.
But it was a bit of a different story in Scunthorpe. The only thing we knew about Scunthorpe was that old joke about name 3 football teams with swear words in their names. (Arsenal, Scunthorpe and fucking Chelsea bastards) We didn’t really even know where Scunthorpe was. Even so, we got there somehow and found the venue, a big shoebox shaped block. We got tickets from the box office but then we had nowhere to go because we’d spent all our money in the pubs and chipshops of Leeds. So we just sat on the steps outside the venue rubbing our hands and moaning about how bloody cold it was in the north.
A few hours later and some cars pulled up containing various Pogues. A few of them said hello as they went in. Phil Chevron and banjoman extraordinaire Jem Finer chatted to us for longer, asking us lots of questions about where we’d travelled from and stuff. I was 18 years old at the time but I must’ve looked younger because then they both started giving me a lecture for telling lies and bunking off school! After a while, I managed to convince them that I did genuinely have a job and I wasn’t at school anymore and they invited us to come inside and watch them soundcheck. I can’t remember at all what songs they played at the (Shane-less) soundcheck but I do remember that we were over-excitedly jumping around down the front of an empty venue which seemed to amuse some of the band.
Fast forward about a dozen years and I was playing guitar in a covers band. Someone booked us to play at a Nottingham Forest supporters club party in a little boathouse right next to the City Ground (the black and white building on the right hand side of this picture). We’d been forewarned that Phil Chevron was a big Forest fan and might be at the party so we put a Pogues number into our setlist but we didn’t play a very good version of it on the night. After the gig, somebody introduced me to Phil and I shook his hand but we were both a bit pissed so we didn’t have much of a chat.
On the back of this gig, we got invited over to a beautiful place called Greystones in County Wicklow to play the end of season bash for the Ireland branch of the Forest supporter’s club. We’d been promised a great night of boozing and we’d managed to get ourselves a gig booked in Dublin city centre the previous night so over we went. Once again Phil Chevron was in attendance and this time I had a bit more of a chat with him. I told him about our previous meeting in Scunthorpe all those years ago and we had a brief chat about Pogues gigs past.
At the time, Forest were managed by fish-faced David Platt (of last minute versus Belgium fame) who was very unpopular with the fans. They all wanted Paul Hart to be the manager. He was youth team manager at the time and was credited with bringing through a very good crop of youngsters including David Prutton, Jermaine Jenas and pie-loving Andy Reid. He was in attendance at this gig to present a few gongs and do a little speech and after many pints and much persuasion from the supporters, he was made to get up and sing a song! He chose to sing “A Hard Day’s Night” with us and he actually did a fairly decent job. After a few more trips on the managerial merry-go-round, Hart pitched up at my club (QPR) about 8 years later. I told my mates that our new manager had once sung a Beatles song onstage with me in Ireland but I don’t think any of them believed me.
Anyway, back to the point. The writer Joseph O’Connor has acclaimed Phil as one of Ireland’s very best and you really need to read this poem.
He’s talking about some records that Phil made before The Pogues there and I know there were quite a few but I’m sorry to say I’m not very familiar with any of them. My main memory of seeing him onstage many times over the years is just how fast his strumming hand could move and still keep in time. Rhythm guitar is an under-appreciated skill, especially playing all them fast Pogues tunes. With a lyrical master like Shane MacGowan in the band, it can’t have been easy to get your songs on Pogues albums when they were in their prime but Phil wrote a great track on the “Peace and Love” album (Lorelei). But I’m going to finish this article with a clip of Phil’s best-known song “Thousands Are Sailing.” I reckon this is a song that will still be sung on both sides of the Atlantic in 20, 50 or 100 years from now because nobody’s going to write a better song about Irish / American emigration than this one.
- Music | Philip Chevron RIP (thejournalist.ie)
- The Pogues – “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” (admorobo.wordpress.com)