Released in 1984, Red Roses For Me was The Pogues' first full, official album. According to the website everyhit.com, it failed to make the UK album chart top 40, but its content aroused an interest in this up and coming band whose repertoire was mostly music of a traditional Irish nature, flavoured with a punk influence around the edges.
Front-man Shane MacGowan had already lost his front teeth** and even as early as then was in possession of well-developed drink problem, but such didn't prevent him from becoming one of the UK's most prolific, intelligent, deep and poetic songwriters, right up there with people such as Ray Davies.
**Through a mutual friend, I was informed (not sure how reliably) that Shane's teeth didn't go bad...but were knocked out in an accident of some kind.
Most of the success of The Pogues came from their albums which followed on from Red Roses For me, plus of course their all-time best-selling Christmas single from 1987, Fairy Tale Of New York, but this album although by no means their best, went a long way towards setting the scene of what we could expect from the band's later work.
The first track, Transmetropolitan, opens slowly and rather poignantly, very much in a reflective Irish flavour. It then launches into a jaunty little ditty in reel style, where Shane MacGowan's distinctive voice takes the lead vocals. The lyrics appear to be celebrating the idea of a night out on the town, or in fact through many towns, and are peppered with the occasional mild expletive. A lot of the words aren't easy to understand, as they are sung very fast and it wouldn't surprise me if Shane perhaps wasn't experiencing a state of complete sobriety whilst in the recording studio. The instrumentals largely consisting of fiddle, banjo, guitar and drums in true Irish drinking song format, and it is a good opening to this rather celebrated, but not overly commercially successful album.
The Battle Of Brisbane is the next track, starting off with a very happy-sounding Irish flavoured introduction, with some strange, almost amusing percussive sounds backed by tin whistle, banjo and accordion. This is purely instrumental with no vocals at all and is happy, jaunty and very 'up' in mood.
The Auld Triangle I believe is an old, traditional Irish song. MacGowan takes up the vocals with this slow, yet very definitely flavoured Celtic tune, gently backed by haunting flute and accordion. The lyrics are from the standpoint of somebody in prison, lonely in his cell and unable to sleep due to thinking about his girlfriend on the outside. I possibly mistakenly believe that expression 'The Auld Triangle' refers to a part of the man's anatomy which refuses to lie dormant each time he thinks of his girlfriend, with his mind also wandering onto the occupants of the nearby women's prison. The mood of this song is sharply Celtic, to the point where it makes me sit up in my seat and feel in touch with the very roots of my ancestry, the tune being slow, yet strong, positive and full of despair-tinged hope...as most Celtic music of this nature is.
Waxie's Dargle is a definite Irish drinking song, with some wonderful banjo, flute and accordion backing. Shane MacGowan's voice is rather aggressive taking up the vocals, with the rest of the band providing the backing voices...infused with equal attitude. Most of the lyrics are indistinguishable and are shouted rather than sung, although the musicianship is excellent, very Irish in style. The song is almost absurdly short and direct, but it is a shame that I can't understand most of the words...they do sound rather angry though....angry in a playful way, if that's possible to imagine.
Boys From The County Hell begins with a haunting slide guitar, backed by banjo, then the rest of the band joins in with tin whistle, violin and percussion. The tune has more of a Scots than an Irish flavour, and Shane sings the vocals very clearly, again with some expletives present in the lyrics which appear to be about street life in London, observing its darker side of drunks in shop doorways, junkies crashed out on pavements and various things which young runaways find themselves having to do in order to earn enough to buy a drink or rent a room for the night. There is quite a bit of aggression in the lyrics, largely provoked I believe by anger towards the predatory nature of certain London-dwelling individuals who take advantage of those less fortunate than themselves. The main tune reminds me very much of something just floating around the edge of my memory from early childhood...a song which my father used to sing to me when he was trying to lull me into sleep, but that's as much as I can recall.
Sea Shanty begins with accordion, percussion and an unidentifiable instrument. As the song launches into the main tune, although MacGowan's voice is strong, not all of the words are easy to understand. However, it although sounding simple, is quite a complex tune and I'd imagine one that is very difficult to sing. Again, a ditty with a definite Irish flavour and containing assorted profanities, the words seem to speak of somebody coming home from having been at sea for some while and who finds life back in his home town (or city) distasteful, due to its degradation and downfall. This is a lively song, performed in reel style which is very pleasant to listen to and mildly amusing in parts.
Dark Streets Of London launches straight into the main tune, again very much Irish in nature, although it is one of Shane MacGowan's penned offerings where he has a scathing yet simultaneously affectionate gripe about being young and virtually down and out in London. The words go on to express memories of having been in a hospital receiving ECT and being disturbed by the state of mind of the other patients, only to be released and left to wander around the Dark Streets Of London, penniless and alone. I'm not too fond of the tune of this song, but I love the words which are grimly poetic, and very telling of how life can quickly fall to pieces for any young person who absconds to London in the hopes of instantly becoming a millionaire or having their name up in lights. The instrumentals are pretty similar to the rest of this album...accordion, tin whistle, percussion and banjo.
Streams Of Whisky is one of my all-time favourite Pogues tracks. Very Irish again, with a good, solid tune. As the title suggests, the song is largely about alcohol with a bit of crime and a threatened prison sentence thrown in. The tune rolls along in a very happy-sounding way, up in mood, bright and breezy. The instrumentals are fairly complex, with some fast-played banjo, accordion and tin whistle, with the percussion being quite frenzied in parts.
The next track, Poor Paddy, begins with some soft, well-played banjo and Shane takes up the lead vocals, singing of an Irishman from historic times, tired of working on the railway in 1842. The song then launches into quite a jaunty, jerky-sounding reel where the words then become mostly indistinct, but it then goes back to the quiet part for a while before speeding up again. The tragedies of the working man, laced with prejudice directed at the Irish in past times, comes across quite strongly in the words that can be understood, and there is no pussy-footing around, as the images created via these lyrics is hard-hitting, tells it as it is and down to earth. Instrumentally, the song is quite heavy on the banjo, although it is largely played fairly softly.
Dingle Regatta opens on accordion with a very happy-sounding, lively tune, then tin whistle and light percussion join in with this reel type song. The nature of the tune, although sounding simple, is actually quite complex, with lots of chord and key changes happening very quickly, due to the fast speed of the song. The whole track is entirely instrumental, almost conjuring up images of everybody getting totally sloshed and dancing the night away at an Irish wedding reception or similar....full of booze and teeming with good-natured celebratory Celtic bonhomie.
Greenland Whale Fisheries opens with a few guitar chords, then the rest of the standard instruments of an Irish band join in, together with MacGowan's vocals. Sadly, apart from it appearing to describe a whale fishing trip on the shores of Greenland, most of the words are a mystery to me as they are virtually impossible to understand. However, this song has a good tune, is lively, jolly and happy-sounding....but, then isn't most Irish music, even the slow/sad stuff? There is quite a complex middle-eight where accordion, flute, banjo, guitar and drums go a bit mad for a few seconds, before returning to the main body of the tune, but that same madness returning to close down the song completely.
The next track, Down In The Ground Where The Dead Men Go, opens with some strange, metallic percussive sounds which are quite eerie to listen to, then we have a melee of accordion, guitar and banjo gradually fading in with an unusual, repetitive, slightly irritating riff. All the band members have a little go here with the vocals, but it's almost impossible to understand more than 1% of the words, hence I'm uncertain as to their true content other than the title itself, and "to hell" being repeated a few times. The mood and tune of this song are quite agitating to listen to...very fast, and played on an off beat rather than propelling forward with lots of major chords. This is probably my least favourite track on the album, particularly as it closes down with a melee of screaming from the band members, accompanied by some screeching female and children's voices, with the instrumentals going utterly crazy.
Kitty, the final track on this album, opens gently with accordion and softly played banjo. I believe it is a traditional Irish song, as I'm sure I remember it being sung to me during my early childhood. Shane takes the vocals of this tender but sad love song as clear as a bell. The words are a plea from a prisoner to his girlfriend, where he suggests they part rather than her being forced to wait possibly forever for his release. Kitty is a very poignant song, containing some quite deep emotion, yet with that contrasting sense of Celtic warmth and positivity very much in presence....definitely a song for getting drunk with a few old friends, who can then...once totally inebriated, share the experience of crying into their beer.
Red Roses For Me is a mixture of traditional Irish songs and new material written by MacGowan, although from my own CD sleeve (which is quite old as I bought it in about 1985-ish...it still bears its £4.99 price sticker!) it isn't clear which songs are old and which were new. The sleeve just shows a tracklist, the names of the band members and a rather bad picture of them wearing grey drape jackets, whilst standing outside a white building.
For my own tastes, this is by no means The Pogues' best work, but did provide a good introduction to all which would follow, and helped bring Irish-flavoured music to the fore, stimulating an interest in all things Celtic.
My own recommendation regarding Pogues' albums would not be to avoid this one, but to start off with one or more of their later works - perhaps the compilations of their greatest hits - as Red Roses For Me comes across as an introduction, rather than being typical of what Shane MacGowan and his band were ultimately capable of. There are a couple of weak links on this album, but overall it is a warm, happy-sounding yet tinged with some poignancy collection of definitively Irish-influenced songs. If you find swearing offensive, a couple of the tracks might not be for you though.
At the time of writing, Red Roses For Me can be purchased on Amazon as follows:-
New: from £2.49 to £12.11
Used: from £2.30 to £6.55
Original 1984 recording, plus extra tracks (CD):-
New: None currently available
Used: from 95p to £27.49
Collectible: from £1.04 to £11.49
Original on vinyl:-
New: currently only one copy available @ £20.00
Used: from £7.49 to £29.99
Collectible: only two copies currently available @ £19.99 & £35.00 (both used)
Some items on Amazon are available for free delivery within the UK, but where this doesn't apply, a £1.26 charge should be added to the above figures.
Thanks for reading!
~~ Also published on Ciao under my CelticSoulSister user name ~~
To many people a band such as the Pogues seem as Irish as you cant get without being actually carved from the Blarney Stone. Like U2 and Guinness, all are very much products of the Emerald Isle, born of its forty shades of green. Well you can forget all the shamrocks and shenanigans both of the band s mentioned are very much the product of the London post punk scene and whilst we are on the subject most of the black stuff sold in pubs on this side of the water was probably brewed in London as well. Anyway, I mention that not to undermine either band in anyway, music is about attitude and feeling rather than a birthright requiring a particular town name on a birth certificate, it matters not where you come from geographically but its where your heart is musically that counts. They say that no matter where you go in the world, it doesnt take long to walk into a bar and find an Irishman singing, singing about going home. The difference with the Pogues is that if you walked into a bar and heard them singing in the early days, they would have been singing about smashing the place up and picking a fight. The Pogues evolved slowly like mould on a piece of bread from a number of punk bands including the wonderfully named Nipple Erectors and the Millwall Chainsaws around the close of the seventies. Punk had out lived its shelf life in many peoples opinions by then and many musicians were looking to take that punk spirit and use it to push into new directions, New Romanticism and Goth being just two of the scenes that would be created by this exodus of energy. At the time Shane MacGowan was becoming more interested in the Irish folk music and recruited some old acquaintances to breath a new life into these traditional formats. The results was a band that played Irish folk inspired music with a punk mentality and after only a couple of years the band had toured as the support to Clash, the band that inspired MacGowan in the first place, signed to Stiff records and released this highly acclaimed debut album, Red Roses for Me The ragged trousered ranters had arrived.
The opening number Transmetropolitan has an opening refrain that would lull even the folk purists into a false sense of security. The wash of an accordion and a strummed guitar ease you in but there is a growing drone in the background that grows and finally breaks in a wave of attitude as the rest of the band kick in and MacGowan lays out his tale of hooliganism and rabble rousing. The Pogues have the knack of making new songs sound old and at the same time older traditional numbers sound new until all you are left with is this punkesque folk melting pot. Largely played on acoustic instruments, mandolins, banjos, guitars, accordions and the like, this is still very much a folk line up, but the intensity and snotty nosed delivery is what sets these boys apart from what you were expecting. And if you had to hastily rethink what the band are about due to the opening number, as if to mess with your head, the next song The Battle of Brisbane is total Irish pub folk music. As if to pay homage to their roots this is one of two instrumentals on the album, and both this and the later Dingle Regatta could be the Dubliners or the Chieftains. And if you thought that you had been treated to both extremes of the band in swift succession, The Auld Triangle gives you a new dimension to the band, the ballad as they rework a Brendan Behan composition and even though its a cover and a departure for the band, it still sounds totally at home on this album. Muted drums roll along in the background, an accordion plays a drone of simple notes and MacGowans rather unique voice holds the tune, the words being the focal point of the song.
The oddly familiar Waxies Dargle returns us to the bile soaked spirit of the open song. Its infectious tune and drunken yobbish delivery from the twin vocals make it hard to not tap your foot or even leap about madly depending on how many drinks you have had. Pogues albums always seem to be a trade off in many ways. Some of the songs, such as the one just gone, seem raw and amateurish when heard in the cold controlled media of the CD player. What you need to remember is that the Pogues are essentially a live band and these songs are best appreciated with a drink in one hand and the other slapping the table in the smoky back room of a late night venue, ahh those were the days. What you gain however in the place of that loss of atmosphere is a greater appreciation of Shane McGowans writing ability. Im sure that he would be the first to admit that he is far from the best singer in the world, but if you want glossy soulless over produced vocals then you always have Westlife or every other pop band since. As a live act his lack of clarity, 15 words to the dozen songs and often half cut state meant that the splendid lyrics were often lost in the chaos on stage. On album however, you get a chance to appreciate just how good his story telling style is. There are strings of references both to his Irish heritage and his London surroundings and on CD you get to appreciate that in full.
One of the highlights of the album, for me, follows. Boys From The County Hell is another tale of drinking, fighting and general mayhem. A fast paced folk white knuckle ride with some haunting whistle playing soloing throughout the song from Spider Stacey and the most memorable chorus of;
Lend me ten pounds and Ill buy you a drink
And mother wake me early in the morning
It has been said that this song was arranged in ten minutes and it does sound like it. That is not a derogatory remark, I mean that there is nothing here that can be regarded as superfluous, and everything is simple, considered and necessary to the song. No flash musical egos at work just musicians that know the art of writing a good song. The Pogues always had something to say politically and here reference fall out of every line, be it about the famous Irish Blueshirts, the My Lai massacre in Vietnam or the Spanish Civil War, these may appear simple drinking songs but under the surface hi-jinks is a keen observer of the modern world and some very intricate and interesting reference points. Poguetry in motion? Well maybe not. Dark Streets of London is a deeply personal tale and one of the first original songs to work its way into the bands set at a time when they mainly did covers. A mid tempo jig that sits as a nice balance to the other extremes the album has to offer. Another early song is Streams of Whiskey a story that alludes to Flann O Briens farcical tale of a mountain with a stream of whiskey flowing from it and also saying something about alcoholism in general and its close association with so many Irish writers. In fact with so many literary references being littered about from Joyce to Beckett and a host of others, the mental picture of McGowan as a drunken paddy is shattered for a more noble and flawed romantic, at least in the eyes of those that take time out to see what he is singing about.
Other highlights are the chaotic free for all Down in the Ground Where the Dead men go and the traditional Greenland Whale Fisheries .If you manage to get your hands on the re-mastered version however you are treated to a number of excellent bonus tracks. There is a raw version of Eric Bogle's And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda a chilling account of a young Australian soldier caught up in the horrors of Gallipoli. The band was to revisit it on the album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, (your next purchase incidentally) and it has been covered buy numerous folk luminaries not least of which is June Tabor. A simple tune and a steady rhythm add to the intensity of the vocals but by the second album for this song alone for a masterly and powerful rendition, not that the one here is too bad.
Nineteen songs appear on the re-released version and treat you to a time when the Pogues were a breath of fresh air in the increasingly fashion conscious post punk era of the mid eighties. Buy it, play it load and dance like there is no tomorrow. It may be folk music essentially but its folk music that goes for the jugular.
What a first album! This is criminally overlooked as i believe it to be equally as good as the second and third album AND of a similar type. I can see why people were disappointed with the albums that came after "If I should fall..." although i value them highly, but there is no reason why this album is often missed out of the "great" pogues albums category. The very first lines show exactly what the Pogues are about: "In the rosy parks of England we'll sit and have a drink of VP wine and cider 'til we can hardly think. we'll go where the spirits take us, to heaven or to hell and kick up bloody murder in the town we love so well." 'the town i loved so well' was one of the irish folk songs recorded by The Dubliners, who are seen as the spiritual fathers of the Pogues. This point was lifted from an excellent website which goes into a scary amount of depth on all pogues lyrics. see the link at the bottom. 1. Transmetropolitan The pogues are here, they are a london irish folk punk outfit who will raise hell. it is all said in this first song and it is a great one. Not as raw sounding as the next two albums but the sound is here and fully formed. 2. Battle of Brisbane The first of the two, fantastic instrumental tracks on the album. Shane wrote this one. 3. The Auld Triangle Shane's voice really shines on these quieter tracks. This is a Brendan Behan poem and the first of several tributes Shane would make to one of his Irish writer heroes. 4. Waxie's Dargle A riotous version of a tradiotional song. My bet is that it had never been sung like this before. I think it's Spider Stacy on 2nd vocals - he took over when Shane left anyway. It's basically two Irishmen discussing the improper behaviour of their wives. There's a band called Waxie's Dargle who are on Celtic Moods type CD's. 5. Boys from the Country Hell A fierce and
dark song. Remember you'll probably get the sack if you call your boss a "bitches bastard's whore". This is a live favourite and Shane used to change the line "my brother earned his medals at My Lai in vietnam" to "my brother earned his medals raping gooks in vietnam" Nasty. This is the second song on the album about being in a big gang of hooligans and smashing stuff up. "lend me ten pounds and i'll buy you a drink" is probably one of the best lines of any chorus. 6. Sea Shanty A working class anthem. kind of. the musical style is consistent and sonsistently good thorughout this album so i probably need not mention that this is an irish folk sound sped up and presented in a punk style. "a man's ambition must indeed be small, to write his name upon a shithouse wall." Indeed. 7. Dark Streets of London This was the first single and Pogue Mahone changed their name to The Pogues due to the fact that the BBC didnt want a band called "kiss my arse" even if it was in gaelic. The Pogues always have a good sense of place that affects the feel of their albums, which is why i like the 4th and 5th quite a lot. This one is based around London a lot of the time, which is of course, where the Pogues began. 8. Streams of Whiskey Shane's second Behan tribute. An anthem for alcoholics and, considering Behan died of alcoholism, a very curious type of tribute that could only be made by a man like Shane. Is he going the same way? we can only hope not. This one is a live favourite and the chorus is a raucus, rousing sing-along. 9. Poor Paddy Another traditional one which the Pogues have made their own. Poor paddy indeed it sounds like he had a pretty awful time during the industrial revolution. 10. Dingle Regatta The second instrumental track. To be honeest every instrumental track that I've heard by the Pogues has been absolutely br
illiant and that just shows how talented they alll are. This one is a traditional tune. 11. Greenland Whale Fisheries An humerous account of a captain's determination to cath a whale that doesn't want to be caught. Why don't you get songs like this on top of the pops these days eh? 12. Down in the Ground Where the Deadmen Go And after that, into a disturbing and weird account of some great plague or hunger or something, where Shane and the 2nd vocalist shout lyrics AT each other in a way that makes your head spin and the outro to the song is a minute or so of EVERYONE screaming. see, the pogues invented Nu metal. 13. Kitty This is a really beautiful slow song and was apparently Shane's favourite. The song is traditional but has apparently never been recorded by anyone else. It's about a person who has to leave his love because he is fleeing from the law. Very lady and the highwayman type thing. mmmm what a way to end am album. link to a fantastic pogues lyrics site: www.poguetry.com thanks to the person who told me how to edit this x
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Battle of Brisbane
3 Auld Triangle
4 Waxie's Dargle
5 Boys from the Country Hell
6 Sea Shanty
7 Dark Streets of London
8 Streams of Whiskey
9 Poor Paddy
10 Dingle Regatta
11 Greenland Whale Fisheries
12 Down in the Ground Where the Deadmen Go
14 The Leaving Of Liverpool (Bonus Track)
15 Muirshin Durkin (Bonus Track)
16 Repeal Of The Licensing Laws (Bonus Track)
17 And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda (Bonus Track)
18 Whiskey Youre The Devil (Bonus Track)
19 The Wild Rover (Bonus Track)