"Alcohol is the path to awareness," say the Pogues. Antonella Black bottles up courage.
Somebody's sprawled on the lime-green and purple carpet of the Hotel International in Birmingham town; legs a-kimbo, boots a-muddied, eyes a-crossed. Another victim of an alcohol induced coma. This somebody peers into the oh-so-shiny full length boudoir mirror and winces. It's me. Nobody, but nobody, escapes the wrath of the Pogues.
The Birmingham Polytechnic is seething with a bizarre amalgamation of bodies tonight; little girls in tight PVC minis, thighs glowing, massive men clutching their Guinness and growling, skinny little swots polishing the steam offa their glasses. The crowd tightens its belt in anticipation of the Pogues. The howling begins. Backstage, the Pogues are screaming blue murder, swigging the devil itself, and cart-wheeling to the rank stench of Amyl. Shane MacGowan licks his pointed black teeth and paces the floor. I shuffle up, buckles et al. Are they real? "Are they real?" Your teeth. "You don't think I'd get artificial ones that look like this, do you?" Rocky Cait O'Riordan marches in; an intimidating slice of female. "Where's me f***in' bass, then?" Gavin's busy in the corner manically trying to soothe his hyperactive flash, and the reincarnation of Paddy O'Brien crawls up. "Why don't you get rid of the gorilla? I'm feeling lush tonight..." 'Auld Lang Syne' tumbles sadly from Spider's whistle, and Andy's drowning his sorrows with a pair of drumsticks and a dozen lagers. Blackstage, backstage.
The Pogues lightshow could have been 13 torches taped to some hat racks. Shane could have been Johnny Rotten's kid brother, jacking up on Celtic lilting. Spider, being the irrepressible performance artist that he is, performs a self-induced lobotomy with a beer tray every night. Cait staggers and sways in her tartan pumps, plucking her spunky bass. Andy sweats while he bangs, Country Jem's far away with his banjo and a tab, and Maestro Jimmy's bleeding his accordion. The most fun I've had since the buckles on my grope suit jammed.
Their new single 'A Pair Of Brown Eyes' is a rare gem of a song. T'would bring tears to the most cynical eye, or at least a soft smile and a yelp to the barmaid. A tale of betrayal...
I don't think 'A Pair Of Brown Eyes' would go down too well in Australia... 'brown eye' is an Australian colloquialism for a certain orifice which I will not, at present, disclose.
Shane: " Has it got anything to do with anal intercourse?" Dear God. The Australians are gonna lynch us for being faggots."
Then why brown eyes? Where lies the attraction?
Shane: "Brown eyes drive me wild ... they're one of my weaknesses."
Spider: "Actually, as it happens, it's a song about this guy who's been going out with two blokes, and they run out on him. He's just reminiscing about the good old days."
What inspires you to write lyrics?
Spider: "Sexual depravity ..."
Shane: "Something to do, I s'pose."
Are you a dark chocolate with a strawberry centre?
Shane: "Nah. I'm bitter, twisted little shit. Far too many years of not being able to get drunk enough."
Why do you drink such incredible quantities of alcohol?
Shane: "We're both very easily dehydrated people. We suffer terrible from the sun."
But there's no sun in England.
Spider: "We suffer terribly from the cold as well. Whiskey and brandy keep us warm."
Do you think you drink to blot out reality?
Shane: "No, not at all. I think drink increases reality. I always feel a hundred times more depressed once I've had a bottle of whiskey."
Spider: "I drink to blot out drunkenness."
Shane: "Alcohol is the path to awareness, I feel."
Spider: "Carlos Castenada knows nothing ..."
What do you think of love? I don't want you to feel embarrassed because you're surrounded by all these monsters of machismo ...
Shane: "We'd all be a whole lot better without it. Life would be more comfortable - put it that way. There are more interesting things to think about when you're drunk ... like violence, football ..."
But isn't violence just sexual frustration re-channelled?
Shane: "I don't see anything particularly sexual about somebody wasting eight human beings with a machine gun. I'm not into violence, let's get this straight in case some demented idiot comes looking for me. I just find it interesting."
Do you consider yourself male, through and through?
Shane: "At the last count, yeah."
How would you react to being labelled a sex symbol?
Shane: "I'd probably have a heart attack ... Actually, it wouldn't really make any difference, because it doesn't mean that the person who's telling you wants to."
Shane: "Well, I wouldn't have thought so, no. I mean, I think Bryan Ferry is a sex symbol, but I don't want to screw him. I can see why women find him attractive, though. Like he's kinda ... sophisticated. It depends what angle you're looking at it from. Some people you find really attractive because they have this pure kind of animal attraction ... y'know - you just wanna rip their clothes off and get down to the basics ..."
What do you think of your music?
Shane: "I think it's good. No bullshit, it's emotional - straight from the heart, nice tunes ..."
Spider: "It's straightforward. You know what's going on."
How is the way you sing about love different to the way that all the Barbie dolls and Action Men croon about it?
Spider: "The way they do it is very banal. They don't sound as if they mean it. We approach it from the angle that most people would experience it. I don't really know the way a woman would approach it. I don't know if they behave like the men who sit in pubs, getting drunk, and thinking 'Christ, wot a bitch'."
Where does love go wrong?
Spider: "People expect too much of one another. People never really understand each other in the first place. Jesus, I dunno."
What does music do for you?
Spider: "It gives you a buzz."
Shane: "Money, booze, birds."
Spider: "It's the crack ..."
Shane: "Obviously, it's great having a thousand people looking at you and thinking 'he's a great chap' ... I mean, it makes you feel good."
Spider: "It's better than having a thousand people standing there spitting at you."
So you think that other people's opinions are crucial in formulating an opinion of oneself?
Spider: "Yeah, well, obviously everybody wants to feel wanted, don't they? Nobody wants to feel unwanted."
Does this urge stem back to when you were a kid?
Shane: "It does if you're a goat."
Tonight people were jumping on each other and having a brilliant time. How do you feel after a performance like that?
Shane: "We don't tell them to jump on each other. Our music's for people to -"
Spider: "Jump on each other."
Shane: "We try to hit people emotionally, as opposed to standing there gawking, an audience salivating at the intelligent, sophisticated, handsome performers ..."
Spider: "The misery guts brigade are just a bunch of posers."
Shane: "What's the point of taking out your pathetic little hangups on an audience? What's so special about some bleedin' idiot whining about them? It doesn't make you more important if you stand up on a stage and tell everybody about them."
Spider: "Why do they need to know what you masturbate over?"
Shane: "People like going out and having a good time. I don't mean going out and posing in cafes and stuff, I mean actually going out and going bloody nuts. It's great gettin' pissed out of your head, draining yourself of every ounce of energy in your body. That's why people take drugs, that's why people go to football matches, that's why people go to pop concerts. It's all about letting go. Unless, of course, you decide to block that off and become a poser, and pretend that isn't what you want."
So it's from the gut?
Spider: "All the best things are."
Shane: "That's where people live."
How do you see pleasure in relation to pain?
Shane: "They're obviously pretty close. You can get pleasure out of listening to an extremely sad song. But it's also painful. I don't mind having my back scratched until there's blood everywhere."
What do you feel angry about?
Shane: "It all depends on what time of the day it is, and how many drinks I've had. It can vary from people getting tortured somewhere, to the train being late."
Spider: "It's like when you read about 17 blacks getting shot in South Africa. You feel so bloody frustrated because there's f*** all you can do about it. I can't see any reason in that kind of senseless violence. There should be a basic human right not to be shat upon. Human beings should be able to live their lives with some kind of dignity."
Are you interested in relating to the press at all?
Spider: "I wouldn't mind being related to you - you seem alright. I wouldn't mind being your uncle, your nephew ..."
Shane: "Your illegitimate son ..."
Is there anything you'd like to say?
Spider: "I love you."
Ah - I bet you say that to all the hacks ...
Spider: "I wouldn't say that to Gavin Martin."