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The Pogues' James Fearnley on Celtic punk, firing Shane MacGowan, and St. Pat's

Pogues accordionist James Fearnley at the Mohn Broadcast Center, March 8, 2012.
Pogues accordionist James Fearnley at the Mohn Broadcast Center, March 8, 2012.

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The way James Fearnley tells it, he and the rest of the Pogues were pretty uneasy about how Shane MacGowan would take being fired from the band that he'd helped make famous. But he'd become too unreliable, so in 1991, in Yokohama, they asked him to come down to the hotel room they were meeting in. MacGowan's reaction, as Fearnley tells it in our interview and his forthcoming memoir, "Here Comes Everybody," backs up Fearnley's contention that it wasn't just MacGowan's drinking that was causing his erratic behavior; it was the pressure.

The Pogues, who formed almost 30 years ago in London, a mix of Irish and English musicians who played Celtic music with a punk sensibility, were in trouble from the start. Their original name was Pogue Mahone, which means "kiss my ass" in Irish. The BBC didn't like that, so the DJ who championed them shortened it to The Pogues, which was done with MacGowan's other band, the Nips ... nee The Nipple Erectors.

Here's a spirited rendition of "If I Should Fall from Grace with God," from a 1988 performance in Japan.

Fearnley says the Celtic/punk mix "was odd, and I think galvanizing for people to listen to," and many Irish listeners were put off at first. "For some of them, it was difficult, but we quickly won them over because we were doing it honestly." In other words, it's clear from listening to the Pogues that they love this music.

Fearnley was not only a member of this seminal fusion band, but nearly joined Culture Club (!). He founded The Sweet and Low Orchestra, has played on Talking Heads and Melissa Etheridge albums, and currently plays with the Pogues and Cranky George, which plays locally on occasion. He just released his first single - Hey Ho - which we play at the end of the interview, and his Pogues memoir, "Here Comes Everybody," comes out in a few months.

You might see James Fearnley in the crowd at The Satellite in Silverlake as the East LA band performs its 10th annual Pogues tribute on Saturday, March 17th. Tickets are just $10.

(The audio: the first is the Reader's Digest broadcast version; the second is the 30+ min special podcast with much more about the formation of the band, meeting the BBC's John Peel, why Fearnley moved to California, etc.)