Sunday Night Journal, January 8, 2017
Sunday Night Journal, January 15, 2017

52 Albums: Week 2 - Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash

I will happily accept that I am about as unmusical as it is possible to be without actually being tone deaf. It surprised me last year to notice that my contributions to the 52 Movies series focused on films with striking soundtracks, but I suppose in those cases the music serves a broader storytelling purpose. As a teenager there were a few albums that I listened to over and over again, almost obsessively – not entirely for the music, but often in order to get down the words on paper, to appreciate them as poetry. There was no Internet to look up texts, liner notes were patchy and not always accurate, and to me the heart of a song, the thing that matters, is the lyric. And even in new songs, there is nothing I like better than the flavour of history (a good example of this, I think, is “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”).

My more musical sister would watch the BBC chart show Top of the Pops week after week, and tune in to Casey Kasum on the American Forces Radio, and spend money on music by bands like Culture Club and The Cure. The only thing I ever wanted money for was books. The offerings of DJs on radio or television left me cold, although as a ten-year-old I had loved an all too short-lived BBC programme called The Song and the Story, in which Isla St Clair (with the Maddy Prior Band for backing) would both perform and expound folk songs. My parents had a number of folk and folkish albums from the 1960s and early 1970s, and in my early teens these were the records I would play over and over again (others might be better placed to write about Simon & Garfunkel, but later in this series I could perhaps provide a few words on Max Boyce). It was through my sister, so much more abreast of current popular music, that I came to hear The Pogues, the first band whose tracks I coveted for myself. I soon had my sister’s album on a cassette tape of my own.

Rum-Sodomy-The-Lash-cover

Perhaps due only to my own ignorance, I think of The Pogues as the beginning of punk folk. The first of their albums I became aware of was their second, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash (1985) – the title taken from a remark of Winston Churchill’s about ‘Navy traditions’. The group was London Irish, and was initially formed as a punk band under the name ‘Pogue Mahone’ (Irish for ‘kiss my arse’). Their style was unique and strangely coherent despite ranging between, as well as combining, the punk and the traditional. Shane MacGowan (whose musical career began under the stage name Shane O’Hooligan) was both singer and songwriter, and while his voice was rough, his writing was definitely poetry – marked by wistfulness, whimsy, bravado and sentimentality, and delivered with the energy and rawness of punk music played on traditional instruments. Another, more beautiful, voice on the album is Cait O’Riordan’s.

The tracks The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn and A Pair of Brown Eyes are perhaps the most typical, or the most striking. Sally McLennane is worth a mention too. And every so often they would throw in a 1960s folk song, making it their own, or even a genuinely traditional song, such as “I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day”.

I can second the novelist in that last clip when he says ‘there are some albums that survive your teenage years, ... that you'll buy over and over again’. My first copy might have been a homemade tape recording, but I have bought it on tape, CD and iTunes since. As a teenager my own favourite track, precisely for the flavour of history, was “Navigator”, a song about the Irish navvies who laboured to build British railways in the 19th century.

 

 —Paul has been reading the blog since 2008, when Janet drew his attention to a discussion about Brideshead Revisited. He currently trains translators in Brussels.

Comments

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What a great title! I think O'Riordan is Elvis Costello's first wife. I don't believe I have ever heard a Pogues song, though I am familiar with who they are. Will have to have a listen.

I remember when this album was popular (relatively), but never investigated it, in part because both the title and the name of the band were somewhat off-putting. Also I was never much into punk. The only thing at all Pogues-related I'd ever heard before listening to the songs posted here was Shane McGowan solo singing "Dirty Old Town", and it's great--great song (by Ewan MacColl I think) and great performance.

These songs are very catchy but a little of the folk-punk style (well, punk in general) goes a long way with me.

When I saw that title I thought, "Oh great," in a rather sarcastic way, but that was a great post. I'll have to listen to the music when I get home. I never heard of this band before.

When Paul says he listened to his parents' albums, it takes me a minute to readjust my thinking to something like--he listened to MY albums, and that when he talks about when he was growing up, it's like talking about when my oldest daughter was growing up.

Anyway what really hit me like a ton of bricks was when Paul said that he spent all his money on books, because I realized that I can't remember buying ANY books when I was a teenager except text books. I read books from the library, I guess. I spent all my money on albums and going out to eat.

AMDG

This is a great album! It's been somet ime since I listened to it, but after reading this I want to hear it again. Personally I don't like it quite as much as I like "If I should fall from grace with God", but the Pogues are so good there's no reason they can't have two wonderful records.

In addition to the songs Paul highlighted, I would praise the long closing track, "And the Band played Waltzing Matilda".

I sometimes wonder about Shane Macgowan and where he ended up. He seemed the kind more likely to burn out than fade away, but I hope not.

My favourite description of Shane MacGowan's singing: "He makes Bob Dylan sound like Pavarotti." I can't remember who said it, but it's true.

Looking for that performance of "Dirty Old Town" (which I didn't find--there are several but not the one I remember), I saw evidence that he's still alive but rather worse for the wear.

I came to the Pogues a bit late, probably around 1990, but liked them immediately and have ever since. This is the first record of theirs I heard, having borrowed it from a friend. Like Craig, I don't think it's quite as good as If I Should Fall... but it's still a great album. The studio version of 'Dirty Old Town' appears on here, by the way.

At his best I think that Shane MacGowan is one of the great songwriters of his generation. 'A Pair of Brown Eyes,' 'Fairytale of New York,' 'The Broad Majestic Shannon,' etc. Just brilliant.

I'm pretty sure that this is the version of "Dirty Old Town" that appears on this album.

Janet's comment reminds me that my sister, only a year older than me, received an allowance to buy her clothes, and bought music with what was left over, while I wore what was bought for me. When I complained to my mother that this was unfair, she said "If I gave you an allowance you'd spend it on books and go about in rags", and I had to admit that this was probably true.

The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, which Craig mentions, is another of my favourites, although it is rather melancholy. And it isn't one of Shane MacGowan's own – like "Dirty Old Town" it's one of the 60s/70s folk compositions.

I'm familiar with that song ("The Band Played...") but I don't know where from.

I was going to say that I didn't buy books as a teenager, either, but then I remembered that I was a member of the Science Fiction Book Club. Still have a few of those volumes. But apart from that I think the library and textbooks were sufficient for me. I did spend money on records.

I was living in a rural location in a foreign country: there wasn't much of a library, and it had very few books in English.

I have always spent any excess monies on books and music, but I do spend less on music these days. I had a small bookstore and a small records store just a few blocks from my house when I was a kid.

I bought an LP today. I'm so ashamed.

There is an LP I really want. It's an album I have been looking for a long time, but I don't have a turntable and I won't have one so I must resist.

I don't guess it will ever be available electronically.

AMDG

What is it?

This.

AMDG

Now that's obscure.

I'd write about it, but since there's no way anybody could hear it, it seems useless.

AMDG

I meant to say earlier, in response to Janet's remark about Paul listening to her albums: in interviews with musicians I very frequently come across things like "Well, I grew up listen to my parents' Beatles albums, so that's one of my influences..."

I'm toying with the idea of buying a Victrola. I've always wanted one and a local antique store currently has a really nice one that's in great working order. I've got a stack of 78's I've had since I was a kid, collected from various relatives who didn't want them any more, and I'd love to hear them as they would have sounded originally.

This was one of my favorites when I was little and I still have it. Was thrilled to find it on you tube recently.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msTsGyjWgDs

I also had a whole album of Dixieland jazz by Jimmy Dorsey, but I found those on CD eventually, on a disk called "Dixie by Dorsey."

The Victrola would be fun. I used to have some 78s and a turntable that would play them, but I never actually listened to them. Eventually gave them to Goodwill or something.

Old-style New Orleans jazz is not a style I like very much, but if you've never heard the Louie Armstrong stuff from that era, it's really worth a listen.

Yeah, my dad had a few Louis Armstrong records. Good stuff. He was a trumpeter himself and his favorite was Harry James, who had started with Benny Goodman then later formed a band of his own.

Spotify has one Leon Bibb album. He did it with Ronnie Gilbert of the Weavers fame. It is called It Could Be a Wonderful World. The title song is written by Pete Seeger.

Navy traditions? Oooookay ....

This seems to be the origin of the phrase:

https://www.theguardian.com/notesandqueries/query/0,,-1433,00.html

He was an Army man.

I've also heard the phrase as "rum, bum, and the lash."

Such an appealing title.

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