Saint Patrick's Night the occasion and The Pogues the attraction; in a very large room, the world congregates. Crowds a mile wide inside the lavatories resulted in congestion so bad that the gents overflowed, generous bouncers gave pass-outs to the afflicted, the streets of Hammersmith swung to a different traffic — flow. Green bobble hats passed by this reviewer as he fought his way into an even larger room that began to fill quietly with the forms of every hairspray user in the metropolis. It was a funny sort of evening.
First up were Lash Lariat And The Long Riders. Mr Lariat employs a fine fiddle player and sports a splendid Stetson, yet even this did not serve to elevate his cheerful Hank Williams impersonations onto a greater level. He seemed altogether too much a man who might easily get out of this world alive. Nevertheless, the Long Riders' impromptu barside set an hour later probably cheered those who had chosen not to view The Swamps.
And what an ill-made choice! The Swamps, irregular visitors to these page have transformed themselves. Formerly an extremely powerful R&B styled monster, they have now become a determinedly extremely powerful R&B styled monster. Singer Paul maintains the snarl of an enraged stranger to this planet, whilst wearing an occasional poncho, continuing to strike fear into the heart of a washboard and singing like a man not so much possessed as repossessed. Guitarist Carlton aids the rhythm boys by playing a guitar that has clearly turned down steady work with either The Cramps or Elmore James for a life of crime. The Swamps have never heard of the beat group explosion, yet they act as though they aim to find and destroy Gerry And The Pacemakers.
And then, with an appealing casualness, Elvis Costello takes the stage. Wearing a fetching pair of blue-rimmed mountains of spectacles, a green rugby shirt emblazoned with a shamrock, and a standard issue Elvis Costello black jacket, he performs four songs. Three are covers — "The Image Of Me" (I think), George Jones' "A Man Can Be A Drunk (But A Drunk Can't Be A Man)" and another one whose name escapes me because around this time it clearly seemed to me that a drunk could quite easily be a journalist — and one is an aptly country-flavoured tune, "The Big Light." All tales of woe, songs of shame in a big way, and all performed with an ease that may well come from not having to play the buggers for five hours solid.
And so to The Pogues. Well, constant reader, I was surprised. I have seen this band on more than one occasion through the unfurling years, from public house to full house, and when they arrived on stage, I was shocked almost silly at the eruption of applause they got. Not that they don't merit such, but on most occasions, The Pogues have come on to your usual ribald jeers, whistles, and jocular abuse. The Pogues now seem to have a following like proper rock bands do. They performed "The Old Triangle," and the Clarendon echoed every word of the chorus. They did "Streams Of Whiskey" and the front row explosion moved back quite a bit more than the mandatory three rows. The Pogues seem to have reached the stage of their "career" where they're attracting your classic disaffected fan, the one who liked U2 before they were massive. In some ways — seriously, folks — Red Roses For Me could be the Crocodiles of 1985.
For all the above, though, they were still fine. No concessions have been made to their curious new status. Shane MacGowan still sings like a demon and laughs like an Alsatian, and both he and the rest of the band still appear to have assembled solely for the purpose of robbing a bank. The current single, "A Pair Of Brown Eyes," is a wondrous thing, and the promotional beermats are very tasteful. This is I hope a consolidating time for The Pogues. I hope they develop, move on from their base. But I also like hit singles and saying "I told you so" as much as the next person.