The Pogues play folk music with punk-rock feel. American rockers don't really mind the mixture
New York — The term ``folk-punk'' has been tossed around for quite a while now, and it's used to describe a brand of music that goes back to cultural roots and then fuses them with the sharp-edged, contemporary sound of punk rock. The Pogues, an Irish-English band that plays Irish folk music with a raw attack that both celebrates and defies tradition, fits the description ``folk-punk'' exactly. The band's sound might raise the hair of Clancy Brothers and Chieftain fans, but young punk rockers seem to love it.
The Pogues are a seven-piece band that sings and plays a mix of traditional instruments (tin whistle, accordion, acoustic guitar, mandolin, concertina, banjo, etc.) and modern ones (electric bass and rock-style drum kit).
Shane MacGowan, a scrawny, tousel-headed young London Irishman, is the lead singer and composer of most of the Pogues' songs, although they do some traditional folk melodies, too.
Most of Mr. MacGowan's music, like the folk songs they imitate, tell stories. And, like many traditional songs, they deal with love, hard times, and sometimes the seamy side of life.
What really sets the Pogues apart, though, is that they don't actually play rock at all. Their rhythms are strictly Irish folky - though their audiences are rockers through and through.
So it's natural that their New York stop on their United States tour last summer was at the Ritz, a celebrated rock palace in Greenwich Village.
On the night of the Pogues' performance, the hall was packed with American fans, who stood shoulder to shoulder and wall to wall on the huge floor in front of the stage, waiting patiently like silent sentinels for the lights to go up. When they finally did (at 1:15 a.m.!) a true spectacle began.
MacGowan, dressed in a nondescript shirt and pants and dark glasses, grabbed the microphone and started to sing in his growly baritone.
The band kicked off the tempo, and suddenly the crowd started jumping up and down, heads bobbing like corks on the ocean. As MacGowan and company sang one rousing tune after another, the audience went from jumping up and down to ``slam dancing'' - everybody slamming into each other like human bumper cars.
It was funny to see these carved-in-granite rockers getting so worked up - despite the band's abrupt, punkish attitude on stage and their drums and electric bass - over what is essentially an Irish pub band.
But without these trappings, would the young people have reacted in the same way?
Not a chance.
The Pogues' appeal lies not only in the novelty of their musical hybrid, but in the raw, defiant energy that they share with straight-ahead rock groups.
The Pogues are giving their fans something different and are acquainting them with a folk tradition they might never have otherwise known.
While other rock bands, including the most famous of them all, the Beatles, have derived their sound from Afro-American music, the Pogues have taken a different route. As music writer Glenn O'Brien stated in an article in Spin magazine, ``It's as if the Pogues woke up one morning and decided, `Why rip off African culture when we can rip off our own?'''