The Irish rovers

By MIKE MILIARD  |  March 18, 2009

How's Shane? Checking up on the rogue Pogue
It's the "Welcome" quote on the Pogues' MySpace page — which suggests it's a question his bandmates are asked an awful lot: "How's Shane?"

"I never know the answer to that, to be quite honest with you," says Chevron. "I only see him when we're working, because we live such different lives. He's going to premieres and going to clubs, and I don't do that. But as far as I can tell, he's doing very well and enjoying what he's doing very much. He has his ups and downs, but mostly they're up, fortunately.

"Shane has his own vision of things that you sometimes have to go with and sometimes fight against. By and large, it works very well. I wouldn't say he's the easiest person in the world to work with, but that's not why we work with him."

Chevron says the chemistry is still there. "People do have different influences, but I think there's an unspoken consensus about what's good and what isn't. I suppose that's what keeps the dynamic going: nobody automatically excludes any idea." The only difference these days, he says, is that backstage "we now talk about things like spectacles and old men's illnesses the way that we didn't when we were 30."

He knows first-hand about such things. In 2007, he was diagnosed with "locally advanced" cancer of the throat and neck. One side effect of the grueling regimen of radiation and chemotherapy was the loss of 90 percent of the hearing in his left ear. He was already deaf in his right.

That made curating the excellent new five-disc rarities box set Just Look Them Straight in the Eye and Say . . . Pogue Mahone!! (Rhino) quite a challenge. How did it feel to wade through the band's back catalogue? "Quite honestly, the overwhelming feeling I had was that I wished that I could hear things better."

But during that period, in what was a shock to his doctors as well as to Chevron, who'd resigned himself to deafness, "my hearing came back. That was quite a relief." Even more so was the news, in 2008, that he was cancer-free. "As far as I know, I'm all clear."

He concedes that "there are a number of tracks on the box set where I haven't the faintest idea what we were thinking at the time." But if the astonishingly eclectic set may be lost on those who know the Pogues only from sozzled sing-alongs of "Fairy Tale of New York," its 110 songs represent a treasure trove for long-time fans.

There are three increasingly evolved demos of "Fairy Tale" here, as well as raw renditions of such early classics as "Billy's Bones" and "Poor Paddy on the Railway," songs that make you wonder why they were never released ("NW3"), drunken covers ("Do You Believe in Magic?" "Eve of Destruction"), soundtrack work from Alex Cox's Sid & Nancy and Straight to Hell, BBC sessions, exploratory world-music instrumentals, several tracks featuring departed collaborators Joe Strummer and Kirsty MacColl, and even a dub remix. "For a band like the Pogues, who try out so many different things, the stuff you don't release can be almost as interesting as the stuff you do release."

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