An Annotated Pogues
Lyrics Page -
The title for this release likely comes from a quote widely attributed to Winston Churchill: "Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's nothing but rum, sodomy and the lash." The cover artwork is based on a painting by Jean-Louis-André-Théodore Géricault, "The Raft of the Medusa," completed in 1819 (for more, see the song "Wake of the Medusa"). In A Drink with Shane MacGowan (2001, Grove Press, ISBN 0-821-3790-3, p. 216), Shane mentions that the title was suggested by drummer Andrew Rankin, and that while Frank Murray, the Pogues' manager, gets credit for "sleeve concept," it was Marcia (?) who suggested it and Jem Finer who proposed it.
Cuchulainn was a powerful leader in Irish mythology (click the link for more details). He is the central figure in the "Ulster Cycle" of poems which is roughly the Irish equivalent of the Arthurian legends in England. One of the poems in the cycle is "Serglige Con Culaind & Oenét Emire," or "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn" (Penguin Books has a version of it in an anthology [Early Irish Myths and Sagas] where it is translated as "The Wasting Sickness of Cú Chulaind" (ISBN #0140443975). In the story, Cuchulainn is taken ill when he is attacked in a dream by two women with horsewhips (he lay asleep in his sickbed for a year as a result). The tale eventually relates how Cuchulainn is summoned to aid some "spirits" in battle, with the upshot being a resounding victory for Cuchulainn, and with the queen of the "spirit" side and Cuchulainn's wife in the "real" world vieing for his affection. Cuchulainn eventually opts for domestic bliss (of course he immediately goes berzerk and runs off to live alone in the mountains... his return is possible only after some druids give him a potion that causes him to forget the entire episode).
John McCormack and Richard Tauber were two of the most recorded artists in mid-twentieth century classical music. McCormack was one of the leading Irish tenors of the period (if you click on the link I provided, you can hear some RealAudio samples, including versions of "Wearing of the Green" and "The Minstrel Boy"); Tauber was born in Austria but eventually fled both Austria and Germany during the rise of Nazism to escape persecution (he was Jewish), before ending up in London. In A Drink with Shane MacGowan (pp. 281-284), Shane speaks at length about McCormack.
Frank Ryan was a member of the IRA, coming from the James Connolly (i.e., socialist) wing of the Republican movement. He fought on the pro-Republican (and anti-Free State) side during the Irish Civil War, and in 1934, with George Gilmore and Peadar O'Donnell helped establish the Republican Congress as a republican, anti-capitalist organization. The Congress succumbed to factionalism at its first convention held in September of that year and disbanded by 1935. In 1936 as the Spanish Civil War erupted, Ryan led a contingent of 200 Irish soldiers to fight on the Republican (i.e., anti-fascist) side of the conflict (for the Irish fighting on the fascist side, see the reference to the blueshirts in "Boys from the County Hell"). He was captured and received a death sentence in Spain. It was commuted and he died in German custody in Berlin in 1944. Shane discusses Ryan in some detail in A Drink with Shane MacGowan (pp. 274-281).
Both Italian and British fascists referred to themselves as "Blackshirts" (the official newspaper of the British Union of Fascists was called "The Blackshirt"), but given that the scene here is set in Madrid, it probably refers to the Italians since Italy (and Germany) sent forces to aid Franco.
"Yids" is British slang for Jews.
Euston is a London area containing Euston Station, the main terminus for trains coming from the northwest of England. Of course, going in the other direction, if you want to get from London to Ireland without flying or driving, your journey starts at Euston since that's where you catch the "Boat Train" to Holyhead (thanks Paul!).
I haven't been able to locate a song called "Billy in the Bowl," but the line comes up in the trad song "The Twang Man" (thanks to Jake for the heads up and passing them along).
Come listen to my story, `tis about
a nice young man
Another man came a courtin` her,
and his name was Mickey Baggs
Oh when the twang man heard of this
he flew into a terrible rage,
And it's now yis have heard my
story And I hope yis'll be good men
The reference to Billy could refer to an eighteenth century Irish criminal. The name "Billy in the Bowl" derives from Billy's mode of locomotion. He was born legless, and had a specially designed bowl crafted by a blacksmith in order to move about. After growing weary of the beggar's life, Billy progressed to the (apparently) more lucrative career of robbery and murder. He was arrested and executed in 1786 (thanks Jeff for tracking that down for me). Robert (go raibh maith agat!) has also written to note that "Billy in the Bowl" is a Scottish dish (meat and bread in a bowl, like a stew) and that "billy" is Irish slang for "bile" so that the phrase could also mean slang for vomiting??
"Paks" is a British slur for Pakistani immigrants. "Jocks," although usually applied to the Scots could also refer to Arabs (as a shortened form of "camel jockeys"). I think that read may make a bit more sense in the context of the others groups mentioned, showing solidarity with people of color. Thanks to Stanton for suggesting that read.
Cloughprior is a parish in Co. Tipperary, along the Shannon on the road from near Nenagh to Burrisokane. Thanks to Antman for the info in the link.
"I went down to the dilly to check out the scene..."
The "dilly" probably refers to Picadilly Circus (the link gives you a QTVR tour of the circle). During the '60s it was a favorite spot of the hippie crowd, while today it is the start of London's West End theatre district. The centerpiece of the circle is the large statue of Eros, the Greek god of love.
For a swift one off the wrist down on the old main drag..."
I've got two possible reads for the "swift one off the wrist" line. I always heard this song as discussing the horrible quality of life -- including selling oneself into prostitution -- for the young and disaffected in the lower depths of London. So, while I have no "first hand" experience on this one, I thought the lines referred to the cost (5 pounds) of a hand job. DzM wrote to suggest that "a swift one off the wrist" could refer to getting a cheaper-than-usual shot of heroin that was injected in the lower forearm, closer to the hand than the elbow (where those big veins get the bigger doses).
Tuinol is a barbiturate (i.e., a depressant).
There is a police station located on Vine Street, so I suspect the line refers to some rough treatment at the hands of the local constabulary. In A Drink with Shane MacGowan (p. 115), Shane provides a vivid account of his experience with police brutality. Apparently he had been arrested for the theft of a chair from a pub, and while in custody, he was "interviewed" by a detective: "So he beat me seven shades of shit round the cell. Twenty minutes of solid beating. Really heavy. And going, 'And now you're going to have assaulting a police officer added to your charge!' It was a really heavy kicking... the heaviest kicking I'd ever had in a police cell and it was about a bloody chair! And this wasn't even his case" [ellipsis in the original].
I'm not sure if this one needs to be mentioned, but "tube station" refers to a subway station.
(Shane MacGowan/Jem Finer)
There once were two cats of
Also, there are accounts that when Cromwell and his troops "visited" the Kilkenny area, part of their entertainment entailed (no pun intended) hanging a rope across a narrow street and tying two cats to the rope and letting them have at it (see the poem above). The stories were circulated to demonstrate Cromwell's monstrosity. In later years, as a result of these stories, the folks of Kilkenny were said to fight fiercely, "like Kilkenny cats" (a big thanks to Kate for both the poem and the Cromwell story).
Finally, Derek (thanks!) passed along this info from the 27 February 2002 "word of the day" from wordsmith.org:
kilkenny cats (kil-KEN-ee kats) noun
People who fight relentlessly till their end.
[From a pair of proverbial cats in Kilkenny who fought till only their tails were left.]
According to a story, some people in the town of Kilkenny in Ireland enjoyed tying the tails of two cats and watching them fight till only their tales were left behind. Most likely the story is a parable of a contest between Kilkenny and Irishtown, two municipalities which fought about their boundaries till little more than their tails were left [it then quotes from the limerick poem reproduced above before adding the following usage example]:
"When Lord Cranborne placed Hatfield House at the disposal of Unionists to talk things through in November 1997, the result was a meeting after the style of the fighting Kilkenny cats."
A Man of Parts, The Economist (London), Apr 15, 2000.
Adrian (thanks!) passed along this account of the origin of the phrase from Ebenezer Cobham Brewer's (1898) Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:
"A Kilkenny cat. The story is that, during the rebellion of Ireland, Kilkenny was garrisoned by a troop of Hessian soldiers, who amused themselves in barracks by tying two cats together by their tails and throwing them across a clothes-line to fight. The officers, hearing of this, resolved to put a stop to the practice. The look-out man, enjoying the sport, did not observe the officer on duty approaching the barracks; but one of the troopers, more quick-sighted, seizing a sword, cut the two tails, and the cats made their escape. When the officer inquired the meaning of the two bleeding tails, he was coolly told that two cats had been fighting and had devoured each other all but the tails.
Whatever the true story, it is certain that the municipalities of Kilkenny and Irishtown contended so stoutly about their respective boundaries and rights to the end of the seventeenth century, that they mutually impoverished each other, leaving little else than "two tails" behind."
This is a traditional Scottish tune, the lyrics differing in subtle but significant ways from the version recorded by the Pogues. Click here to open a window with the full lyric.
I'm a canny gaun man
but a rovin' young fellow I've been
so be easy and free
when you're drinking wi' me
I'm a man you don't meet every day
In Scots gaelic, "gaun" means "going", and "canny" in this context, means "warily." In other words the "canny gaun man" means something like an easy going or cautious man, who in his younger days wasn't quite so cautious (but a "roving young fellow."). In the Pogues version Jock Stewart is bit more sinister:
And a roving young fellow I've been... "
In this context, "canny" takes on the sense of "skilled." So while in the Scottish version we see Jock mellowing with age, the Pogues give us a young shooter bopping across the countryside.
We see another major difference -- especially from the dog's perspective -- in the third verse, where the Pogues use
All down in the county Kildare..."
the traditional has
and my dog for a shoot
along the banks of the Spey
so be easy...
In the traditional, Jock takes his dog shooting with him along the river Spey; in the Pogues version, the pooch is shot.
"An old man in the corner sang
This might be a stretch, but "Where the water lillies grow" is the chorus to the 19th century ballad "Agnes by the River." Click here to open a window with the full lyrics.
About a thing called love..."
I originally thought that "Johnny" might refer to Johnny McEvoy (a country artist who came to prominence on the Irish music scene in the 1960s, and was likened to an "Irish Bob Dylan") since among his hits were a version of "Muirshin Durkin" and a tune called "Those Brown Eyes." However, Gerardo (muchas gracias, amigo!) sent me an interview with Shane where Shane says it refers to the "Man in Black," Mr. Johnny Cash. Cash recorded an album and song (released in 1972) called "A Thing Called Love" (click here to open a window with the full lyrics). Thanks to Lutz for the heads up! Here's the interview:
"It's just about a guy getting pissed at a bar round here," says Shane nonchalantly. "He's getting pissed because he's broken up with this bird and... you know how it is when you just go into a pub on your own to drink and it's really quiet and you get this old nutter who comes over and starts rambling on you. So this old guy starts on about how he came back from the war, the First World War. Or the Second. One of them anyway. And he tells him about the ship he had out there and how he got out and came back and this girl had fucked off with someone else, a girl with a pair of brown eyes. Which is the same situation as the young guy sitting there listening to all this rubbish and the juke box playing Johnny Cash and ... [more below]
Continuing with "Brown Eyes"
Of my elusive dreams..."
...Ray Lyman [sic] and Philomena Begley, classic London juke box tracks. And in the end he gets to the stage where he says fuck it, and he goes stumbling out of the pub and he walks along the canal and starts feeling really bad, on the verge of tears, and he starts realising that the old guy has had a whole fucking lifetime of that feeling, going through the war and everything, but his original reaction is to hate him and despise him. I'm not saying he goes back and starts talking to him but you know... " (from Pogueology, Folk Roots, August 1987).
Ray Lynam and The Hillbillies became a fixture on the Irish record charts in the late 1960s and one of the leading country music artists in Ireland. During the 1980s Lynam had a weekly gig at Dublin's Harcourt Hotel. As far as I know, he is still singing and touring throughout Ireland. Philomena Begley is also an active country artist in Ireland. Indeed, in January 2000 she was awarded the 'Millennium Inspirational Award' from Country Music Ireland at its inaugural awards ceremony.
Like many of the tunes in the Shane repertoire, "Brown Eyes" has roots in traditional Irish music. In this case, the scene and descriptions seem to have been inspired, if not outright influenced by, the traditional antiwar song "The Kerry Recruit" (click here to open a window with the full lyrics lyrics; thanks to Dana for the heads up).
"Well Jimmy played harmonica in the
pub where I was born
Okay, this one might be a reach and it's more of one those "interpretation" issues rather than an identification issue, which is what you'll mostly find on The Parting Glass. But... given the title of this release, and the lyrical bent of "Old Main Drag" it's probably worth considering the nature of the "harmonica" Jimmy played (thanks to Mark for raising the question). Obviously, it could be the instrument, which is also known as a "mouth organ," and which you play by blowing or sucking air through it. Given that reality, it's not surprising that the term also came to refer to the male sex organ. If this read is right, then it certainly could be one way to "soothe the souls" of both the psychos and the horny men in the bar, and also might account for the happy expressions come the morning after.
When he had too many powers...
In A Drink with Shane MacGowan (2001, Grove Press, ISBN 0-821-3790-3, p. 42), Shane relates the following: "The Elephant man in that song was a real bloke, who used to come in the pub in Dagenham [Shane's Uncle's place, where he worked for a while] and he was a huge bloke and he used to get into terrible fights and he'd crunch people and one night he got into a fight with another huge bastard and he won the fight, but he got a broken neck in the process. And he went around with a cast around his neck for the next six months, which is why they called him the elephant man. The elephant man broke strong men's necks when he's has too many Powers. Powers whiskey obviously." Thanks to Tom for passing that along.
In the lyric booklet accompanying the cd, the line is rendered as above (i.e., as "powers"), but in the "Poguetry" collection of lyrics (Faber & Faber, ISBN 0-571-14198-6) it is "Powers." As we see in the above quote from Shane, the book version is probably the correct one as "Powers" no doubt refers to John Powers Irish Whisky rather than to any supernatural gifts of the elephant man.
I'm working on this reference to try to square away the chronology, but I did find a recipe for a "Sally MacLennane Stout" for you home brewers out there, so that "learning to love the virtues of sweet Sally MacLennane" may be a reference to this particular type of stout, alleged to be sweeter than Guinness.
To the greatest little boozer and to Sally MacLennane..."
"Boozer" refers to a pub in general, not to any individuals in the pub. Given Shane's fondness for using either historical or literary references for his characters, I thought Sally Mac would be no exception, but so far (2004) I haven't been able to find any references to this charmer.
I talked of whores and horses to the men who drank the brown..."
Daniel writes that "the pump" is another name for the tap used for pouring a pint. While "to hump" would be American slang for fornication or Aussie slang for carrying a load or working hard, "the hump" is slang for depression or a bad mood; although I suspect the former (depression) works better in this context. So to take the hump would, I think, mean to get through the bad times.
To "drink the brown" probably refers to a traditional english bitter (as in Newcastle Brown; thanks again Daniel).
This was the original title for the Alex Cox film featuring the Pogues, Elvis Costello, Courtney Love, and Dennis Hopper that subsequently became "Straight to Hell." Here's some words from Jem about the tune that were included in the 2003 release "Jem Finer (of the Pogues).": "I wrote this during the period in which I became obsessed with Sergio Leone!"
The Pogues got this classic track from the Scotish folk singing giant Ewan MacColl (although their version sounds closer to that recorded by the Dubliners than the one by MacColl himself). Ewan was married to Peggy Seegar (sister to the legendary American folk singer Pete Seeger), and is the father of Kirsty MacColl, who joined the band on several songs, most notably "Fairytale of New York." According to the liner notes for "Black and White: The Definitive Ewan MacColl Collection" (1991, Green Linnet Records, GLCD-3058), the song was originally written to cover a scene change in a theatrical production that MacColl was working on at the time. The song itself is set in Salford, Lancashire, a northern industrial town in the UK and MacColl's birthplace.
"Navigator, Navigator rise up and
"Navigator" here probably has nothing to do with piloting a ship or anything, since the song as a whole discusses the construction of the English railway system. In British slang (I didn't say "English" slang since I want to contrast it with American slang) a navigator would be, according to Webster's, "an unskilled laborer engaged in such works as the making of canals, railways, or other public works." This sense might be more familiar from the shortened version of the word -- "navvy." The use of the more "formal" version (i.e., "navigator") helps convey, I think, a sign of respect for the work that these men were doing.
"Billy ran around with the rare old
A "copper" would be a police officer. I'm not sure if this is directly relevant here or not, but in dealing with informers, turncoats, and criminals within its ranks, the IRA was known to have practiced "knee-capping," i.e., shooting a person in the knees causing permanent disability, but not death. There is an Irish saying (my grandmother had it embroidered and hanging in the hallway) that goes:
And those that don't love us,
May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn't turn their hearts,
May he turn their ankles,
So we'll know them by their limping
Back to "Billy"...
'cause he liked a bloody good fight of course
Went away in an old khaki van to the banks of the river Jordan"
Originally I assumed that the first line suggested a United Nations peace-keeping mission, and the geography mentioned in this and the following verse would put it in the Middle East (the River Jordan is the border separating Israel, Jordan, and Syria); and there have been numerous UN peacekeeping operations in that area. On the other hand, none of these involved British forces (given their colonial connections to the area and direct involvement in the 1956 war, the British are unwelcome participants -- by both Arabic and Israeli forces -- in any UN missions in the area). However, Ireland did commit peacekeeping forces on three separate occasions: United Nations Treaty Supervision Organization (an ongoing mission since the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that is charged with monitoring compliance with various ceasefire accords), United Nations Emergency Force II (which lasted from 1973 through 1979 and was charged with separating Israeli and Egyptian forces in the Sinai Peninsula following the 1973 War; Ireland sent troops from November 1973 to July of 1974); and the United Nations Observation Group in Lebanon (1958). Then again, UN peacekeeping troops as a rule do not engage in the kind of gun play described in the song. Of course the stretch during the '73 war was a particularly treacherous time for the UN forces, with both warring sides occasionally firing on the UN positions, and the Israelis implicated in some attacks on the Irish contingent of the UN forces. But on second (or third) thoughts, and after some valuable info from M. Funk, I now think my chronology was screwed up and that the lines above probably refer to the British peacekeeping forces in Palestine in the period between the First and Second World Wars (that is, before the creation of both the United Nations and the state of Israel). Following the defeat of the Ottoman empire in World War I, Britain claimed the area as part of its own empire, and the international community is still trying to sort out the mess that British imperial policy created in that part of the world.
The Lebanon line
Came back to camp not looking too pretty, never even got
To see the Holy City..."
The Holy City usually refers to Rome (the site of the Holy See, home of the Pope, and the center of Roman Catholicism), but given the geography mentioned in the song, it probably refers to Jerusalem.
Born on a Monday
Married on a Tuesday
Drunk on a Wednesday
Got plugged on a Thursday
Sick on a Friday
Died on a Saturday
Buried on a Sunday"
The lines here follow fairly closely the children's nursery rhyme "Solomon Grundy" (aside from the getting plugged reference anyway). Here goes:
Born on Monday,
Christened on Tuesday,
Married on Wednesday,
Took ill on Thursday,
Worse on Friday,
Died on Saturday,
Buried on Sunday:
This is the end
Of Solomon Grundy.
Shane and the boys have used children's rhymes in other tunes (see "Worms" on "If I Should Fall from Grace" and "Skipping Rhymes" on Shane's "Crock of Gold" release), so I think this is a plausible source of inspiration for him. Thanks to Ed for the heads up!
The Pogues got this great anti-war ballad from Eric Bogle. It was originally recorded by June Tabor (who also recorded a version of the Pogues' "Lullaby of London" with the Oysterband on their "Freedom and Rain" cd).
The song "Waltzing Matilda" is to Australians what "Danny Boy" is to Irish-Americans -- the definitive song of national identity. It is a fixture at most public functions.
We sailed off to Gallipoli"
Gallipoli is a section of the Turkish coast along the Straits of Dardanelles. During the First World War Turkey (then known as the Ottoman Empire) allied itself with Germany and Austria (and thus fought against Britain, France, and Russia). The Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) contribution to Britain's war effort was confined primarily to the ill fated attack on Gallipoli, which began on 25 April 1915.
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that town that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs in the slaughter..."
Suvla Bay is on the Meditteranean side of the peninsula and was one of the three landing areas for the Australian forces. After several months of brutal fighting, the Allied armies withdrew in defeat. In the end, some 7600 Australians and 2500 New Zealanders were killed and 19,000 Australians and 5000 New Zealanders wounded. French casualties were nearly as great as those of the ANZAC forces, and British casualties were three times as great. In total, the allies suffered some 250,000 casualities and 50,000 dead; the Turks some 300,000 casualties. Lord Kitchner (see "Medley" and "A Pair of Brown Eyes") was the military commander of the British forces. The Turkish defense of Gallipoli was led by Kemel Ataturk (the man ultimately responsible for ending Ottoman rule and establishing the modern Turkish republic). The whole idea of the invasion was the brainchild of Winston Churchill, a then up-and-comer in British politics. At the time, Churchill saw the fiasco as the end of his political career (he resigned his position in the admiralty as a consequence).
No more waltzing Matilda for me..."
In Australian lingo, to "hump" means to carry or shoulder something, in this case camp gear (for more on humping see Sally MacLennane). The phrase "waltzing Matilda" carried two connotations. Originally, swagmen would travel with their belongings wrapped in a "swag;" i.e., a blanket or cloth (sometimes called a "matilda") that would typically contain sugar, flour, raisins & tea wrapped up in it and a "billy" or metal tea-pot attached on their back. When these men would come across an encampment (populated exclusively by men in rural areas) the only available partners for dancing to the tunes that might be played would be their swag... and so they were said to be "waltzing with matilda." During the 1890s depression the phrase changed meaning a bit, and came to describe traveling from place to place in search of work carrying all of your belongings in the swagbag (thanks Steve for adding some historical details on this one).
"Circular Quay" is part of Sydney Harbor in Australia.
And I watch the parade pass before me..."
April 25 -- ANZAC Day -- is a national holiday in Australia, commemorating the soldiers who fought and died in the Gallipoli campaign specifically, and veterans in general.
You can also see how "The Kerry Recruit" may have inspired some of the imagery in this tune as well (for instance, in the lines about the Russian shelling, and the consequences of the attack; i.e., losing one's legs).