Reading about a proposed "Pogues" musical written by David Simon, creator of The Wire, I read that Phil Chevron had been collaborating with Mr Simon. On October 8th, Phil, born Phillip Ryan, succumbed to esophageal cancer at the age of 56. As is typical, I was preoccupied with work for the entire month of October and was unable to keep abreast of current events. I learned about Phil's death in November, in the course of a conversation with my brother Vincenzo.
Phil Chevron's career with the Pogues began when he produced the Ennio Morricone inspired, Jem Finer penned A Pistol for Paddy Garcia. He then joined the band as a guitarist, beginning with the Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash album. Prior to his career with the Pogues, Phil was a founding member of The Radiators from Space, a band which had the distinction of releasing the first Irish punk single, Television Screen:
The album T.V. Tube Heart followed, with songs like Sunday World covering the same theme as The Jam's News of the World:
Enemies was another standout track from the album, an angst-ridden but tuneful lament about not knowing who has your best interests at heart:
In 1979, the band shortened its name to The Radiators and released their second album, the critically acclaimed Ghostown. The album is more sonically complex than the first album, with influences ranging from rockabilly to show tunes. It's also extremely dense lyrically, with numerous literary allusions cropping up in the course of the album. If there's a song that could claim the "title track" mantle, it would have to be the mind-boggling, Joyce inspired Kitty Ricketts:
They're Looting in the Town is another outstanding track, one which begins by contrasting the piety of the laity with the rapaciousness of the clergy:
Another standout song, recorded in the 80's, but added to later pressings of the album, is Under Clery's Clock, a song about a same-sex rendezvous, fraught with the same danger as that which ensnared Oscar Wilde:
In Phil's tenure with The Pogues, he contributed perhaps the greatest emigration song ever written to the band's repertoire- Thousands are Sailing, from the album If I Should Fall from Grace with God, is a tearjerker, perfectly capturing the ambivalence of emigrants who "celebrate the land that makes us refugees". Here's a version with Phil handling lead vocal:
The other magnum opus Phil contributed to the Pogues repertoire was Lorelei off the Peace and Love album. Lorelei is a sublimely beautiful song about a drowning man resisting the charms of the eponymous Rhine siren. Here's a live version by Phil from 2004:
I've saved my favorite Phil Chevron song for last, the epic Song of the Faithful Departed, from which this post (Phil was secular) derives its name. I covered the song in a previous blog post- suffice it to say that it is chock full of literary allusions (covered in that other post) and addresses a society confronted by religious hypocrisy:
The girls from the kips proclaim their love for you
When you stumbled in they knew you had a shilling or two
But they cursed you on Sundays and holy days
When you all stayed away
And when you slept there naked light bulb blinded your shame
The shadows on the wall took all the blame
And the Sacred Hearts picture compassion in His eyes
Drowned out the river's sighs
The original version of the song is a new-wave epic:
The song, which has taken on the status of a standard in Ireland, was covered by trad stalwart Christy Moore, who seems to be taking his cues from an acoustic version which was the B-side of Kitty Ricketts:
Finally, here's a version of the song which Phil performed with some guy named Declan:
Phil's sendoff must have been quite the occasion, being attended by luminaries of the literary and music worlds. Phil left a legacy of amazing music behind, songs of great erudition, wisdom and compassion. He will certainly be missed by his fans, but there's no more tristesse afflicting him. Rest in peace, seanchaí.
POSTSCRIPT: Once again, I am shocked that Shane MacGowan has outlived a colleague... first Kirsty MacColl, now Phil. I love Shane, but it's stunning that he has buried two collaborators so far. I hope he lives past one hundred!