The Pogues, Thetford Forest, 14 June 2014

It has been said many times, but the setting of this venue is something else, a clearing deep in the forest (must not get too mystical, there is also a visitor centre, playground, bike hire etc next to it…), towering trees with the sun sinking below as the headliners arrive on stage….

Back to the music, the opening act was Billy Vincent from South London, named after the two singers, Billy Barratt and David Vincent. They have some good recordings already (see SoundCloud), but recent new songs formed the bulk of the set. The band line-up produces a full sound of electric and acoustic guitars, with some sparkling short lead lines too. There is great interplay and understanding between the two singers, taking turns to carry the song. Their contrasting voices, pleading on ‘Loveless Man’, heartfelt on ‘Dark Are My Days’, add to the variety. On ‘Learning to Drink’, the country sound and sentiment soon gets a more London grown flavour. It was their biggest gig to date, they were pleased to be there and that communicated well to the crowd, who were with them all the way.

I had listened to the Fat White Family album ‘Champagne Holocaust’ but hearing those tracks played on stage was a whole other level. The opener ‘Auto Neutron’ is an unusual slow building song but established the template of Hammond organ, spaced-out guitar (5 sided), bold drumming and the deranged vocal acrobatics of Lias Saoudi. There were reminders of The Fall, especially in ‘Wild American Prairie’, Velvet Underground on ‘Touch The Leather’, but they have an overall sound and presence all their own. And what a presence it is. It was music for a cramped, dark venue but they just went ahead anyway in the light and air, greatly appreciated by the mesmerised enthusiasts down the front who realised that this could be the start of something very big.

Finally the mighty Pogues arrived, they may be older and more static (although James Fearnley was jumping around with his accordion for most of the set!) than when I last saw them but they make up for it in musicianship(featuring an eccentric collection of unusual stringed instruments), strength of songs and of course the legend that is Shane MacGowan. It was a greatest hits set, ‘Streams of Whiskey’, ‘Dirty Old Town’, ‘A Pair of Brown Eyes’, ‘Sally MacLennane’ all good crowd pleasers. Shane left the stage a few times, but Spider Stacy and tin whistle filled in the front- man role perfectly, including a spirited ‘Jesse James’. Shane’s vocals seemed to improve as the show proceeded, by the time of ‘The Irish Rover’, he was on fine form. Shane said…’You’ve got a nice set-up here’, a bit of an understatement as they launched into ‘Fiesta’, an appropriate end to an amazing party..


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