Inevitability: the cornerstone of the festive season. Just as you’re guaranteed to keel over in a satisfied slumber having consumed your body weight in turkey on Christmas day, you’re duty bound to receive at least one gift you have absolutely no use for, most likely from a distant aunt. And as sure as you’ll bemoan the unending stream of Christmas music emanating from jukeboxes, pub bands and televisions, you’re certain to sing along to Fairytale in New York on at least one boozed up festive evening.
That The Pogues have become a predictable fixture on this month’s calendar is ironic, given that they possess one of the most mercurial and downright reckless front-men in the business. And even if Shane MacGowan’s perma-sozzled state has long since become a convention in itself, it makes for a hell of a live show.
As he follows the cacophonic and largely inept support act The Marseilles Figs onto the stage, it’s perfectly clear that Shane’s been hitting the Christmas sherry pretty hard (the bottle in his hand is a dead giveaway). The capacity crowd at the Apollo, who, to a man, seem to have joined him in toasting the season, erupt. MacGowan was always unlikely to disappoint. With the focus generally on his wayward lifestyle, though, it’s easy to forget just how good and how original The Pogues were. Tonight serves as a reminder, as they steamroll through almost three decades of hits, fusing their traditional Irish roots with the wilder, punkier side that’s come to define them.
Just as MacGowan is determined to play the errant frontman, the rest of the band are hell-bent on keeping the ship afloat: the musicianship is first class. Careering through faster numbers like Sally MacLeannane, Irish Rover and Fiesta was always likely to send the crowd into raptures, just as the slower tracks were bound to induce much swaying and arm-swinging. MacGowan is joined by a backing choir of thousands as he croons his way through Dirty Old Town and Rainy Night in Soho. Despite being unable to muster a coherent sentence in discourse, his voice sounds remarkably good, befitting the scenes of debauchery unfolding before him.
Proceedings, as expected, are rounded up with Fairytale of New York, MacGowan joined at the mic by a slightly more clear-headed beau. Inevitably, their efforts are drowned out by those of the crowd, before exiting stage to a fanatical and deserved ovation. In such an uncertain age, a little bit of surety can be comforting and welcome, as proved by The Pogues tonight.