Reader’s Choice…Song # 4/250: Dirty Old Town by The Pogues.

Ladies and Gentlemen…The Pogues!

The Pogues are one of my very favourite bands. They were formed in the early 1980s and grew out of the emerging Punk Rock scene in the UK. However, despite a penchant for drunkenness and wild behaviour, The Pogues were not the same sort of band as The Sex Pistols were. Their songs often read like poetry and spoke of the travails of real people in small, working class towns like the one I grew up in back in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. The Pogues are most well known for their song, “FairyTale of New York” but their catalogue is vast with songs such as “Fiesta”, “If I Should Fall From Grace With God”, “The Turkish Voyage of the Damned” and “Dirty Old Town” all being audience favourites. The Pogues were an eight-to-ten piece band at any given time. They often incorporated instruments such as penny whistles, accordions and banjos into their songs. Their lead singer was the charismatic Shane McGowan. McGowan was known for his great height, his alarming lack of teeth and for the boozy manner in which he sang his lyrics. The Pogues, in general and, McGowan, in particular, were a fun to see live. They always brought a lot of energy to their performances but, as well they always appeared to be teetering on the edge of coming apart at the seams. This sense of perpetual uncertainty eventually took its toll in the early 1990s with Shane McGowan being fired for failing to appear for concerts. In order to fill his role so that the band could carry on, former Clash lead singer, Joe Strummer fronted the band for awhile. Eventually, The Pogues disbanded for good but they will always be remembered with great fondness by their fans, of which I am definitely one.

Ewan MacColl in the 1950s when he wrote, “Dirty Old Town”.

The song, “Dirty Old Town” is one of their more famous songs but, in truth it is actually a cover song. “Dirty Old Town” was originally written back in the 1950s by a famous Irish singer named Ewan MacColl. MacColl was a song writer and social activist who wrote several famous songs such as “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, “Dirty Old Town”, as well as revising the centuries old lyrics for a song made famous by Simon and Garfunkel called, “Scarborough Fair”. *(You can read a post about “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” here). In any case, “Dirty Old Town” is a song about a real town in England called Salford, which is near Manchester, to the northwest of London. The song tells of life and love amid the factories that lined a canal that ran by the edge of town. The Pogues came to record this song because of their connection with singer Kirsty MacColl (who was Ewan MacColl’s daughter) and who, you may remember, was the female counterpart to Shane McGowan’s drunken lover in “FairyTale of New York”. *(You can read a post about that song here). While Kirsty MacColl was around the band during the recording of “FairyTale of New York”, she played other traditional songs from her father’s song book. One of the many songs that she played for the boys was, “Dirty Old Town”.

Like most songs favoured by The Pogues, “Dirty Old Town” is replete with imagery.

I met my girl by the gas works wall

Dreamed a dream by the old canal

I kissed my girl by the factory wall

Dirty old town

Dirty old town.”

Songs such as this ring true for me. Growing up in Glace Bay in the 1960s and 70s meant that I shared my town with hardworking fishermen and coal miners. Glace Bay was a blue collar town, for sure. There were plenty of stories to be told from down on the wharf that edged both sides of our harbour and from the lamp houses that stood watch over the coal mines that dotted the land. When people work hard for a living it makes the simple pleasures of a shared drink with friends or a stolen kiss from your heart’s desire seem like treasure. It is that understanding that has always come through for me in the songs by The Pogues.

Not surprisingly, “Dirty Old Town” was nominated as a Reader’s Choice song by someone else from back home….my good friend, Paul Coombs. Paul and I went to high school together and have managed to stay in touch as the decades have rolled by. So, it is with a raised glass of good cheer extended in his direction that I thank Paul for nominating “Dirty Old Town”. It is a great song from a great band and I am pleased to play it for everyone today. So, without further delay, here are The Pogues with their cover of the Ewan MacColl classic tune, “Dirty Old Town”. Enjoy.

The link to the video for the song, “Dirty Old Town” can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Pogues can be found here.

The link to the official website of Ewan MacColl can be found here.

The link to the official website for Kirsty MacColl can be found here.

The link to the official website of Salford, England….the subject of “Dirty Old Town” can be found here.

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