Thursday 18 December 2008

at ‘Heineken Music Festival’, Leeds - 23rd July 1995

I’ve seen odd, and I’ve seen odder. This is the oddest. Shane announces Kirsty MacColl, and kisses her hand as she comes on. They go into “Fairytale Of New York”. But when they get to the mid-point mutual abuse bit Shane crashes the lyrics. Skilfully Kirsty grabs bits of the splintering song and redirects them back to the chorus so they can try it a second time. He muffs this re-entry too, and again Kirsty takes it back chorus-wards. They don’t risk a third take, waltzing slowly around the stage instead as the Popes churn on determinedly to the bitter end. There were riots down the road in Bradford’s Manningham Lane. There were riots round the corner in Leeds’ Hyde Park. The only riots tonight come in slightly boozy but crazy dance-steps. And it starts with compere Tom Robinson – in ludicrous black shorts, introducing Goats Don’t Shave, and them swirling into a Dylanesque “Love Will Find A Way”. The girl in front of me wears a T-shirt saying ‘FOLK YOU’, and they do, infusing electric Donegal energies with shafts of reggae and even a sly pinch from the Outhere Brothers. Everybody say ‘Wayo’, indeed! Betweentimes they do “Accidents” – a social realist text on domestic violence, and “Walls” – ‘these walls must fall…’, with an angle on the Northern Ireland Peace Process. The Goats close with “When You’re Dead, You’re Great”, only to get an approving name-check soon after when Shane lurches unsteadily up to the mike. He does a roaring “Nancy Whiskey”, then slurs ‘this is an old Neil Diamond number’ and Ivan Ooze’s through “Crackling Rose”. Of course Rosé is a store-bought woman who comes in a bottle from a place where streams of whiskey are flowing, but each time he gets to the build towards the title he loses a line, and substitutes it by doing the next line twice. Then there’s the ‘slightly jazzy version’ of “Fairytale Of New York”, and… “Hippy Hippy Shake”! He obviously enjoys this so much he does it again in the encore, twisting grotesquely with a demonic grin through a dental Stonehenge. It’s somewhere around here that Shane leans across to guitarist Paul McGuinness and stage-whispers ‘what’s next?’ The Popes are tight. Tighter and harder than the Pogues ever were. They construct the rigid framework within which Shane wanders. And it works gloriously. The drums they go a-rat-a-tat-tat, ‘Jimmy Riddle on the fiddle’ soars, and they rampage through the back-catalogue, stopping off at “If I Should Fall From Grace” and “Irish Rover”, before powering up with a metallic “Baby Please Don’t Go” – ‘an old Van Morrison number’. Four songs into the encore, around the time of “Bottle Of Smoke”, Shane aerobically whirls the mike-stand around his head, as if to demonstrate his surviving skills of co-ordination. It might be great when you’re straight, it’s even greater when you’re Shane. ‘Than-yew’ he says in his speech-impediment slur.

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