Almanac Music: The Pogues – ‘Dirty Old Town’


Colac & Irrewarra: late 1980s onwards

Bluesfest Byron Bay 2012


After a hearty curry, invariably, a few bottles of a robust cab sav, plenty of entertaining conversation, and the company of good friends, there was nothing better than to retreat to the front room in Irrewarra and listen to some music for the rest of the evening.


More often than not, the call was for The Pogues, and in particular, Dirty Old Town. Before long we all would be crooning along with Shane at the top of our voices, trying to remember the words to the best of our ability as we swayed around the room, the effects of the wine having well and truly kicked in. It didn’t matter that we were out of tune, our singing always sounded fabulous to me. Usually the song was encored numerous times. We sang until we were hoarse. The song always reflected good times, good friends, a time for letting our hair down and enjoying ourselves.





I cannot recall when I first heard the song in full but it was one of those songs I remember hearing snippets of here and there and for a long time I was never able to catch the name or performer of the song.


It was one of those catchy tunes played by a Celtic-influenced band at the Port Fairy Folk Festival, or during a singalong in the Guinness tent that everybody else except me seemed to know well. Maybe a snatch was heard on a program such as The Old Folks show on RRR with Rick E. Vengence or a like program on PBS while listening in the car or at home. But, I always missed the introduction or the announcer didn’t back, announce which frustrated me terribly.


Eventually, the day arrived and I finally discovered the name of the song, and of The Pogues, again, through RRR, and immediately purchased the album.


(Thank God for public broadcasting in Australia, what would we do without it! Most of the music I purchased, or performers I have seen, over the past thirty odd years have been influenced by what I have heard on RRR or PBS on shows such as RRR’s Off The Record with Brian Wise.)


Of course, The Pogues were soon one of my favourite bands. I bought their music, read extensively about them, watched film clips and documentaries, and before long I had developed a thorough knowledge of them.


The plight of Shane MacGowan certainly intrigued me and each new development with regards to his health or state of mind left one concerned and wondering about his future and that of The Pogues. When the split did occur I was deeply saddened as the likelihood of me seeing them perform live suddenly became extremely remote or non-existent.



Naturally, I was over the moon when I heard the band had reformed and were doing some touring but I was ecstatic when it was announced they were to play at Bluesfest in 2012. Like many other fans I rushed to buy my tickets for the festival.


In the lead up to Bluesfest there were many conflicting and mixed reviews of performances by The Pogues, mainly current European concerts, and this left many to wonder if MacGowan would be capable of performing in Australia; his health and alcohol problems combined with his erratic behaviour being well known and legendary.


To hear that he had actually arrived in Australia was a relief for his fans but the question still hung over his head as to whether he had the capability to fulfil our expectations on stage still needed to be answered.


So, with great trepidation, I stood, squashed and hemmed in, as near to the front of the main stage as I could get. It was stinking hot, humidity overwhelming with sweat dripping from our bodies. The lights were low and the expectation ever so high. Would Shane actually be there on stage or would The Pogues perform without him?


I struggled to glimpse the band as they walked on stage as the lights came up, picked up their instruments and commenced to play, and then to an almighty collective sigh of relief that graduated to a roar of joy as he was recognised, on walked Shane, or should I say, on staggered Shane and burst into song. Amazingly, I cannot remember what that first song was. I was so overwhelmed by the occasion but as soon as I heard those distinctive vocals of his I knew everything would be OK. It was the voice I knew so well rather than the one I thought we might have gotten, one barely in existence and ravaged by all his health-related problems. But it was the authentic voice of all his recordings.


Around me punters of all ages bopped, some pogoed up and down on the spot, others just stood there in a trance, smiling faces everywhere but we were all there as one in that magical moment, a moment in time we probably will never experience again. Three or four tunes into the concert and the intro to Dirty Old Town sounded out. We went berserk (maybe not me, a 62 y.o. at the time trying to refrain himself from over-excitement and keeping himself respectable), as Shane started to sing;…..I met my love by the gasworks wall…. We all joined in, some yelling the words, some screaming, young and old we sang those words we knew so well and we sang like we would never sing again, aware of the memorable, momentous and exclusive occasion we were apart of.


Sweat poured from our faces and bodies as we surged back and forth and sideways too. My feet didn’t touch the ground. At the same time, I was trying to ring one of my singalong mates back home so he could hear the song over the phone. I don’t know how I remained standing.


Throughout the performance MacGowan slugged on a bottle, (bottles?) probably vodka, and it amazed me he remained standing, though he did have the support of a microphone stand for most of the time; or he wandered off stage from time to time to sit down between verses and songs, but incredibly he made it to the end of the concert.


As soon as it had started it was all over. Thousands of happy people staggered out of that marquee, huge smiles on our faces entranced by the fact we had experienced something wonderful that we would remember forever.


We had been to heaven, and we had seen The Pogues at their best.


This story first appeared on the Stereo Stories site.


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About Colin Ritchie

Retired teacher who enjoys following the Bombers, listening to music especially Bob Dylan, reading, and swimming.


  1. What a great show that must have been Col, one of those that you just feel ever more fortunate to have been there for as the time passes after…

  2. Kevin Densley says

    Good stuff, Col! Highly enjoyable!

  3. A Pogues story very well told, Col.
    I was fortunate enough to see them the Pogues three times, and Shane Macgowan and the Popes once.
    The first was at Festival hall in January 1988, on their “If I should fall from grace” tour – Macgowan was just hanging in, but the brilliant musicianship of the band was what struck me. The second time was at The Palace in St Kilda, Jan 1990, and Macgowan was a little worse for wear this time, slugging from a bottle of chardonnay. Of course, the third time was in April 2012 at Festival Hall, just days prior to the BluesFest shows. Shane was better than I hoped he would be. I can still recall the thrill of hearing the opening bars of the opening track “Broad majestic Shannon”. I saw Shane at the Prince of Wales in St Kilda on Anzac Day eve in 2003. He was not well, and sat on a stool for the entire show, drinking and chain-smoking, but it was memorable nonetheless.
    The Pogues are one of my all-time favourite bands, and were the trigger for my love for Irish music.

  4. Gee whiz Smokie, i saw the Pogues on all three visits to Melbourne. I reckon I was at two of those shows you attended. The 1990 show I reckon was @ The Old Greek Theatre in Richmond.

    Only one Shane Macgowan. In 1988 we saw the Friday night show @ Festival Hall. The following evening i remember seeing him being half helped, half walked, along Fitzroy Street.

    How can there ever be a Christmas without ‘A Fairytale of New York’?



  5. Love it Col.

    My introduction to The Pogues was on a fieldwork trip to Northland, New Zealand, for my PhD research.
    A few of us from Melbourne were based at the Sandspit campground near Warkworth for about 3 weeks.
    Late nights always seemed to end with the Pogues.

    One morning I was in the camp shower block and quietly singing along to old Sally MacLennane.
    “We walked him to the station in the rain
    We kissed him as we put him on the train”

    And from two showers over came a VERY LOUD:
    “And we sang him a song of times long gone
    Though we knew that we’d be seeing him again..”

    And from the toilets came:
    Far away!

    It was like pop-up three-part choir.
    We continued.
    “Sad to say I must be on my way
    So buy me beer and whiskey ’cause I’m going far away (far away)
    I’d like to think of me returning when I can
    To the greatest little boozer and to Sally Maclennane!”

    By the end there must have been 6 or 7 blokes singing along.
    I recognised the voice of my PhD supervisor.
    But have no idea who the rest of those men were.
    In the Sandspit toilet block on a December morning.

  6. Great story Col and excellent yarn too E.r.

    “I kissed my girl by the factory wall”- all that sex and death and struggle and disappointment right there, in one single line. Just brilliant.

    And what do we make of Shane apparently having had his teeth fixed? I reckon I saw that Channel 4 (of course) commissioned a documentary on this.

  7. Thoroughly enjoyable and riveting read. Thanks.

  8. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says

    Hi Col – thanks for this.

    I know that reading about music is like dancing about architecture, but Here Comes Everybody by James Fearnley is a pretty good read.

    Would it be churlish to point out that Dirty Old Town was written about Salford in Manchester, by the same person that wrote The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face?

    But who doesn’t love The Pogues – I just wish that I’d seen them (even/especially with Joe Strummer).

  9. Onya Col.

    Smokie, I was at that Palace gig back in 1990. Shane just sat on the front edge of the stage swigging his wine, while Spider Stacey looked daggers at his back. I’m surprised that original line up managed to last as long as they did.

    But then, Shane has been written off for 3 decades now, but he keeps on keeping on. He’s almost sneaking into that indestructible category along with Keef and Iggy. He’s just a little more bashful.

    Crank those records up, Col!

  10. Love the clip Col; I was not there, but I’m now feeling nostalgic for a crowded pub, jam packed with a great band.

  11. Fantastic, Col:
    And equally amazing Shane MacGowan is still standing.
    I saw the Pogues at a beachside venue in Coogee, 1988ish – the name escapes …Selinas?
    Never was incoherent so coherent.

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