October 06, 2006

The Mystic Traveller Meets The Pogues Part 1

Left: El-Branden Brazil with the legendary Spider Stacy.
Photography by Tomoko Yoshizawa

I'm finally going to see The Pogues. It's raining heavily, and the audience is waiting patiently under umbrellas for the Shibuya AX concert hall to open.

I'm feeling a little nervous, because I have been told that I'm on the guest list, via e-mails from my brother in LA, whose friend, Paul, is mates with Spider Stacy. However, it all seems a little tenuous, and I consider that may be my effort to get there on such a nasty, wet evening may turn out to be either embarrassing or a waste of time, if I am not on the list.

The doors finally open and the crowds rush in. I head to the entrance for the guests, feeling a little smug for jumping the lines. A Japanese man at a table looks up at me, and I say in Japanese: Spider no tomodachi desu. (I'm Spider's friend.) I then give him my name, and he scans a list. I am on a surprisingly short list, and I feel chuffed, honoured and excited. He then hands me a pass, that will allow me to the aftershow party. I'm floating into the auditorium, thinking to myself that me...yes, the Mystic Traveller, is going to be meeting a band I have loved for years.

The Pogues were founded in 1982, combining traditional Irish sounds with the rebelliousness and energy of Punk; a scene which many of the members had started out in.

Perhaps their most famous song is the gorgeously gruff, 'The Fairy Tale Of New York', which was performed with the late, great Kirsty MacColl. It captures, like so much of their music, the romantic spirit that can be found on the street. There is something honest, true, unpretentious and beautiful in their music.

In Zen, mistakes in art are perceived for their own innate beauty, and the extraordinarily unique voice of Shane MacGowan highlights this no better. This is not the voice of a trained vocalist, but this is the voice of a man freely sharing his pain and joy in equal measure for the world to hear. It is mesmerising, rich and magnificent.

MacGowan has been called one of the most influential songwriter poets in the last thirty years. His problems with substance abuse have sometimes shadowed attention from his creative successes. I believe that it is from his choice of lifestyle that he has been able to create such a body of work. This is a man who lives life's vices to the full, so that he can explore an aspect of humanity that many of us would fear to tread. He once said: 'The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks. They spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does.'

The lights in the hall have now turned off and the crowd is cheering and clapping. A young Japanese man, dressed in early Pogues' fashion, takes a swig of liquor from a small silver hip flask, and decides to make a push for the front.

Finally, the band members walk out, and the crowd screams. Spider, the tin whistle maestro and sometimes lead singer, speaks out to the crowd in Japanese, which receives even more cheering. Shane MacGowan makes a grand entrance by just being himself. He shuffles out, clearly heavily intoxicated on gin, which he has a full cup of in his hand. He grips on to the mic and performs a miracle that lasts the entire concert.

I smile with joy as I am drawn into The Pogues' world - a positive world, where happiness exists in the most unexpected places.

When the concert ends, the crowds filter out, and I am joined by my good friend, Tomoko, who arrived late from her work. She had given me a ticket for The Rolling Stones, so it was a pleasure to return the favour.

We wait out in the foyer with the other guests, not knowing what to expect. An usher guides us back stage and we enter a small dressing room. Immediately, Spider's fiancee, Louise, comes up to me: 'You're Paul's mate, aren't you?' I say I am, even though I have never met my brother's good friend. We get offered something to drink, and she goes off to get Spider.

Some of the band members come in and chat warmly with us. Shane is not to be seen, and I think he has other pressing concerns than meeting strangers. Spider comes in and shakes hands with another English guest, asking if he is Paul's friend. The guy says he is, although I know he isn't, but then, neither am I, but...I guess I am now. (Paul, I owe you a big drink back in the UK, mate.)

Spider then comes over and we sit down for a chat. He is extremely friendly and a pleasure to talk with. We discuss about his time in Japan, which he says has the best audience in the world. We talk about his wedding plans in Las Vegas, while they will be touring in the US. My brother will be meeting them in LA, next month.

After half an hour of chat, I decide that it is time to leave and let them recover. I thank Spider for his kindness in allowing me to come to the show, and he asks if I would like to see it again tomorrow. I reply that I would most definitely. So, I am buzzing with the excitement for another taste of the rock 'n' roll life.

As I leave through the stage door, several fans are lingering outside behind a fence. One shouts out to me, asking if I can get him access to Shane. I explain to him that I cannot. Another Japanese couple say 'hello', with gooey grins on their faces. They are staring into the room where I had been with Spider, and they obviously think I am a "somebody", when really I am an absolute nobody. I chuckle to myself and walk back to Harajuku station, with the memories distracting my awareness of the heavy rain that is falling.

Part 2 Coming Shortly - The Second Pogues' Concert

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