Philip Chevron–1957-2013: A Song For Our Times, And The Importance Of Being Irish

“I am a gay, Irish, Catholic, alcoholic Pogue who is about to die from cancer — and don’t think I don’t know it,” Philip Chevron, who passed away on October 8, told the Irish Daily Mail in June.

The 56-year-old Chevron was best known as the guitarist for legendary Irish folk punk band The Pogues. However, his music career goes back to the founding of The Radiators From Space in 1976 — described as Ireland's first punk band.

Chevron, who befriended Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan while living in London, had become a full-time member of the band of London-based Irish musicians by the time of The Pogues second album, 1985's Rum, Sodomy and the Lash.

Today, The Pogues are probably best known for their classic Christmas song, “Fairytale of New York”. But at the time, The Pogues combination of traditional Irish instruments and tunes with the raw aggression and energy of punk rock was revolutionary.

It created an entirely new genre (“Celtic punk”) and re-energised Irish folk music, bringing it to life for a new generation.

But that doesn't tell the full story of The Pogues' impact. What is less understood is the (sometimes literally) explosive social context. The Pogues arose as an explicitly, and proudly, Irish band in London in the 1980s — a time when the large Irish ex-pat community faced racism and attacks on civil liberties reminiscent of that directed at Muslims today.

Today, in a world of big St Patrick's Day celebrations and “Kiss Me I'm Irish” T-shirts, this might sound odd. But at the time, anti-Irish sentiment in England was powerful enough that one of the most iconic “Irish” brands, Guinness, seriously considered downplaying its Irish connection and emphasising the fact the company was (and is) actually a British-owned multinational.

In this context, to actually play up your Irishness in London was an act of defiance. But The Pogues went beyond mere cultural symbolism.

The 1980s were the height of “The Troubles” in Ireland's north, as Britain's military occupation drove armed resistance that increasingly spilled over into mainland England. This meant all Irish people in England, but especially young men, were considered suspect.

Margaret Thatcher's government granted police extraordinary powers in the name of “fighting terrorism”, including the right to hold suspects for seven days without charge — measures that paved the way for even more extreme police state powers today.

But the case of the “Birmingham Six” and “Guildford Four” — 10 men framed by police for two Irish Republican Army bombings in Birmingham and Guildford respectively — showed British police didn't need special powers to railroad Irish men into jail.

They simply tortured them until they signed fake confessions, with all 10 sentenced to life in jail in 1975.

As a campaign for the men's freedom began to grow, The Pogues released “Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six” on their 1988 album If I Should Fall From Grace With God. “It's not meant to be a happy song,” MacGowan said of the track. “You're meant to feel bad enough to fucking do something.”

The authorities certainly did something — when the band began performing the song during an appearance on Channel 4, the broadcast cut suddenly to ads. Then the Independent Broadcasting Authority banned the track, bizarrely claiming its lyrics insisting the 10 men were innocent of terrorist acts could “incite terrorism”. 

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