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6 December 2018

The night that changed my life: Frank Cottrell-Boyce on seeing The Pogues by accident

Their performance showed me that sincerity always beats irony.

By Frank Cottrell-Boyce

We were just back from our honeymoon. We were going to see Elvis Costello, whose new album we’d been singing along to all summer. We met outside and discussed whether or not to watch the support act – who we’d never heard of – or go for a drink until the main act. We decided to give them five minutes.

They’d been on the stage five seconds before we were jumping up and down and cheering. The Pogues, still then referring to themselves as Pogue Mahone. My wife is Irish. I’m from Liverpool. All of their songs were familiar to us, but unrecognisable. We’d heard them exhibited like items of social history, played with virtuosity – but never with this thrill of rage and hilarity. One band member did the percussion for “Paddy Works on the Railway” by battering his own head with a tin tray. Penny whistles howled like banshees.

It was the best gig I ever went to, but it was more than that. It was a lesson in how the familiar can be made magical if you grab it with all your soul. If someone ever puts their heart into a piece of work – no matter how remote – you can still hear that heart beating if you know how to listen.

That night I shed any interest in irony, or smart-smart-aleckery. Since then, I’ve always aimed to give it straight and give it all. Most of all, I’m grateful it gave me a memory that crystallised all the excitement and fun of the early days of my marriage. I think that’s probably the greatest thing that art can do – to help you rescue something from the river of time.

The night that changed my life: read more from our series in which writers share the cultural encounters that shaped them

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This article appears in the 08 Dec 2020 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special