Upon the launch of his first book Here Comes Everybody, James Fearnley offers a glimpse into what life was like on the road as a Pogue.
Fearnley is 57, educated at Quaker Boarding School, Ackworth in Pontefract, and has played with the accordion with The Pogues since 1982.
After explaining how he’d gone looking to buy a pair of pajamas earlier in the day and been sadly disappointed in what the shops had to offer, we started our conversation…
QRO: I’ve noticed when looking at pictures of the band, it appears you’ve never all followed a particular ‘fashion trend’.
James Fearnley: We came from another angle; we always thought how timeless we wanted to be… and that if we ever became ‘timely’, that that’s when we’d fall flat. We liked the (and felt comfortable) with "The navvies on a good night out look"… In fact,
QRO: So, reading up on you I see you’ve written a novel before?
JF: No, I didn’t finish it, I abandoned it and threw it away, because it was a pile of shit. Well I don’t know what happened to it actually; I think I just left it somewhere; it could be with someone’s belongings.
You know like if you move into somebody’s flat and you can find letters and things, I didn’t leave my diaries but I might’ve left what I thought was a novel but in fact wasn’t. So whoever’s got it can keep it, because I don’t want it!
The writing for me has been mostly diary writing, and writing letters – remember back in the time when people wrote letters?
QRO: Of course I do, I wrote one only today!
And so how did you do the research for your book? Was it mostly through your diaries? Photographs? Or talking to people?
JF: Mostly through diaries, and when those sort of gave up the trail, when they disappeared into the undergrowth or if I was to link the two diaries together, I used other sources, there are a few breaks… I don’t know why.
QRO: Maybe you were having a life then?
JF: Yes, maybe. [laughs]
What I did, initially, was to go through all the musician union date books that we used to get, for the gigs that we did back then.
I also looked at the back of merchandise t-shirts as well that had all the dates on them, so I built up this sort of spread sheet file on my computer, with all the dates from July 30th 1980 – August 1991, the significant date to when we sacked our singer [Shane MacGowan].
QRO: Right, and so was that also the date of the end of your book?
JF: That’s the beginning and the end because the first chapter is to do with the meeting – we had when we decided to let him go, and once we decided that’s what we had to do we summoned him down from his room; which had got all the curtains closed and flourescent planets on his ceiling.
He came downstairs and we told him what we’d decided and the last sentence of the first chapter was, "What took you so long?"
So the remainder of the book is explaining why [chuckling] we took so long.
…And then the very last chapter is the last gig that we do.
QRO: Did you have to leave a lot out?
QRO: Was that because it was boring or irrelevant or were you worried someone would sue you?
JF: No, mostly I had to leave stuff out because my editor said he wanted between 80,000 and 110,000 words and that was for the whole thing from the very beginning to then (when he asked me to write the book). By the time I got to 1991 I was already at 145,000 so there was no way I could do the whole thing, so I didn’t even say to the editor, "I can only go as far as 1991." I just handed in what I’d done and he didn’t even say why haven’t you come up to the present day, it just seemed to make itself into what it is; the post holding it all together, which was sacking the singer.
So obviously I had to leave stuff out because I had to get rid of 30,000 words.
QRO: So did you have to ask permission to write any of it?
QRO: No? There was nothing you thought, oh maybe I should just ask them if I can include this? Or is there nothing that juicy in it?
JF: [laughs] Yeah there is, but I think we’ve got to the stage now where we became like family and they just put up with people like me [laughs]; except we couldn’t put up with our lead singer so we had to dump him, but they couldn’t dump me because I haven’t done anything as bad as Shane.
I wasn’t going to be unkind; there are something’s that people might sort of wince at, but erm, the intention wasn’t anything out of malice or to get my own back on anybody.
QRO: Who took the photograph on the front of your book?
JF: Andrew Catlin
QRO: I’m glad you knew, I was worried you were going to say, "I don’t know."
JF: No, no, no Andrew Catlin was a photographer that’d been photographing us for years, in all sorts of places. We had two photographers, Andrew Catlin and Steve Pyke, who took my rather strange publicity photo, I don’t know if you’ve seen that at all? I look like I’m blind… [laughs]
QRO: Might you write another book then? If you feel like you haven’t told the whole story? Do you think you might carry it on?
JF: Yeah I do want to write another book, whether it’s something else entirely or if it’s to finish up… Because there’s plenty of that.
But I need a departure point like I had for this one, which is what you base the story around.
QRO: You’re not wishing anyone dead though, are you? [laughs]
JF: Ha ha, No no… I don’t want anyone dead, but yes that’s the sort of thing I meant, but I can get on with other stuff in the meantime.
QRO: How did you feel when you wrote the last line of the book?
JF: Erm [hesitates] Oh I dunno… sad really, cos the last line’s a bit wistful cos er, erm the last line belongs to Shane MacGowan, and it was hard to watch him go wrong.
I always thought that Shane…[faltering]
It sounds a bit fanciful but that’s what I believe.
I can’t stare into the void as well as Shane can, and I’m glad he can so I don’t have to.
It’s great to have people like him that’ll take it on the chin, it sounds like a Jesus Christ type thing, and funnily enough Shane was born on Jesus’ birthday, and I don’t mean to equate Shane with Jesus Christ, but there are people around that need to do things on our behalf, and Shane’s one of them.
QRO: So it wasn’t a relief to finish it then?
JF: No, not at all… It was a relief to stop the crouching on my haunches with my hands clasping at my head like Basil Fawlty, when everything goes wrong and he does that jumping thing in the hallway… Well I’ve done that, in the process of doing this, I’ve had many times when I’ve sat thinking, "I’m not going to be able to do this!"
Well and of course it could’ve just been and run of the mill rock and roll memoir where you just list the places you went and the girls that you screwed, and all that kind of stuff.
JF: Well we didn’t screw any- well we did, but we weren’t known for it, we weren’t the Led Zeppelin and Mott the Hoople-type. We were just known for our drinking really, and we did lots of that.
We’re older now, obviously, and we don’t get up to the gallivanting that we used to, but it’s still a laugh and it’s still great to play on stage, and it’s great to have everyone on stage that might’ve died in the interim – ALIVE!
It’s amazing to stand on the stage and look at them and think, "Well you could be dead through alcoholism, and he’s been sober for twelve years, and he could’ve done himself a mischief, and he’s been sober for ten years. It’s just Shane that’s holding out!"
The part about "Fairytale of New York" in the book alone is worth buying the book.
A beautifully written and Cathartic journey with the scattering of non-surprising "C" and "F" words, crafted like only a creative person and true family member of The Pogues could.