Their politically-tinged music was influenced by The Clash, yet used traditional Irish instruments such as the tin whistle, banjo, cittern, mandolin, accordion, and others. In the later incarnations of the band, after the departure of Shane MacGowan, rock instruments such as the electric guitar would become more prominent. The first of The Pogues' albums, Red Roses for Me, borrows much from the punk tradition of MacGowan's previous band The Nipple Erectors (later dubbed "The Nips").
They later added Cait O'Riordan (bass) and Andrew Ranken (drums). The band played London pubs and clubs, and released a single, "Dark Streets of London, on their own, self-named label, gaining a small reputation - especially for their live performances. They came to the attention of the media and Stiff Records when they opened for The Clash on their 1984 tour. Shortening their name to "The Pogues" (partly due to BBC censorship following complaints from Gaelic speakers in Scotland) they released their first album Red Roses for Me on Stiff that October.
The band gained more attention when the UK Channel 4's influential music show The Tube made a video of their version of "Waxie's Dargle" for the show. The performance - featuring Spider Stacy repeatedly smashing himself over the head with a beer tray (in the manner of Bob Blackman's infamous "Mule Train/Mule Tray") - became a favourite with the viewers, but Stiff refused to release it as a single, feeling it was too late for it to help Red Roses for Me (in fact their record label, Stiff, was by then in deep financial trouble). Nevertheless, it remained a favourite request for the show for many years.
Phil Chevron (guitar) joined the group soon after, then with the aid of punk and New Wave forefather Elvis Costello they recorded the follow up, Rum, Sodomy and the Lash, in 1985. The album title is a famous comment falsely attributed to Winston Churchill who was supposedly describing the "true" traditions of the British Royal Navy. The album cover featured The Raft of the Medusa, with the faces of the characters in Théodore Géricault's painting replaced with those of the band members. The album shows the band moving away from covers to original material. Shane MacGowan came into his own as a songwriter with this disc, offering up poetic story-telling, such as "The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn" and "The Old Main Drag", as well as definitive interpretations of Ewan MacColl's "Dirty Old Town" and Eric Bogle's "And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda" (this had previously been covered by Shane's fellow punk contemporaries The Skids in 1981).
The band failed to take advantage of the momentum created by the strong artistic and commercial success of their second album. They first refused to record another album (offering up the four-track EP Poguetry in Motion instead); O'Riordan married Costello and left the band, to be replaced by bassist Darryl Hunt; and they added a multi-instrumentalist in Terry Woods, formerly of Steeleye Span. Looming over the band at this period (as throughout their entire career) was the increasingly erratic behaviour of their vocalist and principal songwriter, Shane MacGowan. Their record label, Stiff Records, went bankrupt soon after the 1987 release of the single "The Irish Rover" (with the Dubliners).
The band, including MacGowan, re-formed for a Christmas tour in 2001 and performed nine shows in the UK and Ireland in December 2004. In 2002 Q magazine named The Pogues as one of the "50 Bands To See Before You Die". In July 2005, the band — again including MacGowan — played at the annual Guilfest festival in Guildford before flying out to Japan where they played three dates. Japan is the last place they all played together before MacGowan was originally sacked in 1991, and they have a strong following there. They played a date in Spain in early September. The reunited Pogues played dates in the UK with support from the Dropkick Murphys in late 2005, and re-released their 1987 Christmas classic "Fairytale of New York" on 19 December, which went straight in at #3 in the UK Singles charts on Christmas Day 2005, showing the song's enduring popularity. On 22 December 2005 the BBC broadcast a live performance (recorded the previous week) on the Jonathan Ross Christmas show with Katie Melua filling in for the late Kirsty MacColl, the first time the band had played the song live on television. The following week they performed live on the popular music show .
Shane MacGowan wrote a blog for The Guardian website in 2006, detailing his thoughts on the current tour.
The band was awarded the lifetime achievement award at the annual Meteor Ireland Music Awards in February 2006. In March 2006, the band played their first U.S. dates with Shane in over 15 years. The band played a series of sold-out concerts in Washington D.C., Atlantic City, Boston, and New York. Later they played a series of highly acclaimed and sold out gigs during mid-October 2006 in San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles, and toured Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham, London, Dublin, and Nottingham in mid-December 2006. They began a second U.S. tour in March 2007, once again to coincide (and conclude) with a Roseland Ballroom New York City show on Saint Patrick's Day. 2007 has proved to be the most prolific year of touring since the reunion. A tour of the west coast of America and eleven dates in the UK in December complement the headlining festival appearances made in the summer across Europe (Sweden, Belgium and Spain). They continue to be in huge demand, often selling out very large venues, despite criticism of selling out, and claims that arenas and festivals do not suit the band's sound.
Guitarist Phil Chevron has stated there were no plans to record new music or release a new album. Chevron said that one way to keep enjoying what they were doing was to avoid making a new album, although he did say that there still is a possibility in the future for new music, but certainly not in the near future. Terry Woods has commented that MacGowan has been writing, and most of it sounds good. However on the pages of The Pogues message board, Chevron revealed that The Pogues are preparing a box set of unreleased tracks for release in June 2008.
The band has received mixed reviews of its recent performances. Reviewing a March 2008 concert, The Washington Post described MacGowan as "puffy and paunchy," but said the singer "still has a banshee wail to beat Howard Dean's, and the singer's abrasive growl is all a band this marvelous needs to give its amphetamine-spiked take on Irish folk a focal point." The reviewer continued: "The set started off shaky, MacGowan singing of `goin' where streams of whiskey are flowin,' and looking like he'd arrived there already. He grew more lucid and powerful as the evening gathered steam, through two hours and 26 songs, mostly from the Pogues' first three (and best) albums."
|U.S. Hot 100||U.S. Modern Rock||U.S. Club Play||U.K. Singles||Irish Singles Chart|
|1984||"Dark Streets of London"||-||-||-||-||-||Red Roses for Me|
|"Boys from the County Hell"||-||-||-||-||-|
|1985||"A Pair of Brown Eyes"||-||-||-||#71||-||Rum, Sodomy and the Lash|
|"Dirty Old Town"||-||-||-||#62||#27|
|1986||Poguetry in Motion (EP)||-||-||-||#29||#11||-|
|"Haunted"||-||-||-||#42||#7||Sid and Nancy Soundtrack|
|1987||"Irish Rover" (Featuring The Dubliners)||-||-||-||#8||#1||-|
|"Fairytale of New York" (Featuring Kirsty MacColl)||-||-||-||#2||#1||If I Should Fall from Grace with God|
|1988||"If I Should Fall from Grace with God"||-||-||-||#58||#4|
|1989||"Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah"||-||#17||#36||#43||#6||Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah|
|"Misty Morning, Albert Bridge"||-||-||-||#41||#8||Peace and Love|
|1990||"Summer in Siam"||-||-||-||#64||#21||Hell's Ditch|
|"Jack's Heroes" (Featuring The Dubliners)||-||-||-||#63||#4||Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah|
|1991||"Sunny Side of the Street"||-||#23||-||-||-||Hell's Ditch|
|"Rainy Night in Soho (Remix)"||-||-||-||#67||#24||Poguetry in Motion|
|"Fairytale of New York" (Re-Issue)||-||-||-||#36||#10||If I Should Fall from Grace with God|
|1992||"Honky Tonk Woman"||-||-||-||#56||-||Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah|
|1993||"Tuesday Morning"||-||#11||-||#18||#26||Waiting for Herb|
|"Once Upon a Time"||-||-||-||#66||-|
|2005||"Fairytale of New York" (Re-Release)||-||-||-||#3||#3||If I Should Fall from Grace with God|
|2006||"Fairytale of New York" (Re-entry on Downloads alone)||-||-||-||#6||-|
|2007||"Fairytale of New York" (Re-entry on Downloads alone)||-||-||-||#4||#3|