After several albums recorded both with and without Macgowan, The Popes have recently been recording their new album, Outlaw Heaven. They play with a drive that's often lacked in bands nowadays, with a unique mixture of good ol' dirty rock and roll and traditional Irish music.
With a back catalogue chock-full of layered songs with banjo hooks, theSprout sat down lead man Paul 'Mad Dog' McGuinness to talk about the new album.
TheSprout: How are you?
Paul: I'm great, thanks. Just finished work and decided to head down to the pub for a pint to relax. We've been working all day on the album, just mixing it and producing it. It's going great, we're mastering it at the moment, it's looking promising, ha ha!
TheSprout: Tell us more. . .
Paul: We originally planned to release it in October, but with the recording and the various studio work that had to be done, we couldn't release it as originally planned. We're still in the midst of it all now, but it's looking pretty good. It's going to be released in Feburary, with a tour planned afterwards. We've got a London-based Irish artist who does the artwork on our MySpace page to design the cover. His name's Bryan Wheeler. Great artist; I really love his work.
TheSprout: If you could describe The Popes in three words?
Paul: Rock and roll!
TheSprout: Your songs are very well arranged, how do The Popes write, and what can we expect from the songs on Outlaw Heaven?
Paul: Well, usually I fiddle around with some ideas on my acoustic guitar with some lyrics here and there. All of the songs on this upcoming album were written when I was in prison. I make rough, almost draft versions of the songs, then we start playing them as a band. There's always help from band members, though. Will (drummer) and Charlie (guitarist) always join in with arrangements, it's very much a group effort. But then again, exceptions are always made, there's nothing set in stone when we write in songs.
I was doing time inside for perverting the course of justice two years ago. Inside there's not much to do; jail's a very dull place, I found that I was just twiddling my thumbs. I thought that I should probably make light of a bad situation, so I found myself writing a lot of songs. I was eventually found innocent and was absolved. The last album we recorded was Holloway Boulevard, with Tommy McManamon, our banjo player at the time. He was a really important part of the band and contributed a lot to The Popes. In 2006 he tragically passed away after a battling a long illness. We decided to carry on making music, so we resurrected The Popes with a changed line-up and this will be our first album since all of this happened.
TheSprout: What can someone who's never seen The Popes expect at a gig?
Paul: It's very rock and roll. It's a lot of traditional irish music like The Dubliners and modern bands like The Pogues crossed over with rock and roll bands like Thin Lizzy. Think of all of those bands jammed together.
TheSprout: What sort of bands did you listen to while growing up that made you want to be a musician?
Paul: Growing up in the Republic Of Ireland, Catholic Ireland, there wasn't any outside influences, so it was all very Irish and homegrown. I grew up listening to traditional Irish music and country music. The only two radio stations I had growing up as a kid was the American Forces Radio that played blues and the local Irish station that played local folk music. By the time I was in my early teens, the BBC had been introduced and I started getting into glam rock like Van Morrison, Bowie and T-Rex.
I grew up watching Top Of The Pops every Friday and I was far more interested in those bands rather than the ones that were around me in Ireland. When I was a teenager I hated traditional Irish music, I drifted away from it preferring rock and roll. I use to look at it in a different light, something dated, like something my parents listened to. You know how the saying goes, 'it's always greener on the other side'. In my late teens I moved to London which is when I saw The Pogues play.
I felt something inside me when I saw them. They were playing the music that I had listened to as a young child, but they played it with passion and they played it with energy. They mixed up and it was exhilarating. I began playing the guitar with Shane, and playing Irish folk music seemed to come easily to me. It was like it was natural to me, as if it was in my DNA. That's when The Popes were born, I suppose.
TheSprout: Which song would you say is The Popes' best?
Paul: Definitely Church Of The Holy Spooks [see link above]. It's from our first album, The Snake, which was released in October of 1994. We always start off with that song when we play live, it's great fun to play. We started off as being fronted with Shane and he sang on that album, we showed him a few of our songs, he really loved them so he joined and was heavily involved with us for a few years. He and Spider Stacey of the Pogues have recorded on this new album. We're still all close, despite the fact he doesn't sing with us any more. We're playing at an after-party for The Pogues in Brixton, London in a pub near to the Academy.
TheSprout: Do you have any singles to be released from your upcoming album?
Paul: Oh, yes. The title track is going to be released next spring. We were hoping to release it this year, but with all of the work we've been doing on the album that has proved to be unfortunately not possible. We've got a tour to promote the album, we've got a few gigs sorted out in Bristol and at Green Man, but I think there's more to be announced.
TheSprout: How do you feel about playing in Cardiff next Friday?
Paul: I'm looking forward to it. As a child, my family and I use to go to Ammanford in west Wales on holiday. I have good memories of Wales, very friendly people, it has beautiful countryside. We're playing The Globe, I don't think we've played there before. Cardiff's usually a good place to play, though.
TheSprout: It was originally an old cinema that went by the same name, it had been around for years but it went out if business and recently opened up as a music venue.
Paul: That's great, it sounds really interesting. I prefer playing places like that, venues with content character and history over than say, a cocktail bar. I hate them, they're dull and bland, boring to play in. We're playing on the 28th of November, I think. I can't wait to play in Cardiff, for some reason it feels like it's going to be a good night!
The Popes haven't played here for a while, so pencil it in your diary and come along, tickets are a tenner, they're playing at brand spanking new venue The Globe on Albany Road in Roath. If you're expecting a good night with dirty, melodic, folky rock and roll, the sort that your mother definitely wouldn't approve of and the kind that's best to dance to, this is the place to indulge.