DATE January 8, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Alex Kapranos talks about his band Franz Ferdinand,
working in restaurants, writing column for British newspaper The
Guardian and his new book "Sound Bites"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
My guest Alex Kapranos is the lead singer and guitarist in Franz Ferdinand, a
band from Glasgow that caught on in the US with their 2004 single, "Take Me
Out." It's a platinum-selling band, but before Kapranos was able to make a
living playing music, he worked in restaurants, in positions ranging from
kitchen assistant to chef. In 2005, the British newspaper The Guardian asked
him to write a column about what he ate when he was on the road. His writing
is collected in his new book, "Sound Bites." In an enthusiastic review in The
New York Times Book Review, Dave Itzkoff wrote `why Kapranos continues to
waste his time performing for crowds of ecstatic, devoted nubile fans when
he's already found his true calling is anyone's guess.' Before we talk, here's
Franz Ferdinand from their first album.
(Soundbite from "Take Me Out")
Mr. ALEX KAPRANOS: (Singing) "So if you're lonely, you know I'm here waiting
for you. I'm just a crosshair, I'm just a shot away from you. And if you
leave here, you leave me broken, shattered, I lie. I'm just a crosshair. I'm
just a shot, then we can die. Ah, ah, ah. I know I won't be leaving here
with you. I say don't you know. You say you don't know. I say take me out.
I say you don't show..."
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Franz Ferdinand.
Alex Kapranos, welcome to FRESH AIR. You actually worked in restaurants
before forming Franz Ferdinand, and you write in your book that the greatest
preparation you had for touring with the band was working as a chef alongside
Bob Hardy in a Glasgow kitchen. Why was that such good preparation?
Mr. KAPRANOS: Well, when you're in a band with your band mates, you have to
deal with living with people in a confined area and being very close to each
other in sometimes stressful situations, but sharing a tour bus is nothing
compared to sharing the close space of a kitchen where you've got hot fat and
knives flying about the place and you know, as everybody knows, like tempers
go a bit astray in kitchens sometimes, and we got on really well in that
kitchen, and I thought, well, I figured if we could get on well in the
kitchen, we could get on well on the tour bus. We got a lot of ideas for the
band together in that kitchen as well. We used to sit and we both worked in
the sweet corner, we'd make all the desserts, so we'd be left at the end of
the night, the two of us in the kitchen. We'd play music and talk about what
we would do if we got a band together. So I suppose a lot of our ideas for
the band came together there.
GROSS: So run through some of the jobs you've held in kitchens.
Mr. KAPRANOS: I suppose I've held most of them really. Again, I started off
as a kitchen porter. I was 18 years old, and I had just dropped out of
university and needed some cash, and I went up to Fort Williams which is in
the highlands of Scotland and worked in a kitchen. I got a job as a kitchen
porter scrubbing the pots in this place called MacTavish's Kitchen, which is
the place where tourists would arrive and would be fed by the coachload and
again, like a lot of chefs start out, I was working, happily washing the
dishes, and suddenly one day, one of the chefs didn't turn up, so I found
myself in an oversized set of whites holding a knife in my hand wondering what
the hell I was doing as they put me in the kitchen and suddenly I was a chef.
And I enjoyed it. I went back to university and played in bands and things,
and over the years, I worked in various different restaurants and different
rules. Sometimes front houses as well. I worked as a wine waiter for a bit,
as a delivery driver as well at one point, too. There's a fantastic curry
shop in Glasgow called Mother India's Cafe that sells kind of homemade
Pakistani food, and that was a wonderful place and I delivered curries in a
leaky Fiat Pander which is a-- I don't know if you get them in the States.
They're very, very small cars that aren't really suitable for the Scottish
climate. But, yeah, I did that. And, yeah, of course, worked as a chef in a
few places too.
GROSS: So what's one of the most adventurous meals you've eaten on the road.
Would you describe it for us?
Mr. KAPRANOS: I suppose the most adventurous one is eating fugu fish in
Japan, or it seemed adventurous at the time, and part of the real pleasure of
eating is the anticipation that you have or the mythology that surrounds a bit
of food and the way you get excited about the meal. You look forward to this
great event. And we went to this restaurant, and our Japanese host said,
`We're going to try various different things and we can try fugu.' And fugu is
a blowfish, which, if it isn't prepared correctly, is poisonous. And
everybody's ears pricked up, and we thought, `Oh, gosh, what's this?' And we
said, `How poisonous is this thing?' and the hostess said,`Well, you know, one
in 100 people are supposed to die when they eat this.'
GROSS: Not very good odds.
Mr. KAPRANOS: And so we're, `Are we going to do this? Are we going to do
this?' And so half of the band, like, `No way. There's no way we're going to
try this.' And the other half, the half with the idiots in, which I've got to
say is my half, it was like, `Oh, gosh, we've got to try this. This is like
Russian roulette with a bit of fish.' And so we tried it, and although it was
probably the most adventurous meal, it was maybe not the most rewarding meal
either, because the fish in itself--it was very tasty but it wasn't as
exceptional as you'd expect something to be if it's that dangerous. It tasted
like a deep-fried breaded piece of fish and not unlike a fish finger or
something like that, which--all very tasty but not worth the chance of death.
GROSS: Yes, we'll rate that one not worth the risk.
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah.
GROSS: So what was one of the more rewarding meals you had?
Mr. KAPRANOS: One of the more rewarding meals? Maybe somewhere like
Schwartz's Bifteck in Montreal. It's an old Jewish salt beef place, and
that's a marvelous place. It's been there since the '20s. And it's similar
to another place, in Brooklyn, which I'm very fond of. There's a place in
Green Point called the Peter Pan Donut Shop, and for me, it captures some of
the atmosphere of Brooklyn or New York City that I'd maybe romanticized
growing up in Scotland. You have an idea of what it's going to be like when
you get to the States and sometimes, it's not always met, but when it is met,
it's a wonderful feeling and the Peter Pan Donut Shop, it's--when I went there
and had my doughnuts, there was a bunch of cops who'd just come off duty and
were eating their doughnuts and drinking their coffee, and it was like an
episode of "Hill Street Blues" or something from "Serpico." And for me that
was wonderful. Yeah, they were doughnuts, they were good doughnuts, great
doughnuts, but they were just doughnuts and coffee, but again, it was
something that you could have only found in that place and they seemed
to--every bite seemed to be full of the flavor of the city itself, which is
the greatest thing.
GROSS: Since you've worked in restaurants and now you eat in a lot of
restaurants on the road and write about it too, are there things that used to
drive you crazy about restaurant patrons that you try not to emulate now?
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah, definitely. One thing is the customer who has such a
kind of an overblown ego and so full of self-importance that they feel that
they have to come through the kitchen to congratulate the chef, you know,
like--as if the chef gives a damn about this guy. I mean, obviously you're
really glad that your--this person has enjoyed their dinner, and--yeah, yeah,
fantastic, good on you, pal, I'm really glad you had a good tea, but you don't
need to come through like, in the middle of service and stop everything just
to let the chef know that it tasted OK. You know, just a quick thanks to the
waiter is just fine.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Alex Kapranos, and he's the
lead singer of the band Franz Ferdinand and also co-writes the songs. And now
he's written a book of his--actually a collection of the food columns that
he's written for The Guardian about eating on tour, and it's called "Sound
Bites: Eating on Tour with Franz Ferdinand."
Well, you know, we've heard some of your music and we'll be hearing more soon,
but I want our listeners to hear some of your writing, so I've...
Mr. KAPRANOS: OK.
GROSS: ...chosen a passage here that isn't exactly about food. It's more
about chewing the food and watching your band mates eat, so...
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah.
GROSS: Would you read that paragraph for us?
Mr. KAPRANOS: Sure. Sure. I should probably clar...
GROSS: And maybe introduce it for us...
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
GROSS: ...and tell us why you even thought about including this.
Mr. KAPRANOS: Sure. Well, when I decided to do this writing and it appealed
to me because I wouldn't be just writing about the food but about the people I
was eating with and the places that I was eating it with because when you're
on tour with the band, you feel like you're having this amazing experience.
You're traveling all across the world, and you're so busy caught up in it,
sometimes you don't record it. It's great to keep an archive of where you've
been and what you've been doing, some sort of record of what you've done, and
in a way, this writing about the food was an excuse for me to, I suppose, keep
a diary and keep a record of what had been happening and who I'd been in these
places with, and so I suppose this paragraph here I'm talking about the people
I see every day, the other guys I'm in the band with.
(reading) I eat with these guys every day. Their eating habits are as
familiar as the songs we play at night. Paul always covers his plate with a
napkin when he's had enough. It's as if he's laying a sheet over a half-eaten
corpse. Nick is oblivious to waiters. They stand at his elbow until somebody
nudges him to point them out. He then looks startled as if waking from a
coma, confused to find himself in a restaurant. Whenever Bob takes a drink,
he has to push his upper lip back from his teeth with the rim of the glass.
He shakes his fork between bites. Eating also involves triangles in some way
but I've never quite worked out how. Andy tends to stare at his plate, gray
with anxiety, worrying about how the foreign stuff will poison him this time.
Apparently, I chew too much and frown when I'm enjoying food."
GROSS: Why do you frown when you're enjoying food, do you think?
Mr. KAPRANOS: I don't know. I don't know. I was talking to the other guys
and I was telling them I was writing this paragraph. I was saying, `You know,
like Nick, you never know there's a waiter there. Bob, you do that funny
thing with the glass where you push your lip back.' And I said, `What do I do
when I eat food?' because, you know, if you have these funny habits, you're
usually not aware of them yourself, and so, yeah, apparently, I frown when I'm
enjoying my food. Maybe it's because I'm concentrating so hard on the flavor.
I don't know but it's just something that I do.
GROSS: It is amazing though when you eat with people a lot how you get to see
how they chew and how they hold their food.
Mr. KAPRANOS: It is. It is. And again, this is--when you're on tour with a
band, you're with these other guys every day of your life and you do get to
know them incredibly well, and I think, it's good advice like for anybody
who's getting a band together. Make sure you do it with people you get on
with because you're going to spend every waking minute with them--if your band
does well and you go on tour, then every minute of your life. So if you
practice together once a week at the moment and they annoy you then, then you
probably should forget about it now because when you go on the road, you're
going to want to kill each other.
GROSS: Well, how did Franz Ferdinand get together? This was in 2002 that you
actually formed, right?
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah. I guess it must have been. Well, Bob and I knew each
other and, like I said, we'd been working in the kitchen, and for about a year
or so we had, I suppose, an imaginary band. We would sit together from when
we were working in the kitchen until after that point. We'd talk about what
we would do if we had a band together. And we'd have this idealized vision of
what a band would be and things we'd do and we'd talk about things we'd do,
like, yeah, we'd meet the audience's eye when we stood on stage and we'd want
to play something that sounded like pop music but didn't sound like any kind
of pop music you'd heard before and the idea that pop music could be a really,
really good thing and if you were an indie band or an alternative band, you
could still play music that sounded like pop music.
And so we were thinking about getting something together, and we met Nick at a
party, and Nick is the other guy who plays guitar and sings in the band. And,
originally, we'd been looking for a drummer, and so we went to this party, and
parties in Glasgow, you tend to bring some alcohol with you and share it with
your friends and whatever, and I arrived there with Bob and Paul and a couple
of other people with a liter of vodka, which is traditional Glasgow party
drink and put it down and turned around and it had gone, and there was this
guy--then I noticed this guy on the other end of the room upending the bottle
of vodka, pouring it down his throat, and this guy was Nick, and I went over
to him, and we ended up having a bit of a fight in this party, and he--we were
about to start laying into each other when for some reason, I don't know why,
I said to him, `Do you play the drums?' and he said--well, he lied. He said
he did. He said he did play the drums, and I don't know. It was one of those
moments--it was a bit like kids, when they're on the playground when they're
about to have a fight and suddenly they become best friends. Yeah, and it was
like that with Nick. We got on really well, talked about music. Didn't throw
any punches. And met up the next day. I found out that he couldn't play
drums to save himself but he could play guitar and we could write songs
together and could write quite good songs together, and I suppose that was the
beginning of Franz Ferdinand.
GROSS: My guest is Alex Kapranos, the front man of the band Franz Ferdinand.
His new book about eating on the road is called "Sound Bites."
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Alex Kapranos, the lead singer of the band Franz
Ferdinand. In 2005 he started writing a column for The Guardian about what he
ate on the road. His food writing is collected in his new book, "Sound
Let's hear one of your songs, and this is from the second Franz Ferdinand
record and the album is called "You Could Have It So Much Better." And this is
called "Do You Want To?" Do you want to say anything about writing it or about
coming up with a hook for it?
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah. This song, it was written just at the end of 2004.
We'd just come off tour and we went to a party, and I came home from the party
a little bit, well, you know, a little bit drunk, and I was playing my guitar
and came up with the riff and the idea for the chords. Woke up the next
morning, or the next afternoon probably, and found these chords that I had,
and they sounded quite good, and I thought, `What am I going to sing about?'
And I just wrote down everything I could remember people shouting in my ear at
the party the night before. And you know how, if you're at a good party,
there's usually music playing and people do that thing where they come right
up to your ear, and they shout things in your ear to get over the noise of the
music. And when people do that, they seem to let their guard down a little
bit and it's probably something to do with the alcohol too. But they say
things that they wouldn't normally say, so I just wrote down all the kind of
silly things that people had been shouting in my ear the night before, and a
lot of them ended up as the lyrics of the song.
GROSS: Oh, great. Well, let's hear "Do You Want To?" and this is the band
(Soundbite from "Do You Want To?")
Mr. KAPRANOS: (Singing) "Oh, well, I woke up tonight and said I'm going to
make somebody love me. I'm going to make somebody love me. And now I know,
now I know, now I know, I know it's you. You're lucky, lucky, oh, so lucky.
Well, do you, do you do you want to? Well, do you, do you do you want to?
Want to go where I never let you before. Well, do you do you do you want to.
Well, do you do you do you want to. Want to go where I never let you before.
He's a friend and he's so proud of you. He's a friend and I knew him before
you. Well, he's a friend and we're so proud of you. You're famous friend,
well, I blew him before you."
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's Franz Ferdinand from their second album, "You Could Have It So
Much Better," and my guest is Alex Kapranos, who is the band's cofounder and
lead singer and cowrites most of his songs, and he also has a new book, and
the book is a collection of the food writing that he's done for The Guardian
about food he's eaten on the road with the band, and the book is called "Sound
Now, as our listeners heard from "Do You Want To?" and from "Take Me Out,"
which we opened with, your band has a lot of catchy hooks in the songs. Are
you really conscious of that? When you start to write a song, do you think
like, this needs a hook? Because you talked about really wanting the songs to
be pop, a different pop, and one of the things that kind of defines pop is
that there's a hook.
Mr. KAPRANOS: I love a good hook. I really, really like a hook, and I
suppose it comes through in a way a form of rebellion, like most people when
they get a band together. They're doing it, not so much because they're doing
what they love but they're reacting against what they hate as well, and I
suppose the background that we came in the band--we came from a certain
outrock background in Glasgow, and a lot of our contemporaries were coming
from a background where the idea of melody was anathema. It was the worst
thing you could possibly do to your music would be to play a melody. The
music had to be completely abstract, and I suppose we were reacting to our
contemporaries and saying, `No, the best thing you can do with music is have a
really direct melody that slices through your head like a knife to the brain.'
It's a beautiful thing and it's something that I adore. And for me, the best
kind of pop music is music that has come from the edges, it comes from the
outside. For me that would be bands like Roxy Music or the stuff that David
Bowie did, or in later years, a band like Nirvana where it sounds so raw, but
at the same time, it's pure pop music. You listen to the hook, "It Smells
Like Teen Spirit," it's the greatest pop hook there's been in the last 30
GROSS: We were talking about how your songs have a lot of hooks in them. Now
I'm wondering if those hooks ever keep you awake at night while you're writing
a song. You know, while you're writing a song, and you're going over lines
over and over again, and you're really kind of like getting deep into a song,
is it hard to turn off the hook when you're trying to sleep?
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah, definitely, and I think it's maybe not so much that you
can't turn off the hook. You can't turn off the excitement. You see, when
you get a good song together and you play it for the first time with a band
and it works for the first time, it's the most thrilling experience and it's
probably better than anything you can get actually on stage itself when it's
just the four of you in a practice room together and you've hit on something
and it sounds like nothing you've heard before, and it's exciting and the
blood courses through your veins when you play it. That excitement stays on
and, yeah, you don't sleep at night because you're thinking about it.
GROSS: Alex Kapranos is the lead singer in the band Franz Ferdinand. His
book about eating on the road is called "Sound Bites." He'll be back in the
second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR.
I'm Terry Gross, back with Alex Kapranos, lead singer of the Scottish band
Franz Ferdinand, a band known for its catchy hooks. He used to work in
restaurants before he made a living playing music. In 2005, he started
writing a column for The Guardian about what he ate when he was on the road.
His writing is collected in the new book, "Sound Bites."
You know, I read that you used to have as a ringtone on your phone part of the
organ solo from Del Shannon's "Runaway."
Mr. KAPRANOS: I do. I do.
GROSS: You still have that?
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah, I don't anymore. I've got a "Minuteman" on it at the
moment. But, yeah, I love that song. It's a great hook. And, in fact, that
song is full of great hooks. I love that thing. It's a wee instrument called
a clavioline, which is the first ever synthesizer. I think that's the first
song to ever have a--first pop song to ever have a synthesize solo in it. And
GROSS: Oh, I always thought it was like a Farfisa organ.
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah, it sounds like that, doesn't it? No, it's this funny
little thing called a clavioline. It was the first monophonic synthesizer.
You could only play one note at a time on it, and it's a great sound.
And also, I love the idea of having a song that's set up and it has, you know,
it's a great little pop song but it's saving the best bit for the middle of
the song, like it's a total surprise....
Mr. KAPRANOS: ...when that sound comes in. You can imagine what it was like
hearing that song for the first time and then hearing that little section.
Like, `What on earth is that? What is that sound? That's beautiful.' And I
still love when I hear pop music nowadays and you hear, `Wow, that's a sound
that I've not heard before.' And sometimes that can come from--I don't know,
like I was listening to the Joanna Newsom--her thing--that's the girl that
plays the harp. Somebody was playing that record the other day, and it's
like, `Wow, that's something I've never heard before.' And that gets you
excited. At the same time, Timberland Production, that does the same thing
for me, too. Like the Nelly Furtado single. I thought, `Woah, that's great.
You know, that sounds like nothing I've heard before.' And for me that's the
best form of music. That's music that's pop music and avant garde as well
because it's pushing you. It's pushing you to something that's new.
GROSS: And while we're talking about hooks, and on your song "The Dark of the
Mr. KAPRANOS: Hmm.
GROSS: Part of the guitar hook on that sounds like a line from "Hava Nagila."
Tell me if I'm crazy.
Mr. KAPRANOS: Somebody else said that to me as well. It wasn't a deliberate
thing, but, yeah, I suppose there is that kind of feel to it. And for me, I
GROSS: It sounds like a power chord version of "Hava Nagila."
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah. I know that a lot of those melodies--there's a few
melodies in Franz Ferdinand that maybe come from the music that I listened to
as a kid that my dad used to play me. And my father is Greek and used to play
me a lot of Greek music. There's a particular type of Greek music called
rembetika, which has a lot of Eastern moods in it. It's quite modal music,
which is something that "Hava Nagila" is, as well. And it's--a lot of those
melodies you tend not to find so much in Western pop music and rock music, and
when you do hear them, they really stand out. I suppose another example is
"Misirlou," the song that Dick Dale made famous...
Mr. KAPRANOS: ...in "Pulp Fiction." And that's an old Greek rembetika song,
as well. And, again, you hear it. It sounds strange almost alien, and
there's something a little bit exciting and other about it. It sounds great
when you juxtapose that kind of--those sort of melodies into the sound of rock
GROSS: Now we have to hear it. So this is "Dark of the Matinee," and it's
from the first Franz Ferdinand album.
(Soundbite from "Dark of the Matinee")
Mr. KAPRANOS: (Singing) "Take your white finger. Slide the nail under the
top and bottom buttons of my blazer. Relax the fraying wool, slacken ties,
and I'm not to look at you in the shoe, but the eyes, find the eyes. Find me
and follow me through corridors, refectories and files. You must follow,
leave this academic factory. You will find me in the matinee, the dark of the
matinee. It's better in the matinee. The dark of the matinee is mine. Yes,
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: That's the band Franz Ferdinand, and my guest is Alex Kapranos of the
band. He is cofounder, a lead singer and cowrites most of the songs.
In, I think, it was 2005, Esquire magazine in its, you know, Best Dressed Men
in the World issue named you number ninth best dressed man in the world. So
can you talk a little bit about the look that you wanted Franz Ferdinand to
have and that you, yourself, wanted to have on stage?
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah, that's a funny one, that Esquire thing, because in the
same issue, they also put me like 15th worst dressed man as well.
GROSS: Oh, I didn't know that.
Mr. KAPRANOS: Yeah, I know, there's a nice sense of balance around about
that. That's kind of cute. But as for the look, for me, I always liked the
idea of sort of like bands or groups or even gangs, which is what a band is
essentially. It's a gang of people who are sort of outside the bounds of
normal society like. And a gang that dresses sharper than the people around
about them--there's two ways of rebelling with the way that you look. And
that's to either dress up or to dress down. And dressing down never appealed
to me. It was always the sharper bands that I liked. It was always the,
yeah, like the two-tone movement or the mod movement or bands like Roxy Music
or guys like Bowie, or in later years, a band like Paul Paul. Somebody like
Morrissey, who there was a certain sharpness about them that set them apart
from the way that other characters looked. Yeah, I always liked that idea.
And also in cinema, too, you find figures like Albert Finney in "Saturday
Night and Sunday Morning," or even De Niro in "Mean Streets." There's a
sharpness which is way more dangerous than you can get from somebody who is
wearing a pair of ripped jeans.
GROSS: Now that you've been writing food columns for The Guardian, in
addition to writing music and lyrics for songs, do you feel like writing
lyrics and writing newspaper columns use really different writing muscles?
Mr. KAPRANOS: I suppose I write about--I write in a similar way when I do
both things. And the best part of the writing process isn't the writing
itself but the editing. And the thing I love about writing these columns is
the fact that they have to be 400 words every week. And it really
concentrates your prose when you write like that because when it's a song, I
usually write one or one and a half thousand words, and then try and break it
down. And it's a wonderful process to go through to take a sentence and make
it more concise and realize which words are unnecessary and phrase things
differently. And it makes--and that, for me, is the best kind of writing,
writing which is--communicates things. Communicates a complex situation
simply. I think that's what the best lyrics writing is, as well, is the
writing that is concise. I like the best poetry, the best prose, it's
concise. I hate flowery, excessive language. I like it to be pretty much to
GROSS: Do you do a lot of editing on your song lyrics?
Mr. KAPRANOS: I do. And one of the ways I often write lyrics is to write
prose beforehand. And so, you know, like a song like "Dark of the Matinee,"
we were listening to earlier, that was maybe about seven or eight sides of A4
paper. And I went through that looking for ideas. And so, yeah, that was
free prose. And then I'd go through that and take a few of the ideas that
work and rearrange them until you have something that fits with the music.
GROSS: Well, one difference between your column in The Guardian and your
lyrics is that the column doesn't have to rhyme.
Mr. KAPRANOS: Oh, well, yeah. Yeah. Sometimes rhyme can be the enemy of
pop lyrics as well. The most obvious rhymes are terrible. I think sometimes
it's good to write--or certainly to come up with lyric ideas away from the
music, or at the same time as the music, so you don't go with the most obvious
rhyme schemes. And it's awful when you're listening to a pop song and you can
almost hear what the next line is going to be in advance because the rhyme
scheme is so, so obvious. It's good to get away from that.
GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.
Mr. KAPRANOS: Thank you, Terry. Thank you.
GROSS: Alex Kapranos is the lead singer of Franz Ferdinand. His book about
eating on the road is called "Sound Bites."
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. KAPRANOS: (Singing) "Swapped my innocence for pride, crushed the end
within my stride, said I'm strong. Now I know that I'm a leaver. I love the
sound of you walking away, you walking away. Mascara bleeds a blackened tear,
oh, and I am cold, yes, I'm cold, but not as cold as you are."
(End of soundbite)
GROSS: Coming up, Ed Ward does a retrospective of the Irish punk band, The
Pogues. This is FRESH AIR.
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Review: Ed Ward describes the first five albums of The Pogues
reissued by Rhino
TERRY GROSS, host:
Not many countries saw their traditional music gain popularity and vitality in
the late 20th century, but Ireland did. Starting in the late '60s with the
Chieftains and continuing with more rock-oriented groups like Planxty and
Horslips, Irish music had a renaissance. Then came punk rock and with it The
Pogues, whose first five albums have just been reissued by Rhino. Ed Ward has
(Soundbite of Irish music)
Mr. ED WARD: The way the legend goes, Shane MacGowan, who had just been
kicked out of punk band The Nips, and his friend Spider Stacey, who played the
tin whistle, were playing for spare change on London buses when Shane started
playing a traditional Irish tune at twice its normal speed. Stacey picked up
the tune on his whistle and suddenly a great idea was born. Punk was in full
flower, it being 1982, and soon the duo was joined by some other
Irish-Londoners: Jem Finer on guitar, Cait O'Riordan on bass and Andrew
Ranken on drums. And the band started busking all over town.
They called themselves Pogue Mahone, which means something very rude in
Gaelic. Among their admirers were Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer, who got
the band, now just called The Pogues, added as openers to the 1984 Clash tour.
These are the sort of fans who get you noticed, and before long they had a
recording contract with Stiff and an album called "Red Roses for Me."
(Soundbite from "Greenland Whale Fisheries")
Mr. SHANE MacGOWAN: (Singing) "In eighteen hundred and forty-six, On March
the 18th day, we hoisted our colors to the top of the mast."
THE POGUES: (Singing) "And for Greenland sailed away, brave boys, and for
Greenland sailed away."
Mr. MacGOWAN: (Singing) "The lookout, in the crosstrees he stood, with
spyglass in his hand. There's a whale, there's a whale, and a whalefish he
THE POGUES: (Singing) "And she blows at every span, brave boys, and she blows
at every span."
Mr. MacGOWAN: (Singing) "The captain stood..."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. WARD: It was a shock to punk's orthodoxy, traditional music and Shane
MacGowan originals which sounded traditional, all the energy of the best punk
rock, and MacGowan was a charismatic singer. The band's success led to
another album, this one produced by Elvis Costello, who had gotten close to
bassist Cait O'Riordan, although he was still married. Entitled "Rum Sodomy
and the Lash," after an apocryphal quote by Winston Churchill describing life
in the British Navy. It's the album many consider The Pogues' masterpiece.
It features some of MacGowan's most enduring songs: "The Old Main Drag,"
about a young Irishman who comes to London and is reduced to selling himself
in Leicester Square, "The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn," a rousing parade of Irish
legends, heroes and archetypes, an epic reading of Eric Bogle's "The Band
Played Waltzing Matilda," a gorgeous version of Ewan MacColl's "Dirty Old
Town" and this unclassifiable masterpiece.
(Soundbite from "A Pair of Brown Eyes")
Mr. MacGOWAN: (Singing) "One summer evening drunk to hell, I stood there
nearly lifeless. An old man in the corner sang "Where the Water Lilies Grow."
And on the jukebox Johnny sang about a thing called love. And it's how are
you kid and what's your name and how would you bloody know? In blood and
death 'neath a screaming sky, I lay down on the ground. And the arms and legs
of other men were scattered all around. Some cursed, some prayed, some prayed
then cursed, then prayed and bled some more. And the only thing that I could
see was a pair of brown eyes that was looking at me. But when we got back,
labeled parts one to three, There was no pair of brown eyes waiting for me."
THE POGUES: (Singing) "And a rovin' a rovin' a rovin' I'll go"
Mr. MacGOWAN: (Singing) "For a pair of brown eyes"
(End of soundbite)
Mr. WARD: MacGowan proved himself a force to be reckoned with, but this cut
both ways. He was clearly a genius but he also had a history of mental
instability and prodigious drunkenness, and this would soon be a threat to the
group. The band, too, was changing. Cait O'Riordan left to marry Costello
and was replaced by Darryl Hunt. And they added Terry Woods, who excelled on
a number of string instruments. But Stiff Records went out of business and it
was three years before the new Pogues got to record again. This time their
producer was Steve Lillywhite, married to Ewan MacColl's daughter Kirsty. And
her Christmas-themed duet with Shane, "Fairytale of New York," rocketed up the
British charts and got loads of American radio play.
(Soundbite of "Fairytale of New York")
Mr. MacGOWAN: (Singing) "It was Christmas Eve, babe. In the drunk tank an
old man said to me, won't see another one. And then he sang a song The Rare
Old Mountain Dew. I turned my face away and dreamed about you. Got on a
lucky one, came in 18 to one. I've got a feeling this year's for me and you.
So happy Christmas. I love you, baby. I can see a better time when all our
dreams come true."
Ms. KIRSTY MacCOLL: (Singing) "They've got cars big as bars. They've got
rivers of gold, but the wind goes right through you it's no place for the old.
When you first took my hand on a cold Christmas Eve, you promised me Broadway
was waiting for me. You were handsome."
Mr. MacGOWAN: (Singing) "You were pretty, queen of New York City."
Mr. MacGOWAN and Ms. MacCOLL: (Singing) "When the band finished playing,
they howled out for more. Sinatra was swinging. All the drunks they were
singing. We kissed on a corner, then danced through the night."
THE POGUES: (Singing) "The boys of the NYPD choir were singing "Galway Bay."
And the bells were ringing out for Christmas Day."
(End of soundbite)
Mr. WARD: The album "If I Should Fall From Grace with God" also saw Phil
Chevron, another great instrumentalist, join. And now the band numbered
eight, some of whom were writing good songs themselves. As for Shane, he'd
started to go to raves and wanted the band to record a bizarre 30-minute thing
called "Get in Touch with Yourself." Instead, they wish he'd follow his own
advice. Somehow they managed to work around him, and two very uneven albums,
"Peace & Love" and "Hell's Dish" in 1989 and 1990 came out. The latter was
produced by Joe Strummer, who even joined the band for a while when Shane went
Finally, The Pogues fired MacGowan and went on without him, and he formed
Shane MacGowan and The Pogues. Neither band was even close to the original,
sad to say, but thanks to what they'd already accomplished, Irish folk music
would never be the same again.
GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. The Pogues' first five albums have been
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Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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