It was a mild, dry night in Brixton, not the "rainy night in Soho" as the song title would suggest. Still London is London, Christmas was just around the corner and the Pogues were back with their so-called "definitive" lineout to play a series of sell-out "home town" gigs. And the busker at the tube station was playing Fairytale of New York on the saxophone - a forestaste of what was to come - or at least I hoped so. As I neared the Brixton Academy the ticket touts and t-shirt sellers were out in force. The latter even seemed to be doing a brisk trade despite the time of year.
Support band the Dropkick Murphys got the audience sufficiently warmed up with their highly energetic blend of hard rock and traditional folk.
Their own heavy speeded-up versions of old classics like Wild Rover and the Fields of Athenrye went down a treat, serving to whet the appetites of the punters for what was yet to come.
Shortly after 9 pm the Pogues came on stage to rapturous applause. The inimitable Shane MacGowan followed his band members and made his way centre-stage in sunglasses and the omnipresent cigarette protruding from his lips. He soon lost the shades, but the weed remained firmly within his grasp, throughout the show with the toothless wonder taking advantage of any instrumental passages to sneak a quick drag or two. Streams of Whisky, McGowan's tribute to his hero Brendan Behan made for a lively opening song. The band then faithfully ploughed their way through the back catalogue of old favourites in a flurry of tin whistle, accordion and banjo for the next two hours or so. They even did a couple of tracks from the post-MacGowan era as if to give the frontman a much needed break from growling and spitting out lyrics to familar tunes. His voice largely ruined from years of alcohol and tobacco abuse and the small matter of a few missing teeth certainly ain't what it used to be - not that he ever had the voice of an angel to start with - but the magic touch was still there. With hardly a song the audience couldn't join in with little did it matter anyway.
Plastic pint glasses from the overpriced bar constantly flew over the heads of the punters as if to complement the abundance of plastic paddies in the largely youthful audience, many of whom were still in nappies during the Pogues' heyday in the late '80s and early '90s. The party atmosphere was not unlike that a of a pub in Kilburn or Holloway Road on a Saturday night. Despite the band's Irish credentials there was no doubting that London was their home town, the place where they cut their teeth playing in smoky bars and on street corners, the town they love so well, the place they play best in. And the audience seemed to know it. One only had to listen to the songs Lullaby of London, White City, The Old Main Drag ("When I first came to London I was only 16...") and the aforementioned Rainy Night in Soho.
Towards the end of the show it was finally time for the moment everyone had been waiting for - the obligatory rendition of that Christmas song. The young woman filling in for the late lamented Kirsty McColl did a splendid job, her dulcet tones contrasting with MacGowan's growling rasp. The duetting pair even performed a dance together on the stage, managing to fall to the floor in the process much to the mirth of the assembed throng. To add to the festive theme bucketloads of fake snow gushed forth from the ceiling.
Other notable crowd favourites to get the congregation wildly jumping around included Sally McLennane, The Irish Rover(not quite as good without the Dubliners though), The Sickbed of Cuchulainn, Thousands are sailing (with Phil Chevron taking to the mike for his own composition) and at the very end the lively Spanish inspired quasi-sea shanty Fiesta with the guest quartet of two trumpeters and two saxophonists in fine form. I was disappointed they didn't play A Pair of Brown Eyes, one of my personal favourites, but maybe next time...
A good night was undoubtedly had by all and as the crowd melted into the Brixton night the singing continued on the tube journey home. For quite some time.