LISTEN TO THE INTERVIEW HERE
"If it's heaven for climate, it's hell for company."
James Matthew Barrie (1860 - 1937) Scottish "dramatist, novelist"
Celt In A Twist: The Popes aren’t saints, at least not the Irish rocking variety, but if they had anything to say about it some of the world’s most dear dearly departed rebels would be. The band’s new and praise worthy release, Outlaw Heaven sets its gaze upward and down, revealing the eternal struggle in the universe between good and evil, angels and demons … epic fodder for a pub band. Even his holiness, Shane McGowan pops in to sing a few, but the album’s vision and songwriting comes from Pope outlaw, Paul 'Mad Dog' McGuinness. We caught up with Paul where else … in the pub.
Mad Dog: This is Mad Dog from The Popes. Give a listen to our new album Outlaw Heaven. Thank you very much.
Celt In A Twist: You travel half way around the world from the pubs of home and here you are, back in a pub. Do you ever get tired of them?
MD: I never get tired of pubs. I was brought up in pubs. Yah, it's like home from home.
CIAT: Congratulations on the disc. Your publicist, Melanie is a true saint. She knew about this gig maybe two weeks ago and within a week of her contacting me, I received my copy of Outlaw Heaven courtesy Her Majesty’s Royal Mail. I’m so glad to have the disc in my hands. I know you probably sell a lot of downloads but there’s something substantive about having the actual article don’t you think?
MD: Yah and also with the CD there's the inner sleeve. I'm from that era where I always used to enjoy sitting down and thumbing through the sleeve and seeing all the details of what's going on. So, yah, I think we're missing that now. It was even better when they had albums out on vinyl because you could roll a joint on it.
CIAT: What can you tell us about Brian Whelan? His artwork on this package is amazing.
MD: Brian is a fantastic guy, a lovely man. He is a London Irish artist and when I first saw his work I had just spent some time at Her Majesty's pleasure at a place called Pentonville in London. When I got out he introduced himself. He had been a fan of The Popes and Shane McGowan, whom I had played with for about 15 years and founded the band with. When I saw Brian's artwork it immediately connected; the whole London Irish experience. It's all in there in his art.
CIAT: Many of the tracks on this disc are near orchestral, was the vision for the production always so ginormous?
MD: No, not at all actually. A lot of that had to do with Charlie Hoskyns, our guitarist. The songs were recorded at his house. The songs were all written on acoustic guitar in a kind of folk mode. As it developed, Charlie, I call him the purveyor of The Popes' taste, developed the arrangements. But, the album was built mainly around acoustic guitar and we built it up slowly.
CIAT: How long did that take?
MD: Well it took 3 years, maybe a bit longer to get to this stage. Not only because I always knew when I was writing this album that we would have to come out and promote it on the road. That's the kind of band we are. It's not going to go straight into the top radio stations. We're going to have to go out and take it slowly. So, not only was I trying to get the right musicians to play on the album, but it had to be guys I could handle being on the road with, because I knew it was going to be a long trek. So to get the album to this stage took about 3 years.
CIAT: You got your Celt In A Twist and we’ve got a few minutes with Paul McGuinness from The Popes to find out more about Outlaw Heaven. You owe yourself a visit to their website if only to check out the artwork that goes with the album, I guarantee you’ll stay for a listen. That’s thepopesofficialsite.com. I love the list of dearly departed who have gone to Outlaw Heaven because it’s not in alphabetical order. I get the sense this is the order in which the names came to mind with Johnny Cash as the starting point. Is that a fair assessment?
MD: That's pretty cool, yah. I think that's right. Johnny Cash had just died when I was finishing the song. When I started writing it, I was in prison at the time and hanging out with all the guys in there and I was quite amazed by how many nice people I was getting to meet and that was just the murderers! As things went on I began to develop the idea, you know, of death being an eternity and if it is an eternity, who would you want to hang out with. Some f the nights I spent in the pubs with Shane ... those felt like an eternity! And, we came up with this idea that maybe we'd have Robert Johnson serving behind the bar; people like that ... Bobby Sands, Brendan Behan, all your favorite people around you. That's what the idea finally came out as: Outlaw Heaven, a fantastic bar with all your favorite outlaws ... maybe Lucky Luciano, Al Capone, Bonny and Clyde.
CIAT: The only one I'm curious about is Sid Vicious because he was really never very good at anything was he?
MD: Some people would disagree (laughs). I'd be careful saying that around some people, yah. He was a good fuck up.
CIAT: I’d like to share one of my early favorites from the album with our listeners. Can you set up the tune, Let The Bells Ring Out?
MD: Sure, it's great getting to play that every night because the lyrics mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. When I was writing it I was thinking of the north of Ireland and a united 32 county Ireland. Not from the point of a gun. Now, people are sitting down and instead of the gun they're doing it with the tongue. It was a bit of a celebration of that. It's an inevitable thing that someday Ireland will have 32 counties and I think that people like Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness are achieving it in a fantastic way. So, that's what I was thinking about when I wrote it. But, as I say, it means a lot of different things to different people.
Paul ‘Mad Dog’ McGuinness was interviewed by Cal Koat on October 3/09 for broadcast on Celt In A Twist.