The determination to carry on, regardless, is what got me through. It's quite a trip, f—king hell."
Philip Chevron isn't talking about sticking it out with the Pogues, the venerable Irish/English rock band and inveterate boozers with whom he's played guitar since 1985. He's describing a different sort of bodily gauntlet: chemotherapy, which he underwent in 2006 after being diagnosed with advanced throat cancer.
"It was a pretty ropy two years," he says. "All sorts of things happen to your body that have never happened before, including, in my case, going deaf for three months. ... My lifestyle was removed from me when I went deaf. Not just the part of it that accounts for me being the guitarist for the Pogues. It was an enormous relief when that turned out to be just a side effect of the chemotherapy. I'm already deaf in one ear anyway, since birth. For all intents and purposes, I was totally deaf."
His performance abilities hampered, Chevron used the recovery period to put the finishing touches on a remastered box set of the Pogues' back catalog, a seven-album oeuvre forever festooned by two pub-chorale classics: 1985's unhinged Rum Sodomy & the Lash (produced by Elvis Costello) and the more refined 1988 follow-up If I Should Fall From Grace With God.
"I was using a laptop with really heavy-duty headphones turned up full, and I was still just hearing the faintest amount of music," Chevron says. "It was one of those moments in life where you think, 'F—k this, I'm not going to let this near deafness stop me from doing this box set!' I think ultimately, that's what gets you through shit like cancer: just a determination that it's not going to slow you down."
The sharp-witted and equally sharp-tongued Dubliner knows something about perseverance — and patience. Two stints as bandmates and three decades as best mates with Shane MacGowan, the Pogues' famously capricious frontman, are akin to getting doctorates in both. The pair first crossed paths in the fertile late-1970s British punk scene, each leading startup outfits (Chevron's: Radiators From Space; MacGowan's: Nipple Erectors) and working across town at rival record shops.
"Mine was Rock On; his was Rocks Off," Chevron says. "They were both in London, and they were both run by Irish people. ... I was more inclined to see Shane in pubs over the years than in record shops. He would come up to Camden Town, where I worked, and we'd go and have a few pints. In fact, one of our drinking sessions there was when the song 'Boys From the County Hell' was born."
The song, a slurred stomp-along from 1984 debut Red Roses for Me, culminates in a cheery chorus: "And it's lend me 10 pounds, I'll buy you a drink/ And Mother wake me early in the morning."
True story, says Chevron, laughing: "Shane had a habit of borrowing money off people by saying, 'Do you want a drink?' You'd say, yeah. 'Got any money, then?' ... That's the Shane we know and love: generous to a fault. 'I'll buy you a drink with my last pound. The only thing is, you need to give me that last pound first.'"
Even Chevron's recounting of the band's roughest time — the day, in a Japan hotel in 1991, when the rest of the Pogues sat down with an increasingly erratic MacGowan to tell him he was out — is accompanied by a chuckle. "After the meeting, we all went out and had dinner together," he says. "That's the thing: Although Shane got a lot of valuable mileage out of the whole thing — 'The f—kers sacked me! Those bastards, they sacked me' — it wasn't true, and he knew it wasn't. So there were never any wounds to heal when we got back together. All we did was, we recognized it had been a few years since we'd seen each other, expressed how wonderful it was to see each other again, and got on with the job."
The band continued for five years without its founder, even employing the Clash's Joe Strummer as vocalist for a time. The members went their separate ways in 1996, working on solo projects for another five years before reuniting for a Christmas circuit in 2001; they've been together, and relatively drama-free, ever since. ("There are occasional mishaps, but not very often," Chevron says. "Maybe three or four in the last six or seven years.")
That year, with the Pogues back on tour and MacGowan on the mic, A Drink With Shane MacGowan, a memoir co-authored with journalist girlfriend Victoria Mary Clarke, appeared in bookstores. As expected, Chevron took the tome in stride.
"I think Shane used the book to settle a few old scores," he says. "Something about the consequences of that never quite registered with him, and it suddenly dawned on him: 'Oh, shit. This might actually upset some people.' At which point he said, 'It can't come out!' And Victoria said, 'But darling, it's on the bookshelves already. It's in the shops. You can't stop it coming out — it's out!' I think there must have been, at some point in the proceedings, a comparable incident where he kind of got cold feet, because he did add that final page to it where he basically says, 'Nothing personal, f—k you all if you take it personally anyway. You should know me better than that by now.' Which indeed is true. We do."
2:15 p.m. Sunday