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The Popes - New Church

The Popes are a band that aren’t very widely-known, but this doesn’t mean that that aren’t very good. In fact, their latest album ‘New Church’ deserves all the exposure it can get and its moments of greatness shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s an album that easily transports you into a cosy pub in Dublin, showcasing a sound that encompasses the fun spirit of Ireland.

Formed back in 1994 by Shane MacGowan after leaving The PoguesThe Popes have gone from strength to strength, developing a unique modern folk-rock sound that evolves with every record. Since Shane‘s departure, Paul ‘Mad Dog’ McGuiness has taken up the lead vocalist role for their last three albums, including their wonderful new effort – their best record yet.

‘New Church’ is an album that takes a distinct vintage folk sound and twists it into a modern-sounding style of music. Opener ‘Storming Heaven’ is one of the heavier-sounding tracks on the record, opening the album with a bang with its distinct 80s punk thrash, with vocals that can be easily compared to that of The Misfits. But don’t be fooled by this bold opening, The Popes can do laid-back too. It’s a record that has almost theatrical moments, with the desperately spoken poetry intro of ‘Throw Down Your Aces’, a track that sets the album’s slightly bluesy-vibe whilst incorporating a modern electric-rock sound with gentle crashing percussion in the background. It’s an impressive mixture of sounds that somehow still maintains their signature folk undertones.

Songs such as ‘In A Broken Dream’ and ‘Hanging Up My Guns’ show that The Popescan also produce melancholy songs with heartfelt lyrics. ‘In A Broken Dream’ brings their vintage sound back to the present day with a slightly eerie intro filled with distorted guitars, which set a gloomy scene for the rest of the track.

Full of ska-like horns, ‘Back In The Day’ will get you feeling upbeat and in the mood to party, along with the bubbly Alice, which explores the fun of youth.

Whilst musicaly it seems like an album that has everything anyone looking for something a little different to listen to would want, Mad Dog‘s vocals are not perfect. However, given the nature of the sound they’re seeking, this doesn’t matter in the slightest. After a few listens, you would no doubt grow to love his gruff voice which complements the raw tone of ‘New Church’ so well.

If you’re looking for a band that offers a sound that’s a bit more exciting than the predictabilities of modern mainstream music, The Popes are well worth a listen. Whether you’re into your folk-punk or not, ‘New Church’ is bound to get your foot tapping on at least one occasion. Review <<<<


The Popes - New Church

Once the band behind Shane McGowan, The Popes were/are a mighty fine beat combo in their own right, managing to combine some fine rock 'n' roll with a slight tinge of Celtic and folk without it sounding cheesy.

'New Church' begins with 'Storming Heaven' and a fine slab of growling guitars and four to the floor it is too. There are parts of this record that remind me of other bands, especially the title track which has more than a hint of Echo and the Bunnymen, especially in the vocal melody. You do notice that the band have a good grasp of songwriting and also how to record a great sounding album.

You get fourteen tracks for your money and a few surprise special guests, like Howard Marks and his spoken words on the epic 'Throw Down Your Aces' which builds into a Tom Waite, late night waltz through downtown with some neat guitar playing. Also Jo O'Meara turns up on an interesting romp through the classic 'In A Broken Dream' as it gets rocked up.

There is plenty of variety going on throughout the album with the excellent 'Queen Of Manhattan' being very different with its laid back pluck and slap bass with gang vocals, to the more traditional straightahead punk of 'Storming Heaven'.

As the album plays on the variety expands and the uplifting 'Love Shines' makes way for the more acoustic 'Hanging Up My Guns'. 'Alice (Reprise)' is a lament stripped bare. On the penultimate track, 'What's Done Is Done', we're back to the loud guitars and throbbing bass and I'd suggest the Popes have concentrated on writing songs and have thrown the kitchen sink into 'New Church' with plenty of variety going on, which only leaves the breezy horns on 'Back in The Day' to close this album out.

I loved the stuff they did with Mr McGowan but, to give them credit, they were always about more than just a backing band.

A very enjoyable album indeed and there's always room in your collection for the eclectic Popes.


Outlaw Heaven

"Shane MacGowan initially started the Popes in 1994 when The Pogues could no longer tolerate his erratic behaviour caused by his recreational pursuits, but MacGowans work ethic was never particularily focused, and though he appears on three particular tracks here (strictly in the background), the promotion of Paul McGuinness to frontman, suggests they do not need him. McGuinness is a man with Demons of his own (Drink, Drugs, Prison) and his voice, like Tom Waits in a paricularily bad mood, is compelling: the opening 'Black is the Colour' is a vigourously ominous Sea Shanty, while much else rouses like only the very best of Irish Folk can..." Nick Duerden - Q Review.



‘…Bands who try to sell you their “outlaw” credentials usually turn out to be trust-fund poseurs, but Popes mainman Paul McGuinness drew on his four-month spell in Pentonville prison to write a batch of songs dripping with rage and exploding with the need to be heard. It’s a chaotic, red-blooded mix of punk, rockabilly, Celtic and country, surging to ferocious peaks in Let The Bells Ring Out or the tormented Crucified, or laying back to haunting effect in Angels Are Coming or Outlaw Heaven itself…’ Adam Sweetings - Uncut.

THE GUARDIAN- Our music team pick the songs or albums, old or new, they just can't turn off;
Angels Are Coming

They are best known as Shane MacGowan's other band (now fronted by the equally gravel-voiced Paul "Mad Dog" McGuinness), and this strings-led cut from The Popes' excellent Outlaw Heaven album is what The Waterboys would have sounded like had Mike Scott sipped from the streams of whiskey. A true rough diamond.  Dave Simpson - The Guardian 


"You’d imagine that surely Shane MacGowan’s brains have melted by now - but no! Stick the mad bastard in The Popes and watch the fireworks start flying again. McGowan is ready to meet his maker on ‘Outlaw Heaven’, a lusty barnstormer that toasts the great dead rebel-poets. Elsewhere, he lustily advises us “Don’t let the bastards grind you down!” on ‘Bastards’. When Shane’s not about, the LP is guided by the cozy and wise burr of Paul McGuinness. This isn’t just an Irish party album with fire in its belly, it’s also the most warm, celebratory and downright mortal LP you’re likely to hear in 2009. 8/10".... Rick Rawlins - Clash Magazine.

 Shane's old charges send love from HMP Pentonville

The Popes, the band Shane MacGowan assembled in the early '90s after walking The Pogues' plank, would always suffer by comparison to their near-namesakes and fellow ex-pats, but comparisons are misguided. Now led by Paul 'Mad Dog' McGuinness and with a lineup bearing little resemblance to its original incarnation, theirs isn't a potty-mouthed take on Irish traditionalism - Outlaw Heaven is a rough, tough rock record. Occasionally the meaty sound offers up a little gristle - McGuinness's strident voice isn't the best vehicle for nuance and his lyrics don't quite offer the romance and poetry of MacGowan's pen - but there's no lack of fire and conviction here. After all, these are songs the chief Pope wrote while doing a stretch in HMP Pentonville ("the mother of all creativity", McGuinness notes of his alma matter). Other plusses include the reappearance of MacGowan on three numbers and the title track, which carries the distinction of being the first song to name-check all of these names and more - Bobby Sands, Robert Johnson, James Joyce, John Dillinger, and "Lord Fucking Nelson".   NIGE TASSELL  THE WORD


Elaine Sheridan ( from 'The Irish Post' ) talks to The Popes' Paul McGuiness on how a spell behind bars inspired him to clean up his act and led to new album, Outlaw Heaven....

The Popes are back with a brand new album and music maestro Shane MacGowan features on three of the tracks.

The long-awaited and highly-anticipated Outlaw Heaven features some of their most exciting and credible tracks to date with a real hint of rough and raw emotion.  Also on the guest list is Shane's fellow Pogue, Spider Stacey, who adds his own twist to the title track Outlaw Heaven.

This stonking new offering was inspired by the time lead singer Paul 'Mad Dog' McGuiness spent recently on remand in Pentonville prison for perverting the course of justice.  Also battling with drink and drugs Paul says his experience on the inside not only made him a better person but helped him to explore and expand his lyrical talents.

The 50-something-year-old said: "i hated being stuck in a cockroach, mice-infested 8x6ft cell for 23 hours a day, but once I got over the bad food and cramped conditions I began to realise it was the best thing to happen to me in a long time.

"I imagined I was in a luxury hotel getting the rest, detox and seclusion I needed to sort my life out.  I also met some of the kindest, straightest, upfront people ever, and that was only the murderers!

"Prison is however the mother of creativity and before you could say Outlaw Heaven I was off writing and singing songs to my cellmate.  I didn't have a guitar so I wrote the lyrics down on three pieces of paper I was allowed every fortnight, the music I composed in my head.  If I was able to get to church on Sunday I was able to borrow the priest's guitar.  Thank God for the folk Mass - I never thought i'd say that!"

After the London Irishman was released from prison and following the sad death of banjo god Tommy McManaman at the end of 2006, he reformed The Popes with a new and exciting line-up in the shape of drummer Will Morrison, guitarist and producer Charlie Hoskyns, Laurie Norwood on bass, Fiachra Shanks on banjo and Ben Gunnery on fiddle.  The end result is this fine offering from a bunch of tenacious and talented artists.

Paul says: " There is an Irishness about the songs on this new album as opposed to it being Irish music.  The feel is more Thin Lizzy-Van Morrison than it is Shane MacGowan or The Pogues.

"When we began this project I took a bunch of half-written songs to Will and Charlie and it came together slowly but surely."

Reflecting on the chain of events that led to the eventual release of this long awaited album, Paul added:"It's been three years since I walked down the Caledonian Road with a plastic bag full of Her Majesty's notepaper containing the ideas and half-written songs for Outlaw Heavn and with some amazing help and support along the way I've got a band to die for, music I care for and an album hopefully people will pay for."


Outlaw Heaven ***
Those waiting the annual Pogues live outings to produce a new album may be in for a long one. Meanwhile, tin whistling co-vocalist Spider Stacy and his ole pal, the indestructible Shane MacGowan, assist Paul McGuinness' crew on an album which is a rowdy blend of crude metal and broken-bottle folk rock.
Gavin Martin The Daily Mirror   May 8th 2009 

Is it really nine years since Holloway Boulevard? Apparently so and the intervening years have seen the death of Tommy McManamon, and Paul (Mad Dog) McGuinness spending a few months as guest of Her Majesty. Emerging from those experiences, Outlaw Heaven is big and loud but not in a last-one-in-the-bar's-a-wuss style. You might hesitate to call it thoughtful but it's close. The opening track is 'Black Is The Colour' and you can forget Donovan and folky girls with long blonde hair; this is a McGuinness original and it starts with the biggest crashing chords you'll hear this side of Metallica just so you're in no doubt. that's followed by 'Let The Bells Ring Out' and 'Angels Are Coming', two songs with the anthemic qualities of great rock music. Fiachra Shanks and Ben Gunnery provide banjo, mandolin and fiddle to contrast with the wild electric guitars of McGuinness and Charlie Hoskyns. Old mates Shane MacGowan and Spider Stacy guest on the title track and Shane appears on three more numbers, taking the lead on the closing 'Loneliness Of A Long Distance Drinker'. There's pain and hope on this album and some fine music.
Dai Jeffries - Rock n Reel magazine.

Top of the Popes

London-Irish Celtic noise fiends The Popes are back with a new album (released March 11th) and a European tour – and it's about time. By Shelley Marsden - 28/04/09

The ferocious Outlaw Heaven, which features ex-member Shane MacGowan on three tracks, is a storming showcase of their exciting new material – and the music may be Irish, but it’s decidedly more Thin Lizzy than The Dubliners! Shane MacGowan formed The Popes to record his album 'The Snake' in 1994 after leaving The Pogues, with McGuinness in the original line-up.

Two hit singles, 'Are You Looking At Me' and ' Holloway Boulevard' led to the band’s singing to Snapper Records, and an acclaimed debut album ' Holloway Boulevard' (which was accompanied by an impressive six venue musical pub crawl along the Holloway Road). The Popes recorded another live album in New York, Across the Broad Atlantic, before McGuinness sat down to write songs for the new album. And as he explains, it wasn’t all plain-sailing…


Can you describe your sound in one sentence?

Er, if I could do that, I’d give up music and become a journalist! It’s rock music with lots of Celtic influence weaving through it. From Van ‘The Man’, Thin Lizzy, and even touches of The Pogues.

It’s been a while since you released anything. Why?

I needed to do some serious attitude adjustment and it took a considerable time. The last album we put out was ‘Release The Beast’, and since that time a lot of stuff has happened. Tom McManamon, one of the founder members sadly passed away, I took a few years out to kick a heroin habit amongst other things. I knew I wanted to do something new and fresh and it took a while to meet the right people who I could collaborate with. To find people who had the right personalities to fuel the chemistry took some time. If I’d known it would have taken so long I’m not sure I would have started the project, but now I’m glad I did.

For the full interview, buy this week's Irish World at your local newsagents, or pick up a copy HERE for only 50p!

The Popes play The Borderline, Manette St, London, Tel: 020 7734 2095 on May 14th. Tickets available from The new album 'Outlaw Heaven' is out May 11th. Check out

Blokey from chokey cooks up storm

Paul McGuinness drew on his four month spell in Pentonville prison top write a batch of songs dripping with rage and exploding with the need to be heard. It's a chaotic, red-blooded mix of punk, rockabilly, Celtic and country, surging to ferocious peaks in 'Let The Bells Ring Out' or the tormented 'Crucified', or 'Outlaw Heaven' (the latter featuring Shane MacGowan). MacGowan also excels in 'Bastards', but with then succumbs to his own myth in 'Loneliness Of A Long Distance Drinker'.   ADAM SWEETING - UNCUT Magazine

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