Million Dollar Hero (In A Five And Ten Cents Store)
October 18, 2013 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Philip Chevron - "singer, writer, composer, punk rocker, poet, Radiator, Pogue" - passed away from esophageal cancer on October 8th, far too young at only 56. He was most widely known as the Pogues’ rhythm guitarist, who penned "Thousands Are Sailing", a haunting ballad about Irish immigration to the USA that quickly became a live favourite (in later shows usually sung by Phil himself).

Perhaps lesser known is the fact that years before, in 1976, he was already making an impression on the music scene with the The Radiators From Space, one of Ireland’s first punk bands. Their debut single Television Screen was the first ever punk single to make the Top 20, and has been quoted as a "real inspiration" by fellow Irish rockers U2. Delayed by circumstances beyond their control, their second album Ghostown (with the classic Faithful Departed), though critically acclaimed, bombed commercially, and the band split up shortly afterwards.

In ‘87 - six years before homosexuality was decriminalised in Ireland - they reformed for one night only for an AIDS charity and released Under Clery’s Clock, a beautiful, sad song about a gay rendezvous in Dublin.

Philip was a frequent poster at the Medusa Fora, a Pogues fan forum. Beyond generously dispensing information, anecdotes and the occasional backstage pass with great wit, he was also happy to discuss pop culture, politics, and his great love, theatre. At the time of his death, he had contributed over 11000 postings.

In May 2013, Philip publicly announced that his head and neck cancer, which he thought he had beaten, had recurred, adding "This time’s it’s lethal". He spoke candidly about life, love and death in an interview with the Irish Daily Mail a month later. In August, his friends, peers and former bandmates organized the Philip Chevron Testimonial Concert, hosted by actor Aidan Gillen, to celebrate his life and work. Philip himself briefly took to the stage to thank the gathered musicians, writers and fans. It would be his last public appearance. The whole three and a half hours can be listened to online at the RTÉ website.
posted by Skybly (19 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

God, such a good song.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 11:21 AM on October 18, 2013

Count the days
Slowly passing by
Step on a plane
And fly away
I'll see you then
As the dawnbirds sing
On a cold and misty morning
By the Albert Bridge.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:22 AM on October 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I love about Canada is that his passing made the CBC radio program, As It Happens. It's aired nationally and not only they did talk about his passing, they played "Lorelai" as a tribute. I cannot imagine such a thing happening in any fashion back home.
posted by Kitteh at 11:26 AM on October 18, 2013

What a great loss, and what a fine post. Thank you for linking to 'Under Clery's Clock', something I'd never heard.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:30 AM on October 18, 2013

I used to watch that Faithful Departed video over and over the first time I got high-speed internet. I think something about the swagger and the snarl of it imprinted on me as something very important to understand.

A maybe appropriate anecdote from earlier this month:
Amid the many deserved accolades for the late Phil Chevron this week, I couldn’t but recall that he was also the only singer I have ever seen booed off an Irish stage. It happened in Dublin’s National Stadium in the early 1980s. And it was all the more shocking because it was one of the first concerts I ever attended in the city.


His difficulties began, I suppose, because it wasn’t his show: he was only the support act.

But there was also a dramatic mismatch between him and the main performers, Moving Hearts: then in their earliest incarnation, complete with charismatic front man (Christy Moore), fiery politics (republican), and all the multi-instrumental virtuosity they would retain in later years when they dropped songs and singers from their repertoire.

They were a big act, in every sense. Whereas Chevron was performing solo, on vocals and piano. Also, rather than his old Radiators material, or his later classics like Faithful Departed (a Moving Hearts standard), he confined himself to singing songs from a 1929 German musical, Happy End, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill.

And the audience hated it. Perhaps the first one or two numbers were endured in respectful silence. Then came the advance warnings of impatience: a whistle here, a heckle there. After that, the floodgates of vitriol opened.

When I say he was “booed off”, I don’t mean he left early. On the contrary, he endured the catcalls manfully and, so far as I know, delivered his full set. I think I was more traumatised than he was, because it’s a scary experience seeing a performer eviscerated, even verbally. It’s just a little too live for comfort.

Yet it didn’t seem to take anything out of Chevron, who filled the allotted time, and then doffed his hat in a stylishly theatrical bow before sauntering off.

There was no question of an encore – although I’ve been at less entertaining concerts since where at least some of the audience have obligingly demanded the encore they knew was planned anyway, and then betrayed their boredom only by not calling on the performer to return a second time.

But even so, the singer had the last word. Not in person – his relationship with the audience precluded any witty repartee. Instead it was a comment made backstage to the aforementioned Moore, who relayed it when he came on later. Chevron wasn’t feeling too bad about the show, Christy informed us, because “he says the songs got the same reaction when they were first performed, in pre-war Germany”. Ouch.
posted by rollick at 11:33 AM on October 18, 2013 [10 favorites]

posted by stet at 11:38 AM on October 18, 2013


Last year I was throwing out some old books when I came across the setlist of a Radiators gig I'd attended in 1981, used as a bookmark . Fantastic night. And everyone should hear the mighty Ghostown album.
posted by El Brendano at 12:36 PM on October 18, 2013

Lovely post -- thanks. Shane's the poetic heart of the Pogues, but I always felt that Phil was something like the band's backbone.

posted by scody at 1:16 PM on October 18, 2013

"Thousands are Sailing" has been my favorite Pogues song for years. I got to see them perform in 1989 when they were touring with The Violent Femmes and Mojo Nixon. MacGowan spent most of the gig sitting in front of the drum set looking ill. The rest of the band more than made up for his disconnect. They were outstanding and Chevron, though not necessarily central to the band in a visible sense, felt like the band's backbone. What a great loss to music.
posted by Joey Michaels at 1:19 PM on October 18, 2013

friend of my youth
posted by KokuRyu at 1:20 PM on October 18, 2013

I was at the Testimonial at the Olympia in Dublin. Phil himself decided what everyone should play, sending out his requests to everyone involved by e-mail since he could no longer speak. It was such a shock to see him on stage that night, still dapper, but nearly gone. Strangely, it was the writers performing on the night who brought it home for me, more so than the musicians. Roddy Doyle, Pat McCabe and Joseph O'Connor in particular were great.
posted by prolific at 1:27 PM on October 18, 2013

I got to see them perform in 1989 when they were touring with The Violent Femmes and Mojo Nixon

I saw that tour, too! (With Phranc on the bill as well. Great show!)
posted by scody at 1:42 PM on October 18, 2013

From an earlier interview when he was first treated for cancer (especially poignant due to present circumstances here in the US, emphasis mine):
Your struggle with the disease [throat cancer] took place over two years, right?

Yeah, pretty much. It takes almost that long just to get the fucking chemotherapy out of your system, which is the big problem everybody has who gets treated for cancer - it's not so much the cancer that wrecks you, it's the treatment that wrecks you. And if you don't have the treatment, you're leaving yourself wide open for even worse. But it does take a long, long time to get it out of your system, and I got pretty heavy doses of it and simultaneous radiation as well.

Were you covered by the Irish health care system?

My main home is in Britain, so I'm covered by the NHS. That much-reviled NHS that the American right are pointing to as a faulty mechanism for health care [laughs], without which, I wouldn't be talking to you.

You support the NHS, then?

Well, absolutely. They saved my life twice, why wouldn't I? I basically believe in the principle that societies deserve to do what it takes to make sure they're the healthiest they can be, if only because healthy societies are also productive ones. It's very disconcerting to see that so many people in America have financial issues and bankruptcy issues and just let their health deteriorate because they can't afford health insurance. It's just a no-brainer to me. The British basically gave themselves health insurance as a gift for helping to win the Second World War, and it was just the greatest social gesture of the 20th century, really. And every society that's emulated it since has found it works.

Don't get me wrong -- it's faulty. It will always be faulty, because as long as you've got an aging population who are getting sicker later and living longer and so on, it's going to be economically problematic to keep people covered health wise. But nevertheless, to me it's one of those irrefutable principles that, you know, there aren't any two ways about it. You have to keep your society well and you have to work as best as you can toward keeping them well even if it does create burdens of taxation or whatever. Because it can't be healthy to live in a society when there's that degree of uncertainty about health. But, anyway, I didn't mean to talk about the national debate [laughs].
posted by readery at 1:52 PM on October 18, 2013 [6 favorites]

posted by runincircles at 2:07 PM on October 18, 2013


posted by jammy at 3:29 PM on October 18, 2013

posted by chaosys at 4:19 PM on October 18, 2013

posted by brennen at 8:57 PM on October 18, 2013

posted by bryon at 11:35 PM on October 18, 2013

And we dance.

posted by Graygorey at 12:41 AM on October 19, 2013

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