The Bob Dylan Center Pays Tribute to a Different Trailblazing Folk Legend

'The Pogues' homage is the first non-Dylan-related exhibition to be hosted at the Center.

The Pogues sitting by the Berlin Wall. Photo: Andy Catlin.

The Pogues’s “A Pair of Brown Eyes is a deceptive waltz. Its buoyant refrain, “a rovin’ I’ll go,” evokes a cozy pub singalong with banjo and accordion trudging along together. The rest of the song’s lyrics tell a darker story of war and vanished love. The accompanying music video clarifies the vision, layering the aesthetics of A Clockwork Orange (1971) over Margaret Thatcher’s Britain.

A line from the 1985 song has lent itself to an exhibition that presents a comprehensive picture of the Pogues. “They Gave The Walls A Talking,” which opened at Dublin’s EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum in Decemberweeks after the death of front man Shane MacGowanpulls together photographs, memories, and memorabilia from band members, managers, and countless others who fell into the band’s manic orbit.

In March, the exhibition will travel to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where it will become the first show not related to Bob Dylan to take up residence at the singer-songwriter’s namesake arts center. At first glance, the American prairies seem an odd landing place for a band that smashed together Irish folk and London punk like none before, or perhaps since. Dig deeper and it begins to make some sense.

Shane and Victoria Exhibition

Shane MacGowan and Victoria Mary Clarke in 1988. Photo: Andy Catlin.

For starters, EPIC’s mission is to explore and broadcast the stories of the Irish diaspora, and indeed Irish trappers and workers began arriving in the region in the early 1800s. Today, roughly 10 percent of Oklahomans claim Irish ancestry. Then there’s the musical kinship. Dylan and MacGowan are both considered lyricists who expanded the boundaries of folk music. An added synergy is that Dylan’s idol was Woody Guthrie, an Oklahoman of Irish descent.

“It was the peerless lyrics, that gave the Pogues’ music its irresistible, unforgettable, emotional heft,” said Niall Stokes, editor of Hot Press magazine who curated the show. “It feels so right that the exhibition is having its US premiere in The Bob Dylan Centre in Tulsa. Bob Dylan is the greatest songwriter of them all and it is a testament to the greatness of Shane MacGowan that we can say, without fear of contradiction, that this is the artistic company that he should be seen in.”

Shane MacGowan Art.Photo: 7/02/2022

Stage instructions for the Pogues. Photo: Andy Catlin.

Beyond tracing the story of the Pogues and their sizable influence on the music of the late ’80s and early ’90s, They Gave The Walls A Talking expands upon an art book released by the singer and his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, in 2022. In Tulsa, illustrations, drawings, and lyrics that were uncovered in the process of making The Eternal Buzz and the Crock of Gold emerge, many of which date back to MacGowan’s childhood and have never been seen before.

Alongside the exhibition, Tulsa’s Circle Cinema will screen Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan, a documentary produced by the musician’s good friend Johnny Depp.

“As a tribute to Shane, the band’s remarkable artistry and a celebration of Irish music and culture, we thought it was important to bring this exhibit to America in time for St. Patrick’s Day,” said Steven Jenkins, director of the Bob Dylan Center.

And those who stumble into the show will likely leave with the sense that whatever MacGowan had to say to a wall would be well worth scribbling down.

Shane MacGowan with a glass of wine and a cigarette in Liverpool. Photo: Andy Catlin.

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