Philip Chevron, guitarist with the Pogues and great Irish songwriter who found worldwide recognition, described himself in August as ‘gay, Irish, Catholic, alcoholic Pogue… about to die from cancer.’ Adam Sweeting remembered his life for The Guardian.
Philip Chevron (Philip Ryan), musician
17 June 1957 – 8 October 2013
A veteran of the Irish band the Radiators from Space and folk-punks the Pogues, Philip Chevron, who has died of cancer aged 56, was a leading light in Dublin's musical community.
At a concert in his honour at the city's Olympia theatre last August, musical guests included Mary Coughlan, Shane McGowan, Paul Brady, Gavin Friday and the band Horslips, alongside the writers Roddy Doyle and Joseph O'Connor.
"Philip Chevron is one of the greatest Irish songwriters of all time, certainly the best of my generation," said O'Connor.
Chevron left a substantial body of work, including studio and live albums with the Radiators from Space (later the Radiators), solo work which included a foray into the songs of Brecht and Weill, and the fruits of his performing and song writing with the Pogues.
It was for the latter's album If I Should Fall from Grace With God (1988) that he wrote Thousands Are Sailing, a poetic saga of Irish emigration to the New World with lyrics that roved poignantly across the momentous events of Irish-American history.
That composition gained Chevron his greatest international recognition, while becoming an instant classic among Irish listeners and a song regularly covered by other artists from his homeland.
Chevron was born Philip Ryan in Dublin; his father was an actor and theatre producer. Philip himself developed an early taste for theatre and show music, and as a teenager became a fan of the Berlin-born cabaret singer Agnes Bernelle. He would later produce an album with her, Bernelle on Brecht and... (1977), comprising mostly Brecht and Weill material.
During the mid-1970s he became enamoured of the punk music which had blown in from Britain and triggered a distinctive local echo across the Irish Sea. In partnership with Pete Holidai and Steve Rapid, Chevron – who possibly took his adopted surname from the jazz record label Chevron Records – formed the Radiators from Space in 1976, laying a claim to being Ireland's first punk band.
The following year they signed to Chiswick Records, for which they recorded two albums, TV Tube Heart (1977) and Ghostown (1979).
The band, who had now become just the Radiators, recorded the latter in London with David Bowie's frequent collaborator Tony Visconti producing. It included Chevron's Faithful Departed, a song held dear by many of his contemporaries for the way in which it trenchantly and hauntingly evoked the experience of growing up in Ireland. The recording of the song by Christy Moore became a classic in its own right.
Good reviews for Ghostown came too late to prevent the Radiators from splitting up in 1981. Chevron took time out to pursue his theatrical leanings, and recorded a five-track mini-album of songs from Brecht and Weill's Happy End, entitled Songs from Bill's Dancehall (1981). He dedicated it to Lotte Lenya and Bernelle. Then he staged his own Brecht/Weill show with Moore and Dónal Lunny's group Moving Hearts, though the project was not a success.
In Camden Town, London, he took a job at the Rock On record store, where he met such up-and-coming customers as Elvis Costello and the Pogues' vocalist Shane MacGowan. He persuaded Costello to produce his recording of The Captains and the Kings, from Brendan Behan's play The Hostage, which appeared on Costello's IMP label in 1984.
Meanwhile the Pogues were also keen to work with Chevron, and he was invited to join them as temporary cover for the banjo player Jem Finer, even though he had never played the banjo before. Subsequently MacGowan decided he no longer wanted to play the guitar and Chevron took on the job full-time…
Full obituary: http://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/oct/09/philip-chevron
Obituary in The Village Voice: http://www.villagemagazine.ie/index.php/2013/10/power-without-glory-the-legacy-of-irish-punk-band-the-radiators-from-space/
Obituary in The Irish Times: http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/music/grand-finale-send-off-for-pogues-guitarist-philip-chevron-1.1559174
Obituary in Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/philip-chevron-pogues-guitarist-dead-at-56-20131008
Obituary in The Sydney Morning Herald: http://www.smh.com.au/comment/obituaries/phil-chevron-influential-punk-rocker-responsible-for-classic-irish-ballad-20131013-2vggv.html
Testimonial at the Olympia: http://culturie.wordpress.com/2013/08/28/phil-chevron-testimonial-olympia-theatre-august-24-2013/
Faithful Departed: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ThaJmtpX0j4
Thousands are sailing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O-OnS3LPt0w