In 1980 James Fearnley became the last guitarist for the Nipple Erectors, the London-based punk band fronted by Shane MacGowan. In August 1982, MacGowan invited Fearnley to be the accordion-player for his latest project: a group to play Irish traditional songs fuelled by the punk ethos, called Pogue Mahone. In their tumultuous, twelve-year career, the Pogues released six studio albums and gained international renown. As the Pogues’ only ‘musician’, earning him the sobriquet ‘Maestro Jimmy’, Fearnley helped anchor the Pogues’ careening folk-punk with his metronomic guitar-playing and widen its scope by the inclusion of piano, cello, hammered dulcimer and percussion, and by string arrangements such as that in the perennial Christmas anthem, ‘Fairytale of New York’.
James left the Pogues in 1993 and moved to Los Angeles to compose for film and theatre and to write. The following year he formed The Low and Sweet Orchestra, with Circle Jerks’ guitarist, Zander Schloss and violin- and cello-playing brothers Kieran and Dermot Mulroney, and in 1995 released the critically acclaimed album Goodbye to All That, on Interscope Records. Soon after The Low and Sweet Orchestra split up, James formed Cranky George with the Mulroney brothers. Their debut album, Fat Lot Of Good, will be released in October 2016 and will be available in limited edition vinyl and all formats.
James has played on albums by such artists as David Byrne, Talking Heads, Annie Lennox, Kirsty MacColl, Elvis Costello, Joe Strummer and Melissa Etheridge, and has worked with such producers as Steve Lillywhite, Hugh Padgham, Steve Lipson, T-Bone Burnett, David Briggs, Gavin MacKillop, Michael Brook, Brad Wood, John King and Ted Hutt.
2012 saw the publication by Faber and Faber of Here Comes Everybody: The Story of the Pogues – James’s memoir of the first twelve years of the Pogues’ career, from the band’s coalescence in the tenements south of King Cross, to the dismissal of its lead singer in 1991. The book has recently been published in the United States. An audiobook, narrated by the author, was released, with original music, by Audible UK in 2015.
In the past year, James has been fronting his own band, playing shows with select musicians in New York and Los Angeles, revivifying songs from his lasting career, and performing new material – songs of ribaldry, romance and regret.