Shane MacGowan - 60 & still smilin'

Shane MacGowan - 60 & still smilin'
On Christmas Day, Shane MacGowan turned 60 much to the surprise of yours truly and many others. To celebrate the fact the Irish Government has honoured this extraordinary lyricist and songwriter with a lifetime achievement award and an all-star bash was held in Dublin's National Concert Hall on Monday 15th January, excerpts from which can be found on Youtube.

Shane and The Pogues have a special place in my heart for many reasons. I first encountered him when he was working Rocks Off record shop in Hanway Street an alley that cuts a corner between Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road. There used to be an all-night drinking dive in Hanway Street as well as two scuzzy record shops; these days it’s all been cleaned-up and the only reason you might go there for is Bradley's Spanish Bar and its still tremendous jukebox.

There was something about Shane that I can still remember the first record he sold me – an early single by Echo and the Bunnymen which from his expression he didn’t think much of. Next time I went in, he was hunched over the shop’s record deck playing Chinese Rocks by The Heartbreakers and talking animatedly with a striking young woman with black spiked up hair, a big overcoat and brothel creepers. Next time I would see them was as front-person and bassist of The Pogues, the woman being Cait O’Riordan who can be spotted in the video of the Dublin birthday show playing with the same abandon as when she was the band.

I saw the Pogues many times over the lifetime of the band and even wrote and article about them in advance of their 1990 St Patrick’s Day show in New York, an edited version of which appeared in the Independent on Sunday. It was one of my first ever published pieces which at the time brought me immense pride not least because the Independent on Sunday in those days was so crisp in the way it was presented.

By 1990 the band had reached its zenith and Stas (the now Mrs Hare) and I got to see them play a Christmas show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom. It was fantastic, Shane could still hold a tune and was able to stand without having to lean on the microphone stand. The band had just released the Joe Strummer produced Hell’s Ditch recorded down the road from here at Rockfield recording studios. Aidan Sheenan of WHC favourites Whiskey River Boys told me last night that he met all the band bar, rather strangely, Shane in a local pub when they were there. I haven’t been able  to find a setlist for that night but the Pogues were on fire and the gig was lifted a notch higher when Joe Strummer came on to kick out London Calling and I Fought the Law. By this time the pogoing/pogueing crowd had gone mental, only to be then treated to the much-loved Kirsty MacColl duetting with Shane on the only Christmas song that matters. After the show we poured out onto Camden High Street, dripping sweat and Stas was already showing symptoms of ‘Bhundu leg’ the name we have given to the pain from too much dancing after sister Gilly was hobbled for a few days after seeing the Bhundu Boys at Wormelow.

After Shane left the Pogues, we next saw him at a ‘secret show’ at our then local in Stoke Newington – Molly Malones. The gig was not so secret as the rumour had spread by word of mouth, we didn’t have social media back then, and the pub was rammed. We were still in the ‘smoke age’ then and it was almost impossible to breathe from the fug of cigarette smoke. We hung in there at the front and  a be-shaded Shane finally rolled in not long before closing time with a guitarist. He perched on a stool, lit a fag and drawled his way through maybe two or three songs, one being Streets of Baltimore. It wasn’t a great return but SHANE WAS ALIVE and it was a HAPPENING. Talking later that night, it seemed then that many people didn’t think he’d last much longer.

Well that was then and he has survived and I’m glad he has, especially in a week that has seen the passing of our dear friend, Julia Mathevosian and also Jon Castle, the first Greenpeace ship captain that I met and another inspiration.

It’s great that Shanes words and music are being celebrated because they have become part of the folk cannon as they resonate with and are adopted by successive generations of buskers and songwriters. The Pogues records are among my favourites ever and every now and again I leaf through the Faber published book Poguetry (wonderfully illustrated by John Hewitt) and savour Shane’s cinematic words that summon up the London I remember before Soho and Hanway Street were cleaned up.

Pogues article




Richard Page

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