A Drink with Shane MacGowan

This interview was originally published in Hot Press magazine in July, 2001. 

As timekeeping is not known to be one of Shane MacGowan’s strong points, and he has been known to leave journalists waiting for hours, even days, I bring a copy of Naomi Klein’s No Logo for company while waiting for him at the bar in the Fitzwilliam Hotel.

When Shane appears after a relatively short wait of forty-five minutes, he flips over the cover and enquires in his inimitable Cockney drawl, “Wot’s this all about then?”

I offer Shane a very brief theory of the evils of globalisation, branding and exploitative foreign policies, detailing a point or two about the chapter I was just reading about sponsorship and branding in US schools.

“Well, they teach a load of rubbish at school anywhere,” Shane half shouts. “Did you know that the Irish treaty isn’t valid because they never sent a Head of State to London to sign it? Dev stayed at home and sent Michael Collins out to do all the dirty work.”

Shano is in great form. He is freshly shaven and well-scrubbed. Less surprisingly, perhaps, his tipple of choice is a simultaneous medley of a triple peach schnapps on ice, a double gin and tonic, plus a glass of Kilkenny. Meanwhile, I opt for a single pint of Guinness.

MacGowan begins over two hours of ranting and raving by expressing his relief that he is back living in Tipperary full time.

“I always hated London,” he growls. “I’m 43, so I come from the generation that had to emigrate to find work. But fortunately enough for me it coincided with the Sex Pistols coming along so it made it worth being there. But even that got really boring.”

But of course, moving to England facilitated the forming of The Pogues and the creation of a catalogue of classic songs that are yet again being compiled on the forthcoming Shane MacGowan live album.

“Back then none of the record companies in Ireland, such as Claddagh, or whoever, would be interested in the Pogues,” he says. “They’d take one look at us and think that it was obscene and blasphemous and taking the piss out of Irish music. The Pogues had nothing to do with punk. All we did was go to back to being a ceili band.

“The Popes are also ceili. We are still playing exactly the same stuff in The Popes as we did in The Pogues. We are playing music the way it was played before the traditional purists came along. The Pogues were a straight up ceili band. We were not a punk band and we still aren’t a punk band. We only had one electric instrument.

“There is a lot of swearing in the lyrics, but no more than hundreds of old traditional Irish songs that are far more obscene than anything I’ve ever written. Y’know wot I mean? When the Pogues took off, we found it hilarious to be getting paid money in pubs for performing the exact same songs we were getting thrown out for singing a year before. Tcchhhh!,” Shane hisses, detonating one of his trademark cackles.

We now live in a squeaky clean pop climate that is the antithesis to MacGowan’s bawdy ballads.

“I believe there will be a backlash against all this crap music,” he says. ” I believe that my continued popularity, along with Ronnie Drew’s, Christy Moore’s and so on, shows that Irish music is still huge on the East coast of America and in Europe, even outside Irish American circles. It is in some ways it is like when youth embraced reggae in England and Europe in the 70s. Y’know wot I mean? The record companies have to wise up to the fact that it’s happening down the country and not in all these trendy places in Clare like Doolin. Mind you, I think Irish pop shit is better than English pop shit or American pop shit. It always has been.

“I think the show band singers like Brendan Boyer and Joe Dolan were genuinely great pop artists. Even your average show band in Ireland was much better than your average poxy rock’n’roll beat group or blues band in England, or America. or Boney M or Smokie, or any of that fucking shit.”

As the drinks keep coming, talk switches from Damien Dempsey. (“He is a great Irish artist. He reminds me of Luke Kelly an awful lot,”) to the current state of Ireland and the fumbling of the refugee issue. (“There is no way we should be letting people in and letting them be beggars”.)

As the barman calls time, I’ve had about half a dozen pints of stout while MacGowan has probably drunk enough for another three people. He’s keen to go to Eamonn Doran’s but, feeling like an utter lightweight, I make my excuses to leave. At this stage I am slurring my words and barely keeping it together, while MacGowan seems to get more lucid with each drink.

“Yeah, maybe you should go,” Shane reasons. “You look fucked.”


Shane MacGowan by Jon Berkeley, incorporating the lyrics of 13 Pogues songs. https://www.nowthisilike.com/products/shane-macgowan

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