(With St. Patricks Day fast approaching) I thought I might as well write about one of Ireland’s most legendary boozers and hell raisers, the one and only Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan.
Born into a strong Irish family in Kent, England, on Christmas Day in 1957. MacGowan’s early childhood, mostly spent in the family home in the country of Tipperary, with relatives, until he was six, was steeped in Irish music, republicanism, religion and Celtic folklore. Both sides of his family were very musical. He used to learn a song a day from his mother’s family, building up a huge repertoire of old Irish songs. One his earliest memories is of singing on a table for “more than 40 friends and relatives. “. Public performances were a regular thing for the young Shane.
His mother, Therese, was a singer and traditional Irish dancer, had him reading Hardy, Dickens and Edna O’Brien, his father went to university, also very well read, had him reading Joyce from the age of six. Most Irish people struggle to finish that book never mind trying to read it at six!
The family home was seen as an open house, a “shebeen” – people would come around at all hours and there would be dancing, card-playing, boozing and singing. Supposedly his uncles gave him two bottles of Guinness a day from the age of five. He was given his first bottle of whiskey at the age of six. Shane didn’t have to go to a pub, he grow up in one! He was smoking and drinking and gambling from a young age, a very young age! These early years in Tipperary seem to have set the course for his life.
Like quite a few children of immigrants, he ferried between the old country and the new one, but when he was six he was sent back to live with his parents in London.
But it wasn’t all drink and gambling, he was also very literate ––learning to read really young. Regarded as a gifted child he won a literature scholarship to Westminster school by writing essays. A renowned English public school close to the Houses of Parliament. He was found in possession of drugs (dope, acid n pills) and was expelled in his second year, 14, not that Shane cared much.
His early years in London were spent wandering the streets in the west end, as the legend goes, hanging out with junkies and rent boys getting up to all sorts.There is also the six months he spent at 18 in a detox clinic
Then his whole world changed in 76, when he saw the Sex Pistols, and discovered punk. Shane was very active in the early life of Punk and got his first taste of fame in 1976 at a Clash gig, when his ear was damaged by a disgruntled girl. A photographer snapped a picture of him covered in blood and it made the papers, with the headline “Cannibalism at Clash Gig”.
This was merely one of a sequence of remarkable punk activities he indulged in during the late 1970s, eventually deciding to give punk a go by forming his own punk rock band, The Nipple Erectors, later retitled “The Nips”.
In 1980 he met Peter “Spider” Stacy and Jem Finer, and later Cait O’Riordan and Andrew Ranken, they were The Pogues. (Their first name, Pogue Mahone, which is Irish for “kiss my arse”.)
This new London band gave a voice to the Irish in London, a much maligned group suffering under the anti-Irish racism and resentment of the 80s, in the midst of the IRAs bombing campaign in Britain.
Many of his songs are influenced by Irish nationalism, Irish history, and the experiences of the Irish in London and the United States, and London life in general.
And what MacGowan and his fellow band-members in The Pogues did, in mixing the best of a tradition – tender ballads and full-throttled jigs – and giving it a fierce, anarchic edge, smashed the boundaries between what was meant to be traditional and concrete with a real revolution from the soul. This was new Irish music married with raw high velocity punk and street poetry, the Pogues had invented Celtic punk.
But it wasn’t all loud and brash, some of the music was extremely well written and poetic. Songs such as “Sally MacLennane , “Streams of Whiskey”, “Rainy Night in Soho”, “Thousands are Sailing” and, perhaps their best-known song “Fairytale of New York” are high points from their albums. Albums – “Rum Sodomy & the Lash”, and “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” considered must have albums.
Of course it should also be pointed out that many of the songs covered London, reminding people that they were not just a band that played Irish punk but more importantly they were a London Irish band playing punk rock.
With music that appeals to both traditionalists and punk heads. Their gigs were legendary, explosive affairs. They toured and toured, building up a cult like following.
Of course this high octane lifestyle results in many boozing sessions. The Pogues were a hard drinking band. They liked a pint, and a fight, with each other if no one else was available.
All their drinking and fighting shenanigans caused the odd problem. On a good night the gigs were amazing, on a bad night a shambles. Most concerts Shane actually performed great while being completely wasted. However it’s difficult to maintain this. Shane was trying everything; speed, smack, coke, crack every drink you could possibly imagine. The other band members of The Pogues often locked him up in his hotel room to keep him relatively sober until the concert
The famous hotel story: Joey Cashman, would order Shane to stay outside a hotel while he checked in so they could get a room before anyone saw how bad he looked. The trick usually worked. On one occasion, though, as Cashman was speaking with the receptionist, the front doors opened two men entered carrying MacGowan on their shoulders, his trousers down around his knees, and no underwear. In shock, Cashman turned to the receptionist: “What kind of hotel is this!?” He then got a much reduced price from the embarrassed clerk and the band sharply went to their rooms before the hotel could change their minds.
His fellow band members, got so tired of Shane’s drinking, lateness for gig and flights and the performances were gradually getting worse that in 1991 in a hotel room in Japan, they kicked him out. This was the infamous tour of japan where Shane was allegedly said to have taken 50 tabs of acid, three bottles of whiskey and a good quantity of Saki. No wonder he was booted out. Shane was essentially kicked out of his own group!
After The Pogues threw MacGowan out for unprofessional behaviour, he formed a new band, Shane MacGowan and The Popes. From December 2003 up to May 2005, Shane MacGowan & the Popes toured extensively in UK/Ireland/Europe. The Popes were good but essentially they were like a tribute band. And the Pogues themselves were not the same without their iconic lead singer. In 2001 they all got back together for a sell-out tour in 2001 and in May 2005, MacGowan re-joined the Pogues permanently.
The teeth! Although Shane got rid of most of his teeth during the early years of Punk, head-butting walls can do that, there is a famous story of the day he tried to eat volume three of The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits. He was convinced that World War III was imminent, that as leader of the Irish Republic, hosting a superpowers conference, that the best way to reveal America’s cultural inferiority was to eat a Beach Boys CD.
Shane MacGowan quotes:
‘I was smoking and drinking and gambling before I could talk.’
“Everyone drinks……….Well, unless they don’t.”
“I’ve been a babe magnet for quite a while now.”
“The British press have been giving me six months to live for the past twenty years they must be getting pissed off interviewing me by now. “
“The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks- they spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does.”
“Bad health is a consequence of very good living”
“If you didn’t have pain, then you wouldn’t realise when you are having pleasure”
“I just live like I want and it upsets some people”
Anyway have a happy St Patrick’s Day 2015