Fifty not out
IF Ireland dished out knighthoods, the fella first in line would surely be incorrigible wordsmith and troubadour extraordinaire Shane MacGowan.
‘Nothing is true, everything is permitted’ — from anyone else that beatnik quote would sound as pretentious as pilates on ice. But from the mangled and muchmaligned mouth of Shane MacGowan it hints at the erudite depths of a seasoned songwriter and his battle against the lies and half-truths that have followed his long and illustrious career.
MacGowan, now 50, is no slurring fool, a caricature he’s often been painted as. And he’s no slouch either. He’s in the middle of his umpteenth tour with The Pogues, a series of gigs which will reach its Celtic climax at south London’s Brixton Academy next week in front of nearly 5,000 people. And when the perspiration cools from that show MacGowan will take to the decks for a DJ spot at a nearby nightspot — joining old friends on stage for yet more vocal duties.
So how does he do it? “I don’t have a clue, maybe I’m just lucky,” he says talking from his Dublin bolt hole. “I’ll keep on doing music, keep on playing and performing, getting on that stage until someone drags me off and uses something stronger than me to stop me getting back up.” He still likes a drink of course — denying that is as pointless as it is thankless, it’s part of who he is.
But that doesn’t mean he’s incapable. Fire a question at him and he hits back with a fierce wit, before quickly collapsing into that audible click, which just about qualifies as a chuckle. Having been linked with the festive season hit Fairytale Of New York for the last 21 years, MacGowan promises his own definition of real Christmas music during his DJsets.
He says: “I play only good music, music you can dance to or possibly die to. It’s a mixture of things, Irish, rebel, folk, punk lots of punk. Real Christmas music you know?” But the seasonal pedigree, though often mocked, can’t be denied. And how does he feel when people say Yuletide wouldn’t be the same without his timeless Kirsty MacColl duet?
“I didn’t write that on my own and there are loads of better Christmas songs,” he insists.
“It often gets forgotten Jem Finer of The Pogues wrote that song too. But I wouldn’t say it’s the best, Little Drummer Boy was good too. I wish it could be Christmas every day.”
But Shane’s not always so playful. Ask his thoughts about the death of Ronnie Drew, a loss which has left a gaping hole at the heart of Irish music, after his long and private battle with cancer this year and Shane is unusually curt. He says: “Ask me another question.” And he won’t be drawn on a rumoured long-lost pairing with Drew.
But will MacGowan ever return to Britain to live? “No chance, I’m as happy as I ever was and as ready as I’ll never be,” he says. “The only place in the world I’ve ever been arrested is England, several times. I’ve only ever lived in England for 10 years.
“People don’t know that. For people going through the credit crunch I’ve only got one thing to say, get out as quick as you can.” Shane then goes on a peculiar and engaging ramble about how his sister was robbed three times in London and how there are some great pubs in the north of the capital.
“I can’t wait to see it again. Over there nothing is true, everything is permitted. William Burroughs said that,” he says. One of the many artists to have tried applying his talent to the wayward genius of MacGowan, is Paul ‘Mad Dog’ McGuinness. He was the effervescent force, the guitarist who powered much of what was great about Shane’s other band The Popes — a group he formed with McGuinness in the mid-90s.
And the musician is now back with a new album, renewed vigour and a new Popes’ line-up.
Paul is more forthcoming about Ronnie Drew’s death and its effect on him. He says: “A few years ago we had a gig at Finsbury Park and Ronnie was on before us, he was amazing. He was a great Irishman and an unmatched talent.
“On his 70th birthday he ended up with us in the studio and him and Shane did a spellbinding version of Ronnie’s Red Roses for Me.
“They were swapping lines and putting so much into it. I only hope it sees the light of day, fantastic it was.” McGuinness is also set to play a bruising set at Jamm in Brixton, at The Pogues’ gig afterparty on December 19.
He says: “Shane’s gonna be dj-ing and joining us on stage for Outlaw Heaven, I don’t know where he gets the energy from.” That makes two of us!
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