SHANE MACGOWAN FEATURE
contentedly about his recent Top of the Pops appearance for the Popes’ last single That Woman ’3 Got Me Drinking. The band had teamed up with teen idol Johnny Depp for an unforgettany irreverent performance.
‘I thought it cut through all the rest of the shit really nicely.’ he muses. ‘l was smashed out my mind and did a Johnny Rotten impersonation. The rest of the band beat the shit out of their guitars.’
He is adamant he will not be dragged into the music business machine that chewed him up and spat him out so recently. He has learned a hard lesson and admits he could not back the relentless touring latterly demanded of the Pogues. Characteristically. he is not asking for sympathy. ‘l’m not going to get sucked into touring all the time. but I’ve been doing a lot of press.‘ he says. ‘Jesus Christ. it’s better than being an out of business butcher in Sarajevo.’
‘I was a day boy in a public school. That means you don’t get buggered in the dormitory.’
Asked about his exit from the Pogues after winning the hearts and minds of a passionately loyal army of fans. MacGowan is quick to tell it how it was. ‘I was kicked out,’ he says. ‘I wanted to leave anyway. because I didn’t like the direction . . . It was getting away from what I thought was a really good fuckin’ raving mixture of Irish traditional and rock ’n’ roll. People move on and people change. But I don’t.’
He unleashes the infamous MacGowan laugh, reminiscent of water draining from a semi- blocked sink. The rare times MacGowan looks at you straight in the face for more than a few seconds are when mirth explodes from the gaps between his teeth. The gurgling noise continues relentlessly until you laugh with him. It is impossible not to — his self-mocking sense of humour is highly contagious.
The man described by his temporary manager as a kitten has maintained his friendships with former soul mates The Pogues: banjo player Jem Finer and whistle maestro Spider Stacy are guest musicians on The Snake. ‘There wasn’t really any bad feeling at the time.’ insists MacGowan of the split. ‘We were all over 30. We didn’t put ice creams in each other’s faces.’
He claims there was more to his demise as a Pogue than increasingly uncontrollable bouts of drinking which at their worst. left him slumped motionless on stage. ‘The Pogues were democratic. which sounds wonderful. but by the time there were eight members voting it really didn’t work,’ he says. He is determined not to repeat the same mistake with the Popes. ‘This time I just decide what’s going to happen. If it doesn’t happen. it’s my fault.’ He pauses thoughtfully before adding: ‘Or maybe it’s the record company’s fault. In fact. it is the record company’s fault.’ He is making those gurgling noises again.
Asked if he has learned to control the drinking. he points to his beer bottle. ‘lt’s behaving itself at the moment,’ he giggles. continuing: ‘1 don’t drink as much as I used to.’ He refutes the media’s portrayal of him in recent years as havering at death’s door. ‘That was an exaggeration,’ he says simply and the subject is closed.
MacGowan is at his most animated when
discussing two of his own passions — his music and Ireland. They are inextricably bound. Some of his most moving songs are laments about Ireland’s bloody past and indeed the new
album’s title track. The Snake With lives ()f
Garnet. is a stirring song about the Irish rebel James Mangan. Although MacGowan sings with the voice of an Irishman. his speaking voice betrays a London upbringing which however ardently he denies it. obviously pisses him off.
‘When my mother was expecting me. my parents decided to visit relatives in England. so 1 was actually born in a maternity hospital in Kent on Christmas day.’ he explains. After three months. the MacGowans returned home to their Tipperary farmhouse where they lived for the next six years. It was there. surrounded by grannies. aunts and uncles. that l\’lac(_iowan absorbed the tales of rebel Ireland and traditional Irish music he later shaped into classic Pogues songs. That little white farmhouse has since become his sanctuary for when he flees London. ‘lt’s the only place I can call home.’
Tainting his romantic Celtic past are MacGowan’s formative years. spent moving around England. wherever his father’s white collar job took the family. They ended up in London. the dirty old town which vies with Dublin. Donegal and Tipperary in many of MacGowan‘s songs. Then comes the biggest hiccup in MacGowan’s biography — a year in a fee-paying Westminster school.
‘1 was a day boy in a public school.’ he confesses. fishing an ice cube from his glass and rubbing it over his face and arms. ‘That means you don’t get buggered in the dormitory.‘ llis saving grace was that he was there by virtue of a scholarship and lasted only a year. ‘I got
Rebels in arms: Shane MacGowan and Johnny Depp
expelled. but that was no big deal because I was fourteen and the leaving age was liftecn.’ He tilled shelves in a London supermarket before embarking on a string ofjobs. His baptism into the music industry was as Shane O’Hooligan. lead singer of punk band The Nipple Erectors. The rest is history.
The new Shane is just as stubborn as the old. Discussing the video for the Popes’ next single The Song With No Name. he dismisses carefully . considered suggestions of a Dickensian theme with a shake of his head. He has his own ideas. involving the demolition of a piano and simple shots of the band. This is MacGowan in control and he’ll be damned if he doesn’t get his way. Ll Shane Madhm'an and the Popes play Glasgow's lhu‘rmv/(md on Saturday 19 November:
The List l8 November—l December 199411