01. Dark Streets Of London (The Pogues Single A Side May 1984)
02. Transmetropolitan (The Pogues Red Roses For Me LP September 1984)
03. Boys From The County Hell (The Pogues Red Roses For Me LP September 1984)
04. Streams Of Whiskey (The Pogues Red Roses For Me LP September 1984)
05. A Pair Of Brown Eyes (The Pogues Single A Side March 1985)
06. Sally MacLennane (The Pogues Single A Side June 1985)
07. The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn (The Pogues Rum, Sodomy & The Lash LP August 1985)
08. The Old Main Drag (The Pogues Rum, Sodomy & The Lash LP August 1985)
09. Dirty Old Town (The Pogues Rum, Sodomy & The Lash LP August 1985)
10. And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda (The Pogues Rum, Sodomy & The Lash LP August 1985)
11. Rainy Night In Soho (The Pogues Poguetry In Motion EP February 1986)
12. Fairytale Of New York (The Pogues Single A Side November 1987)
13. If I Should Fall From Grace With God (The Pogues If I Should Fall From Grace With God LP January 1988)
14. Lullaby Of London (The Pogues If I Should Fall From Grace With God LP January 1988)
15. The Broad Majestic Shannon (The Pogues If I Should Fall From Grace With God LP January 1988)
16. MIsty Morning Albert Bridge (The Pogues Single A Side June 1989)
17. White City (The Pogues Peace And Love LP July 1989)
18. Lorca's Novena (The Pogues Hell's Ditch LP September 1990)
19. The Church Of The Holy Spook (Shane MacGowan & The Popes Single A Side August 1994)
20. Haunted (Shane MacGowan & Sinead O’ Connor Single A Side April 1995)
It’s slightly surreal when the leading artists from your youth start dropping like flies, but not quite so surreal when that character is Shane MacGowan. For a start, his long, slow goodbye has been going on for 25 years or more, so it’s not like the news of his demise came out of nowhere. And I would imagine that all the obituary writers were ready to just fill in the date a week ago when his wife Victoria posted a picture of him in hospital looking very much like a dying man.
I first heard of Shane MacGowan, or Shane O’Hooligan as he was known then, in 1977 at The Roxy punk club in Covent Garden. You couldn’t fail but notice him leaping about like a nut job, the classic hard drinking, hard drugging punk about town. Back then he was just another unpredictable character, not necessarily one to avoid, but definitely one to be wary of. I knew nothing about his early life as the son of Irish immigrants, his love of Behan, Hemingway, Wilde and Joyce, his expulsion from Westminster public school or his early musical exploits with The Nipple Erectors.
I never expected to hear his name again, so when a rumour began to spread about a rowdy Irish folk punk group called Pogue Mahone ripping it up in the pubs of London and that their singer and principal songwriter was the former Shane O’Hooligan, I was shocked to say the least. In amongst the various post punk sub genres of the eighties The Pogues had created their own, one I was able to connect with on a deeper, personal level that took me back to my grandmothers Dublin childhood and my father’s love for The Dubliners, The Chieftains and The Clancy Brothers.
In hindsight, the melding together of Irish music and punk was a genius, obvious move but at the time it was a revelation, an improbable blend, open to ridicule. While there were a thousand directions for punk to go in, locating a part of its afterlife in some hellish mix of Irish myth, abandoned folk jigs and the drunken raising of ghosts seemed as unlikely as Bob Geldof asking the Pogues to follow Queen at Live Aid.
Nonetheless, in 1984 The Pogues were London’s only genuinely great group, especially in their natural live habitat where they conducted an incredible, wild celebration of adrenalised chaos. It was impossible to hear the words amongst the sweat, the swagger and Shane MacGowan’s mumbled garble, but on Red Roses For Me, Rum Sodomy & The Lash and If I Should Fall From Grace With God he used all of his powers to fuse centuries of Irish rebellion and London history with eighties rent boys, football thugs, fucked up Falklands vets and teenage runaways puked onto the streets by Thatcher’s Britain.
It wasn’t all 100 mile an hour romps either. There were also songs of great beauty and poeticism like ‘Rainy Night In Soho’, ‘The Broad Majestic Shannon’ and ‘Lullaby of London’, wherein Shane dropped the garish and garrulous exterior garb of a drunken Brendan Behan to offer the lilt and lyrical lushness of W.B. Yeats: ‘May the ghosts that howled round the house that night / Never keep you from your sleep / May they all sleep tight down in Hell tonight / Or wherever they may be.’
It was after If I Should Fall From Grace With God that things started to go seriously wrong, the Pogues decline becoming ever more precipitous as their singer dived headlong into substance abuse, no longer willing or able to write so profusely or prolifically. On Peace And Love, the rest of his increasingly frustrated group covered for him, Jem Finer’s ‘Misty Morning, Albert Bridge’ better than any of his own contributions. By the time of the uneven and unsatisfying Hell’s Ditch in 1990, Shane was so deranged and dysfunctional, it was astonishing that he managed to come up with anything at all. He was just 32 years old, yet creatively, apart from a half-hearted attempt to get a solo career going with his Pogues tribute band the Popes and a beautiful duet with his great friend Sinead O’Connor, that was it.
What followed was more than a decade of self-destruction he was fortunate to survive before he returned to live in Ireland where, in later years, he would become more famous for the reconstruction of his teeth than for his music. As his health steadily declined, it was sad to see him become a crumbling, semi-coherent caricature of the brilliant artist he had once been. Then again, musical brilliance is rarely measured in longevity and few can offer more than a handful of stellar albums, burning brightly before fading away. And for five years in the eighties, Shane MacGowan burned a lot brighter than most. As far as I’m concerned, the songs he wrote and performed during that period alone earned him the right to do whatever the fuck he wanted.
God bless him!
Chris Green. 30th November 2023.