RIP Shane MacGowan (1957-2023)

30th November 2023 · 1990, 1990s, 2020s, 2023, Music

I’d never say we were really friends, and we came from very different backgrounds. But as fellow punks of the same age (he was born on Christmas Day just 16 days before me) Shane and I had an acquaintance.

A drinking acquaintance, you might say. I used to knock about with him now and then in the pubs around Highbury, Hackney, where I lived, and Holloway, where he lived. He was already a notorious character on the punk scene because of that ear-biting incident that earned him an NME cover.

Back then he had a London accent and because of his name I remember asking him about his Irish background, which he said was limited to his family’s annual summer holiday to see an auntie in Tipperary.

I’d regularly go and see his first band The Nipple Erectors – later abbreviated to The Nips in the vain hope that a radio station might play one of their raucous punkabilly tunes. I’m not sure they ever did.

The last time I saw him was about 15 years ago in Filthy McNasty’s, where I think he was living at the time, and I was sitting with a book and a pint at the back when he walked in, wearing a suit, and through the bar to his quarters upstairs.
As he surveyed the clientele, his eyes alighted briefly on me and I raised an eyebrow in acknowledgement. I saw a flicker of recognition but he looked immediately away as if he realised he knew me from somewhere but his brain could not compute the circumstances of how, when and where.
It was sad, but not as sad as the previous time, at one of the last Fleadh festivals in Finsbury Park, probably the 2004 one with Dylan, where he was at the backstage bar ordering a vodka. He repeatedly demanded that the barman fill his (large) glass right to the brim – and then leant forward across the counter to ensure that he didn’t lose a drop. I remember thinking he wouldn’t last long.
I was wrong. But the time I remember best, and most fondly, is in the summer of 1981 when I hadn’t seen him for a while and ran into him in the Gents of a Covent Garden pub. It was the night before the wedding of Charles and Diana and a big crowd had gone into town to see the fireworks in Hyde Park.

Spotting each other at the urinals, I made a joke about how I hadn’t expected to find him celebrating a royal wedding – which of course neither of us were – and asked him if The Nips were still going.

“Nah, I’ve got a new band now,” he said. “We’re called Pogue Mahone – it means ‘Kiss My Arse’ in Irish.”

“Is it still a mixture of punk and rockabilly?” I asked.

“Not any more. It’s a mix of punk and traditional Irish music,” he chuckled.

“Don’t suppose we’ll be seeing you on Top of the Pops with that then!” I chortled back.

“Course not,” he said. “It’s just for a laugh.”

And so it was that The Pogues were born, without any expectation of stardom for their dentally challenged frontman, or any commercial success for their rowdy repertoire of raucous folk-punk tomfoolery.

And the occasional beautiful bucolic moment like this, my favourite Pogues song.