Raising a Glass to a Punk Legend
Written by David McQuilling on March 11, 2020
It’s that time of year again. Time to carve up the corned beef, pour a pint of Guinness and celebrate the greatest Englishman ever to make a career out of his Irish heritage.
Much like Patrick Bateman, there is an idea of Shane MacGowan. He’s a hard drinking, drug taking, hell raising Irishman. He’s a tortured genius who not only manages to repackage the music and mythology of his own heritage with a punk twist but also mix in bits of Turkish, Spanish, American and even Asian culture all whilst maintaining the same rough, raw, folk/punk feel. He’s a man with a mouth that would make the worst American caricature of British dentistry look like a flawless Hollywood smile.
The fact he was born in Kent and went to one of the most prestigious private schools in Europe changes none of this.
In another life, MacGowan may have made the most of his education, went on to university and made a living as a lawyer, engineer or maybe even a dentist. If you’ve ever heard his music, you’ll be thanking all that is holy it didn’t turn out that way.
As it was, MacGowan was thrown out of his posh educational establishment after being caught with drugs. He then fell into the emerging London punk scene, was photographed with a wounded ear at an early Clash gig, launching a zine called “Bondage” and wound up fronting a band called The Nipple Erectors or “Nips” for short.
But The Nips wouldn’t be his legacy, in fact, it would barely be a footnote. Shane’s heritage came calling and The Pogues were formed in 1982 from a blend of London Irish members of both The Nipple Erectors and a band called The Millwall Chainsaws.
The name itself is a shortened form of the Irish “póg mo thóin” which translates to “kiss my arse”. The band allegedly shortened the name to “The Pogues” through fear the BBC would refuse to play their music if they discovered the true meaning of the name.
The band quickly made a name for themselves on the London music scene, before releasing their first album Red Roses for Me in 1984. Their second, and arguably best, album, Rum, Sodomy and The Lash was released a year later and produced by Elvis Costello.
Even the death of Stiff Records in 1987 couldn’t slow MacGowan and The Pogues down. Despite their label going under, the band released their third album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, which contained a collaboration with legendary Irish band The Dubliners (Irish Rover) and produced what is quite comfortably the greatest Christmas song of all time towards the end of the year (Fairytale of New York).
However, MacGowan’s drink and drug problems took their toll and he was replaced by fellow punk legend Joe Strummer following the release of “Hell’s Ditch” in 1990.
MacGowan went on to form The Popes who released two albums but never quite reached the heights of The Pogues, who in turn were not the same band without Shane.
His decline would continue until 1999, when Sinead O’Connor called in a police raid on MacGowan’s house after the singer was discovered snorting heroin. Although initially angry, MacGowan would go on to credit this as the incident that made him kick his addiction.
A 2005 sell-out reunion with The Pogues would lead to the group re-forming and lasting until 2014, before they decided they all hated each other again and called it a day.
Outside of music, Shane lost his last real tooth in 2008 and after several years of what was presumably a paste based and liquid diet, had a set of implants fitted in a nine hour procedure that was described as the “Mount Everest of dentistry”.
Despite giving up the drugs and apparently knocking the booze on the head a few years back, it’s a miracle the man made it through his 20s. The fact he’s still around today shows a level of resiliency unmatched by anyone aside from maybe Keith Richards.
So this St Paddy’s Day, do yourself a favour. Pop Rum, Sodomy and The Lash on, pour yourself a pint, get comfortable and raise a glass to Shane MacGowan.