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MacGowan’s St. Pat’s Return

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Source: Rolling Stone
Author: Andrew Dansby
Copyright: © Rolling Stone 2001

Shane MacGowan is rumoured to be a man with a plan. After his departure from the Pogues, MacGowan has predominantly existed below the rock radar. Five years ago, there was the unleashed fury of The Snake, his first album with the Popes; but sadly it was forgotten shortly after its release. Crock of Gold, his second post-Pogues outing, barely touched these shores. Meanwhile, MacGowan would sporadically tour the U.S. before packed venues of delirious, starved fans, but for the most part, he left news of his doings to British tabloids, which chose to eschew music coverage for a watchdog-like role on MacGowan’s hyper-publicised dance with drink.

The Shane MacGowan who rolled through New York City last November rendered the Brit death-watch reports absurd. He and the Popes blazed through a set of tunes both Pogue and Pope, U.K. and American, Ewan and Hank. And that is the sort of lightening MacGowan hopes to bottle when he and the Popes roll back into New York City and perform on St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), followed by the Irish Bartender’s Ball (March 19th), both shows at Webster Hall. The goals: a live album and ultimately a fresh start.

For a guy who was believed to be as certain a dead pool bet as Chris Farley and Ronald Reagan, MacGowan is doing just fine, thankyouverymuch. Still full of piss, vinegar and music, he seems to be concentrating his efforts on putting his musicianship back on the tracks. At New York City’s Grammercy Tavern, MacGowan offered a little ball busting about a Backstreet Boys magazine cover (“You used to have Keith Richards and Jim Morrison on the covers, you know. Anyway the bottom of it will fall out like [makes squeaking noise] sooner or later, you know.”) before touching on his St. Patrick’s Day performances, his next album and his upcoming book, co-written with his wife, A Drink With Shane MacGowan.

So a year ago, I heard you were working on a double album titled 20th Century Paddy. Is that still in the works?

Yeah, but we’ll probably put a live album out first. We’re going to record some shows around St. Patrick’s Day and make a live album.

You guys sounded great on your last outing.

Yeah, well it’s the best lineup I’ve ever had right now. And I’m not knocking all the bands I’ve had over the years, but the chemistry is all there, you know what I mean? There’s two guys who have been there from the start. There’s Bob the bass player, he’s been there a long, long time, though he wasn’t the original bass player. Andy was the new boy, but he’s definitely the best drummer we’ve ever had. And Mick, the accordion player, is rather new, but he’s definitely the best accordion player that we’ve ever had. So all the musicians are of equal standard. And everybody gets on well. There’s a chemistry.

Is it a comfier fit than the days with the Pogues?

No, I mean there wasn’t anybody in the Pogues that I didn’t like. We never really auditioned back then. It’s always been friends or friends of friends all over. We were friends, that’s how a band gets started, you know what I mean?

So will your next studio release still be a double album?

It’ll definitely be half-traditional and half original, but no, it’ll probably be a long single album. There’s no need to record a double album. There could always be “20th Century Paddy Part Two” some day [laughs].

In your book you downplay the lyrical aspect of your music somewhat. Do you find that’s changed as you’ve gotten older?

No, it’s just that the music was at least as important as the lyrics, or more so. They’re equally important to me. What I am is a musician. The fact that I like, well, yes we do have a high standard of lyrics. That’s not particularly because of my songs, but because of the old Irish songs and old country songs we’ve done. We’ve done “Cracklin’ Rosie” by Neil Diamond and now we’re doing “Angel of Death” by Hank Williams. We’ve done [Gram Parsons'] “Streets of Baltimore,” though we haven’t recorded that.

The book is basically formatted as an interview of you by your wife. Did you find it too personal?

Yeah, it was all that. And there’s various inaccuracies that need to be worked out. Well, not inaccuracies, it’s just that I’m not very good discussing and expressing myself. It’s not at all a biography, though. It’s an interview, but conducted by my missus, who is a writer and has been a journalist. So she had no mercy, you know what I mean [laughs]? The main thing is that I don’t like talking about myself particularly. I’ll discuss a good funny story, but there’s a lot of stuff I regret saying and a lot of stuff that we’re weeding out.

Do you worry that because of that, people will read too much into your lyrics?

I don’t mind that, because the main thing that I’m good at doing, as far as words are concerned, is not speaking or doing interviews, and I’m certainly got no interest in writing an autobiography. Or even a biography, really. But it’s fun writing.

Was it easier to write with your wife?

It made it easier, but if it had been somebody other than Victoria, then I woulda watched what I said a lot more [laughs]. There’d be in a lot less trouble now. So she would get everything with a tape recorder. When I was drunk. When I was just sitting at home with my missus. Ranting your way about this and that and telling her stories I certainly wouldn’t tell you [laughs].

Did she ever surprise you with the tape rolling?

Oh, no, no, no, no. She didn’t have to tell me because I was so out of it that I kept forgetting everything [laughs]. She kept reminding me, she kept saying, “Are you sure you want to say that?” and at the time I’d say, “Yes I want to say that. It’s true.” And now I look at it in cold print, and think, “Oh God.”

But I assume you get last editorial say.

Yeah, it’s fuckin’ lucky, you know what I mean [laughs]?

We have wrestlers topping our bestseller list, maybe there’s a chance for you to have a breakout book.

What?

Books by wrestlers.

How do you write about that [laughs]? What are these books about? Are they like memoirs or something?

Sort of, they’re about growing up to be a wrestler.

Ah, that’s bullshit, not wrestling. Wrestling used to be interesting. There was a bit of sham involved, of course, but there was some real wrestling involved. They’re just characters now. It’s unrecognizable. There’s no fighting in American bloody wrestling. They just yell at each other and jump around like overweight ballet dancers.