Source: Rock ‘n’ Reel, issue 20
Author: Steph Hendry
Copyright: (c) Rock ‘n’ Reel 1994
It was less than a week since the NME had devoted some three pages to game MacGowan and his new album, recorded with The Popes, ‘The Snake’. They acknowledge the genius that made the Pogues so very special and has created an album that has all of the old MacGowan touches, ironic, caustic humour, tenderness and pathos all presented in a marvellous musical knees-up that blends Irish traditions with good hearty rock’n’roll.
To say my journey into London to the infamous Filthy MacNasty’s was not filled with some kind of version of first night nerves would be a lie (especially after some choice words of encouragement from associates, mostly along the lines of “My God – he’ll have you for breakfast.” This wasn’t so much a journey to meet another rock ’n’ roller – more like a trip to meet a myth and a legend.
After a disastrous journey and a late arrival the MacGowan entourage had relocated to a restaurant. A car was duly sent and, slighter than some photographs would have us believe, Shane was to be found toying with his Chinese meal. I asked if he enjoyed having a backing band rather than being in a band. Did it make a difference to him? ‘Oh yeah, when I’m in a band everybody’s decision has be taken into account. I’m a solo artist now with a backing band. They all happen to be friends of mine and there are no arguments about what we play anyway, there’s no point in playing with musicians you don’t get on with ‘cos you don’t have any chemistry.’
Has being a solo artist had an influence on the new album? “It’s the first album I’ve been so heavily involved in. We laid it down in a month ‘cos the songs were ready from the live shows and I decided what went on it. In the past there had always been the producer to come up against, but I co-produced the album with Dave Jordan, who was the sound man with The Pogues. I have a good working relationship with him. We produced things like ‘Rainy Night in Soho’, Dave produced ‘The Irish Rover’, but because of managerial policy and time he didn’t get his name on the record. I’m in control of what I do now. This is the situation I was in before The Pogues and during most of The Pogues, but then I felt that people could make me do some things – so I got out in the end.”
Since his departure from The Pogues press fuelled rumours, musically and personally, have been practically constant – hence the creation of the mythological MacGowan. “That’s all a load of bollocks. There has never been a point when I was dead or nearly dead or even seriously ill. I ignore all of the press. I would be lost if I believed my own publicity – well for a start I would be dead and I’d feel stupid in the mornings.”
The Pogues experience had, however, obviously taken it’s toll on MacGowan. “After leaving the group I wasn’t interested in carrying on. I was interested in carrying on playing music, but I had a lot of things to sort out before I got embroiled in this rock business shit again. I was playing with various friends and we could just relax ‘cos after being on tour for about eight solid years and all the recording, it was relaxing.”
‘The Snake’ was followed by a handful of large city gigs with the promise of Popes material, Pogues numbers, traditionals and ‘anything else I fell like doing’, which appears to be the MacGowan philosophy. “It’s a pity you have to go through all this (industry) bullshit to write music. The music industry is like a Boa Constrictor.”
We discussed his recent TV appearances. namely The Danny Baker Show where the presenter so obviously felt cheated as he was not treated to an Oliver Read – type performance and Top Of The Pops, where a certain Johnny Depp caused much cooing and fluttering from the BBC. “It does all feel like shit. I suppose I don’t like it or dislike it. If I decide I have to do it then 1 have to do it. I just don’t think it should be an essential part of the process.”
So would Shane be tempted to take his material and The Popes on a more widespread tour? “We’ll see if anybody turns up to these dates,” he laughs, “I’d consider doing it. ‘I lose money on tour and I make money writing songs. There would be a lot of work involved but if people want to see us then we’d like to play there. The problem is if some scuzzy promoter offers us fuck all to play, I lose so much money that I can’t pay the band. I’d like to pay the band – they’re friends of mine.”
Shane’s songs have been covered by a great many people and his talent for penning a great song has never been in any doubt. ‘The Snake’ contains Shane’s own version of ‘Aisling’, a song familiar to Christy Moore fans. “He was looking for a song so I sent him a demo – just me and a guitar – he had to make sense of that. I really like the way he does my songs. I’m really flattered by the fact he does them at all. I’m a song-writer and I like to hear other people singing songs. I don’t particularly enjoy singing my old songs so it’s good to hear other people’s versions. Basically I am a songwriter. Nobody seems to be in agreement that I’m a singer, so, as a songwriter and musician I love to hear other people play my songs.”
Shane comes from a musical background. His mother’s family were all excellent musicians, his mother in particular was a fine Irish singer and dancer. “I was brought up with music for as long as l can remember – with Irish music. I was singing when I was two or three. I simply come from the Irish tradition – with rock ‘n’ roll. This is the stuff I’ve always done. Before The Pogues I did it in the pubs. I did it with The Pogues and now I’m a solo artist I’m doing it with a backing band.
This uncompromising position is one of the things that ensures continued interest in his musical output – because if nothing else you can be sure Shane MacGowan does exactly what he feels is right. “Like any musician I’d like to get a decent wage and not get fucked around, not get ripped off. I just want to do what I enjoy doing… for money. In the early days of The Pogues I had millions of jobs. I had to work at the same tine to support the music as did the other members of the band. The thing is I’d be doing it anyway. I know lots of people like my music, I also know that music is put through this industry. It’s a shame that so many musicians can’t make a living. I’ve been pretty lucky in that respect. I haven’t had to do anything I didn’t want. I didn’t have to make the mistakes I made though. I’m not offering any excuses but I’m not totally happy with the way things have panned out but I am happy with the new album and the backing group.
Shane MacGowan is unique in the way he is received. He is at once revered and feared. He appeared on Top of the Pops but the radio didn’t pick up on the single – he is heavily featured in the music press but it would be difficult to describe his publicity as positive. Despite it all, Shane remains almost as a folk hero to many. As the tape ran out, the coffee flowed (Well I was driving!) and the talk became less structured. It became plain that the myth has been constructed around a man who is passionate and refuses to tug his forelock to the industry machine. A true 20th Century maverick. “I like writing, I like music, I play several musical instruments. I sing. That’s my motivation. I don’t give a fuck what the music critics think.”
But, despite the aggressive stance there is a vulnerability about Shane MacGowan – (it’s in the eyes) – but hell! mess with him at your peril. His parting shot to Rock ‘n’ Reel readers? “Buy the bloody album. Stop being sheep and buy the fucking album.” Can’t say fairer than that I guess.