Christmas Drinks with Shane

Source: Evening Herald
Author: Aileen O’Reilly
Copyright: (c) Evening Herald

Aileen O’Reilly meets Shane MacGowan, the next best thing to Santa, whose Christmas Lullabye is helping kids in the North

There are certain things you always associate with Christmas. Wall to wall shoppers on Henry Street, tailbacks, traffic jams, twinkling Christmas lights highlighting the surreal festive wonderland on Grafton Street, Christmas carols spilling out of every shop – and Shane MacGowan playing Santa Claus

Just; when you thoughtthat Fairytale Of New York was going to be the man’s definitive Christmas offering, he goes and brings out his Christmas Lullabye EP and decides to donate lOp from very copy sold to the Bannaside Children’s Development Agency – a non-sectarian group based in the Obins area of Portadown.

Being granted a rare audience with the man himself was a rather unnerving experience – like walking into Santa’s grotto unannounced only to discover him rasping on a cigarette and reorganising the stuffing in his jacket.

Shane is sitting at the bar in the Montrose hotel – materialising two hours after we were originally supposed to meet (he went out for food apparently) and staring blankly at a glass of cloudy liquid which he’s holding aloft in one of his surprisingly steady hands.

He is, by his own admission, feeling a bit rough today.

His hair stands on end and his eyes glisten half heartedly way back in their sockets. But his skin is as unlined as the day he first stepped into it. Not the slightest trace of a bulging red nose, a stray red vein or an unannounced wrinkle.

I’m going home to my family in Tipperary and we’ll all get drunk together I suppose,” he states, when I ask him what he’s doing for Christmas. “I’m not a big fan of Christmas. It’s my birthday, I’ll be 38 this year and it’s starting to get me down, it just reminds me of getting older now.”

MacGowan was born in Kent on Christmas Day 1957, when his parents were visiting relatives in England. Three months later he was ensconced in Ireland, where he lived with his mother’s family in Northwest Tipperary until he returned to England at the grand old age of six years.

“I used to like Christmas a lot when I was a kid. but as I got older it just lost its appeal – everyone gradually tended to forget it was my birthday ’cause they were all too busy getting drunk together – but so what, you can’t complain about a p— up can you?

Everyone attempts to get on with people they normally hate. They go out for the night, not intending to beat the s— out of any one in particular, but, well sometimes, it just happens and you can’t help it.

When asked about what prompted him to donate money from his Christmas Lullabye EP to The Bannaside Children’s Development Agency, he crouches over his drink again and shrugs his shoulders uncomfortably.

“It helps those kids in the North and the North is very important to me – cause all this is happening in my country. They’re invading our country.

When I argue that it’s not that simple. he stares at me, stares at his drink. sips it unsteadily and continues “That’s true. I know that’s not all there is to it. There’s nothing simple about it, but if any other country did what the English are doing there’d be a UN force right in there. I don’t know how the UK gets away with it,” he trails off wearily and resumes staring somewhere between the bemused looking barman and infinity.

“What I’m doing is no big deal. There’s a lot of s— going down up there and there are people trying to do something constructive about it – but I’ve no faith in those peace talks unless Sinn Fein get involved. I mean it’s so absurd to even consider the idea of peace without them.

The British Government are being held to ransom by Unionists. They’d probably love to get out. I mean those families don’t want bombs going off, they don’t want their kids geting killed by the army either. I’ve gone beyond predicting what’s gonna happen at this stage, but I do believe that it will be resolved in my lifetime – I reckon I’ve got long enough left to see it. I’m gonna grow to be a fine old age.”

Strong words indeed from the bard, of whom doctors predicted that wouldn’t see his 40th birthday (or was that his 3Oth) if he didn’t seve lifelong love affair affair with the bottle.

MacGowan has treated their warnings with the same disdain with which he has treated musical barriers down through the years, and continues to do so with a blatant disregard for whatever others expect of him.

From Pogue Mahone’s first single, Dark Streets Of London, in ’83 (their name was tactfully shortened before they signed to Stiff Records), it’s been a case of loud, fast, simple, funny and unchartered brilliance. It was when that work ethic was swapped for progressiveness that MacGowan jumped ship and called it a day.

So what Shane and The Popes forthcoming concoction of tracks will be like (it’s still very much in the blender at the moment) is anyone’s guess.

Ask him what’s changed and he shrugs and claims that change isn’t something he bothers about very much. Ask him if he’s happy with what he’s got down so far and he merely announces that he’s producing the opus with Thin Lizzy’s Brian Robertson.

Finally he concedes to converse again and states: “I know I’ll never be lOOpc happy with anything I do, but that doesn’t mean as a result I’ll just sling it out regardless.

We’re hoping to get this out by February – but right now we’re still working on the title so, I don’t know.”

Shane MacGowan and The Popes play Midnight At The Olympia on Friday and Saturday December 20 and 21.