Source: Irish Post
Author: Jim Conlon (Jim McCool)
Copyright: (c) Irish Post
With a fine new album under his belt, and a nation-wide tour lined up, Shane MacGowan is relaxed and relatively happy; well pleased with both his settled and musically astute band, The Popes, and his cracking new recording, The Crock of Gold.
I caught up with Shane on a rather dreary Thursday afternoon, while he, and his ferociously talented banjo player Tom MacManamon [a.k.a McAnimal] played host to the world’s press in the pub they like to call home, Filthy McNasty’s in Islington. Shane was in fine form, albeit a bit tired, since he prefers to sleep through the daylight hours, and then go a-roamin’ after dark. His exasperation with journalists, he has explained, is often due to the fact that they will insist on dragging him out of his bed. However, Shane was adamant that the Irish Post should only find him at his best, and kept our interview till last, late in the evening when he felt he was functioning at full strength.
At last, with a fag burning in his hand, and a glass of martini at his elbow, Shane settled himself in a comfortable corner of his favourite pub [and this is a man who knows a thing or two about pubs], eager to talk about the music which he has shown such a new passion and commitment to, on the new album.
” Yeah, I’m happy with the album overall,” he grins, ” Except that it took too long to get it out. Three years of messing about, and then three months to actually do it.”
The album’s title, Crock Of Gold, comes from the James Stephen novel of the same name. Was there, I wondered, some thematic link between the two?
” I thought the ‘Crock of Gold’ was a great title for an album. And the album does have that theme – the crock of gold is in Ireland, not over here. It’s not a concept album, but like, but it could be viewed as such… It’s a comedy album, really. The songs are mainly comical, it’s either light-hearted or funny, there’s no heavy stuff on there. The crock of gold is a great sort of legend, and when I was in Ireland, living in the old farmhouse, I thought, hey, I’ve gone round the world looking for it, but the crock of gold was beneath my feet all the time… That’s the main reason I called the album ‘Crock of Gold’ – because its got a lot of songs about leaving London and going back to Ireland. It’s internal – the crock of gold isn’t really a crock of gold; it means that at the end of the rainbow there’s peace and tranquillity. And the book happens to be one that I really like, a classic of Irish literature, so it sort of fitted in with me calling songs after book titles, like ‘Fairytale of New York’ or ‘Red Roses For Me’ or ‘More Pricks than Kicks’ [a new song on the album].”
However, if this is a comedy album, then it’s surely that of a very dark and black humour indeed. What about his lyrics to ‘Paddy Public Enemy Number 1’ and ‘Skipping Rhyme’ which deal with horrific violence?
” Yeah, ‘Public Enemy’ is an outlaw song about an IRA man and like all outlaw songs, it ends in his demise, shot by his former allies. It seems to be a recurring story in the topsy-turvy world of the war in Northern Ireland. There does seem to be a lot of shootings and bombings of ex-IRA men. It’s not specifically about Dominic McGlinchey, but it was – to a certain extent – inspired by him. ‘Skipping Rhymes’- all it is, is preserving traditional music. It’s kids’ street rhymes, which I’ve heard them singing. I didn’t write the words, I overheard them. When you hear little kids singing it [ “First we put a hood around his head, then we shot the bastard dead…”], it sends chills up your spine. But I suppose they don’t know anything else. It’s like ‘Ring-a-Ring-a Rosie’, which is about the plague, the Black Death in London. No, there’s no way I’m trying to get people to go out and kill other people. I mean, it might annoy David Trimble and people like that, but then I suppose David Trimble is not going to listen to the album anyway. ”
At which point Shane and Tom erupted into a chaos of cackles, fag ash and grey smoke. But they pulled themselves together quickly when I inquired why they used -the usually pejorative – term ‘Paddy’ with such frequency.
” It’s a way of getting the English back for calling all Irishmen ‘Paddy’, sticking it up their noses and then rubbing it in the dirt “, affirms Shane, with some sadness, remembering how his early work with the Pogues was classified. ” They used to call our music ‘Paddy-beat’ and ‘Paddy-billy’…. If you want Paddy, I’ll give you Paddy. At one point, I was hoping to get ‘Paddy’ in every song title. ”
Irishness and Ireland have always been major components of his work, of course, but on Crock of Gold it seems particularly important; he finds new strengths by exploring usually overlooked aspects of Irish culture. What was it that inspired Shane to draw on sources as diverse from the folk mainstream as the Country & Irish sound?.
” Inspiration comes from… God.” states Shane, who in his own way, is a deeply religious man. ” I tried to represent all the types of Irish music, …people like Johnny McAvoy. I love him. I don’t just listen to bloody De Dannan, Planxty and the Chieftains, I like the whole bloody lot. I like ‘The Boys from the County Armagh’. People over here get a very narrow view of Irish music, fiddle and accordion, instrumentals; but there are other ways of presenting it, and most of them are good. Irish music, like West Indian music, or Latin American music, is a range of styles of music, the cultural and emotional identity of a race of people. Ray Lynam is another one of my particular favourites, and Philomena Begley, and Big Tom. I also like the Irish version of the Las Vegas cabaret sort of thing, like Joe Dolan. He was an entertainer. Joe Dolan could really push out a good hard-hitting song…”
And the experiment with a reggae/dub sound on ‘B&I Ferry’?
” B&I Ferry was my idea. Like, y’know, the idea of the ‘Black Star Liner’ and jarrrr, instead of jah – Paddyfarianism. It was a joke that me and my mates had for years. It was my idea to get in Adrian Sherwood. I was really interested in the production that he did on Lee Perry’s album. Lee Perry is, like, my favourite artist at the moment. I mean, he was too messed up to produce himself, so he got in Adrian Sherwood to get the right sound. There’s a possibility that there will be a remix on 12″, and whether there will be more of that kind of stuff, well, I couldn’t really say.”
And Mother Mo Chroi – a migrant’s lament? If this is based on his own experiences, will Shane himself be returning to Ireland, to stay?
” Definitely yeah. And when I die I’m going to be cremated and get my ashes scattered over the fields around my home place [in Tipperary]”.
But Shane has no intention of doing that just yet. He has a major tour to be getting on with, for a start.
” I’m looking forward to the tour, though I wish we were doing more gigs in Ireland. The band sounds great. It’s a great band. We’re really gonna send ’em home sweatin’. ”
Tom grins and nods his agreement, as Shane lights himself up another fag. According to Tom, who is one of the foremost traditional players in the country, the time Shane spends at the bar, is not wasted, no.
” A lot of the time when he’s sitting at the bar, he’s thinking, working, writing on fag boxes; he remembers everything; he’s got one of the finest memories I’ve ever known,” says Tom. ” Shane is musically very astute. It’s not just that Shane sings and the band plays; he has 100% to do with what the band does, as well as what he sings. He’s the guv’nor, y’know. He gives us scope though; if someone has something better than himself, he’s the first one to say it. Usually, Shane’s melody is one of his strongest points – he just does something sometimes and you think to yourself, where the hell did that come from? ”
Forty years old, this Christmas, Shane MacGowan still has the intelligence and literary brilliance which won him a scholarship to a top public school [Westminster] at the age of fourteen; and the rebel heart which got him expelled from the same school just one year later. The body may well be a wee bit stouter and slower now, but that jagged genius is still there.
Fair play to you, Shane.