Gold Bars

Source: Hot Press, Ireland
Author: Liam Fay
Contributor: Ingrid Knetsch
Copyright: (c) Hot Press 1997

The Crock Of Gold may not exactly be the most eagerly awaited album of the year but it’s certainly the most badly needed. The concept of Irishness has latterly been hijacked by a herd of corporate pigs, showbiz jackasses, media dung-beetles and other bestial chancers who like to begin sentences with prases such as “The concept of Irishness….”

Being Irish is no longer an assertion of nationality. It’s now a state of mind. Anybody can be Irish. All you need is a twinkling smile, a tapping foot, a toot on the flute, a twiddie on the fiddle-o and a 5-year action plan for consolidating your tourist industry market share.

Shane MacGowan is not Irish. He’s a Paddy, and proud of it. The Crock Of Gold is a drunken howl of defiance on behalf of Paddies everywhere. It’s raucous, uncouth, uproarious, vicious, wrathful, sentimental and extremely tasteless. It’s the magnificent sound of Paddyz With Attitude.

The three opening salvos (‘Paddy Rolling Stone’, ‘Rock’N’Roll Paddy’ and ‘Paddy Public Enemy No. 1’) are irresistibly giddy knockabouts, spud-gun weddings between ‘The Jug Of Punch’ and Elvis, between Big Tom and the most homicidal rebel songs you’ve ever heard. But, it’s on the fourth track, ‘Back In The County Hell’, that Shane really bares his teeth in disgust at that peculiar brand of pre-millennium pretension currently afflicting the Auld Sod like a paisy: “With me in charge I’d execute the Artistic Queers/And all the fuckin’ bastards that drink trendy Irish beers/My death squads would be kids from flats, all high from sniffing glue.”

For the most part, the mood of the album is unashamedly happy-go-fucky. Shane’s heroes are degenerate fugitives who ramble the highways and boreens screwing women bow-legged, drinking themselves footless and lying their heads off about everything they do. These are reveries from the ditch, hallucinatory despatches from what the playwright Declan Lynch calls “the hideous hullabaloo of whiskey Hell.”

But it’s not all mud, blood and booze. MacGowan is still the poet laureate of the fast lane’s slow gutter, the most incisive chronicier of just how deep the trenches of despondency can cut. ‘Lonesome Highway’ and ‘More Pricks Than Kicks’ are among his finest statements of intent yet, elegant toasts to those wrinkles old guys and gals with filthy hair and wind-burnt cheeks who gather around the braziers in the stockyard sidings of life.

Shane is far from the only musician to have ever been in need of the hospital’s treatment facilities but I can think of no-one else who could write a song quite like ‘St. John Of Gods’, an extraordinarily vivid and poignant tale of ‘”a crushed up man with a crushed up Carrolls packet in his hand” whose brain had seized-up to the point where his sole response to the world is to scream “F yez all, F yez all, F yez all.” It’s the poor bastard’s scrupulously decorous use of that F rather than the full expletive which renders the song so heartrending – God forbid he should offend anybody!

Along the way, Shane and The Popes also liberate a couple of the classic favourites of yestercentury (‘Come To The Bower’ and ‘Spanish Lady’), dragging them out of the Bord Failte approved ballad bars and back to the sheebeens where they belong.

For way too long, ownership of these great songs has been ceded to unaccompanied folk singers; unaccompanied by listeners that is. MacGowan, however, knows the value of lurid melodrama when he sees it and when he sings it. Another bonus is the version of Lerner and Loewe’s ‘Wandering Star’, on which Shane’s now-departed soulmate, Charlie MacLennan, performs a wonderful gravelpit vocal that makes Lee Marvin sound like Jimmy Somerville.

Track for track, The Crock Of Gold might not be quite as sublime as Shane’s first album with The Popes, The Snake, but then very little is. It won’t be very popular over in Temple Bar with the, eh, Temple Barbarians. Nor will it get much airplay on RTE or feature prominently on Mary McAleese’s bridge-building playlist.

But, hey fuck ’em! Us Paddies think it’s a cracker.