Source: London Fleadh ’98 supplement to the Irish Post
Author: Victoria Clarke
Copyright: (c) Irish Post 1998

VICTORIA CLARK talks to her partner SHANE MacGOWAN about love, football, music and The Bill.

It is a sumptuous summer evening in London, the sun is setting and the long grasses and cool breezes of Hampstead Heath beckon to sensitive Irish poets, who wander there musing, perhaps, on Yeats and the homeland’s wilder shores.

Meanwhile, here indoors, Shane MacGowan is eating his dinner and watching The Bill. I have to interrupt him, because I want to get this interview over with, so I can watch TV too. Luckily, it’s not his favourite show. Deeming it unrealistic escapism, he only watches it because there’s nothing better on.

“It’s a bit like watching maggots,” he informs me, good-humouredly. “You tend to be fascinated by what repels you.” Shane has, admittedly had some experience with the Bill, but we won’t dwell on that.

We move on swiftly to discuss other shows. Shane numbers French and Saunders, Frasier and King of the Hill among his real favourites. I put it to him that in reality he is not the sensitive, tortured -genius, poetic type that people may perceive. Could he really be just another bloke who likes drinking and watching TV?

“I am a normal bloke,” he finally concedes. “I’ll be watching football on the telly. It’s a lot more comfortable than standing on the terraces. But I’m not a typical bloke, because watching telly and drinking aren’t my main interests.”

I am disappointed, I thought for a moment there I had a bit of a scoop. Shane informs me that music is his main interests.

Shane is playing at the Fleadh in Finsbury Park, which is why I am writing this piece. He enjoys playing live and festivals, particularly Irish ones. Although not in Switzerland. “Switzerland is incredibly boring. It doesn’t have any culture or passion or romance.”

I ask him if he is really a romantic, or just pretending to be one. “Yeah, I’m a romantic. But I’m also a realist. Which means I keep a grip on reality. Although my perception of reality is not the conventionally accepted version of reality.” I press for more information.

“Well, for instance, I believe completely in the supernatural. I see evidence of it in everyday life, which other people often don’t see. And because I can’t explain that, I express myself through music. When you create, what you are trying to express is what you feel and what you see and what you hear.

“Although I basically tell stories, they’re stories based in reality, I like to be romantic, realistic and funny. But as long as the audience are enjoying themselves and I’m enjoying myself, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a good show. I don’t subscribe to the arrogance of self-analysis.”

Shane is not a little bit notorious, he realises, for his ability to enjoy himself on stage and off and has often had call to admit or deny rumours about his excesses in this department, but is adamant that he loves his work and takes a thoroughly professional approach.

When I’m working, the work part is the travelling and interviews and the waiting around, which is still a hundred times better than working on an assembly line,” he says. “The waiting and the playing I don’t regard as work at all. But ninety per cent of it is the other stuff.” In an ideal world, Shane would have his own club and play every night, with no waiting.

We discuss the idea that a lot of people who like music would actually like to sing and play themselves. “I think there’s room for as many musicians as would like to play,” he generously allows. “People who don’t sing as a trade often tend not to sing or play instruments at all, which is sad. People used to, and it must have been a much more interesting world when the guy sitting in the corner in the pub would come out with a song like Rocky Road to Dublin and no-one would even remember who he was. That’s such a brilliant song and there are thousands of those songs.”

Shane is not entirely tolerant of all musicians, however. He can’t understand, for instance, why James are headlining the Fleadh.

I wonder if he would like to travel and work with children. He would like to travel, to Spain and to New York, without all the waiting. One final question. I ask him what he considers to be his greatest gift, expecting him to say being a musical genius.

“The capacity to love,” he says, without hesitation. The capacity to love whom? I respond. “You,” he says and goes back to watching The Bill. A charmer.