In Praise of Shane

Source: Irish newspaper
Author: Dermott Hayes
Copyright: (c) Dermott Hayes

Someone should give Shane MacGowan a Lifetime Achievement Award. Show him we love him. He is, without exception the best Irish songwriter of the past… well, for as long as I can remember.

Some of us will remember the triumphal way we celebrated the success of the Clancey Brothers in America in the early 60s. Aran sweaters became ‘cool’ again. Everyone learned to sing ‘I’ll tell My Ma’ and ‘The Holy Ground. Some of us learned Tommy Makem’s version of “Roddy McCorley’. The Sunday Press ran a four-page cover sheet with stories of the Clanceys in America, and reprinted the lyrics of their best known songs.

Christy Moore once told me that the Clancy Brothers changed his ife, and if you were there you’d know what he was talking about. Back then, Bob Dylan’s life was changed by the Clancey Brothers.

One of the two singles before the release of Shane MacGowan’s debut solo album, The Snake, some songs were inserted as ‘B’ sides that indicate he might have begun his education with a six-pence from his father to learn ‘Roddy McCorley or ‘The Minstrel Boy’.

Shane grew up with pop, rock and punk rock, too. As a leenager and lead singer with London’s anarchic ‘Nipple Erectors’, Shane gained brief and notorious fame as the punk who lost some of his ear at a ‘Sex Pistol’s’ show. As an Irishman in London, he grew up with prayers in the home, drink, Philomena Begley, Joe Dolan and Ray Lynam on the jukebox. A fan of the dark poetry of the Spaniard, Lorca, with more than a passing qcuaintance with the works of Behan, O’Casey, Wilde and Joyce, MacGowan has invested all these influences in his own writing and singing. Take ‘Church Of The Holy Spook’, the first track on the album, what do you hear? A punk rock song about Irish Catholicism, the story of the wild Irish rover to the tune of ‘That Old Time Religion’. MacGowan has packed the very best of his songwriting highlights with The Pogues into one album. ‘That Woman’s Got Me Drinking’ could have been a hit for the ‘Dubliners’ in the ’60s. ‘The Song With No Name’, an acheingly beautiful love song of regret and grief, is set to the tune of ‘The Hills Of Donegal’. ‘Aisling’ first appeared on Christy Moore’s ‘Smoke and Strong Whiskey’ album. It recalls a well used conceit of sheet sellers and balladeers of the 18th Century, who might sing of Ireland as a long lost love from whom the singer has been banished but never gone forever.

Shane MacGowan sees his own art in relatively simple terms: he brought rock’n’roll into the equation but he never changed the tradition. If anything MacGowan has helped resuscitate a ballad writing style that was in a very serious state of disrepair before he came along. That’s why he should get a Lifetime Archievement Award. But leave the last word to Shane (playing in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre tonight), who lists the following for ‘spiritual guidance’ on The Snake: Luke Kelly, Jimi Hendrix, Bird (Charlie Parker), Trane (John Coltrane) and The Holy Spook.

‘May the Spook be with you. Goodnight and good luck’.