Shane MacGowan Interview

Source: The Irish World
Date: 21st November 1997
Author: Tonya Henderson
Copyright: (c) The Irish World 1997

Shane McGowan has revealed one of his main reasons for quitting The Pogues – the band wouldn’t let him air his pro-Republican views through his music.

McGowan wanted to write and sing rebel songs but band members vetoed his plans, leading to more than one angry bust-up.

The drunken rock idol complained: “They wanted to vote on everything. I couldn’t do the kind of music I wanted to perform. They wouldn’t let me do it.”

McGowan has just released a CD with new group The Popes, entitled The Crock of Gold.


One track on McGowan’s new release refers to London as “the County Hell” with lyrics centring around the Irish doing “their patriotic duty” – one line waxes on the subject of burning the city down.

McGowan’s pro-Republican views haven’t mellowed with age. The talented songwriter is approaching his 40th birthday and is considering marrying his girlfriend of 12 years, Victoria.

He says: “I hope the peace process works, but I can see that it will be a long drawn out process.

“I think it should happen now – the English should get out. We’ve talked enough, they should let the Irish run their own country.”

And the boozy balladeer goes one step further with his political views, when he adds: “I’ve always said the Brits have no right to be there. I believe in a Republic – a socialist Republic.”

But the embittered McGowan reserves his harshest criticism for the media: “They’ve written more about how I live my life than about my music. They’ve turned me into a drunken monster!”
Shane McGowan, the full uncut interview on Music Lead

Shane McGowan is back in the spotlight with a new album, The Crock Of Gold. Tonya Henderson asks if the quintessential hedonist has reached the end of his rainbow – or his tether

Following a wait which was shorter than anticipated, I met Shane McGowan at one of his favourite watering holes, Filthy McNasty’s in Islington. He shook my hand and joined me at a table while his manager organised the necessary drinks and cigarettes. Dressed in black, he is no longer the emaciated figure of a couple of years back. He speaks slowly and deliberately, with the air of one who has nothing to prove and plenty to say.

The story began in Co. Tipperary on Christmas Day thirty-nine years ago when Shane McGowan entered the world. The McGowan family moved to England when their son was six. At school his talent for English was remarkable, winning him a scholarship at the Catholic Westminster Public School. Less than a year later, aged fourteen, he was expelled for possession of drugs. Much of the next four years were spent walking the streets of London’s West End, hanging out with junkies and disciples of the city’s underworld.

McGowan has never elaborated on those years. He prefers to leave it at that, insisting,

“I was back and forth between here and Ireland. I did lots of different jobs and I was always playing music. There’s nothing strange in that, is there?”

By his eighteenth birthday he had spent six months in detox.

McGowan was a prominent figure in the ’70s punk scene with his band, The Nipple Erectors (later The Nips) until 1980, when he formed The New Republicans with his friend Spider Stacey. Playing Irish rebel songs, The New Republicans were the first to fuse the raw energy of punk with Irish music. The Pogues continued to produce this powerful exciting sound which seemed to voice the sentiments of a marginalised and insecure faction – the young Irish in England.

The Pogues enjoyed tremendous acclaim with McGowan as their frontman, releasing five albums of which If I Should Fall From Grace With God, Red Roses For Me and Rum Sodomy And The Lash are now classics.

The Pogues disbanded following their 1991 Japanese tour. McGowan’s drink and drug habits were, by now, out of control. Why did things go pear shaped?

“The whole thing was so shite that I had to lose myself in the drink. I was fed up with the band and the music and the whole thing. All I could do was drink. I just lost myself in the drink.”

These days McGowan tours in moderation with his new band The Popes and makes solo recordings.

Despite having spent most of his life in London he still sees Ireland as home, but does he intend to return from whence he came?

“Oh yeah, yeah. I’m going back all right. My mum and dad and sister are living in Tipperary and I’ll be going there too.”

One track on The Crock Of Gold album, McGowan refers to London as the County Hell. Is it such a terrible place? From his perspective London is hardly part of England, it exists as a separate entity.

“The county hell is London, all right – but don’t take that too seriously,” he explains, “London is all right because there are so many Irish here. You’ve got Irish pubs, Irish music. There are Greeks, Italians, Jews – a completely different race of people to the rest of England – the rest of England is totally foreign to me.

“I’ve spent as much time in Ireland as I have in London. My home is in Ireland.”

On the album McGowan takes a shot at the “Artistic Queers,

And all the fuckin’ bastards that drink trendy Irish beers… and the journalistic whores.”

Considering that he has been, and continues to be the subject of one of the most enduring rumours in the music business – the one that places Shane McGowan on his deathbed – it’s no wonder he’s got his knife in the press. How does it feel to read that you’ve got six months to live?

“I’ve got to say that it hurts but people have been writing that shite about me for years and I’m still here.

“There has been more written about how I live my life and what state my health is in than about my music. They’ve turned me into a drunken monster.”

“I’ve got it under control now, I don’t drink spirits anymore.” he said as he raised the clear liquid to his lips.

When McGowan was with The Pogues he was not allowed to preach his Republican beliefs through his lyrics. Now in the driving seat he has given full vent to those views on The Crock Of Gold.

“I hope the peace process works but I can see that it’ll be a long drawn out process.

“I think it should happen now – the English should get out. We’ve talked enough, they should let the Irish run their own country.

“I’ve always said that the Brits have no right to be there. I believe in a Republic, a Socialist Republic.”

McGowan has often said that he has been greatly influenced by Big Tom and his contemporaries of the bygone showband. There is a heavy Country & Irish influence on the new album – Big Tom is even pictured on the back cover.

“I like quite a lot of Country & Irish stuff. I like Big Tom, I like Joe Dolan, I like Johnny McEvoy and I like Philomena Begley. I don’t like Dickie Rock.

“Joe Dolan is the Irish Tom Jones. Big Tom is the Irish Elvis. I admire the way he bridges the generation gap. He’s got a great personality and he’s a good singer.”

The crock of gold which can, if we are to believe our childhood stories, be found at the end of the rainbow is depicted on the album cover.

“I painted the album cover,” volunteers McGowan. “Those are malicious fairies on a rainy day in hell.”

The album provides a vehicle for more of McGowan’s fascinating if disarming emotional and intellectual meanderings. He feels that it is the best work he has produced since If I Should Fall From Grace With God and dismisses the lukewarm reviews with which it has been met in some quarters.

“It’s much better than The Snake, the music is better. I decided what went on it and I produced it.”

There was quite a lot of dissent between McGowan and his record company during recording of The Snake with McGowan vetoed on various issues. As a result he says,

“I wasn’t happy with that album and I’m not proud of it.”

The Crock Of Gold elaborates on McGowan’s very personalised themes and obsessions and confirms his reputation as one of the most ferociously poetic and impressionistic of song writers. The album is more of his sweet, twisted perception of the base, the debased, the holy, the unholy, the lovely and the unlovely. Deceptively simple it encompass worlds of experience and passion, all conveyed with a desperate urgency. In case he forgets…

Typically McGowan, The Crock Of Gold ultimately an album of feeling, delivered with feeling – something which makes his records so special in a business that so often denies and destroys feeling in favour of the numb and dumb.

Shane McGowan & The Popes play The Forum, Kentish Town, London NW5 on Sunday, 14th December. £12.50 in advance. Tel Bookings: 0171 344 0044 and usual agents.