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Shane MacGowan: A Crock of ****? Part One

So, we had Julian Temple’s film about Shane MacGowan on BBC4 the other night, called The Crock of Gold.. And hard work it was too; I had to watch it in three separate viewings. Just like having to spend an evening with an unpleasant and patronising drunk. (Think Sid Vicious in Temple’s film of the Sex Pistols,The Filth and the Fury, nodding out by the side of Nancy, and making about as much sense.) Now, I’m a big fan of Temple’s work, including his peon to London, London: the Modern Babylon, and the city in some way provides a link between all three of Temple’s documentaries. I’m not proposing to discuss MacGowan’s ‘Irish  poetic genius’, but do want to explore why he has been proposed as such, and to why some (mostly) men are so sycophantic and brown-nosing around and about him. An alternative title for this blog was Just like Keith Richards, in that both men have been lionised by a particular type of music fan, despite having produced nothing of any value for several decades. Both have been spuriously celebrated for being still alive at this point in time - the difference is that Richards is quite likeable and seemingly modest, and seems to be in reasonable shape. MacGowan lacks both qualities.

The Crock of Gold was financed by Johnny Depp, in the news recently for his own particular contribution to #MeToo. Depp clearly so wants to be ‘rock and roll’, and seems to find McGowan’s every utterance unutterably hilarious (they aren’t, being mostly incomprehensible). Ditto the usual suspects, Bobbie Gillespie and Nick Cave (similar exponents of macho posturing, vide Murder Ballads and Vanishing Point, for example). Even Bono gets in on the act. MacGowan’s  posturing about the IRA (in person to Gerry Adams, ffs) invites similar ridicule to Gillespie’s around The Black Panthers and Cave’s around Stagger Lee and the reductio ad absurdum of the utterly tedious ‘O’Malley’s Bar’ (on Murder Ballads). Add The Clash to make a toxic stew of white male testosterone (beefed up by unhealthy doses on narcotics, in most of these cases, Strummer excepted). Despite the incredibly loyal Victoria Clarke, MacGowan’s audience seems to be overwhelmingly masculine. (The live Pogues film clips show the audience to almost entirely consist of shouty, sweary and sweaty blokes, intoxicated with their own belligerence and pissed swagger.) The violence against women in Cave’s oeuvre has drawn much comment, but MacGowan mainly reserves his own ire for those who have somehow upset him for whatever reason, Bob Gelfof (now I wonder why?), the English generally (”I feel guilty for not joining the IRA” is one of his more preposterous  bon mots), W.B Yeats.

MacGowan’s self-presentation of a horny-handed man of the Irish soil and public house seems rather contradicted by his obvious tipple of choice (and it ain’t Guinness or whiskey): the sheer fact that he’s nodding out in nearly every ‘shot’ is testament to Thailand’s favourite export. Despite the whole ‘survivor’ shtick (which has served Keef so well), he seemed confined to a wheelchair at the time of the film, having apparently fallen down the stairs (can’t think how), coincidently the mode of death of Sandy Denny and John Balance (or lack of same, unfortunately). He looks absolutely TERRIBLE, and yet this seems to only spur on the sycophants and celebrants, who giggle at his every pronouncement and tablet from the mountain. (Sample: “the most popular Irish word is “fuck”, cue side-holding and tear-wiping from the likes of Depp and Clarke: ‘feck’ might have been more accurate?) The down side of this sort of hagiography is that it continues to promote decades-old ‘jazz cliches’ about substance abuse and creativity: McGowan’s brief spurt of creativity (approximately 1984-8) seems to have finished once he discovered the joys of narcotics.

The Pogues’ first three albums were wonderful (up to a point), but I think comparisons to Yeats himself, Joyce, Behan, O’Neill, Synge, etc. (as on the inside sleeve of If I Should Fall from Grace with God) stretch credibility, and underestimate the considerable contribution of the other band members. (For example, the best track on the latter album was by Phillip Chevron, ‘Thousands are Sailing’ and the ‘ka-ching’ fave, ‘Fairytale of New York’, was co-written with Jem Finer, it needs stating.)

To be continued…

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The banner picture is by the late Mal Dean (1941-1974), which featured on the cover of the 1972 Incus Records vinyl release, Live Performances at Verity's Place, by two free improvisation pioneers, the English guitarist Derek Bailey and Dutch percussionist Han Bennink.