Punk and Disorderly
It is hard to believe that Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan is still alive. So many in the legendary band’s circle – including guest member/producer Joe Strummer and A Fairytale Of New York collaborator Kirsty MacColl – have died. But MacGowan, who was always the group’s biggest drink and drug hellraiser, endures.
“We were an organic band,” says MacGowan, 46. “We lived like a family and what happened was that all the good people died and all the worst people lived.”
Dressed in a Teddy Boy suit, leopardskin brothel creepers and sporting sideburns, MacGowan’s famous teeth are now almost non-existent. The blackened stubs poke out of infected gums in a mouth that looks like a badly-tended graveyard, and hesitant stutters and long, spraying showers of laughter punctuate his conversation.
The two Pogues bandmates alongside him, Terry Woods and Spider Stacy, have put their wild drinking days behind them. “We retired defeated,” grins Terry.
The band is back together to celebrate the release of their magnificent back-catalogue of punk-powered folk classics on CD. They are also preparing for a short Christmas tour, although with Shane in songwriting retirement, a full-scale reunion is doubtful.
“There’s no need,” Shane cackles. “The royalties still come in and with the reissues there’ll be even more!”
As he works his way through three separate glasses of port and lemonade, MacGowan seems determined to compensate for his colleague’s sobriety.
“I’ll take anything,” he says, “and a drink is always a good start. But even I have had to ease back from some things.”
In particular he’s referring to heroin. At one point, fellow Irish star Sinead O’Connor was so fearful for MacGowan’s health that she called the police to intervene.
“There is no hard feelings toward Sinead,” he shrugs. “In fact, I’m godfather to her son who is also called Shane. I got off smack because of her, got away from that whole horrible world.
“I wouldn’t personally have gone to the police, and I wouldn’t recommend informing to anyone, but it was what it took to do it. Getting away from being strung out on heroin and being free again is a good feeling. It’s like being free of anything.”
The Pogues were one of the most original and influential bands of the ’80s. Admirers included Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Hollywood stars such as Jack Nicholson and Matt Dillon, along with current day acts such as The Strokes and Green Day. In their heyday, to fuel their high-energy music, a roadie turned a flight case into a drink and drug dispensary.
“We were all having a night out, but it was a long night out,” explains Stacy. “And some of us still haven’t come home yet.”
MacGowan denies that he had a death wish or that his songs were obsessed with the afterlife.
“I want to kill that myth for a start,” he roars. “Life begins with birth, ends in death and starts again with rebirth. People die and get born and do what they want and that’s what happens in my songs, same as any other songs. They aren’t obsessed with death. You can look through them and find humour and anger and everything else. Lyrically, we were a band that followed the Irish tradition.”
But is he surprised to find, despite all the losses, that the original group can still get onstage together?
“I never thought about it at all,” MacGowan insists. “We’re a f***ing rock ’n’ roll band, so of course we’re going to carry on. Look at The Grateful Dead and The Rolling Stones.”
So why no new album?
“The Sex Pistols only made one album. That was enough – why go over old ground? It’s great you can still go and see the Stones, but I haven’t bought a new Stones album for years. Groups have a lifespan and once it’s finished there’s nothing more you can do.”
After the interview, MacGowan takes us across Dublin to his favourite Japanese restaurant where the evening finishes in a lake of sake. Along the way, he shows his fiercely patriotic Irish side by singing the praises of Ronan Keating and Westlife. Finally, he tells us the meaning of life.
“Reincarnation,” he states. “I think we just come back and do exactly the same thing all over again, forever. That would explain déja vu. And anyway, I can’t tell who is a ghost here and who isn’t, can you?”
Maybe that’s why he drinks so many spirits.
The Pogues’ back-catalogue is reissued on Monday.
Copyright © 2004, Daily Mirror
All rights reserved