They said I wouldn't get to 40..Now I'm having the last laugh
Former Pogues singer Shane MacGowan throws back his head and lets out a hearty laugh.
It sounds remarkably like a cross between a rattlesnake's hiss and a portable toilet being flushed.
MacGowan has just come off stage with his new group The Popes and is enjoying himself. He's back home in Ireland and is having the last laugh on everyone who predicted he'd pop his clogs before he hit 40.
The former wildman, who shot to fame and fortune in the 1980s with London- Irish folk rockers The Pogues, now takes things at a much slower pace.
The singer with the voice like gravel and sandpaper will be 40 next year. But he no longer lives life in the fast lane, where a heady cocktail of booze, drugs and late nights once threatened to send him to an early grave.
Five years after the gap-tooth star was thrown out of his own group for being permanently out-to lunch, MacGowan has shown remarkable staying power.
He has survived years on the road, a spell in a detox clinic, and battles with his inner demons.
He's now clean-shaven and clear-skinned, and looks remarkably dapper in a shiny silver suit. The ever-present fag makes a constant trip from his nicotine-stained fingers to his mouth, while he slowly sips some white wine from a plastic cup.
The Pogues, with only three original members remaining, called it a day with a gig in a London pub last week. Shane went along to wish them well and sing a few numbers.
But things didn't turn out as planned. It was a chaotic and emotional evening for some, and after a misunderstanding Shane was nearly thrown out and only allowed to sing one song by the group's minders.
"I didn't feel anything about them breaking up. They've had nothing to do with me for a long time. I don't know why people thought they'd outlast me," Shane chuckles mischievously, taking another sip of wine.
As the man said, rumours of his death have been greatly exaggerated.
"I'm looking after myself these days. I'm eating regularly and cutting back on booze. I feel pretty good," he admits.
And while his old band deserted him, his music has stayed right by his side. He's written nearly 20 songs for his next album, and plans to enter the studio next month to begin recording.
"I'm still writing lots of songs. Always have done. There's no problems there, thank goodness."
In the middle of all of the amphetamine-fuelled Paddywhackery, it took time for MacGowan to be recognised as a talent.
In the image of great Irish writers like Brendan Behan, his genius was frequently overshadowed by his own wildman antics that could make Oliver Reed and George Best look like choirboys.
The group's reputation as party animals went before them wherever they travelled, while they shamelessly upset fuddy- duddy purists with their irreverent renditions of traditional Irish tunes.
But original songs like Fairytale Of New York, A Pair of Brown Eyes and Streams Of Whiskey soon showed there was more to Shane than a sentimental London singer with a rose-tinted picture of his parents' homeland.
Today Shane divides his time between the London flat he shares with journalist girlfriend Victoria Clarke and his parents' old house near Silvermines in Co Tipperary.
They in Dublin for over a year, staying in Bono's Martello Tower in Bray and later renting a flat in Mountjoy Square.
But Shane found it all too claustrophobic. He was also upset when landlords refusing to let him properties when they discovered who he was.
"Dublin was just too small for me. Everybody there knows your business. I have to live in London because that's where I work, but I'm spending more and more time in Tipperary."
When he's there, Shane likes to walk in the countryside and visit relatives. "I walk to the pub. The nearest one is four or five miles away. That's how I get my exercise," he chuckles.
Born in Kent, Shane's mother took him to Ireland when he was only three months old. They lived in Tipperary until he was six, when the family moved to London.
Ask if he's a happy man these days and he arches a bushy eyebrow. "Ah, come on. I'm doing all right. There's a good vibe with my new band. We like hanging out together. It's not a job, it's just fun."
The band have been together for two years now, and all are fiercely protective of their leader.
Shane and The Popes tour at their own pace, and he has vowed never to repeat the gruelling work schedule of The Pogues.
"The Pogues was originally a lot of fun. But it soon turned into a job. Quite honestly, I was glad to leave it behind. If I hadn't left when I did I'd be dead or in an institution," he admits.
Long-standing girlfriend Victoria is currently writing his biography. It's expected to hit the shelves next year.
"Yeah, I'm looking forward to the book coming out. But I'm also looking forward to the money from it," he laughs.
And what of reports that made mention of Shane working as a rent boy in London before he formed The Pogues?
"That's a load of rubbish. That never happened. It all came from a song I wrote about rent boys called The Old Main Drag. I knew some people who did it, but I certainly never did it myself."
Shane is also waiting for Channel 4 to screen a documentary he made last year in Johnny Depp's notorious Viper Rooms club in Los Angeles. It was on the pavement outside the club that actor River Phoenix collapsed and died from a drug cocktail.
"I think they're waiting until they're desperate to put it out. I think it turned out really well. We had Chris Penn in it, and Johnny as well. It's good. It's called A Drink With Shane MacGowan."
Shane becomes embarrassed when manager Joey Cashman says Depp idolises him. Last year Depp flew into London to play guitar with Shane on Top Of The Pops.
"Ah, come on Joey, don't say things like that," he blushes.
Shane's next album will have three songs with the word "Paddy" in the title, but he denies there's any concept involved. "Paddy Public Enemy" is rumoured to be about the late Dominic McGlinchey, although MacGowan dismisses the suggestion.
"It's about an IRA man, but no one in particular. It's just a story. I'm not expressing an opinion on the IRA," he says.
Friends think another new song "Mama Lou" may be about Van Morrison's ex -fiancee Michelle Rocca. Shane is tight-lipped about that one too.
As Victoria sticks her head around the door to see if we're finished, former Thin Lizzy roadie Big Charlie comes in to escort Shane to their van.
On the way, fans want a word or an autograph, and he happily obliges. Shane MacGowan is back in the land of the living, and it looks like he's here for the long haul.
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Great wadges of thanks to Adrian Leach for help with this article.
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