SHANE & THE POPES
of Shane Newsletter
Date Printed: May 1994
By: Jim MacCool
"The Brit Awards?... A pile of fat greasy wankers in tuxedos, with
a load of scum up the front - who I could identify with - who were there
to dance for the cameras, because the guys in the tuxedos were too busy
stuffing their faces and drinking... Elton John was really nice to my and
my girlfriend, Victoria, though, and the whole thing was a really good laugh."
Grinning, Shane MacGowan, the former leader of the Pogues, sits in a north
London pub, sipping on a glass of Irish liqueur and discusses his recent
televised appearance with mentor Van Morrison, at the prestigious 'Brit'
awards. Despite his affection for Morrison, Shane has little respect for
the music business moguls who gatheres at the award ceremony. Shane's appearance
with Van Morrison was his first major public appearance in quite some time.
As a fan of Morrison's he was delighted to be asked, but isn't quite sure
why Van wanted him. "I don't know why he asked me," says Shane,
modestly. "Perhaps he likes me..."
Recently, Shane has changed his lifestyle, and his drinking habits. He looks
better than he has for a decade, at least, although he protests, when I
mention his healthy appearance.
"I'm in terrible shape," he laughs, "I've got a beer
gut..." And he pulls up his green silk shirt to demonstrate, though
the pale flesh of his belly actually reflects the care he has been taking
of himself recently. His impersonation of Jim Morrison in Paris, circa 1971,
with bloated carcass and beard, has disappeared, and Shane is fit and sober
and lucid. He is ready to admit that he may have overdone his drinking in
the past, butnow says that he is "practising moderation in all things,"
and moderation seems to suit him.
"I know that I'm going to live to be eighty-eight, at least, and I'm
still going to feel cheated... but you can't argue with death." Shane
also seems happier, as well as healthier, than he has for many years. His
happiness he attributes to his new band, the Popes, with whom he has been
writing and rehearsing, for the past year. "I'm doing what I want,
and I've got a great band, that plays what I ask them to play... And I'm
doing what I want, within the confines of this shitty, stinking, music business."
Earlier, in a little rehearsal studio, a stone's throw from Pentonville
Prison, I heard Shane and the Popes rampage through a set of new material
and esoteric covers, with Shane howling at the microphone like a man posessed,
a far cry from his lack-lustre vocals on the later Pogues work. There is
excitement in the studio, and a feeling that, with this new band, Shane
can finally give full expression to his musical vision, and his vision is
now much more positive than the pessimism of the past.
Shane explains how he became disilusioned, as the energy and the enthusiasm
of the early Pogues became dissipated and diluted, in a quest for commercial
success. "I've always had my music, but I couldn't play what I wanted.
On the Pogues' best album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God,
me and Jem wrote every note, apart from the traditional numbers which I
arranged... but after that, things changed. On Peace & Love I
had one last go, then I gave up. I thought the music business people would
leave me alone, so I could have my fun. On Hell's Ditch, I didn't
take hardly any interest at all, apart from being dragged off the floor
in front of a mike. I had a laugh... but they rejected all the best songs."
Here Popes' guitarist, Paul McGuinness, interjects with a paraphrase of
the old John West slogan. "It's the songs that the Pogues reject, that
makes the Popes sound so good..."
Shane laughs, but there is no suggestion that the Popes survive on outcast
tracks and tidbits from Shane's glory days with the Pogues. He has written
a substantial body of new work, but is still annoyed at the rejection of
what he regards as some of his finest songs. Shane may be bitter about the
business, but stresses that his split with the Pogues was purely due to
musical differences, and that there is no personal animosity. Indeed, the
Pogues have been sharing the same rehearsal studios as Shane's new band.
They are still the best of friends.
"I'd be quite prepared to write their next album for them," sniggers
Shane, "if they feel like playing some good music for a change (laughs)...
Seriously, though, I still love them. I love them all... what's left of
The members of the new band are mainly old friends of Shane, people he feels
comfortable with, musicians who are able to understand Shane, and come up
with the RAW sound that Shane wants. According to Shane, the band play his
music just the way he wants is. "We've grown up together," says
Danny Heatley, the Popes' drummer. "It's kicking. It's going really
really well, because we know what Shane wants, plus we're really good friends.
We hang out together." This inspires Shane to remark, obscenely, on
Danny's intimate anatomy, and break into his famous snurfle of a laugh.
"We have a high secual drive in this group," cackles Shane, "just
like in the early Pogues."
Danny has been playing drums since he was 16, in all sorts of bands, from
The Exploited to The Boothill Foot-tappers. His father is Spike Heatley,
the famous jazz-man, who played double-bass on some of the Faces' early
singles, much admired by Shane.
Kieran O'Hagan, who has been involved in various musical projects with Shane
over the last ten years, belts out rhythm guitar for the band. Jieran's
input is not just guitar, but also his knowledge of the traditional fold
music of his home, Co. Armagh, in Northern Ireland, where his father, Sean,
is a keen collector of ballads and yarns.
Paul McGuinness plays lead guitar. He is a veteran musician from the punk
days of the seventies, when he played with the Dublin bands D.C.9 and Tokyo
Olympics, who Shane laughingly dismisses as "a bunch of poofters."
Besides the Popes, Paul plays with his own band, Once Upon A Time.
Bernie France, on bass, is an old schoolchum of Shane's. He recalls how,
twenty years ago, they spent their days at the College for Further Education
in Hammesmith "...smoking dope in the common room before sneaking off
to get pissed in the pubs and going to see [legendary acid-punk band] the
Pink Fairies." Like the rest of the Popes, Bernie was a Pogues/Pogue
Mahone fan right at the start, and recalls the very early days with a great
deal of affection - it's that kind of wild excitement and energy that the
Popes are trying to re-create.
According to Shane, the new album [The Snake] (due for release in
the early summer [of 1994]) will sound: "...Two thirds like the early
Pogues, what we used to call 'Paddybeat'," he sniggers, "and the
rest is R'n'B and Rock'n'Roll and Hard Rock... and there's even one track
with a Reggae beat, a toasting number... and there's Thai-beat and a coupla
Jazz-Soul type numbers, like Sly meets Coltrane downtown. But the greater
part is paddybeat, early Pogues style. Nothing to do with what the Pogues
are doing now." Judging from the Popes' performance in the rehearsal
studio, Shane's new material is equal to anything he has written in his
past career. From the brilliant Snake With Eyes of Garnet to That
Woman's Got Me Drinking to I'll be Your Handbag, it's obvious
that Shane's creativity has not be affected by his disgust with the music
business. In addition to a wad of new, original material, the Popes blast
their way though a wide range of covers, from a rip-roering version of Cracklin'
Rose, like Neil Diamond on Amyl Nitrate, to Junior Wells' Lovey Dovey,
to traditional ballads like The Rising of the Moon and country classic
The Streets of Baltimore. But Shane is clear as to what the major
influence on the new material is: traditional Irish music and balladry.
"We follow a tradition, the Irish tradition, and it's an aural/oral
tradition, not written down, which has lasted for thousands of years AND
WE'RE PART OF IT. The English fold tradition - and I've seen it in Kent,
proper Morris dancers having a ceili, with bodhrans, the lot - is rare,
but it exists... Industry has wiped out the fold tradition in England. The
fold tradition will die if it isn't followed."
Another indfluence of Shane and the band is religion. Scattered around the
studio are all sorts of religious artefacts: pinned to an amplifier, next
to a picture of Phil Lynott, is a picture of a nun, with the caption, "Sister
Margaret leads a life of chastity, poverty and obedience...", there
is a genuine voodoo doll hanging on the wall; a huge crucifix sits on tops
of a speaker; while another smaller crucifix hangs directly in front of
Shane's mike. And this is no corny gothic pisstake. The Popes are a band
who take their religion seriously: original news songs include Old Time
Religion and Church of the Holy Spook. "I believe in one
great spiritual entity," says Shane, "which the Catholic Church
calls God, and which I call the Tao. It's the same thing. People say that
the Christian church in Ireland was overlaid on a pagan culture,, using
the word 'pagan' as a slur... but all the ancient religions of the world
have the same basic idea of an all-enveloping creative being ro force, which
the old Irish religion represented by a circle, because they worshipped
the sun... Patrick inscribed a cross over the circle, although the cross
is a mandala anyway. The mandala of christ, the crucifix, is a STRONG PROTECTIVE
THING AND GUIDE. I feel a lot better with a Gaelic cross around my neck..."
So far, the Popes have played only a small number of low-key gigs, in Ireland,
and at the Mean Fiddler in London. Their next London Gig is a Saint Patrick's
day bash at The Grand in Clapham, although the band are trying to organize
a small tour of the Celtic world, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin, at around the
same time. With a set of twenty-six songs rehearsed and ready, the Popes
are bursting to let rip, live, and with Shane's new enthusiam and vigour,
sparks should fly.
Shane is producing the new album himself, along with Dave Jordan, who has
worked with the Stones, The Specials, Bob Marley, and on the Pogues' Rainy
Night In Soho, also co-produced with Shane. They hope to get Jerry Lee
Lewis, the Killer himself, to guest on a new version of the rockabilly anthem
Kind of the Bop, written by Shane in his days with the Nips [previously
known as The Nipple Erectors]. Dave is as enthusiastic as the rest of the
band. "Because Shane's not under any [commercial] pressure," says
Dave, "he's the happiest, healthiest and most lucid I've ever seen
him. He's completely in control."
Fair play to you, Shane.
Your intrepid maintainer is DzM.