On the morning of 12 January 1989, I had arranged to meet Shane MacGowan outside the Pogues' management office in Camden Town at 11am. He arrived just after midday, besuited and freshly shaven, with razor nicks all over his chin to prove it. He was carrying a pack of Kraft cheese slices and a two-litre bottle of white wine.
Even by his usual standards, he seemed somewhat altered – preoccupied and fidgety, his conversation even more disconnected and tangential than usual. I hailed a taxi and we headed for the Montague Arms in south-east London, where Nick Cave and Mark E Smith of the Fall were waiting alongside music journalist James Brown and photographer Bleddyn Butcher. The occasion was a so-called "summit meeting" cooked up by Brown, who was then features editor of NME, where Butcher and I also worked.
It soon became clear that MacGowan was nervous at the thought of meeting Cave, whose music he revered, particularly the mutant swamp blues of Cave's former group, the Birthday Party. The wine, and whatever else he had ingested that morning, was his way of calming his nerves. The cheese slices were his nod to breakfast. When we finally arrived at the pub, he disappeared into the loo for 15 minutes and returned looking miraculously refreshed.
The ensuing interview, which began two hours later than scheduled, meandered on for at least another three hours, fuelled by alcohol and, as the afternoon drew on, amphetamines. (Throughout, the newly clean Cave, much to Smith and MacGowan's surprise, stuck steadfastly to mineral water.) Edited, but still fractured, a transcript was published in NME in late February 1989, under the heading The Unholy Trinity. It has since attained a kind of semi-legendary status among music fans of a certain vintage.
In truth, though, it was a messy and inconclusive affair, with Cave as the still centre of the often fractious exchanges triggered by the wilfully provocative Smith. A cacophonous jam session on the pub's small stage concluded the proceedings with Cave on organ, Smith on guitar and MacGowan on drums – I still have a cassette recording somewhere – before we reconvened in Brown's Camberwell flat, where the portrait of the three on this page was taken. Two things strike me about the photograph: it captures a calmness and a sense of good-natured camaraderie that were not otherwise evident that day; and it marks the first meeting of Cave and MacGowan, the moment their ongoing friendship began...