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MacGowan in Filthy McNasty's in Islington, 1994. Alamy Stock Photo

Moshing, pushing and sweating 'Being at the front of a Pogues gig was heaven for me'

In his hedonistic heyday in London and beyond, Declan Bogue was obsessed with Shane MacGowan and The Pogues.

Last month, Ireland and the world said goodbye to Shane MacGowan, the frontman with The Pogues and celebrated songwriter. Shane was 65 when he passed away. Today, Christmas Day would have been his 66th birthday. Here, Declan Bogue of remembers his musical idol…

IT WAS WITH a fairly nipping hangover that I made my way towards the South Lotts Road for Shane MacGowan’s funeral procession on 8 December. That particular detail is not inconsequential. It felt appropriate. He’d have liked it that way.

Being there felt important, and intensely personal despite being out in the open among hundreds, thousands of others who were lost in their thoughts and feelings about what this man in the carriage meant to them.

First came the Artane Band over the bridge, followed by the cortège. A portrait of the artist as a younger man propped up against his basket, draped in a tricolour.

the-funeral-procession-of-shane-macgowan-starts-from-outside-shelbourne-park-stadium-as-it-makes-its-way-through-the-streets-of-dublin-ahead-of-his-funeral-in-co-tipperary-the-songwriter-who-found-f The funeral procession of Shane MacGowan starts from outside Shelbourne Park Stadium. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

It passed in silence. And what else do you do in these situations, only follow the coffin? The journey on foot then became something very different. Conversation hummed about songs and gigs and debauchery and fun and fights.

Among the crowd were committed punk rockers with the mohicans to match, suedeheads, big-bellied drinkers, young and old, men and women, girls and boys. Everyone.  

By the time the cortège left for the funeral celebration in Nenagh, we were left with the certainty that Ireland knows how to honour her artists. The funeral itself propelled that feeling into orbit.

One of a kind

For over two decades, Shane MacGowan was a powerful influence on me, if such a thing can be said about someone you never even talked to. I am reminded of my bedroom in north London at the start of this century in a houseshare when my constant playing of The Pogues meant I had to switch to headphones. That or face eviction. I was living with a group of musicians who were earnestly gigging the London-Irish circuit. It was a heady time.

One of the funniest things I had ever heard of, up to that point, was when my brother had moved over a few years previously to pursue a life in rock ‘n’ roll at 19. He had spent an evening in Filthy McNasty’s in Islington, a focal point and one of the best watering holes for Irish living in London. My brother told me he had once borne witness to Shane MacGowan being carried *into* the pub and being propped up against the bar before a pint of Martini and soda was set in front of him. I’ll not lie. I thought it was hugely impressive. At that time in London, I was also devouring the most unusual autobiography, by MacGowan’s partner Victoria Mary Clarke; ‘A Drink With Shane MacGowan.’ 

legendary-irish-rockstar-singersongwriter-frontman-for-the-pogues-the-popes-shane-macgowan-pictured-drinking-and-smoking-at-his-favourite-london-pub-filthy-macnastys-islington-1994 MacGowan in Filthy McNasty's in Islington, 1994. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

Clarke’s book took the reader to unusual places. The span was enormous. The impression I took away was that experience and reading can do so much to feed a hungry and inquisitive mind.

MacGowan’s life was a lesson in authenticity. He had an intellectual curiosity and courage that was unique, and it rubbed off on those of us who idolised him. I had left Ireland and through the music of Shane and The Pogues I immediately gained an appreciation of Ireland; its art and culture, the importance of seeking out experiences, the thirst for knowledge about everything around you and understanding your heritage and history.

A huge talent

I was working in an Irish Bar in Covent Garden at the time and later then writing in the exile newspaper ‘The Irish World’, so I hotboxed myself in life as an Irishman in London.  Drinking became a little more than an enthusiastic hobby. And it was London, there was always more on offer. 

There were enough days spent in the grip of shakes and hallucinations. Seeking alternative states was our way of connecting to some faraway plane of thought, feeling or emotion. I’d have lost vast tracts of days daydreaming and playing that same music in my own head.

The music of The Pogues was the soundtrack to our lives. Music is essential to the message, and what would Shane MacGowan be without music? The answer to that question is obvious, which is why the numerous pointless articles and features focusing on his physical appearance and appetite around his death were disappointing. There was so much more to him. It was the music and the message that made him special, it was heart and soul. The intertwining of the lyrics, the energy, the mood, the supreme musicianship and the arrangements.

It was that attitude and the devil-may-care approach that made being down the front at a Pogues gig so special. 

So what if Shane didn’t have a long writing career? What did anyone want? Chris Martin? Sting? Look at the impact of what he left instead. Think of the complexity of his stories and consider the blessing of his literary genius.

shane-macgowan-and-spider-stacy-of-the-pogues-just-prior-to-the-release-of-a-fairytale-of-new-york-in-1987 Shane Macgowan and Spider Stacy of the Pogues just prior to the release of A Fairytale Of New York in 1987. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The back catalogue of ‘Fairytale’, ‘Pair of Brown Eyes’, ‘Rainy Night in Soho’ are all now part of the national Canon, but consider what went into something like, ‘The Turkish Song of the Damned.’

For a start, the song was written from the title up. While on tour, MacGowan and Jem Finer were amused by a review in a German magazine of ‘The Turkey Song’ by The Damned, and flipped it into a sea shanty hijacked by pirates, soul-stealing, banshees and curses, Andrew Rankin’s battering drumming driving it along through crashing waves with MacGowan’s terrifying screaming in the background.

We’ll keep the lyrics to a minimum. But just the opening verse;

‘I come old friend from Hell tonight
‘Across the rotting sea
‘Nor the nails of the cross
‘Nor the blood of Christ
‘Can bring you help this eve
‘The dead have come to claim a debt from thee
‘They stand outside your door
‘Four score and three’

The whole glorious adventure then takes an about-turn for a quick blast of, ‘The Lark In The Morning,’ played as a jig. And that song is a whole other story for you to investigate. That captures Shane MacGowan and the writing talents of his bandmates, especially Jem Finer who was so competent at bringing Shane’s vision to reality. The work has a density to it. As much as the lead singer said the music was all about hitting the audience in the soul and the heart, there was a huge intellect at play here too.  


Shane’s incredible body of reading from a young age fed an imagination that was perfectly suited to the discipline of songwriting. His father Maurice had been an exceptional student but even would baulk at the young Shane, as he passed him out by reaching for the likes of Hermann Günther Grassmann.

It would evolve and change, but the defining image of The Pogues when they first arrived, was the look of Irish ‘navvies’ just off a shift. Covering songs such as ‘Poor Paddy’ and ‘Navigator’ aligned them to the constituency of the somewhat forgotten souls who were fed and housed rough as they dug the embankments and canals or rebuilt English cities after the second World War.

That wasn’t entirely his experience, though.

As detailed in the Richard Ball authorised biography, MacGowan’s grandfather Maurice took law exams. His working life was as deputy registrar of the Land Registry and he became a barrister after taking early retirement. His father – another Maurice – was one of the chief financial directors of C  & A. His aunt Sybil formed a children’s clothing company ‘Childrensalon’, that is still thriving today with a multi-million-pound turnover. His uncle Billy trained as a surgeon and became a professor at the Royal College of Surgeons.

His lineage was high-achieving and artistic, with his father staging plays in local theatres as a hobby.

The romantic idealist in him, however, was drawn to the more humble maternal side of the family, documenting their lives and fired by the memories of his partial upbringing on their farm near Borrisokane, Co Tipperary. Their sound was like nothing we’d heard before and yet it felt like it was just sitting there, all along.

london-uk-july-5th-2014-the-pogues-londons-irish-punk-folk-heroes-play-bst-festival-hyde-park-shane-macgowan-credit-rachel-megawhatalamy-live-news Pogues concert in Hyde Park. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The concert performances of The Pogues were what you made of it. The early energy of their mid-80s gigs was still there by the time I got to see them in the Finsbury Park Fleadh in 2002, reformed in all their glory the year before after a ten-year split from Shane, during which time he formed his own backing band, The Popes, and ploughed on.

But it was an ugly period for him. Heroin entered the equation and pushed everything else out. He spent months decamped in the parlour of The Commons with manager Joey Cashman for company. Some people around his wider circle started dying from it. Around this time, Pogues fans started a petition – approved by his father Maurice – to get Cashman to stand down from managing Shane.

a-candle-burns-next-to-a-photograph-of-the-pogues-frontman-shane-macgowan-at-the-mansion-house-in-dublin-after-a-book-of-condolence-was-open-by-the-lord-mayor-of-dublin-following-the-announcement-o Book of condolence open at The Mansion House in Dublin. Alamy Stock Photo Alamy Stock Photo

The greatest favour anyone could have done him came from Sinéad O’Connor, who informed the police about his drug-taking. He hated ‘being shopped’, but it was an important intervention. Succumbing to your own appetites is appealing in your youth, but becomes a prison in middle age before the key is thrown away entirely.

Some years ago, Christy Moore lamented the way Shane had become a cartoonish figure as if lifted from the pages of Punch. He’d have wanted him looked after better.

I wonder if MacGowan wanted it any other way. The 17-year-old who was committed to a psychiatric unit and later diagnosed with situational anxiety was never built for the light-entertainment circuit. He was loved and cared for by Victoria Mary Clarke. Not too many would covet her place but few knew him like she did.

He left us his gifts of high art. We will miss him, but he didn’t look as if he was particularly enjoying the last few years. Even heavily edited footage from the Crock of Gold film featured a man hunched over and barely engaged with anything around him. The enthusiastic urgings of those in the film, including Johnny Depp and Gerry Adams, couldn’t disguise that the main attraction was barely going through the motions. As he sang himself, ‘never knew there were worse things than dying.’

And yet in dying, he bestowed even more upon us. To walk behind his coffin felt like a significant moment in Irish history. To see him carried high from the church to Mo Ghile Mear (‘My Spirited Lad’), and hear the choir. To even watch and listen as Nick Cave did his thing.

And to hear ‘Fairytale…’ now and forever. What treasure to leave behind.

So Happy Birthday, Shane.

You could have been someone. By God, you were. 

Declan Bogue is a journalist and reporter with

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