I guess for most of us the news of Shane MacGowan’s death was received with sadness but not with surprise. Shane seemed ill for a long time. The drink and the drugs took their toll.
In among all his demons Shane MacGowan was a great songwriter, literate, deeply emotional and mostly with some sense of Irishness. He was born in London and had a lot of London inside of him but being Irish was his grá. Sometimes it was too Republican for some.
At times his music was a little raucous and raw for my soft ears. Beneath the din though there great songs.
I first realised such through the work of Peter Case. Peter covered A Pair Of Brown Eyes on his record The Man With the Blue Post-Modern Fragmented Neo-Traditionalist Guitar. It was a revelation and soon augmented by Christy Moore’s Aisling from Smoke and Strong Whisky.
In between I think Peace and Love might have been my first Pogues’ purchase. How I loved Misty Morning, Albert Bridge, somewhere between Ray Davies and Patrick Kavanagh.
Of course then there is Fairytale In New York, not only my favourite Christmas song but one of my all time favourite songs. Some of my friends could not disagree more. They hate it.
For me it gives Christmas some authenticity. As someone sick to his back teeth of manicured sheep, soft clean straw and a beautifully wall papered stable, I want the kind of broken world that the baby Jesus arrives in. MacGowan certainly gives us that.
As I have listened to it, to blog, these past hours I have come to think that it might be introspective. Here at the heart of the song is drunkenness and relational chaos BUT also there these moments of beauty and deep emotion. Is that not Shane MacGowan in one great song:
The boys in NYPD choir
Still singing Galway Bay
And the bells are ringing out
For Christmas Day
It’s sentimental, it’s Irish and Christ has arrived in the midst.
MY SHANE MACGOWAN PLAYLIST
DIRTY OLD TOWN
THOUSANDS ARE SAILING
SUMMER IN SIAM
IF I SHOULD FALL FROM GRACE WITH GOD
HAUNTED (with Sinead O’Connor)
YOU’RE THE ONE (with Maire Brennan)
RAINY NIGHT IN SOHO
MISTY MORNING, ALBERT BRIDGE
A PAIR OF BROWN EYES
A FAIRYTALE IN NEW YORK (with Kirsty McColl)
WONDERFUL WORLD (with Nick Cave)