Life Lessons with Shane MacGowan

Shane MacGowan and Victoria Mary Clarke Pic: VIPIreland

Michelle Dardis sat down with The Fairytale of New York singer to hear about his Life Lessons…

My teens…

I accidentally became famous on the London punk scene in 1976 at a Clash gig when my friend Jane bottled me and the newspapers wrote that she had bitten my ear off. We were just messing around but there was blood spurting everywhere and the photographers took pictures and suddenly the headlines read: ‘Cannibalism at a Clash gig.’ I was mentioned as an example of the ‘menace to society’ that punk was creating. I had spent my eighteenth birthday in a mental hospital. I had a complete nervous breakdown and it was horrific, brutal. People were being given ECT and nobody was being cured of anything. When I came out, I was very angry and punk was the perfect way to express what I was feeling.

My 20s…

This is when I started The Pogues. It was my friend Ollie who actually came up with the idea of playing Irish rebel songs and ballads. We started as The New Republicans and the Pogue Mahone and eventually The Pogues. I wasn’t supposed to be the lead singer and I hadn’t originally intended to write songs, but I just started doing it and gradually I ended up being the front man, which led to a lot of pressure, and responsibility. Elvis Costello made a bey with us that we couldn’t write a Christmas song, so we wrote Fairytale of New York. Oy took me a few years to write the lyrics, it was the longest I have ever spent on a song. It was also in my twenties when I met Victoria. I fell in love with her the minute I saw her. She told me to ‘f*** off’ the first time I spoke to her and I was mesmerised. We didn’t get together for four years. My twenties were a time of really following my heart.

Pic: Andrew Catlin

My 30s…

In my thirties The Pogues started to get really big. We toured the US endlessly. It was really gruesome for me and lonely. I hated it. I felt alienated. I started drinking too much, fighting with everyone in the band and arguing with Victoria, who started coming on the road to keep me company. There were some really great bits too though and we had a lot of fun but I told the band that I wanted to leave and they didn’t want me to. I stayed even though I knew it was a bad idea. Eventually they let me go when I fell out of a train in Japan. They felt bad about getting rid of me bit I was relieved to be free. I came hoe with Hepatitis, and I had to give up drinking which was hard to do. Then, I started a new band called The Popes. Johnny Depp played on our first single That Woman’s Got Me Drinking. He also directed the video and starred in it so we became friends. It was a time when I got to work with a few other musicians that I really liked too; Nick Cave, Sinéad O’Connor and also Moya Brennan from Clannad. Around this time, I had been doing a bit of heroin, because it made me feel safe and confident, but gradually I started doing more and more until I really needed it and I couldn’t be without it. It brought out the worst in me. I was really cunning and I lied to people. I shut myself off from the people I loved, like Victoria. We had a lot of arguments about it and she wanted me to go to rehab but I didn’t believe rehab worked for anyone, probably because of my experience back when I was 18.

My 40s…

My forties were a pretty low point for me. A lot of people were dying, Victoria left me and I went straight back to the smack.  I started smoking crack as well and crack is even more addictive than heroin. All you can think about is getting some more. I don’t even have any clear memories from my forties except that Kirsty MacColl died, which hit me really hard. I was still writing and recording, bit I was out of my mind all of the time and I wasn’t really taking anything in. It was the biggest regret in my life losing Victoria, so I tried really hard to get her back and found a clinic to get me off heroin. Everyone thinks they can handle heroin but they can’t. I was very lucky. I survived and Victoria came back to me. We got engaged, although we didn’t get married for a long time!

My 50s…

I woke up one day and I was 50. Victoria had a surprise birthday party for me, our families were there and I was really moved. I always hated my birthday because it’s on Christmas Day, which is supposed to be Christ’s birthday and I didn’t like that people tied to make it about me. During the decade, Victoria wrote a book about angels. I was really proud of her, thought the book was brilliant. We did a gardening programme together as well, had lots of dinner parties at home, and had friends over. Those were happy times, until my mother died, which sent me into a massive depression. It hit me really hard for a long time. Then I was coming home from the studio where I was recording a new album with The Cronins and I fell. I broke my pelvis and ended up in a wheelchair. I was in and out of hospital for years with pneumonia and all kinds of things. I came very close to dying.

My 60s…

For my sixtieth birthday, Victoria and our dear friend Gerry O’Boyle organised a show at the National Concert Hall. It was very emotional! I really appreciated all of the people who played, including Johnny Depp, Nick Cave, Bono and Sinéad, plus, Michael D. Higgins gave me an award – I actually cried. In 2018, Victoria and i got married in Copenhagen, which really felt amazing and I think it made a difference to both of us. On top of that, I got my first Ivor Novello award in 2018 as well. It was a very lucky year for me even though I was in a wheelchair and in a lot of pain. Now, I have almost finished my album, which took a very long time to make and Victoria just published a book of my art and lyrics called The Eternal Buzz and the Crock of old, which is beautiful. I am very grateful to her for sticking around and very proud of the book.

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