Most definitely the funniest piece of scripture I have ever read... Shane MacGowan the London-Irish Song-writer, composer, musician and what most people who are aware of him would call him, "A poet." Victoria Mary Clarke who has been Shane MacGowan's partner in love on/off for over 20 years portrays his thoughts over the years of his life reflecting on how he has become an iconic person in the eyes of everyone known to Irish Music and many other types of music for that matter.
Born on 25 December 1957 in Kent, England, Shane moved quickly back to Nenagh, County Tipperary to his Mother's home family home where Shane would stay with his Aunts and Uncles and develop a divine love for the Irish Tradition as whole, not just the Music. As a result of this he didn't want to return to England with His Family.
But he moved back to England with his parents and over the years was kicked out of schools and worked in a record shop and started a Fanzine magazine and Started a Band called the Nipple Erectors (The Nips) before eventually Turning Irish Music into a whole new limelight with the Pogues!
The Book portrays the highs and lows of his life, relationships, drug abuse and alcohol abuse which he still remains to stick around today and tell and hopefully will stick around for as long as possible!!
Most people who know the name Shane MacGowan probably have him pegged as a stereotypical drunken paddy, fronting The Pogues as a whirlwind of frenzied punk inspired folk music and alcohol try to beat him to the floor in a dishevelled and undignified manner. This is because at the time that the band had reached its highest commercial success, it had also become the thing that he had tried to avoid all along, a serious band with one eye on the cash till and the other on the front cover of NME. MacGowan's idea of rebranding Irish folk for the modern era and delivering a tongue in cheek party style performance had long since gone out of the window and in an effort to get through the sad fact that his creation had been hijacked by less imaginative souls, he had taken to sabotaging the band with his drunken and unreliable antics. If that is how you perceive Shane MacGowan then you must read this book.
Even the attitude of the book is chaotically in keeping with this innovative and unpredictable character. It is written in the form of a number of interviews between MacGowan and his long-term partner Victoria Mary Clarke, normally in restaurants, bars or in some cases his childhood home. Even though they are set out as a series of questions and answers, you get the feeling that it all flows naturally like a conversation between two acquaintances should and that Clarkes questions are more of a prompt to keep her subject on track rather than a script upon which to build the book. This does mean that the stories told in the book dont always follow a chronological path through his life but rather form chapters roughly segregated into certain subject areas. We here of his very unusual and free childhood in Tipperary, his schooling in his parents adopted home of England, his formative years as a face on Londons punk scene, the years with the Pogues, both good and bad and even his views on religion, politics and much more besides are covered. Those that know something about MacGowan will already realise that beyond that drunken front man image is a highly intellectual and quick witted individual. Anyone examining his lyrics in depth quickly learns that almost every line written is a reference point, personal, historical, literary or social. The same complexity is found in the man.
The joy of this book comes from MacGowan's constant battle against celebrity he never wanted the rock and roll life style, had a very healthy disregard for his own image and with an honesty and self deprecation that is rarely found these days he is the ideal guide to knowing about his rich and colourful life. No holds are barred, and no embarrassing tale is left out, in a way he seems as proud of his own failures as he is of his successes. Its as if the telling of the tale is the important thing not how his image holds up in the telling. There is a contradictory quality to the telling also, which makes him even more human, he never claims to have all the answers or even any of them, but he does hold a lot of opinions but there seems to be plenty of room in his ideology to accept that he may be wrong. The is a contentiousness to some of his dialogue also especially regarding the IRA, but then have grown up in an extended family who remember the Black and Tans being a dominant force in Ireland would justify views which today may seem somewhat radical.
Despite the alcohol and pill laden past, MacGowan comes across as articulate and very knowledgeable on many topics, Irish Literature, soul music, history, politics and religion and the interviews are peppered with his often witty and philosophical views of everyday life. Like most people in the public eye, when we get a chance to really get inside them, as this book does, what we find is often not what we expected. Underneath that image that most of us have probably formulated from shambolic Top of The Pops shows and even more chaotic live footage comes and unexpectedly refreshing and human image. You come away from the book admiring his artistic integrity, lack of pretension, refusal to conform, his ability to remain totally unimpressed with rock stars and celebrities, his generosity and compassion, his idealism, his romanticism, his sense of self ridicule and above all his ability to not be smug or self aggrandising in the face of his successes. Believe me, there are enough bad traits to balance these out, this is no St Teresa we have here, but if you read this book I think you will find that the man that is Shane MacGowan is a very different person from the image most people have of him.
With the news that Shane MacGowan and the other members of The Pogues have kissed and made up, even planning a tour for later this year, I thought I'd take the timely opportunity to tell you about A Drink with Shane MacGowan, written by his long term girlfriend Victoria Mary Clarke. I'm a huge fan of the Pogues and I can't help but feel a sneaking admiration for the big-headed, heavy drinking Irishman who gave the music scene a good kick up its backside with his mix of Irish, folk and rock together with those unmistakable bitter lyrics. It's simple but brilliant stuff and for me their first three albums were the best thing on the music scene for a long, long time. Victoria Mary Clarke's book is the result of a series of taped conversations with MacGowan which cover everything from his childhood, spent on a small farm in Tipperary, through to the forming of The Popes after the Pogues break-up. Clarke asks a starting question and it's the cue each time for a lengthy monologue from the egotistical, drunken and shameless MacGowan. He's certainly an opinionated man with something to say about almost everything – he has a comprehensive knowledge of music and the music scene, Irish history, religion, art and literature. He's never shy to voice his opinions either, particularly about other musicians. He's obviously an intelligent and knowledgeable individual but he does have an arrogant and sometimes contemptuous personality to match. Reading his words I felt often that he'd struck a chord, but equally often that he was talking an awful lot of self-opinionated rubbish. For example, in one of the conversations he's starting to give an interesting commentary on great Irish writers, including Beckett and Joyce when he suddenly decides to take a dislike to Yeats. He's not Irish apparently, and then he is. Warming to a bit of controversy MacGowan then proceeds to contradict almost everything he
's just said in a quest to justify Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes as the greatest Irish novel of the twentieth century. The book is full of incidents like these, they're amusing at some times, but irritating at others. A Drink with Shane MacGowan is a very easy book to read – even I finished it in one afternoon, and although it's not a straight biography, or at all what I was expecting, I did get to know all about Shane MacGowan, in his own very opinionated, sometimes contradictory words. Clarke is an undeniably intelligent woman who clearly loves MacGowan to distraction and perhaps this is why the book seems to falter just a little. Although she prompts MacGowan into his stream of words she rarely presses him and the resulting book is dominated by his intimidating, shameless personality. It takes the direction HE wants it to take, rather than something perhaps a little more objective. You're left wondering whether to admire or pity Clarke sometimes. However, in the final chapters we do start to see a little of Clarke's wry humour. I'd have liked to have heard more of her recollections and thoughts on her inimitable boyfriend. It's an entertaining read though, as long as you don't take MacGowan too seriously. It's obvious he enjoys being honest and blunt and hopes to be arrogant and offensive as well. He has several very large chips on his shoulder. A Drink with Shane MacGowan is a must read for any fans of the Pogues and I for one would look forward to his next instalment of ranting – that's if his long-suffering body can continue to take the abuse to which he subjects it.
He was led onto the stage at the Fleadh, much as one would lead a blind man, and literally propped up against the microphone stand. Swaying, eyes half closed, one hand clasped the neck of a bottle, the other held the ever present cigarette in a nicotine brown grasp. Several times a minion rushed onto the stage and tenderly replaced the cigarette with a fresh one, the old one having burned away unnoticed. Did he know where he was or what he was doing, this rat faced, rat arsed parody of a man? Was he to be pitied or revered? Shane MacGowan. Irish writer, musician and founder member of both The Pogues and The Popes.He is an enigma - a passionate, talented man, whose life is all too quickly and publicly disintegrating into an alcohol induced shambles. (In fact, the first question my husband asked when he saw me reading this book was "Is he still alive?") Well, when "A Drink with Shane MacGowan" was published earlier this year, the answer was yes, although one never knows with MacGowan since it seems he pushed the self destruct button many years ago. Originally intended as a straightforward biography written by Shane's long term girlfriend Victoria Clarke, Clarke admits in the introduction to the book that this format simply didn't work. Her intention was to ask specific questions, the answers to which would be edited to tell the story of Shane's life. In the event, the book has turned into an elongated question and answer session, with Victoria's questions and comments printed in bold throughout the book and Shane's replies, often rambling and off topic, following on - or not following on, depending how far he is into whichever bottle is nearby at the time. The end result is a very intimate and highly personal account of life - Shane's life and 'life' in the more general sense of the word. His early childhood in rural Ireland goes a long way towards explaining the man he has become today. Dr
inking and smoking were actively encouraged in his extended family and, at age five, he claims to have already been drinking two pints of Guinness every night, smoking and gambling. At age six, he was reclaimed from his grandparents, aunts and uncles by his natural parents and moved to Brighton, where he discovered a recently acquired younger sister, Siobhan. Thus, the first two chapters of the book are concerned with his childhood, culminating in his admission to a closed ward hospital for drug addiction where he celebrated his 18th birthday. The remaining 6 chapters (or "Acts" as they are called in the book) are less structurally organised and are more a series of sometimes jumbled thoughts, impressions and memories from the ultimate bad boy of the music industry. A man who doesn't bath, yet wears Armani suits, MacGowan has an opinion on everything from the IRA to Irish literature, from religion to politics and from films to music.He is extremely knowledgeable and well-read about all aspects of 'Irishness', past and present. (In fact he surprisingly appears extremely knowledgeable and well-read about most subjects!) Some - if not most - of his views are undoubtedly contoversial. This is a book which you read wondering all the while what on earth Shane is going to say next, a problem no doubt shared by Victoria in real life. It is frank, disturbing, funny and patriotically Irish to the core. It's also strangely compelling and entertaining from start to finish. MacGowan seems part madman, part visionary. On some occasions he seems barely lucid, on others he is as sharp as the proverbial tack.Take note, though, this is not a book for the easily shocked as it contains plenty of four letter words and frequent references to substance abuse. Scattered throughout are lyrics and poems in MacGowans own writing (block capitals with lots of scribbling out.) Some of these seem contrived, most are sheer poetry, albeit written
by an obviously very angry young man. Shane's child like drawings also feature heavily and are no less of a revelation into what goes on inside his head. There are two sections of black and white photographs. The first show Shane as a child and his various relatives down on the farm. The second set is more the man we recognise today, drunk,vacant and bleary eyed. Surprisingly, there are no photos of The Pogues or The Popes - indeed there is very little mention of either throughout the book, although there is much discussion about MacGowan's musical ideals, yet another subject on which he has very firm views. The first two chapters apart, this book is not so much a biography, more a collection of thoughts.It seems pure MacGowan and the contributions from Victoria in the form of pithy paragraphs at the beginning and end of each Act seemed somehow intrusive and unecessary. Whether you view this book as the disjointed ramblings of a musical has-been or as the worldly insights of the "unofficial patron saint of contemporary Irish music" (San Francisco Chronicle), I can promise you a truly unusual read. It alternates between depth and profundity and shallowness and inconsequentiality. The book wasn't at all what I expected - and I think I'm glad it wasn't. It could easily have been subtitled "How not to succeed in lfe". Whether or not you are a fan of MacGowan and his music, this is a chance to see the personality behind the public facade. A drunken bum with innate intelligence, curiosity, thoughts, feelings and so many opinions. A man who lives and loves too fast, who permanently walks on the wild side. A man who often oversteps the bounds of good taste and decency - a lover, a fighter and an "epic carouser". Read it, then shed a tear for the man who might have been... "A Drink With Shane MacGowan" - Shane MacGowan and Victoria Mary Clarke - Grove Press -ISBN 0 8021 3790 3
This biography of Shane MacGowan charts his life from early childhood in Ireland through to his fame as the star of The Pogues. The book celebrates MacGowan the musician and offers insight into his perspective on this world - and the next.