As I write this I feel a surge of emotion, the funeral has started of Shane MacGowan and I have seen some of the TV news of the funeral cortege and Shane’s coffin wrapped in a tricolor and a photo of him beside it. He now is gone and I still can’t believe it.
I met Shane first via Frank Murray the Pogues manager who in the late 80s was supporting the women’s theatre company I was in, with the play we did about the Dirty Protest in Armagh women’s prison. I remember Shane clocking some of us as we came into Bar Ganza, a tapas bar in Camden. Something I always noticed about him was he was observant, interested in people.
I then for my sins, was asked by Victoria his girlfriend, also a part of the Camden scene if I would be Shane’s cleaner for a few days- the flat needed attention. The thought of me untidy that I was, to go in, armed with Mr Sheen and polish Shane MacGowan’s sideboard, and for him to potentially run his finger over it and tell me I had missed a bit here, seemed surreal. We agreed a price and I went in.
I duly hovered and polished and wiped. I am sure as well as emptying crammed overflowing ashtrays and drunk bottles into bin liners, I must have I must have jiffed the kitchen sink and bathroom also. I remember Shane coming in and sitting on the sofa and watching cartoons on TV with the sound turned down. He seemed “tired” and I was spaced out, so our mutual lethargy worked a treat, we didn’t bother each other. Taking a breather, I sat beside him silently watching the silent cartoons, and it felt kind of cosy. A feeling of comraderie. There was nothing starry about him. He was big brotherly. I liked him.
I do remember a little Tug of War with Shane over his records. There were loads of them and all the records were out of the covers and spread like a sea across the floor. I spent hours dutifully putting the records back in their sleeves and neatly stacking them, only to find the next day they were all over the floor again. I got the message. Don’t mess with my vinyl Murphy. I felt his legendary strong will. You don’t make Irish music popular and cool without a phenomenal strength and determination. He knew what he was doing, that was his goal, his crusade. That was his vision.
Another unspoken conversation was when out of the blue he turned up on his own, to see a play I was doing about a mother and baby home with the same women’s theatre group in a pub theatre in Islington. He must have made up about a fifth of the audience. He came in late but we really felt the support. Afterwards in the bar he expressed concern re my character who he said looked like she was going through hell, like heroin withdrawal. It was in fact a self induced abortion, but I noted a real empathy for the suffering of those women.
We all lost contact but reconnected years later between 2018-2020 when I was working with Victoria on a film script about them. I went in again, now as screenwriter, not cleaner and I got some nice words mumbled re my film “Silent Grace” which touched me greatly. It was the same Shane, except due to injury he was now permanently seated in front of the TV. I noticed his eyes were shining, so undistilled, pure, like a child’s. Maybe they were always like that but I’d never noticed. And still so polite, considerate, gentle. His great mate Paul and his biographer Richard came in and we had a laugh.
The TV he now watched was Netflix and the visual crazy stuff not cartoons but Orson Wells “The Other Side of The Wind”. We watched that together, it was kind of spell binding, he loved it so much he wanted to watch again. We also watched the comedy “ A Fish called Wanda” and it was great to hear him laughing. Yes having the odd glass of wine, not much. Occasionally getting him another bottle from the fridge. But the roaring boy, the completely out of it Shane, trance like, crawling on the ground, that I painfully witnessed during the filming of the” Yeah Yeah Yeah” Pogues video seemed gone.
The Pogues gigs were astonishing, such joi de vivre, I always went home really happy. His songs, that sense of being with humanity, warts and all, with them, side by side is how I experienced him in life. And his punk free spirit vibe connected with all, exhilarating, transcended nationality. A bodhissatva punk spirit, full of compassion but without indulgence. I heard him shout the odd time, impassioned re something and that very strong will emerging… I heard him be sharp in a sussed way, but most of the time the Shane I knew was simply with people, part of the group, even if he was leading it.
When I think there is no Shane watching Netflix and his chair in front of the TV is empty, it makes me very sad. But celebrating him on this day, I see, he did extraordinary things; he wrote the most incredible heart and soul songs, he showed culture can contribute to building peace, and he brought pride and joy back to an Irish community in England which was on its knees. For that I salute you Shane, now and eternally.
I imagine him sitting somewhere, watching us all on some kind of celestial TV, soaking up the moment while planning for some more of his humanistic poetic genius to come raining down on us, just when we’re least expecting. And then he’ll piss himself laughing.
(c) Maeve Murphy