I felt a surge of emotion when I saw Shane MacGowan’s coffin wrapped in a Tricolor with a photo of him beside it on the TV news on November 30th last year. He was gone and I couldn’t believe it.
I first met Shane via Frank Murray, The Pogues’ manager, who, in the late 1980s, 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 Gansa, a tapas bar in Camden, north London. I noticed he was observant.
Victoria, his partner, also part of the London Irish Camden scene, asked me if I would be Shane’s cleaner for a few days – the flat in Finsbury Park needed attention. The thought of me going in and polishing with Mr Sheen and for him to potentially run his finger across the sideboard and tell me I had missed a bit here, seemed surreal. I agreed.
It was a sight.
I duly hoovered and emptied crammed, overflowing ashtrays and bunged drink bottles into bin liners. I remember Shane coming in and sitting on the sofa and watching cartoons on TV with the sound turned down. He was “tired” and I was spaced out, so our mutual lethargy worked a treat.
Taking a breather, I sat beside him silently watching the silent cartoons, a nice comradery. 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 phenomenal strength and determination. He knew what he was doing, that was his goal, his crusade. That was his vision.
That sense of cultural purpose inspired me. As a member of the diaspora, then and now, I always respected him. He cared deeply about Ireland and Irish people abroad.
His standing with the London Irish was huge. He was often in the clubs. I remember seeing him play with The Pogues on St Patrick’s Night in 1989 at what was then The Town and Country Club in Kentish Town.
It was electric, like a tribe gathering and he was their chief.
The Pogues gigs were astonishing, such joie de vivre, such a raucous knees up. I always went home happy.
The Irish in England loved him. And many English in England loved him also. It was during The Troubles, so how naturally and effortlessly he united people was very special. His punk-free spirit connected with all, exhilarating, transcending nationality.
Another fond memory was when he turned up out of the blue to see a play I was doing about a mother and baby home in a pub theatre in Islington. He came in late, but I really felt the support.
We lost contact, but reconnected between 2018 and 2020 when I was working with Victoria on a screenplay about them. I got some nice words mumbled about 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, pure, like a child’s. Maybe they were always like that, but I’d never noticed. And he was still so polite, considerate, gentle. His great mate Paul and biographer Richard Balls, author of, Furious Devotion: The Authorised Story of Shane MacGowan, came in and we had a laugh. He was fun.
The TV he now watched was not cartoons, but Orson Welles’ The Other Side of The Wind. We also watched A Fish called Wanda. It was great to hear him laughing. We had the odd glass of wine, but not much. The roaring boy, the out-of-it Shane, crawling on his hands and knees that I’d painfully witnessed during the filming of the Yeah Yeah Yeah Pogues video seemed gone.
When I think that Shane’s chair is now empty, it makes me very sad. But celebrating him; 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 now sitting somewhere watching us all on some kind of celestial TV, soaking up the moment while planning for more of his humanistic poetic genius to come raining down on us, just when we’re least expecting it.
Then he’ll piss himself laughing.
- Maeve Murphy is a film-maker and author from Belfast. She went to Cambridge University in the mid-1980s, where she studied English. She is the writer-director of three award-winning feature films, including Silent Grace - which was included in The Irish Times 2020 Best 50 Irish Films Ever Made List - Taking Stock on Netflix, and Sushi, which won an international short film award at the Venice Film Festival. She lives in London with her husband Richard.
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