Shane MacGowan puts ‘dirty laundry’ on show in new art book

The Pogues frontman praised for his ‘genius’ at launch of collection of art and unpublished lyrics

Shane MacGowan, Louis Walsh and Patrick Bergin at the launch of The Eternal Buzz and the Crock of Gold at the Park Café in Ballsbridge, Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Tony Gavin

Praise for songwriter Shane MacGowan flowed at the launch of his book The Eternal Buzz and the Crock of Gold, a collection of sketches and “scribbles” salvaged from his artistic life.

In a packed Dublin restaurant, former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams and actors Patrick Bergin and Peter Coonan read unpublished lyrics and poetry by MacGowan taken from the book.

The collection includes never-before-seen illustrations, self-portraits and 22 unseen handwritten lyrics including early versions of song lyrics for The Pogues.

There are even love notes, handwritten instructions for how the band should behave and MacGowan’s cocktail recipes in there.

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“Dirty laundry” was how MacGowan described it, interrupting his wife Victoria Mary Clarke as she introduced the guest speakers reciting his words.

“I am very grateful to Shane for allowing us to show his dirty laundry,” said Clarke, laughing.

She described herself as “a bit of a hoarder” who collected bits of paper for years “not knowing if they had any value”.

Adams applauded Clarke – “the ginger lady” – for curating more than 3,000 sketches, scribblings and “any number of graphic, phallic and provocative drawings and paintings by Shane which she salvaged, which she saved and which is now presenting to the world”.

“Ireland and our culture is lucky that we have Shane MacGowan to bring us his wonderful art and music, him and The Pogues, and his wonderful songs, works of a genius,” he said.

The former Sinn Féin leader read an unpublished MacGowan poem called Alcohol Abuse.

Shane MacGowan, Victoria Mary Clarke and Gerry Adams at the launch of MacGowan's book The Eternal Buzz and the Crock of Gold at Richard Corrigan's Park Café in Ballsbridge, Dublin on Tuesday. Photograph: Tony Gavin

Chef Richard Corrigan, who hosted the launch in his new restaurant, The Park Café, in Ballsbridge, said MacGowan was “the London Irish we always wanted”.

“You set the flag in the stone for everyone to follow. Your songs will be sung forever,” he said.

Corrigan, an emigrant to 1980s London with a long and proud association with the singer, told The Irish Times that MacGowan brought “a new awakening of Irish culture through The Pogues”.

Bergin, who read the poem To Live and Die by the Side of the Road, said MacGowan’s songwriting stood out for “the breadth of his knowledge and his emotion”.

He described MacGowan’s art book as “an extraordinary collection”.

“They are like doodles in places but there is always some meaning behind them,” he said.

For Clarke, the writings on bits of papers she found were evidence of MacGowan’s persistent creativity, even when he was in the depths of alcoholism and drug addiction.

“They are deeply revealing to me of the ability that he has to still communicate and communicate really poignantly,” she said of a man she has known for decades.

She said that fans of his music would be able to learn “the backdrop to the songs they already know and what was going on in his head at the time he was writing them”.

Singer Brian Kennedy, in attendance at the launch, said he was probably the only man in the room who was asked to join The Pogues after MacGowan left.

“I know; it is the most extraordinary story. They must have just got in a room and thought: Who is the opposite of Shane?” he said.

Boyband manager and talent show judge Louis Walsh said: “We don’t have anybody new like Shane MacGowan. His songs are going to live forever.

“He has got an amazing legacy. I am not sure about the art but the songs are great,” he said.

Coonan, who stars in new black comedy TV series Bad Sisters, read MacGowan’s salty poem Jesus Got the Horrors. He described MacGowan as “one of the best artists to come out of this country”.

His songs stood above others because they were “raw, emotional, on the nose, hard-hitting writing that packs a punch”, said the Love/Hate star.

MacGowan’s art comes from a similar place. “The art makes sense to the music he has produced for years. It sings off the same hymn sheet,” said the actor.

Would he play him in a biopic if the offer of the part came his way? “I have a few teeth missing but I just don’t have the rest,” he said, admitting it would be an “incredible” role.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times