Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Celtic Soul Rebels - Shane MacGowan

In 1973, MacGowan's mother persuaded him to try to get some 0-levels, so he went to Hammersmith College - "my finishing school, the shittiest college for further education in London" - where he formed his first band, Hot Dogs With Everything. "I met Shane in the art class and I knew by looking at him that he was a Stooges and an MC5 fan," says his former bandimate Bernie France. "We also liked Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies, anything that was loud and had a lot of energy. There was a motley bunch of about five of us who would just go and get wrecked all the time and listen to records."
On top of pints of lager, speed and acid, MacGowan's family GP had put him on a heavy prescription of valium, and he started to suffer from acute anxiety attacks. He agreed to undergo a six-month detox in London's Bethlem Royal Hospital. "Rather than being sectioned I went into the loony bin of my own accord," he says. "I saw people being given ECT and I saw what it did to them. I saw lots of horrible things. But the minute I was threatened with ECT, I shaped up really fast and became ultra-sane. I started psychoanalysing my shrink, which was probably part of his technique. He could have sectioned me for another six months but our conversations convinced him of my sanity."
When Shane emerged from Bethlem, he immersed himself in London's live music scene, going to see bands like Dr Feelgood and Joe Strummer's 101ers. It was at one of the latter's gigs, in the spring of 1976, that he first encountered the Sex Pistols.
"They were the band I'd been waiting for all my life," he says. "Johnny Rotten was like Jesus Christ and we were his disciples. He looked great, he sounded great, he was great. And it was just a question of, Yeah, fuck it. I hate everything and they're actually doing it."
As Shane O'Hooligan, he became one of the best known faces on the punk scene. He formed The Nipple Erectors - later The Nips - and hinted at his future flair for songwriting when he penned the pop-punk classic, Gabrielle. By 1979 The Nips had split up and MacGowan was doing occasional gigs with The Millwall Chainsaws, a speed and amyl nitrate-fuelled punk band fronted by his mate Spider Stacy, whom he had first encountered at a Ramones gig a few years previously.
Like MacGowan, the Chainsaws lived in a squat in Burton Street, between Euston and King's Cross, an area that was also home to future Pogues Jem Finer, James Fearnley, Andrew Ranken and Darryl Hunt, "I was living in Judd Street in another big squat where Jock McDonald used to incite us into Molotov cocktailing the police on a Saturday night," says Hunt. "It was a very exciting and extremely creative time.
"Jock McDonald was the manager of 4Be2s, a brilliant post-punk band who subverted the immigrant put-down "No Irish, no blacks, no dogs" by fusing Irish music with dub. They were fronted by John Lydon's brother Jimmy, who sometimes joined Shane MacGowan in a chorus of Irish rebel songs, a pub pastime that MacGowan more frequently indulged in with Spider Stacy.
One Monday night in April 1981, MacGowan and The Millwall Chainsaws' drummer Ollie Watts were down in Soho at the New Romantic club, Cabaret Futura, when they decided that this was the time and the place to take Irish rebel music to the masses. Two weeks later, the Chainsaws donned suits to become The New Republicans and their five-song set included The Rising Of The Moon and The Patriot Game, plus Brendan Behan's The Auld Triangle. "Singing Irish rebel songs was a really good way of sticking up two fingers at the establishment," says Spider. "There was very little you could have done that would have been more calculated to annoy in London at that time." The audience included a group of about 20 off-duty squaddies who pelted them with beer cans and chips. "Everyone was totally out of their minds on booze and the plugs got pulled and we got thrown out," says MacGowan. "We were thinking of it as a one-off, but we quickly realised that if it caused that many people to be upset, or to wonder what the fuck was going on,then it was worth continuing with."

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