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LOVE YOU TIL' THE END Pogues frontman is my William Shakespeare


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Long-time love: Shane McGowan at his wedding to partner Victoria Mary Clarke at Copenhagen City Hall, Denmark, back in 2018

Long-time love: Shane McGowan at his wedding to partner Victoria Mary Clarke at Copenhagen City Hall, Denmark, back in 2018

Aller/MEGA

Poetic: MacGowan, a Laureate of Kilburn

Poetic: MacGowan, a Laureate of Kilburn

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Long-time love: Shane McGowan at his wedding to partner Victoria Mary Clarke at Copenhagen City Hall, Denmark, back in 2018

WE have never met, yet I consider him a therapist, a poet decanting wisdom in large intoxicating measures.

Shane MacGowan, for it is the London-Tipp bard to whom we refer, is an innkeeper of the soul, pouring stimulating drams of perception and heady shots of erudition.

Some of our more sanctimonious citizens - none of whom could hold a candle to his life of sustained and ludicrously high achievement - regard any mention of the beaten-up old Pogues frontman as an invitation to tut-tut and moralise.

The rest of us observe his journey through the decades and find, everywhere we look, the fingerprints of genius.

On love, despair, identity, life, emigration, drink, MacGowan speaks with rare beauty, empathy, insight and wit.

In these recent annulled months, increasingly adrift in the scarring territory of Covid uncertainty, I have listened more and more to the Celtic Shakespeare.

And found in his lush, compassionate verse a kind of peace.

As a portrait of bone-deep connection, of what it is to know a soul-mate, just consider these lines.

"I took shelter from a shower/And I stepped in to your arms/On a rainy night in Soho/The wind was whistling all its charms."

That same immortal ode to companionship concludes with what remains maybe the most flawless description of love I have encountered in music, literature or film.

"And you're the measure of my dreams/the measure of my dreams."

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Poetic: MacGowan, a Laureate of Kilburn

Poetic: MacGowan, a Laureate of Kilburn

PA

Poetic: MacGowan, a Laureate of Kilburn

MacGowan, like so many Irish creatives, from Behan to Kavanagh to Luke Kelly, found the barstools of the old saloons to be a natural habitat, a seat of grace.

Yet, from the haze of drunken nights, came a clarity of thought and a lyricism of expression.

For so many Irish compelled to seek economic refuge on the building sites of London, he was the laureate of Kilburn.

And for those of us at home, the sensitivity and depth of his lyrics touched a part of us few others could reach.

As a study of how the emptiness of lost love can set a heart adrift, a vignette of a despairing, post-relationship alcohol-fuelled crash, A Pair of Brown Eyes is a masterpiece.

"In blood and death 'neath a screaming sky/I lay down on the ground/And the arms and legs of other men/Were scattered all around/Some cursed, some prayed, some prayed then cursed/Then prayed and bled some more/And the only thing that I could see/Was a pair of brown eyes that was looking at me/But when we got back, labelled parts one to three/There was no pair of brown eyes waiting for me."

Heart

Art, at its best, stimulates the senses, challenges the intellect, opens sealed compartments of the mind and soul and heart.

Few pick the locks as effortlessly as MacGowan.

The same profound understanding of the human condition can be found in the work of astute and reflective and kind authors like Sebastian Barry or Joseph O'Connor.

Con Houlihan's gorgeous, warm word pictures down the broadsheet length of the back folio of the old Evening Press - and later, in these pages - would transport the reader to a banqueting hall in the palace of wisdom, there to feast on the full-flavoured literary vitamin prepared at the hearth of the Kerry seanachai.

Luke Kelly, his voice as effortlessly powerful as the Atlantic Ocean, could kidnap the senses and decline to let go.

A summer Sunday in Croke Park, men manipulating a length of timber and a sliothar, has the power to hypnotise the blood.

MacGowan's music, veering from riotous to contemplative, from upbeat and anthemic, to the darkest, most reflective corners, might be the story of Ireland put to music.

From Thousands Are Sailing, comes a crushing, keeping-up-appearances line from an emigrant in the urban slums of Hell's Kitchen or South Boston.

"Postcards we're mailing/Of sky-blue skies and oceans/From rooms the daylight never seas/Where lights don't glow on Christmas trees/But we dance to the music/And we dance."

He infuses a humanity that penetrates the darkness. Fairytale of New York has become the Christmas hymn of the secular age, a Broadway stage where heartbreak and heartsoar meet, a ragged beauty queen of a tune.

Chaotic

It emerged, like so much else, from the hard drive of MacGowan and his Pogues sidekick Jem Finer. Today is not Shane's birthday, neither is it the anniversary of any milestone in his sometimes chaotic 63-year journey.

But, late on Wednesday, feeling a little down, I pressed play. And my therapist, the great friend I have never met, carried me to one of the rare territories Covid-19 cannot touch.

This morning, the salt of shed tears still palpable on my cheeks as I thank him for the gifts he parcels, I advise you to make the same journey.