I have been a fan of Shane MacGowan for decades. His music is tremendous and his lyrics are poetic and insightful and wondrous. The Pogues were one of the best bands ever. Their musicality and the quality of their art is beautiful. And enduring.
On Monday evening Shane’s friends, family and fans celebrated his 60th birthday in the National Concert Hall in Dublin. It was an amazing evening. The NCH is a very unique venue with a layout and architecture more associated with a different, kind of music.
The audience was a mix of young and older. Some reliving their punk days of the 70s and 80s. And we were joined by President Michael D Higgins. There was an expectant atmosphere. People weren’t sure what to expect. This after all was about Shane MacGowan. Most people thought, and several performers said they never expected that he would see 30 never mind 60.
The line-up of musicians who took to the stage was impressive. I wanted to be there to honour Shane but I also knew we were in for a good night. Former Pogue members mixed with others, including the Waterboys Steve Wickham and the great Shannon Shannon. They were the house band.The first singer, American Jesse Malin, had the audience up on their feet at the first song. We rarely sat down for the next three hours.
There was dancing, singing, screams of joy, loud whistles and an exuberance and energy rarely seen at any concert. It was a boisterous come all ye as singer after singer blasted out their version of a Shane MacGowan song.
Cerys Matthews, of Catatonia, sang a moving version of The Broad Majestic Shannon which was dedicated to Dolores O’Riordan who died that day. Later Bono, who was joined on stage by Johnny Depp playing guitar, sang A Rainy Night in Soho which he ended with a chorus of The Cranberries’ Linger.
After a 20 minute intermission an unassuming Sinead O’Connor quietly walked out onto the stage. It took a few moments for the audience to realise who it was and then there was thunderous and sustained applause. Sinead then delivered a spectacular version of You’re the One to a hushed and spell bound audience. And when she was finished she curtsied and bowed and skipped off the stage.
Shane has never hidden his politics in his lyrics. Lisa O’Neill who has a powerful voice, joined Terry Woods of the Pogues to sing Streets of Sorrow/Birmingham Six. Most of Shane’s songs are about the underdog, the marginalised. He has a poets eye for words of love, betrayal, justice, rejection, redemption and the musicians ear for rhyme and lyrics and rhythm. His music has enriched our culture, broadened our sense of Irishness. Made us happy. And sad. Lifted us.
Clem Burke from Blondie, Damien Demspey, Camille O’Sullivan, Imedla May, Lankum, and Finbar Fury were among the chorus line providing song after song. The concert hall really went wild when Glen Hansard, John Sheahan of The Dubliners and Lisa O’Neill let loose with Fairytale of New York. It was a joyful, enthusiastic rendition of probably one of the best Shane MacGowan songs and one of the most popular Christmas songs ever, with Lisa O’Neill’s voice reminiscent of the late Kirsty MacColl.
At the end of the night Nick Cave sauntered onto the stage and begins singing Summer in Siam. And then out from the wings Shane MacGowan, the man of the moment, is pushed on to the stage in a wheelchair by Victoria to thunderous applause. Shane has been in a wheelchair since a fall two years ago. Victoria deserves a medal for minding him. Even before the wheelchair. Especially before the wheel chair.
With a glass of something in one hand and a mic in the other Shane joined Cave in finishing Summer in Siam. He also wished his audience a happy Christmas and New Year. Each time he lifted his glass to salute the audience he was wildly cheered. And then there was a spontaneous burst of Happy Birthday from the audience before Shane sang the Wild Mountain Thyme.
At the end Michael D came down onto the stage and presented Shane with a National Concert Hall Lifetime Achievement Award.
It was a mighty night. John Kelly was the Fear a Thigh. He did a great job. He knew as we all did that this was a very special gig. A raucous celebration of music, of one of our finest poets. A celebration of life, of the human spirt. I felt very lucky that I was there. I am still buzzing with the joy of it all and I will be for some time. The words of The Old Main Drag, A Pair of Brown Eyes, I’m a Free Born Man of the USA, A Rainy Night in Soho are spinning around in my brain.
‘And its lend me ten pounds,
I’ll buy you a drink
And mother wake me early in the morning.’
Thank you Shane MacGowan.