The National Concert Hall is not a place you’d square with the debaucherous life and career of Shane MacGowan. But, The Pogues singer was never one to sty inside the lines and the national venue is taken over for one night for a 60th birthday show in his honour.

As Damien Dempsey says on stage during his first of many rousing performances that runs for nearly three hours with an interval, “They said that Shane wouldn’t see 30, then 40, then 50, nevermind 60,” he said. “Betcha many of those people are dead now,” he joked.

On the night, a bewilderingly large cast of his friends and admirers (and the President of Ireland Michael D) assembled to sing his own songs back to the man who imbued Irish folk and trad with a punk verve and energy.

If you thought this was going to be a stuffy recital in Earlsfort Terrace, this is Shane MacGowan’s night. A three-song Pogues rock set from Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols, Clem Burke of Blondie, The Pogues’ Spider Stacy and Jesse Malin opened the show with a bast and made it clear that this was to be no seated event.

The audience barely had a moment to sit down such was the excitement as each new performer appeared on stage introduced by broadcaster John Kelly. A conveyer of serious talent joined a house band featuring members of the Pogues including Jem Finer, Terry Woods and Cáit O’Riordan playing alongside Sharon Shannon, Steve Wickham of the Waterboys and more as a rotating cast of singers like Damo Dempsey, Nick Cave, Imelda May, Glen Hansard, Bobby Gillespie, Carl Barat, Camille O’Sullivan, Finbar Furey, Cerys Matthews paid tribute while upcoming and younger musicians whenyoung’s Aoife Power, Lankum, Cormac Begley and Lisa O’Neill did Macgowan’s songs in a respectful and capable manner.

There were the unlisted guests, of course.

Bono sang ‘A Rainy Night In Soho’ (and Johnny Depp did his noodly guitar thing with him), Dubliners’ John Sheahan added great texture to the night.

The highlights were many. Sinead O’Connor surprised all with a devastating performance of ‘You’re the One’. Cait O’Riordan returned the favour by singing ‘Haunted By The Ghost’ which O’Connor previously sang with MacGowan, Lisa O’Neill duetted with Terry Woods on ‘Streets of Sorrow / Birmingham Six’ and later, channels Kirsty MacColl on ‘Fairytale Of New York’ on a duet with Glen Hansard. Damien Dempsey gets the closest to Macgowan’s folk instincts on his trio of performances including the rousing drinking song ‘Sally MacLennane’.

The accumulative effect of established musicians performing whiskey-soaked hymns and jams, the gig feels less like a birthday gig and more of a funeral for Ireland, such was the ability of MacGowan to bury himself into the Irish psyche by writing spirited barstool songs along with insightful lyrics informed by Celtic emigrant romanticism.

By the time Nick Cave sat down beside MacGowan, who made his appearance during the finale, and the pair sang ‘Summer In Siam’, and are joined by every member of the cast and the President, there are tears around the room. A spontaneous Happy Birthday leads the frail MacGowan to respond in kind with ‘The Wild Mountain Thyme’.

The National Concert Hall has never seen the likes of it. And likely neither shall we.

Damo at Shame McGowan's 60th Birthday gig. A conveyor of brilliance.

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What a night ! ❤️ #shane60 #damiendempsey

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Photos: NCH

Posted on January 16th, 2018

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The National Concert Hall will host a Shane MacGowan 60th Birthday Celebration on January 15th next year and a lot of famous people will be in attendance to participate including Shane MacGowan himself and:

Nick Cave, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, Glen Hansard, Camille O’Sullivan, Johnny Depp, Cerys Matthews, Carl Barat of The Libertines, Lisa O’Neill, Finbar Furey, whenyoung, Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols, Clem Burke of Blondie with Cáit O’Riordan, Spider Stacy, Jem Finer, Terry Woods of The Pogues, and more.

Joining them are a newly created band featuring members of the Pogues led by Music Director Terry Edwards. The evening’s celebrations will be hosted by RTÉ broadcaster and presenter John Kelly.

Tickets are on sale Friday at 10am from €65+ up to €85+ from 01 417 00 00 or www.nch.ie

The concert as part of the NCH Perspectives Series celebrates the power and poetry of Shane’s work and his singular contribution to Irish music.

ABOUT SHANE MACGOWAN
Born Christmas day, 1957 Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan spent some of his childhood years in Pembury, Kent, before he and the family moved to his mother’s home close to Nenagh, County Tipperary. Within a few years, the family returned to England, and by the mid-1970s, MacGowan had hitched a ride on the punk rock tour bus. After seeing The Clash, and being up close and personal with the Sex Pistols and The Jam, he formed The Nipple Erectors. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that he established himself as a song-writing force to be reckoned with a new band.

When it came to writing songs for The Pogues, it was a given that MacGowan would draw on not only his Irish heritage (Irish nationalism, history, immigrant life in London and beyond) but also his love of literature (poets and writers such as James Clarence Mangan, Brendan Behan, JP Donleavy).

Founded in 1982 by MacGowan, Peter ‘Spider’ Stacey and Jem Finer, The Pogues (or as they were initially named, Pogue Mahone, the Anglicisation of the Gaelic póg mo thóin – ‘kiss my arse’) invested a hefty level of realism and impertinence into a music form that was often seen as commercially sluggish. Blending Irish traditional music with punk, The Pogues quickly came to the attention of record companies and signed to the London-based independent label, Stiff Records. In 1984, the band’s debut album, Red Roses For Me (1984) introduced a major song writing talent in MacGowan, whose methodically arranged lyrics in songs such as Dark Streets Of London, Boys From County Hell, and Streams Of Whiskey combined the rawness of Brendan Behan (whose The Auld Triangle was included on the album) with a metropolitan poetic sensibility that too many people have since failed to emulate.

The following year’s Rum, Sodomy and The Lash (produced by Elvis Costello) was even better, featuring songs that would soon be termed ‘classic’: The Sick Bed Of Cúchulainn, The Old Main Drag, A Pair Of Brown Eyes, and Sally MacLennane. A year later, the Poguetry In Motion EP was released and featured equally significant, evocative songs such as A Rainy Night In Soho and The Body Of An American. Between these songs and the band’s 1988 (third) album, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, MacGowan wrote his own name into the history books.

Whether rugged ballads or raucous tunes, MacGowan had the measure of them, and as the years passed it seemed as if the force of the songs and the pleasures of the words increased in strength. Several years ago, his friend Johnny Depp described MacGowan as “one of the most important poets of the 20th century.”

MacGowan is that, for sure, yet he is also one of the very few singular, erudite pioneers whose personal vision of music provided successive generations with notions way beyond their awareness. The legacy of his genius song-writing has not only been sustained but also intensified. He is, as a particularly relevant song might observe, a man you don’t meet every day.

Posted on December 6th, 2017

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