"If I wasn’t ill, I’d f*cking kick you out right now.” As an opening statement from an interviewee, there are two problems with this. First is the illness, which suggests grumpiness, reticence and germs. Second is the desire to f*cking kick me out right now, which speaks for itself. But, then, an afternoon with Shane MacGowan was never destined to unfold smoothly. Which is why, when I arrive at the hotel where I’m due to meet him, only to be told, “Shane’s in bed, vomiting”, I simply nod, accept the offer of a large gin and tonic and settle into the lobby sofa for a long wait.
Three sips into my G&T, however, I’m informed that because Shane’s unwell, the interview will take place in his room rather than at the bar. Shane’s amiable girlfriend, Victoria, leads me up, ordering a tonic water for Shane en route. God, I think, he must be feeling really rough if he’s sticking to tonic water.
We creak open the door to find Shane lying on the bed, dressed in a black suit, scowling at the flickering TV. He doesn’t look well. But, then, he hasn’t looked well for decades.
“I’ll keep this down here,” I say, plonking my G&T on the floor. “It’s the last thing you want next to you if you’re feeling rough.”
Wordlessly, Shane reaches behind the bed, grabs a large bottle of gin and fills his glass of tonic to the brim. “I overdid it last night,” he croaks. “Took a turn from boozing.” His voice sounds like it’s been sat on.
“I’m sorry to bother you when you’re not feeling great,” I say. He grunts: “You can’t be that sorry because you’re still doing it.”
BOOTLEGS AND BOOZING
The reason I’m bothering Shane on his sick bed is to discuss The Pogues – the riotous folk punk band with whom he made his name – and a new live album and DVD collection that chronicles two recent gigs in Paris. Not that Shane seems immediately aware of this.
“What f*cking live album?”
I offer a fuller explanation. “Oh,” he nods. “I thought you meant some f*cking bootleg. I used to confiscate bootlegs. In the Eighties, there’d be Pogues bootlegs all over Camden Market. So I’d walk into the stalls and confiscate them. I’d confiscate other records I wanted, too.”
For the first time this afternoon, Shane laughs. His laugh fluctuates between a sticky hiss, like someone deflating a wet balloon, and a mad, wheezing cackle. Imagine Muttley from Wacky Races after 300 Marlboro Reds.
As we discuss the recent Pogues shows, Shane begins to liven up. He re-joined the group in 2001 after a 10-year hiatus and their gigs, he says, are still as “rowdy and messy” as ever. Although, he laments fans’ lack of inventiveness nowadays. “It used to be much more intelligent,” he says. “They’d say hello, buy me a drink. Or they’d give me something.”
What did they give you?
“A packet of speed, usually,” he explodes into hissing cackles. “That never happens now.
They don’t think they have to contribute anything. And they tell me, ‘I thought you were dead.’ I always get that. ‘How come you’re not dead?’”
It is quite impressive that Shane is still going strong at 54. This is a man who supped his first Guinness aged five and claimed in a 2004 interview,
“I was given six months to live… 25 years ago.” How has he managed to survive while other hard-living stars have fallen? “Loads of people have managed it. What about Iggy [Pop], for Christ’s sake? What about Lou Reed? Actually, Lou looks after himself these days, he goes to the gym,” he says.
Could any of these iron-livered gentlemen out-drink him? He shakes his head. Can anyone out-drink him? Another head shake.
In the corner, Victoria pipes up: “Kate Moss can wipe the floor with you!” Shane considers this. “Yes, all right, she probably can.” Victoria continues, “She drinks way more than you and then goes on the cover of Vogue looking fantastic.”
Shane erupts in mock fury.
“I’ve been on the cover of magazines looking fantastic, having drunk f*cking enormous amounts. No one’s ever beaten me in a proper drinking competition.”
I ask whether another high-profile pal, Johnny Depp, can keep up. “No,” he laughs. “He has a drink but he gets wasted. He’s no f*cking angel.” Victoria reminds him that a drunken Depp once “exploded your mixing desk”. Shane cackles: “Yeah, he was recording with The Popes [Shane’s former band]. He knocked a bottle over and it spilled into the desk.
I left the bottle on there, though, so it’s my fault too.”
As these reminiscences seem to be eroding Shane’s hangover, like a kind of anecdotal Berocca, I press him for more. With a grin, he recalls Mario Testino taking some (mercifully unpublished) naked photos of him and Pete Doherty a few years ago. “Pete didn’t want to take his trousers off, he was very embarrassed [about being naked]. I wasn’t bothered. I was going to rock festivals when I was 12 and there were naked people everywhere.”
The cackles that ensue suggest this may not be true, but it’s hard to tell with Shane. He also claims to have been “heavily into” Jerry Lee Lewis as a one-year-old baby.
Having left the dog that bit him entirely hairless, he’s now in full flow, rattling off sharp, funny opinions on everything from bands reforming (“I don’t know what the f*ck The Pogues are still doing together”) to dream collaborations (“Jimi Hendrix – but that’ll have to wait”) via Iggy’s car insurance ads (“He’s perfect for insurance – he’s the most f*cking dangerous man ever!”).
However, the afternoon’s most eyebrow-raising revelation comes when we’re discussing his TV habits.
“You like Come Dine With Me…” exclaims Victoria. Shane is appalled by this accusation. “No, you watch that.” He pauses. “Downton Abbey, though, that is really good.”
With my time – and G&T – at an end, I shake Shane’s hand and take out my phone, preparing to ask for a quick photo. He expresses his surprise at enjoying our chat.
“I’ve screamed at journalists before, thrown them out,” he says. “I used to hit photographers. But it was never, ‘Not the face!’ It was ‘Not the camera!’ So I’d aim for the camera.”
I slide my phone back into my pocket and take my leave, hissing cackles following me out.
The Pogues: Live In Paris album/DVD/Blu-ray is out now