The first time I visited Dublin I had what might just be the most Dublin experience imaginable. I was at the cinema and there was a low-key scuffle: a man was being thrown out for smoking. More specifically, he was being thrown out for refusing to stop smoking even after being politely asked, which seemed almost unreasonably reasonable of the staff. As they ushered the guy out I caught a glimpse of the unmistakable face of Shane MacGowan.
“Come on Shane,” said the security guy. “How many times do we have to tell you?”
Best known for his 1987 hit single Fairytale of New York, recorded with his celtic-punk band The Pogues, MacGowan has been a staple of the music scene for more than four decades, the archetypal drunken poet, releasing a string of records that managed to capture the essence of smoky Dublin trad sessions, the aggressive punk of the 1980s, and something entirely of their own making.
Fairytale of New York is one of the most successful Christmas records of all time, selling millions of copies and still raking in an estimated $500,000 a year in royalties.
It says something of MacGowan’s resilience that while 65 years of age is too young by any metric, it still feels like an achievement for a man who lived – and drank – harder than almost any other.
His life will be remembered by the collapsed washing line of anecdotes that followed him everywhere he went: waving his “willy” at train passengers from Bobo’s newly-installed glass wall overlooking the railway; having to take a spidery scrap of paper onto Top of the Pops because he couldn’t remember the words to his most famous song; getting chucked out of cinemas.
He was also famous – or infamous – for his chessboard smile, with ragged teeth that resembled a yellowing Stone Henge. In 2015 he made headlines when he got an entirely new set made, changing his face in a way I could never quite get used to.
His latter years were lived away from the limelight, the singer turning his attention to Basquiat-esque paintings. His mobility shot from his years of excess, he relied on his wife Victoria Mary Clarke. She said in a post on Instagram: “Shane will always be the light that I hold before me and the measure of my dreams and the love of my life.”
As we enter the peak pre-Christmas days, expect to hear the unmistakable tune of Fairytale of New York in shops across the world. They take on an even more tragic note today.