- 03 Dec 20
Crock Of Gold is out on December 4.
Twenty years ago, Julien Temple directed one of the all-time great music documentaries in The Filth And The Fury, his unforgettable account of the Sex Pistols’ hellraising career. A brilliant piece of archive footage in that movie captured an a capella rendition of ‘Anarchy In The UK’ by Shane MacGowan, whose life and times are now the subject of Crock Of Gold, which proves to be Temple’s second contribution to the canon of classic rock films.
As the documentary records, MacGowan achieved early notoriety on the London punk scene. Infamously, he had part of his ear bitten off at one show, with a photograph of the incident yielding the immortal NME headline, “Cannibalism At Clash Gig”. Prior to that, MacGowan spent his formative childhood summers in rural Tipperary, where his relatives introduced him to drinking and smoking at a young age. Subsequently, his upwardly mobile parents relocated to London; the adolescent MacGowan was expelled from his exclusive boarding school for dealing drugs.
A voracious reader, the singer – like his literary idol Brendan Behan – is a gifted raconteur and natural comic. His friend Johnny Depp, who produces Crock Of Gold and is one of several famous guest interviewers in the film, is reduced to gales of laughter by MacGowan’s recollection of taking barbiturates in New Zealand, which caused him to strip naked and paint his room blue (on a decidedly less funny note, MacGowan’s sister was forced to commit him to a psychiatric ward upon his return to London).
Even more prosaic moments have an undercurrent of humour. Another famous fan, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie, commences their conversation with the straightforward query, “So when did you move to London?” “Stop interrogating me!” wails an irate MacGowan.
Naturally, the film devotes extensive analysis to MacGowan’s considerable achievements as a songwriter, performer and cultural figure. A fascinating conversation with ex-Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams allows MacGowan to powerfully articulate his support for Irish republicanism. Like many of his generation, his views were hardened by the entrenched anti-Irish attitudes he encountered in the UK.
Eventually, he formed The Pogues with the aim of popularising Irish traditional music by merging it with raucous punk rhythms. Though he succeeded spectacularly, penning modern standards such as ‘Rainy Night In Soho’ and ‘Fairytale Of New York’, drink and drugs ultimately contributed to the group’s disintegration (none of MacGowan’s bandmates appear in the film, though he does pen a conciliatory note to them at the end).
It’s hard not to be moved by the contemporary footage of MacGowan, whose lifetime of hard-living has left him frail, haggard and confined to a wheelchair. Nonetheless, he gave as good as he got: his exalted status is recognised at the end of the film with a special tribute evening at the National Concert Hall. Following performances of his songs by a small galaxy of cultural heavyweights – including Bono, Sinéad O’Connor, Nick Cave, Cillian Murphy and Gillespie – he is presented with a lifetime achievement award by President Michael D. Higgins.
It’s a fitting honour for a bona fide punk rebel who truly broke the mould.
• Crock Of Gold is released on December 4.