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Supping with Shane, golden boy of Irish punk rock

Julien Temple’s rock ’n’ roll biography is also a journey into London’s recent past

04 December, 2020 — By Dan Carrier

Directed by Julien Temple
Certificate: 15

THE legend of Shane MacGowan, the Irish punk rock poet who earned a platform with his band The Pogues, is carefully unwrapped in this new documentary from Julien Temple.

An exploration of a social movement through the work of an individual, Temple’s film is more than a rock ’n’ roll biography. Instead it is a view into London’s recent past.

Temple is the perfect fit for the subject, his own back catalogue featuring the likes of The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle, The Clash: New Year’s Day ’77 and Glastonbury. His steady hand behind the camera means the film is given a wider context then one man’s journey through music and accompanying stardom.

We are given an image of Shane’s early life in a large Catholic family, living in Tipperary, where there was music provided by relatives who were “s***-hot accordion players”.

After moving to London as a child, Shane’s recklessness coupled with a sense of not belonging shines through. We are told the story of how he was expelled from Westminster School, where he had won a scholarship, for dealing drugs. He and a friend were caught when they accidentally gave a student a barbiturate instead of speed to take before an exam – and the pupil fell fast asleep after writing just his name. His father’s reaction to this is priceless.

There are stand-out moments. They have enlisted Gerry Adams, Johnny Depp and Bobby Gillespie to ask questions. Gillespie, perched at the bar of The Boogaloo pub in Archway Road asks Shane a completely innocuous and interesting question. It presents snapshot of the toil that must have gone into making the film. Shane’s tetchy response tells you this isn’t going to be some glossed-over love-in.

Adams recalls how before meeting Tony Blair at No 10, Downing Street, to discuss the Good Friday Agreement, he and Martin McGuinness needed somewhere to kill a few hours – so they went to the Filthy McNasty’s pub in King’s Cross. There, standing at the bar, was Shane – and they hung out together before heading back to thrash out a historic deal with the prime minister.

Watching The Pogues live, with Shane in his element as the ultimate frontman, is a clear reminder of his brilliance. Talking heads work so well – the best understanding of his life reached through the interviews with his mother Theresa, herself a great singer, father Maurice and sister Siobhan. Their love and loyalty offers another element, while his parents’ left-wing politics show the atmosphere he grew up in.

Temple uses moments of artistic montage to create parts of MacGowan’s crucial internal monologue – the places that his songs have sprung from.

Animated sequences draw on pop culture references from Shane’s world – meaning dashes of Ralph Steadman and the Bash Street Kids.

He is also a master of using found footage, expressing his love of searching old film cans and drawing up a collage of images to illustrate the story. He has done that with his usual imagination here, and it forms a backdrop for the exploration of Irish and English history to be told.

Shane MacGowan’s career has been turbulent, and has also been misunderstood. This work rightly puts his output alongside the likes of James Joyce and Flann O’Brien in the canon of Irish lyrical culture.


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