Celebrating the king of Irish punk’s 60th birthday in Dublin with the help of his friends – including Nick Cave, Johnny Depp, Glen Matlock, Sinéad O’Connor, Carl Barat, Glen Hansard and Clem Burke
“Drinks forever!” hails the wheelchair-bound king of Irish punk music as he raises his glass in the air to the massive audience at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Shane MacGowan is celebrating his birthday with all of his closest friends, including Nick Cave, Bobby Gillespie, Carl Barat, Bono, Imelda May, Johnny Depp, Glen Hansard, Sinead O’ Connor, Glen Matlock, and Clem Burke. I flew in from New York to witness this tribute to the whip-smart, Tipperary-raised troublemaker.
When most people think of Shane MacGowan, they think of a mouth full of old tombstones, and a drunken laugh that sounds like TV static, but the man who named his band after the slur “kiss my arse” (Pogue Mahone) actually won himself a free ride to Westminster private school for excellence in writing as a boy. He didn’t fit in with his classmates and was drawn further into the dusty pages of his books, smoking cigarettes by himself on the sidelines.
My friend Gerry O’Boyle produced the evening, he’s a DJ on Boogaloo Radio as well as the proprietor of the famous rock ‘n’ roll bar, the Boogaloo, in London. Pete Doherty and Carl Barat worked there as bartenders while they were forming the Libertines. Gerry has Nick Cave on speed dial, and Shane is one of his best friends, as well as his one-time roommate. I met Gerry in a random twist of fate. About a year ago, he was the Air B & B guest of my good pal Janelle, who lives across the street from me. She asked him what he was gonna do for his first evening in New York, and he said he was going to a Brit Pop party at Happy Endings on the Lower East Side, which I happened to be hosting.
Shane’s 60th birthday celebration was well deserved and a necessary honor during this sad time of loss in our musical community. [MacGowan himself has seen his share of pain since he fell outside a Dublin studio in 2015, breaking his pelvis; thus, the wheelchair]. The night before the big show, Gerry took a bunch of us out for dinner at Hugo’s, the best restaurant in Dublin. We met in the bar of the Conrad Hotel. Nick Cave and his assistant were the first ones there. I was hoping to be incognito since I’d met Nick before, but the first thing I hear is my friend announcing to Nick that I have a giant tattoo of his face on my thigh. Nick said, “Let’s see it,” and he remembered me instantly. So much for being just a normal girl at dinner, now I’m a super fan in his eyes. At dinner, Nick was sandwiched in between Bobby Gillespie and Clem Burke. Apparently, Nick is a fan of Clem’s and was excited to meet him for the first time. He asked Clem if more young people are going to Blondie shows these days and added, “My 17-year-old kid loves Blondie.” He then let us in on the fact that his Pinterest page has been sending him photos of Debbie Harry without pants. Apparently looking up naked ladies and Debbie Harry at different times, resulted in a mash-up of the two. Haha!
Carl Barat was sitting across from me and was one of my favorite people to talk to. His song “Death On The Stairs,” is actually a nod to the book, Please Kill Me. The lyrics, “So baby please kill me/ Oh baby don’t kill me/ But don’t bring that ghost ‘round to my door/ I don’t wanna see him anymore,” mimic one of his more memorable reads.
Glen Matlock went out for a smoke and my friend Janelle joined him outside the restaurant. Small talk ensued, “I never really listened to much punk but, Sex Pistols eh? Must’ve been crazy times…” Glen nodded. He schooled me on the differences between a flair and a bell-bottom pant adding, “I started my career in fashion,” referring to his time working at Malcolm McLaren’s SEX shop in London.
My tattoo became the common theme at the table and I showed Nick some terrible versions of his face people had adorned themselves with via Instagram. Someone asked Nick if he had seen my tattoo yet, in which Nick said, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen Amy’s thigh loads of times.” Everyone laughed while he turned beet red in front of my boyfriend and corrected himself, “Twice. I’ve seen the tattoo twice, I mean.” Haha. He’s a good sport.
We all took photos together after dinner and posted them on the internet to which someone commented, “It’s a rock ‘n’ roll dinner with only sparkling water on the table?” Most of the musicians are actually sober, their days of debauchery a thing of the past. Only one guy in his twenties fell out of his chair and onto the floor during dessert. Nick, as the dutiful father at the table, asked if he was okay.
We all scurried over to the famous old pub, O’ Donoghue’s, afterward for a pint. Traditional live music was being played and it was a tight squeeze to get in. I overheard Nick saying to his assistant, “Let’s share one and then get the hell out of here,” overwhelmed by the crowd. A young man came over to say hello to Nick, kissing his ring in a sign of servitude. Bizarre behavior, if you ask me. After one drink, most of us called it an early night to prepare for the big gig the next evening.
The first band of the evening featured Blondie’s Clem Burke on drums, Glen Matlock on bass, Paul Cuddeford on guitar, Jesse Malin on guitar/vocals and the Pogues’ own Spider Stacy on vocals. The first song was a fun love song called “Gabrielle,” by Shane’s early punk band, The Nips. Jesse Malin took the microphone for the second song, which was “That Woman’s Got Me Drinking.” He commanded the room to stand up by calling them “motherfuckers,” in the most endearing way. I’m sure the crowd would thank the Yank for getting the party started. The final song from this group was the crass and juvenile, “Hot Dogs With Everything.”
The musical director for the evening was the great saxophonist for PJ Harvey’s band, Terry Edwards. He held the massive amount of musicians together in excellent form. The pretty, blonde bassist of the Pogues, Cait O’ Riordan, jumped around the entire evening like an excited teenager. She was a part of the house band for the evening as well as singing her song “Haunted,” which was the best tune on the Sid & Nancy movie soundtrack. I stood up to clap for her gorgeous voice which sounded exactly like the recording. A full-minute standing ovation was also held for the memory of Dolores O’ Riordan of the Cranberries, who passed away just hours before the show began.
Irish firecracker Imelda May danced energetically around during her version of “Fiesta.” Her cute, shaggy hair was a much fresher look from her old two-tone do. Damien Dempsey gave a rousing performance of “Streams Of Whiskey,” and later on “Sally McLennan,” as well as “Body Of An American.” Finbar Furey brought their Irish sound out for “Kitty”; you may remember them from the Gangs Of New York soundtrack. Aoife sang “The Dark Streets Of London.” Cerys Matthews brought us “The Broad Majestic Shannon.” Glen and Lisa O’Neill inspired a singalong in the audience with the great Christmas song, “Fairytale Of New York.” One of Shane’s favorite crooners, Glen Hansard, sang “Bottle Of Smoke,” and “Victoria, and Primal Scream vocalist, Bobby Gillespie, sang a beautiful rendition of “A Pair Of Brown Eyes.”
At dinner, Nick asked Gerry if the line “Where The Water Lilies Grow,” is a real song, as Bobby and he were curious about the Pogues’ lyric about an old man singing that tune. Gerry replied that he thinks it’s an old traditional Irish track. It’s a curious question since Nick Cave created, “Where The Wild Roses Grow,” with his band, the Bad Seeds, a similarly named ballad.
The standout performance came from a barefoot Sinéad O’Connor who sang “You’re The One” to complete silence as the audience hung on her every word. She now goes by the name Magda Davitt. In her words, “I no longer want the patriarchal name,” and she changed it, “To be free of parental curses.” She told Dr. Phil on his TV show, “Sinéad O’ Connor is gone. That person is gone.” The beautifully bald singer looked happier and healthier than ever. It was refreshing to see her laughing with after-party guests, especially after her recent suicide threat.
Bono and Johnny Depp performed “Rainy Night In Soho” to hundreds of flashbulbs. The celebrity brought out the cameras which weren’t permitted in the building. Many Irish people I’ve talked to don’t seem to think too highly of Bono, but I must say, he was very complimentary to the house band and supportive of the opening groups, cheering and shouting from the rafters. Johnny Depp was drunk by rehearsals, in keeping with his bad boy image.
The most precious moment of the night was Nick Cave introducing Shane MacGowan to the stage. Shane’s partner Victoria wheeled him out and Nick secured the brakes and gave Shane a big kiss and hug. They sweetly sang “Summer in Siam” together. At dinner, Nick told us that “He fucking loves that song,” so I’m pretty sure Nick picked it. Afterward, he hugged Shane again and left the stage, leaving Shane to an impromptu “Happy Birthday” serenade from the audience. Then Shane sang “Will Ye Go Lassy Go.”
He casually introduced the president of Ireland, “Uh, the president’s coming out now,” which made every seat in the house crack up. The president of Ireland presented Shane MacGowan with the Lifetime Achievement Award, while all the performers stood behind Shane and applauded. Shane couldn’t hold the bulky award, so the president handed the piece of heavy metal to the American behind him. Jesse Malin held it but tried to hand it to Bono, who rejected the offer. The funny thing was the president was just walking around backstage with zero security. His casual demeanor reminded me of the president of Somalia who wears button-down, palm tree print shirts, like a dad at a Jimmy Buffett concert.
At the after party, Bono was guarded by two security guards in a corner while Johnny Depp took photos with fans near him. Peaky Blinders star Cillian Murphy was hanging out and I looked right into his eyes not knowing it was him. He was giving me a sexy stare, and I guiltily looked away, since I was standing next to my boyfriend. A band entertained the crowd and Glen Matlock jumped up to sing the Sex Pistols’ “Problems,” doing a perfect Johnny Rotten voice. B.P. Fallon also jumped up to sing his version of “Gloria,” complete with a great storytelling segment. Jennifer Crothers, who is Gerry’s Boogaloo Radio co-star, DJ’d the after party and got everyone dancing.
Once that party shut down, everyone brought the party to the Conrad Hotel where I sat next to Shane. By that point, he was three sheets to the wind and trying to pour a bottle of white wine into a glass with the cap still on. I helped him off with it and asked him how his evening went. His answer was a caveman like, “Ehh, feee ehh.” I decided to leave him alone since I couldn’t understand him and his good friend made a point to tell me he wasn’t in any state to do an interview.
The next morning I ran into my friend, house band drummer Mick Cronin, retelling my Shane interaction. Sounding like the true Irishman that he is, Mick exclaimed, “Shane was sober as a judge last night! You should have let me translate for you.” Haha! Mick also told me that Shane was quite nervous before the concert, something I wouldn’t expect out of him. Frontmen are generally a lot more shy in everyday life than you would expect.
While thinking deeply of what it’s like to share an evening with Shane, the feeling is most easily summed up by his own words, “Come fill up your glasses of brandy and wine/ Whatever it costs, I will pay/ Be easy and free when you’re drinking with me/ I’m a man you don’t meet every day.” God bless Shane MacGowan.