Venue: Olympia Theatre, Dublin, January, 1995
THEY CAME, AS IT WERE, FOR THE RESURRECTION AND RESURRECTION – indeed, rampant resurgence – was what they got. Twelve hundred unrepentant pilgrims gathered; grown men were seen to weep in the aisles and then leap onstage, the better to prostrate themselves before the object of their adulation. And then the earth, in the form of 35 seat from the front four rows, was seen to move.
Shane MacGowan returns to Dublin three years since the split with The Pogues and he returns, if the stories are to be believed, from the dead. A month ago, the Irish Advertising Standards Authority had upheld a complaint claiming the billboard campaign of a ‘crucified’ MacGowan, for The Church of the Holy Spook e.p., was blasphemous. But tonight the faithful have assembled and the smoke filled, whiskey and porter stenched air in the cathedral high galleries of this Victorian music hall, scene of many shambolic past triumphs, is redolent with anticipation.
Backstage, in a dressing room tucked away among the labrynthine corridors, noise, smoke and raised voices guide you to a room, modestly tagged, ‘The Popes’. Gathered within are tonight’s celebrants and evidence of the reverentially demolished rider is everywhere. In a corner sits Shane (Il Pappa di tutti Pappas, so to speak), anxiously juggling a jumble of items, to whit: wine, one bottle of; one fag; one set-list; and one pen, felt.
12.45am:, by now the house has begun to reverberate with an animal roar of “SHANE, SHANE, SHANE.”The pit is a seething mass of fans, swaying, swigging and baying: florid of face and, undoubtedly, ‘fluthered’, to a man, woman, unwashed street urchin and, for all one can tell amid the throng, at least one stray sheep.
The show progresses at an amphetamine pace, opening with Streams of Whiskey and thundering through Greenland Whale Fishery and road burning versions of Donegal Express, Church of the Holy Spook and Nancy Whiskey. Centre stage, MacGowan looks very much in control (as much as he can after a lifetime of prodigious hedonism) and as if he’s having fun. ‘Hello, Dublin, it’s good to be back,’ he growls, before breaking in to his familiar Muttley snigger, ‘Ksshsshssh…’
The stage invasions begin with the opening bars of The Snake with the Eyes of Garnet, as fans begin to trampoline from the front rows, over the orchestra pit, over the heads of the bouncers and land at the feet of their hero, this unlikely object of desire. MacGowan continues to sing, unperturbed, as he ducks and dives around the most fervent of his followers. The view from the ornamental theatre box, suspended just above and to the right of the stage, is one of joyous pandemonium. Shane’s girlfriend, Victoria Clarke, sits beside me, nursing a bottle of champagne and decides to shed her knickers and cast them, stage-wards. They float down amid the chaos, a wisp of scanty lace.
In the cockpit below, things are on the borderline of anarchy. More bouncers appear to repel boarders. Occasionally, a gap appears amid the sway to reveal already splintered rows of seating.Everyone’s smiling through two hours, an anarchic reworking of Neil Diamond’s Crackin’ Rosie and two encores of MacGowan penned Pogues’ favourites. His sister, Siobhan, joins him for a version of Fairytale of New York, that is all but drowned by the singing throng.
In the aftermath, a handful of cheery stragglers reel about among the matchwood splinters of the four demolished front rows. Back in the dressing room the air of nervous tension has been replaced by hard-earned euphoria. Arrangements are made for the after show celebrations which should, no doubt, see us into Dublin’s ‘early houses’ by 7am. Victoria and friends decide they’re hungry and head off for a plate of egg ‘n’ chips round at Mr Pussy’s Cafe Deluxe.
At the door, the maitresse d’ is in a quandary. Fearing a diplomatic incident, she/he whispers how the table adjoining our preferred location, on a secluded balcony, has been booked by a certain party, hereafter referred to as Van Morrison. Spotting the obvious possibilities of such a rock’n’roll encounter, we capture the table. But Van will have none of it; he makes his excuses and leaves, only to turn up, later, at the band’s hotel.
In the residents’ bar of Jury’s Hotel, MacGowan and assorted Popes are ranged about, dazed but delighted, celebratory drinks in hand. Subdued, but satisfied, Shane asks, rhetorically, “What did you think, then?” Then adds, “It’s Dublin, innit? Ksshsshssh”