A Furious Devotion is the new biography of Shane MacGowan, authorised by Shane himself! Author Richard Balls is a devoted Pogues fan, who has also written about Stiff Records. Now Richard has tackled the task of writing the ultimate Shane biography. His early life, his family, his big influences, the good times and the bad – it’s all accounted for here. Let’s have a look at the result, and learn about the Celtic punk legend like you’ve never seen him before.
It would be impossible to paint a full picture of Shane, The Pogues and Shane’s life in general if you just observed it from afar. So you won’t be disappointed by A Furious Devotion: The Life of Shane MacGowan. Richard Balls is the author, and he visited Shane and Victoria at their Dublin flat, spending time with ’em over two years. Richard also interviewed an extensive number of people who’ve shaped Shane’s life; everyone from closest family members to lifelong friends, bandmates and even Shane’s English teacher are quoted here. This provides us with a unique, detailed overview of this extraordinary man, one that helps us understand him better than we already did ☘
This holy place
For example, one place that Richard draws special attention to is The Commons. A cottage in rural Co. Tipperary with its thick stone walls, cobwebs and a fistful of character, this is Shane’s spiritual home. It’s the place where he spent the first years of his life, and even today it remains practically untouched by the ravages of time. So it’s fitting how we learn from Richard that Shane was introduced to Irish music here by his family, and of course to Catholicism.
Years later, after father Maurice and mother Therese moved the family to England for work, Shane would still return to The Commons for months at a time, bringing many a girlfriend along to this holy place. But you don’t need to go there to know it’s a world away from the very English backdrop of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, where Shane spent the rest of his childhood, feeling like a fish out of water. Trust me, I’m from Maidstone, and while Kent has some beautiful places, it ain’t Irish and it certainly isn’t republican 😉
A well-read mind
You may have wondered why Shane’s songs have stood the test of time so well, especially among us Celtic punk fans. That’s partly because his interest in writing and reading developed very early on, paving the way for those memorable, heartfelt lyrics. Therese and Maurice both encouraged Shane to follow in their intellectual footsteps. As a result, having barely hit his teens, Shane was already reading James Joyce and Thomas Mann and winning national writing competitions.
This gift for writing, and Shane’s growing love of music, would later be two key ingredients in his work with The Nips, Pogues and Popes. Richard reveals the final, explosive ingredient to us in the back room of a pub in 1976. That night, Shane watched The Sex Pistols for the first time, and discovered his heart’s second home in punk. He remained in London, and so The Nipple Erectors were born.
Highs. Lows. Recovery.
We all know and love The Pogues’ rapid rise to fame, and sadly their moment in the public eye was over too soon, with Fairytale of New York serving as today’s sole reminder of the success the band once enjoyed. Nonetheless, everyone can learn something new from Richard’s in-depth analysis of the ’80s and ’90s. We learn how Jem Finer had been told he was “tone-deaf”, only for him to shake this off and emerge as the other prolific songwriter for the band. We learn how Shane really did go and “work for a five” on those streets in The Old Main Drag. And how, in spite of the clear Irish direction of their music, it wasn’t until the height of The Pogues’ success that Shane really got political for the first time with The Birmingham Six, a song that Ben Elton – and eventually the BBC – refused to broadcast. In that respect, 1991 couldn’t come soon enough.
I won’t say a lot about the much darker times in the years that followed, between when Peace And Love signalled the band’s growing musical differences and Sinéad O’Connor eventually reporting Shane to the police for heroin abuse. The horror of those bleak times is very tangible, and Richard’s descriptions make them all the more tangible. But one good thing that finally came of it was that Shane visited a visionary lady in the West of Ireland, one Christina Gallagher. We discover during this passage that she “sucked all the badness out of him”. If Shane truly does see other people as souls, rather than as humans, then we hope he finally found his match in Christina, who has given him some of the spiritual support he needs to deal with the world.
The music is cool again
So now…read the book and discover the rest for yourself 😉 But overall, A Furious Devotion makes it crystal clear what Shane has done for Irish music. In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Irish music and “being Irish” was not seen to be fashionable in Britain. Shane, along with The Pogues, The Popes and all the musicians he’s shared stages, songs and records with, is a big part of why the music is cool again, and why on Paddy’s Day people celebrate being Irish even though they’re not! Only The Pogues could have achieved that in Thatcher-era Britain, and they could not have done it without their mercurial frontman at the helm. A man who came from the English establishment, even attending two public schools, but at the same time couldn’t have been further from it all.
We at London Celtic Punks would like to congratulate Richard Balls on a job well done! His book, A Furious Devotion: The Life of Shane MacGowan, is out now on Omnibus Press, the world’s most rock n’ roll publisher, and is available from all well-known retailers. We would like to thank Omnibus Press for giving Richard this chance to keep the life and music of Shane MacGowan at the front of people’s minds.
Stay tuned for part 2!