Celtic Soul Rebels
In 1973, MacGowan's mother persuaded him to try to get some 0-levels, so he
went to Hammersmith College - "my finishing school, the shittiest college
for further education in London" - where he formed his first band, Hot Dogs
With Everything. "I met Shane in the art class and I knew by looking at him
that he was a Stooges and an MC5 fan," says his former bandimate Bernie
France. "We also liked Hawkwind and the Pink Fairies, anything that was
loud and had a lot of energy. There was a motley bunch of about five of us who
would just go and get wrecked all the time and listen to records." On top of pints of lager, speed and acid,
MacGowan's family GP had put him on a heavy prescription of valium, and he
started to suffer from acute anxiety attacks. He agreed to undergo a six-month
detox in London's Bethlem Royal Hospital. "Rather than being sectioned I
went into the loony bin of my own accord," he says. "I saw people
being given ECT and I saw what it did to them. I saw lots of horrible things.
But the minute I was threatened with ECT, I shaped up really fast and became
ultra-sane. I started psychoanalysing my shrink, which was probably part of his
technique. He could have sectioned me for another six months but our
conversations convinced him of my sanity."
When Shane emerged from Bethlem, he immersed himself in
London's live music scene, going to see bands like Dr Feelgood and Joe
Strummer's 101ers. It was at one of the latter's gigs, in the spring of 1976,
that he first encountered the Sex Pistols.
"They were the band I'd been waiting for all my
life," he says. "Johnny Rotten was like Jesus Christ and we were his
disciples. He looked great, he sounded great, he was great. And it was just a
question of, Yeah, fuck it. I hate everything and they're actually doing
As Shane O'Hooligan, he became one of the best known faces on
the punk scene. He formed The Nipple Erectors - later The Nips - and hinted at
his future flair for songwriting when he penned the pop-punk classic, Gabrielle.
By 1979 The Nips had split up and MacGowan was doing occasional gigs with The
Millwall Chainsaws, a speed and amyl nitrate-fuelled punk band fronted by his
mate Spider Stacy, whom he had first encountered at a Ramones gig a few years
Like MacGowan, the Chainsaws lived in a
squat in Burton Street, between Euston and King's Cross, an area that was also
home to future Pogues Jem Finer, James Fearnley, Andrew Ranken and Darryl Hunt,
"I was living in Judd Street in another big squat where Jock McDonald used
to incite us into Molotov cocktailing the police on a Saturday night," says
Hunt. "It was a very exciting and extremely creative time.
"Jock McDonald was the manager of
4Be2s, a brilliant post-punk band who subverted the immigrant put-down "No
Irish, no blacks, no dogs" by fusing Irish music with dub. They were
fronted by John Lydon's brother Jimmy, who sometimes joined Shane MacGowan in a
chorus of Irish rebel songs, a pub pastime that MacGowan more frequently
indulged in with Spider Stacy.
One Monday night in April 1981, MacGowan and
The Millwall Chainsaws' drummer Ollie Watts were down in Soho at the New
Romantic club, Cabaret Futura, when they decided that this was the time and the
place to take Irish rebel music to the masses. Two weeks later, the Chainsaws
donned suits to become The New Republicans and their five-song set included The
Rising Of The Moon and The Patriot Game, plus Brendan Behan's The Auld Triangle.
"Singing Irish rebel songs was a really good way of sticking up two fingers
at the establishment," says Spider. "There was very little you could
have done that would have been more calculated to annoy in London at that
time." The audience included a group of about 20 off-duty squaddies who
pelted them with beer cans and chips. "Everyone was totally out of their
minds on booze and the plugs got pulled and we got thrown out," says
MacGowan. "We were thinking of it as a one-off, but we quickly realised
that if it caused that many people to be upset, or to wonder what the fuck was
going on,then it was worth continuing with."