When Shane MacGowan was fired from The Pogues in 1988 critics were quick to conclude this was the end of his career. His lifestyle (at the time said to include up to 50 tabs of acid a day) was making the headlines more than his music, but this soon changed...
He signed to ZTT in the early 90s and immediately began writing. The first fruit of his labours was The Church of the Holy Spook (ZANG 57), a four-track EP that appeared in August 1994. Despite a compelling front cover image - Shane on the cross - it majored on quality songwriting rather than headline-grabbing and changed the critics view of 'life after The Pogues' in one foul swoop.
The second single, That Woman's Got Me Drinking (October 1994, ZANG 56) broke the top 40 and boasted a video directed by Johnny Depp . Depp played guitar for Shane when he debuted the track on Top Of The Pops, too. Shane's debut solo album The Snake - appeared at the same time and was heralded by the NME as "Kick Asp Rock & Roll." Q magazine was equally impressed. "The Snake impresses with a fierce new intensity," wrote Jimmy Nicol, "songs like Aisling and the title track see MacGowan baring his soul in a powerfully direct manner."
All of this work was performed with a new band, The Popes, comprising Paul McGuinness (guitars), Berni France (bass), Danny Pope (drums), Tom McAnimal (banjo), Kieran 'Mo' O'Hagan (guitar) and Colm O'Maonlai (whistles). Guests drifted in from The Dubliners. It was a floating line-up that also saw contributions from The Dubliners and Pogues Jem Finer and Spider Stacey. "The Popes are no mugs," wrote The Guardian on witnessing them live at Fleadh in 1994, "and without fiddles and accordions, they steam through a vigorous, punky, folkabilly set."
Shane reworked The Snake the next year, adding contributions from Sinéad O'Connor and Clannad's Maire Brennan for a second edition (released June 1995), which also included Nancy Whiskey from The Church of the Holy Spook EP and a cover of Gerry Rafferty's Her Father Didn't Like Me Anyway. Haunted, Shane's duet with Sinead O'Connor had been released on single in April 1995 (ZANG 65) and reached number 30 in the UK chart.
"Ethereal" (Rolling Stone), "woozy and romantic" (Newsday ) or "Spectorian balladry" (The Washington Post). However you looked at it Haunted was a classic. You're the One, by Shane MacGowan and Maire Brennan (ZANG 68), was subtler but equally beguiling and appeared a month later. It was to be a year until Shane released his next record - a wild cover of Frank Sinatra's My Way (April 1996, ZANG 79), which topped Haunted's chart peak.
My Way reached a wide platform having been used on a classic Nike TV advert and Shane followed up with The Christmas Party EP (ZANG 88) which included A Christmas Lullaby, version one of Paddy Rolling Stone and two covers that sum up Shane perfectly - Hippy Hippy Shake and Danny Boy.
Shane MacGowan's second and final ZTT album, The Crock of Gold (MACG 002) was released in October 1997. It featured the singles Lonesome Highway (October 1997, MACG 001) and Rock 'n' Roll Paddy (March 1998, MACG 003) as well as version two of Paddy Rolling Stone. NME found Lonesome Highway "all the more moving for it's understated desperation, and Shane's genius for writing poetry on a beer mat with the froth from his bottle of stout. I believe Wordsworth used the same method."
In December 2001, ZTT released a comprehensive 21-track compilation, The Rare 'Oul Stuff (ZTT 187) that drew together highlights from Shane's time with the label and added rare EP tracks and b-sides. It was released at the same time as an Ireland-only reissue of You're The One (ZTT 197) and a special TV documentary which found Shane in a delicate state. "His talents are as profound as the demons that haunt him," wrote Rolling Stone at the time, "and the battle between them rages on..."
Or maybe a Pogue could put it better. "He'll probably outlive us all... just to annoy us!"
The Rare Oul' Stuff