Growing up, my Godfather was a serious fan of Irish music. No matter what event or holiday, he’d try to sneak an Irish song into the mix. To him there was nothing finer than the music of Ireland whether it was played by the Chieftains. He hired Donegal Danny to play his daughter’s wedding reception after party. My cousin joked the only way they’d ever get to hear normal music was to claim the band was from Dublin like the O’Beatles. Then in the mid-80s, we found the “traditional” Irish band that freaked him out when I bought a copy of The Pogues’ Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. When I played him “The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn,” he freaked out. It was like a decade before playing the Sex Pistols “God Save The Queen” to your Royal Family loving auntie. The Pogues found the punk could be played on the tin whistle and accordion without sounding cute. Who were these devious children of Ireland that could scare my Godfather? The answers can be found in Julien Temple’s Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan.
Shane MacGowan did not have the typical punk childhood. He was not rebelling against a middle class life in the suburbs. While he was born in England, his parents returned to Ireland. He grew up with his extended family on a farm in Tipperary in what looks like an Irish Spring soap ad. He recounts how during his childhood, their house was finally wired for electricity. They didn’t have indoor plumbing and had to take a wagon to the nearest water pump to fill up the jugs for the day.
He recounts to Gerry Adams, the former leader of Sinn Féin a harrowing childhood tale about crawling up the dunes at a beach that were filled the skeletal remains of people who died during the Great Hunger. Why hasn’t this been turned into a horror movie? He also discusses how he grew up in a family that didn’t care what he did as long as he went to Mass on Sunday. His Roman Catholic faith plays a deep role in his life even if it’s hard to guess from his hard living ways. But it makes sense when you realize the same aunt that got him into the Gospel also started him drinking and smoking. He reflects how during his farm days there would be giant parties at the commons with songs, booze and smoking. Everyone played and instrument and at a very young age, he’s be put on a table and take his turn singing. In a sense, he had been giving that feeling every time he took the stage. He was also a heavy drinker from age five onward. His family let him drink two bottles a Guinness Stout a day. That’s a pretty heavy load on the liver of a kindergartener.
Plenty of Irish history flows through the film as the country’s fight from independence against the English plays a major role in Sean’s childhood. He speaks of the Black and Tan war which turns out is more than a drink. Shane’s relatives were part of the IRA. There’s a mass grave of English soldiers near the farm. We get the proper idea that Sean’s songs about Ireland just aren’t pinched from a Dubliner’s record. Even with his distrust of the English, he ended back in London with his parents. This wasn’t a dreamy existence since Irish weren’t seen as equals and Sean found himself a target for classmates wanting a fight. His only friend was met through their love of reggae music. He was booted out of a posh school at 14 for a drug deal gone bad and found himself in the working world. A few years later, his paths crossed with a new band called the Sex Pistols and he find himself absorbed in the punk scene. There’s footage of him at the front of a stage at a Pistols gig. He would get his picture in the NME when things got rather bloody during a Clash concert. Like so many of the kids at the show, he’d form his own band. No not the Pogues. His first band was the Nipple Erectors. They didn’t do so well in the scene. About an hour into the two hour documentary, we do get to the Pogues. While this might be a long time, the previous hour is instrumental into grasping what the band was about. While there’s plenty of footage of the band on stage and tour, there’s not much talk from Shane about his various bandmates. We get a little background on how Spider Stacy learned the tin whistle. Bassist Cait O’Riordan only gets mentioned because of her relationship with Elvis Costello when he produced Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. Cait currently hosts the Rocky O’Riordan Show on SiriusXM’s U2 channel. She and Spider tour as part of Poguetry. Shane does discuss how things devolved for him with the band that led to him created Shane MacGowan and the Popes.
The documentary evolves around events leading to MacGowan’s 60th anniversary concert which featured Johnny Depp playing guitar and vocalists like Jimmy Gillespie from Primal Scream, Bono and Nick Cave singing the man’s music. But no one gets too great of an interview with him as he doesn’t want to answer questions on camera. He’d rather just drink. He finally opens up with his wife. If you’re wondering why Shane’s in a wheelchair, he broke his pelvis in 2015. The guy gets his teeth fixed
Director Julian Temple has once more created a lively documentary about a punk figure following The Filth and the Fury about The Sex Pistols and Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten which dealt with The Clash. He uses a mix of animation and recreation to give life to the moments that weren’t captured on film. We see that farm where Shane grew up and how little it has changed over the decades. Shane however has grown up and sometimes not in a good way. Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan gets deep in the man who figured out how to turn traditional Irish music into punk rock so you didn’t have to listen to your Godfather’s mixtape.
The Video is 1.85:1 anamorphic. The film quality varies on the source since there’s plenty of vintage 16mm and standard definition video. But elements recently shot look sharp. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital. You’ll hear lots of drinks being poured as well as music. The movie is Closed Captioned. Much of Shane’s words are subtitled since there are times he’s hard to hear clearly.
The movie was reviewed via streaming so we’re not sure if there’s bonus features on the DVD.
Magnolia Pictures presents Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan. Directed by Julien Temple. Screenplay by Julien Temple. Starring Shane MacGowan, The Pogues, Bono and Johnny Depp. Running Time: 129 minutes. Rated: Unrated. Released: March 9, 2021.
Tags: Julien Temple, Magnolia Films, The Pogues, U2