Visually striking and audibly arresting from its opening number until the curtain comes down, Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan is an affectionate paean to its irascible, impudent frontman.
Just as The Pogues’ creative force and lead singer could “hear the colours and see the sounds” of his beloved Tipperary fields, veteran music documentarian Julien Temple splashes the screen with a well composed sensory overload of all aspects of a life as far from paint by numbers as could possibly be imagined. Reluctantly interviewed – in the loosest sense of the term – sat opposite long-time friend (and producer of the film) Johnny Depp, necking a bottle of wine in a pub, it is these conversations, and reactions to dictaphone snippets of old recollections, that form Crock of Gold’s core.
Filmed in and around MacGowan’s 60th year, there remains a cheeky glint in the glassy-eyed gaze of his bruised and abused body, broken by decades of alcoholism and drug use. Told tales of other accidents – including being hit by a car and falling from a moving taxi in Tokyo – it is nothing short of a miracle that this film was not made posthumously. And yet, like some unstoppable centrifugal force, its now wheelchair-bound subject recalls his life’s rollercoaster with such fervour and conviction that he may well go on forever.
Going a few rounds here is to experience a life lived to extremes, first hand. Down the front, sweaty, covered in beer, a little more than half cut and singing your lungs out to one of The Pogues foot-stomping classics, Temple blends an extraordinary wealth of library footage and hand-drawn design to flesh out the relative stasis of today. Sepia tones turn to colour, old photographs are animated and flicker to life in front of our eyes, and though the rounds referred to in the title are no doubt of the liquid variety, delirious, acid-fuelled kaleidoscopes of neon are as dizzying and disorienting as going the distance in the ring.
But while he may be resistant to some lines of questioning, or even being questioned at all, there’s no doubt to MacGowan’s directness and honesty in the answers he does give. He’s never given a fuck what anyone thinks of him, so why start now? The unlikely duo of former Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams and Primal Scream lead singer Bobby Gillespie don’t get too far below the surface. It is testimonials from those who have known him best, most notably his sister Siobhan and father Maurice, that fill in some areas of shade, shedding light on his upbringing and formative years.
Though born in Tunbridge Wells, the reverence and love with which he recalls the influence of each of his uncles and aunts on the family farm in Ireland, his association with the Republican plight and evolving relationship with the Roman Catholic faith are all vital. Stories passed from one generation to the next, punk music, a growing awareness of the grave ills committed by the Brits over the course of a bloody history, would all be fed into his extraordinary lyrical talents. A crisis of identity, religion and personal breakdowns from an alarmingly young age, as well as his parents’ divorce, add further weight on slender shoulders.
Having battled vice and circumstance for six decades, whether you find MacGowan enigmatic or electric, repulsive or magnetic, there’s no doubting the contribution his incredible talent has made to Irish music and culture. He may, ironically, now hate Fairytale of New York and never wish to write anything like it again. But that the song that made him remains both a blessing and a curse is a tell-tale sign of the soaring highs and bitter lows that fame and fortune can bring. Whatever lies at the end of the rainbow for MacGowan, Temple’s latest film makes it clear that it will be worth far more than just its weight in gold.
Matthew Anderson | @MattAndo63