I Was There – Shane MacGowan & The Popes crash lunchtime TV, 10/3/00 | Juno Daily

Entertainment journalist and booker Max Velody recalls moving moments with Shane MacGowan

On Friday March 10, 2000, I booked Shane and The Popes to perform on ITV London’s lunchtime show, London Today.

The plan was to prerecord a performance of ‘The Wearing Of The Green’ which we’d transmit the following Friday, St Patrick’s Day. The Popes were about to release their Holloway Boulevard album, for the launch they were due to play acoustic sets at four pubs along the Holloway Road, climaxing with a full electric set at the Archway Tavern. Shane, who grew up in Holloway, could perform only at The Tavern, he was barred from the other four. He arrived at around 11am, accompanied by his brilliant PR Les Molloy.

Les had collected Shane from his home, cleaned him up, dressed him in a suit. I met Shane in our green room, just the two of us, band was setting up in our studio. I attempted small talk, Shane didn’t really engage – he was scratching feverishly on a notepad, green ink, jagged capital letters, wide margins, thumb and four fingers clenching pen. “New lyrics”, he volunteered. He went to the toilet, for about 20 minutes. I was starting to fret but he came back, continued writing.

The Popes were ready, we went in, band launched into (18th century irish rebel song) ‘The Wearing Of The Green’, Shane sang. I was in the studio, about 15 feet from Shane, but I couldn’t hear him sing. That wasn’t as unusual as it might sound, had happened before, a vocal inaudible in the studio could sound clear as a bell in the gallery. So I hurtled down the stairs to a gallery a long way from the studio, ran into the gallery and listened to his performance.

“F*CK F*CK F*CK. F*CK THE POPE. UP THE IRA. F*CK THE POPE. F*CK. F*CK. IRA FOREVER. F*CK F*CK.” It wasn’t clear to me that Shane’s revised lyrics would be acceptable to our lunchtime audience so I skedaddled to the studio to discuss this with the band, too late, they were on Take Two, so I again sprinted down the stairs, praying that Shane had reverted to the traditional lyrics.

No. “F*CK F*CK F*CK. F*CK THE POPE. UP THE IRA. F*CK THE POPE. F*CK. F*CK. IRA FOREVER. F*CK F*CK.” I stayed in the studio for Take Three, rang the programme editor, the much-loved and greatly missed Ken Hayes. Had Shane cleaned up his lyrics third time round, again? No.

So I approached Shane, was nervous, he towered over me, cigarette hanging loosely in one hand, can of beer in the other, was baring his teeth, a look of defiance, was swaying. “Shane,” I said, “this isn’t really working for us, do you think maybe you could try another song?”

Shane and The Popes launched into ‘Paddy Rolling Stone’. I very rarely cry, but the tears welled up as they tore into the song, it was utterly brilliant and Shane was magnificent and I was thinking, this is probably the last time I’ll ever get to see him, he’ll be dead soon.

I was wrong about that, Shane survived another 23 years performing Christmas five-nighters at the Academy and it was the lovely and supremely talented Kirsty MacColl who I booked on the show at around the same time who died later that year.

It was an uphill struggle to get that performance on air. We’d never transmitted a performance where a singer had been brandishing a cigarette and a beer can while performing before, might OFCOM spank us soundly if we did? Would “But it’s Shane MacGowan” be an acceptable defence? And lovely Ken was equally anxious about “I just wanna do an old time waltz with a buxom Irish whore” – could we get away with that at 1.20pm? In the end it went out, it was fantastic. RIP Shane.

Max Velody