Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Shane MacGowan Snapped

It's not an especially well-kept secret that, for four years I owned a small shop, in a very pretty Irish village, that sold traditional Irish musical instruments and Irish music on CD. I didn't really make any money from it, but a major perk of ownership was that I got to meet a lot of musicians - including some very well-known ones. That was great for me, as I'm a bit of a muso-groupie, and I was (and still am) a keen music-gig photographer.

And not just Irish musicians, either. Amongst others, American Country star George Hamilton IV visited the shop one summer, and came back a few days later, with his son George Hamilton V, who was carrying his small son George Hamilton VI. I kid you not! I nearly ran out of Roman Numerals!

On one memorable Autumn evening, about 5 years ago, we were holding a Bodhrán (bow-rawn) class, and I had brought in an expert to teach a group of people (about 10 on that occasion) to play the famous Irish drum. During the class, a raggedy, tall youngish man came into the shop and started playing some of my large collection of whistles and low-whistles (which play like a whistle but sound like a flute). I have never heard those instruments played in such a wonderfully melodic way as I heard him play them. It took me a while, but I finally realised I was in the presence of greatness, and it turned out to be Liam O Maonlai, singer, songwriter and actor - of The Hot House Flowers fame. He was on his way to play at the Fleadh Ceol in Listowel and I still have no idea why - or how - he manged to grace the shop with his presence. he even played along with some of the bodhrán players from the class - and made their nights, if not their year.

We got chatting and he told me that his wife had been talking to a very famous Irish female rock and pop star, who told her that Shane MacGowan, of the Pogues, was seriously ill, and may even be at death's door. Naturally, I was very concerned and stayed that way, expecting to hear the bad news on the radio or TV news for a few weeks.

A few months ago, I was coming out of a hotel in Portlaoise, Ireland, where I had collected a press pass to photograph The World Fleadh, when I nearly fell over a man giving a radio interview on the steps outside. It took me about 20 seconds to realise that it was none other than the great (and not at all late) Shane MacGowan. I hung around until the interview was over and asked Shane if I could take a few snaps. He graciously subjected himself to 5 minutes of posing against a wall of the hotel and I'm very proud of some of the shots. We also had a very pleasant chat afterwards. But I didn't mention talking to Liam!

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