There are doubtless those in the music industry, particularly some vulture-like members of the press, who never expected Shane MacGowan (b. 25 December 1957, Kent, England, but raised in County Tipperary, Eire) to survive, never mind record again, after he left the Pogues in September 1991. He reappeared the following December duetting with Nick Cave on a seasonal cover version of Louis Armstrong’s ‘What A Wonderful World’. Following a promotional single, ‘That Woman’s Got Me Drinking’ (‘she must have been employed by the brewing industry’, as one wag in the press noted), MacGowan unveiled his new band, the Popes, and the debut solo album, The Snake, in October 1994. The Popes included Paul ‘Mad Dog’ McGuinness (guitar), Berni France (bass), Tom ‘McAnimal’ McManamon (banjo) and Danny Heatley (drums). Unsurprisingly, given MacGowan’s collaborative track record, there was also an array of guest musicians in attendance, including members of the Dubliners, Jem Finer and Spider Stacy from the Pogues, and the actor Johnny Depp, who directed and starred in the video for ‘That Woman’s Got Me Drinking’, also contributing some elementary guitar on the track. The Snake was co-produced with Dave Jordan in London and Ireland, and featured a typically impressive range of musical styles, running from the raucous cowpunk of ‘A Mexican Funeral In Paris’, which could have graced any Pogues album, to more reflective and traditional songs such as ‘Donegal Express’. The album was reissued the following year with additional tracks, including the Sinéad O’Connor duet, ‘Haunted’, which broke into the UK Top 30. This feat was repeated the following year by his solo version of the evergreen ‘My Way’ thanks to its prominent use in a Nike commercial.
The Popes line-up subsequently changed when Bob Dowling replaced France. MacGowan, meanwhile, continued to confound critics who had already signed his death warrant with 1997’s The Crock Of Gold, with the track ‘St. John Of Gods’, in particular, providing further evidence of his undiminished songwriting abilities. MacGowan has since been released by ZTT Records, leaving one of the UK’s finest songwriters of recent times without a recording contract. In December 2001, MacGowan rejoined the Pogues for a series of live dates. He continued to work with the band on a regular basis in the following years.