“If I Should Fall From Grace”: An up-close & personal look at the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan

By on July 23, 2018

Sarah Share’s 2003 documentary If I Should Fall From Grace: The Shane MacGowan Story — now streaming on Night Flight Plus — offers an up-close & personal look at the legendary Irish singer-songwriter, best known as the frontman for the Pogues.

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The 90-minute documentary — which premiered on the Sundance Channel — features several of the Pogues’ music videos and archival film footage of MacGowan at various points in his life.

If I Should Fall From Grace follows MacGowan’s musical story beginning with one of his first bands, the Nipple Erectors — later re-named the Nips — who were one of the bands featured in the The Punk Kebab Movie (1978).

We hear MacGowan espousing his love for Ireland and punk rock, and there’s even a clip of him pogo-ing at an early Sex Pistols gig.

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Shane MacGowan in Soho, 1981 (photo by Janette Beckman)

The documentary features lengthy interviews with MacGowan himself, mixed with touching scenes between the man and his longtime partner Victoria Clarke, an Irish writer/journalist.

Clarke first met MacGowan on St Patrick’s Day at London’s Hammersmith Palais when she was about seventeen.

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There are also shorter interstitial interview segments with fellow musicians, friends and family members in MacGowan’s inner circle, including MacGowan’s parents and former bandmate Philip Chevron (the only Pogue to appear onscreen).

Everyone seems to have a good anecdote about MacGowan’s music and his battles with alcohol and drug abuse, leading to the loss of, in his father’s words, “billions of brain cells.”

However, as his good friend Nick Cave says, “The worse Shane became, the more the audience adored him.”

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Shane MacGowan, the late Mark E. Smith of the Fall, and Nick Cave

MacGowan surprisingly doesn’t have much positive to say about the Pogues’ beloved album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash (the documentary features footage from the recording sessions, produced by Elvis Costello).

He also talks about how his band were constantly trying to remove the “Irishness” of their music.

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MacGowan has long claimed to have been fired from the Pogues, contradicted in the film by Chevron.

His replacements, whistle player Spider Stacy and the late Joe Strummer — as music writer Dave Soyars, writing for the Irish Herald (“California’s Oldest Irish Newspaper”) says — “never really filled his shoes.”

“For years he hardly ever turned up,” director Sarah Share told Soyars. “He physically and emotionally absented himself from the band. They did actually sack him, but they had to learn to make do without him. He’d only done half the gigs for years. It’s like being sacked from your job when you haven’t been there for six months.”

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The film briefly touches upon his short spell in London’s Bethlam Royal mental hospital, where he was committed for mental health issues.

If I Should Fall From Grace also includes footage of MacGowan’s more recent band, the Popes, who released two studio albums and a live album.

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Read more about MacGowan and If I Should Fall From Grace below.

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Director Sarah Share spent six months with MacGowan for what was originally planned as a one-hour documentary for TG4, an Irish-language public service TV network.

After screening her first 60-minute edit, she was asked to expand the film another thirty minutes for a limited theatrical release.

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Share told the Irish Herald she wanted to capture MacGowan on film “for the future, because you do get the impression spending time with him that he could drop dead at any minute.”

Share also talked about the difficulties of interviewing MacGowan:

“He is difficult, he is sick. In some ways it’s like being around an invalid. He does a lot of drink and drugs. On many occasions we sat outside his flat waiting for hours for him to answer the phone or the door. I’d arrive at twelve noon and finally get him out to do something at twelve at night. Plus he was frequently incoherent – I have hours and hours of incoherent footage. In the end it was best to just follow him around waiting to get a little nugget of something. My cameraman described it as being like wildlife photography.”

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Shane MacGowan was born to Irish parents on Christmas Day, December 25, 1957, in Kent, in the southeast of England, an hour and a half from London.

The family spent some of MacGowan’s childhood in the Irish town of Tipperary before moving back to the UK when he was six, settling in Tunbridge Wells, then the Barbican area of London.

“I started out as a healthy fucking February farm boy,” says MacGowan in the film. “I came over here [England] and degenerated into a school truant, drunkard, drug user and thief.”

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In 1982, MacGowan formed the Pogues — originally known as Pogue Mahone — who combined the energy of London’s punk scene with traditional Irish instrumentation.

MacGowan left the Pogues in 1991, but briefly rejoined them in 2001 for a string of sell-out tours.

More recently, he’s been playing shows with a five-piece backing band, the Shane Gang.

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MacGowan’s had all twenty-two of his horrendously bad teeth pulled in 2015, and replaced with sparkling dentures.

The dental surgery was filmed for a TV special called “Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn.”

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In 2017, MacGowan celebrated his 60th birthday with a huge star-studded concert in Dublin that featured U2’s Bono, Nick Cave, Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie and many more.

Sinéad O’Connor — whose 1995 “Haunted” duet with MacGowan reached #30 in the UK — appeared on stage unannounced, belting out “The One.”

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Watch If I Should Fall From Grace: The Shane MacGowan Story on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.