Shane MacGowan, Government Censorship and the Birmingham Six
Graham Williamson on why the Pogues' frontman should be remembered for far more than the beloved Christmas song 'Fairytale of New York'.
Shane MacGowan dying in late November guaranteed that one song would dominate the obituaries. ‘Fairytale of New York’, the Kirsty MacColl duet that he sang with The Pogues, has gone from being a cult alternative Christmas song to a beloved standard. There is already a campaign supported by MacGowan's widow Victoria Mary Clarke to make it Christmas number one.
The Conservative press's remembrances have been gentler than you'd expect for an Irish Republican punk. This is because the song’s use of the term "faggot" allows them to co-opt the song into festive culture wars. The print edition of the Daily Mail spent several paragraphs on MacGowan's riposte to the student newspaper The Tab, which objected to the lyric. Sadly, the Mail didn't have space for the more celebrated reply Laurence Fox got from the official Pogues Twitter account when he tried to ride the bandwagon: "Fuck off you little herrenvolk shite".
After reading a slew of articles that could all be summarised as “Drunk Christmas man dies”, something snapped in me. I wanted someone to memorialise the Shane MacGowan who was genuinely feared by the establishment, not for his swearing but for his convictions. Allow me to fill in the gap.