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Speaking of Shane MacGowan, and for him: ‘I think he’s getting his mojo back. But it’s been a painful process.’

Victoria Mary Clarke, wife of the Pogues singer, discusses his new book of artwork, his prickly reputation, and his desire to keep creating.

Shane MacGowan and Victoria Mary Clarke at their Dublin home. The former Pogues frontman, who turned 64 on Christmas, has been slowed significantly by a series of health issues.Courtesy Victoria Mary Clarke

A few weeks ago, we received a WhatsApp message asking if we’d be interested in doing a Zoom call with Shane MacGowan, the feisty frontman of the Pogues, whose brew of snarling punk and traditional Irish folk earned the roguish band an ample cult following in the 1980s.

We were dubious. MacGowan, who turned 64 on Christmas, is famously allergic to interviews. Basically, he doesn’t do them. (In 2020′s “Crock of Gold,” director Julien Temple’s documentary about the irascible singer, MacGowan often seems contemptuous of the camera.) But we said yes, just in case.

MacGowan, who last recorded with the Pogues three decades ago, lives in Dublin these days with his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, and over the past several years, he’s been slowed significantly by a series of health issues, some related to his past appetite for drink and drugs. (MacGowan had his first pint of Guinness at the age of 5.)

The ostensible reason for the interview was “The Eternal Buzz and the Crock of Gold,” a new book of MacGowan’s sketches, paintings, self-portraits, photos, handwritten lyrics, and stories. It’ll be released in April, and is available for pre-order at store.shanemacgowan.com. At the appointed hour, we jumped on Zoom, but found only Clarke on the screen. No MacGowan. Oh, well.


Q. Oh, hello. I didn’t know if Shane would be joining us.

A. Not tonight.

Q. That’s all right. Let’s talk about the book for a minute. It’s limited to 1,000 copies. Why?

A. I’m sure we could sell more copies, but we wanted to make it something really collectible, and also high quality. We needed to charge a lot to make that make sense. It took so much work to do.

Q. Can you describe it?

A. We found about 3,000 pieces, mostly in my mother’s attic, in a bin bag. We found it was because of Julien Temple. He wanted to animate some of Shane’s sketches in the film. But Shane wasn’t being cooperative. He was being very antagonistic.


Q. You don’t say.

A. [Laughs] Yeah. He told Julien he hated that idea. He absolutely hated it, so he wasn’t having any part of it. So we had all these pictures and, for me, it was hugely emotional to see it all. I mean, I’ve been in love with Shane since I was 16. So much of the work I had never seen. Songs he’d written about me that I didn’t know existed. And all these beautiful drawings. There’s stories, lyrics, notes, ideas for stuff, reworkings of songs that got recorded and loads that didn’t get recorded. I didn’t know if they had any artistic merit, but I knew that Pogues fans would be into them. What we’d really like to do is make an exhibition. Like a big digital immersive exhibition, a bit like that Van Gogh one that’s touring.

Q. How did all of this stuff end up in a trash bag in your mom’s attic?

A. Because we were always moving, and I used to give her things to mind for me. I just gave her this bag. I don’t know how I ended up putting all of it into this one bag and why I didn’t put it in a nice box. Luckily, she didn’t throw it out.


Shane MacGowan in "Crock of Gold."Magnolia Films

Q. I thought the documentary was interesting, but also hard to watch. Shane isn’t always at his best in it.

A. The idea for the film began with Shane’s 60th birthday party.

Q. The one where Bono, Sinead [O’Connor], Nick Cave and all performed?

A. Yes. I thought that it would be a real pity if other people didn’t get to see it. We could only accommodate something like 300 people in that hall. It wasn’t televised. It was filmed, but very badly, with really crappy camera work. So I thought, hang on, let’s use some of it. Let’s try and salvage a bit of that and build a documentary around it. I asked Johnny [Depp] if he’d like to do it, and he said he would, but he wouldn’t be able to direct it. So I thought, what about Julien Temple? He’s known Shane for years. He actually did the first-ever interview with him. But, of course, they didn’t really get on. [Laughs]

Q. Is that right?

A. Yeah, I just assumed they would get on because they were both punks, and they were around the same scene. But they didn’t. Ultimately, that made for a better film. There was a lot of antagonism. But also, physically, for Shane, he was already very challenged. It was hard for him to get around. I think that a lot of the time when Shane comes across as angry, he’s actually just very uncomfortable, physically.

Q. Why doesn’t Shane like talking to the media?


A. He thinks that a lot of journalists are quite stupid, that they ask dumb questions, and that they don’t really know what they’re talking about.

Q. I get it. He became a caricature in stories about the band. But I learned a lot about him from the movie, about his influences.

A. A lot of the influences are filmic. And also comics and gangster stories. You know that [Quentin] Tarantino film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”? He must have watched that at least 100 times.

Q. Has he met Tarantino?

A. Oh yeah, they met when Shane opened [Depp’s L.A. club] the Viper Room. Quentin was in the audience jumping up and down, and then he came backstage and was really enthusiastic about meeting Shane. But Shane said, “I can’t be bothered to talk to him. Can you just take him away somewhere?”

Q. That’s funny.

A. Shane doesn’t schmooze. It’s not in his repertoire. Like, he was good friends with Lou Reed, but Lou Reed was the same kind of person. He once told me to [expletive] off because he thought I was boring. He was, like, “Take your girlfriend away. She’s really [expletive] boring.” The two of them got on really well. Shane likes Liam Neeson a lot. They really gel. He likes Gabriel Byrne. Aiden Gillen comes around regularly, and they sit and watch movies and argue. They have a great relationship. Shane’s a good listener. They tell him their problems and he listens. He’s good at it. You’d never guess that.


Q. I wanted to ask you about “Fairytale of New York.” It’s everywhere this time of year. It’s a great song and I’m sure it’s been very good for Shane’s bank account, but does he get sick of it?

A. It is good [financially], but I think it might be harmful for his creativity. People are expecting another one all the time. They just want him to do something like it, and he doesn’t want to do anything like it.

Shane MacGowan performing with the Pogues in 1988.Magnolia Films

Q. Is he writing at all?

A. He didn’t write for a long time because he had a terrible creative block. And he was very, very depressed about it. Like, really depressed. And then he had a meeting with a psychic who channeled his dead mother. And his mother basically gave him a kick up the [expletive] and said, “You’ve got to write!” And he did, sporadically. Since then he’ll have days where he’ll be writing and writing and writing. I think he’s getting his mojo back. But it’s been a painful process, and it might have something to do with not being able to freely move around, to stand up.

Q. Shane’s parents were Irish, but he was born and raised in England, and people used to question the Pogues’ authenticity. Did that bother him?

A. He has an extremely complicated relationship with England. I mean, he was very English when I met him. He absolutely loved London, and I think we both still do. He likes the royal family very much. We watched the weddings — all the weddings — and we watched “The Crown.” And not just once. We watched it many times. [Laughs]

Q. That would surprise people, I think.

A. Yeah, it would surprise people because they would assume that because he’s an Irish Republican, he couldn’t like the queen and couldn’t like Prince Charles, but that’s absolutely not true. Shane doesn’t want Ireland to have the English queen. But I think if he had a choice, Ireland would be a monarchy and he’d be the king.

Interview has been edited and condensed.

Mark Shanahan can be reached at mark.shanahan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.