WITH the passing of Shane MacGowan in December, we lost of one of the most significant lyricists of the modern age – a vivid, poetic writer who respected cultural traditions but simultaneously made fresh currency out of them. Graeme Thomson has spoken to Pogues co-founders Spider Stacy, Jem Finer and James Fearnley for a warm and revealing tribute to MacGowan that does much to shine a fresh light on the man and his remarkable songwriting processes. “Shane wrote many beautiful and fantastic songs,” says Stacy, “but I think ‘The Broad Majestic Shannon’ towers above them all. That line – ‘Heard the men coming home from the fair at Shinrone / Their hearts in Tipperary wherever they go’ – is the perfect distillation of everything he was trying to say.”
Elsewhere, there’s songcraft in a variety of different stripes – from Hurray For The Riff Raff’s evocative memorials to fallen friends and family, the obsessive dream-chasing of The La’s, the rich and unusual methods deployed by Kali Malone, and Martin Carthy’s canny reinterpretations of traditional works.
Our cover story finds Neil Young, meanwhile, in the Ditch and working through all manner of trauma – both personal and political – to come up with On The Beach, a masterpiece by any standards. Peter Watts does a great job digging into the sessions for the album – honey slides! – while assorted fans, heads and acolytes go deep on their favourite songs and the album’s strange, elusive afterlife – a record even Young seemed to disown for many years. This is one of my favourite observations, from the ever-wise Chris Forsyth: “The relative unavailability of On The Beach for so long and the consequent sense of Neil having disowned it definitely built up a mystique. Like, what could be more Ditch than Neil himself not even liking it?”