Express & Star

When 'gentle, complex' singer Shane MacGowan charmed crowds in Stourbridge

Dave Bennett remembers the first time he met Shane MacGowan, at a St Patrick's event in Stourbridge in 2005.

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Shane MacGowan at the Rock Cafe 2000 in Stourbridge in 2005

"It was the day before St Patrick's Day, and it was quite a coup to get Shane MacGowan to come to Stourbridge," says Dave, who was then working as a music promoter.

"We booked him four of five times, and he turned up twice, which was quite a good ratio.

"When he arrived at Stourbridge, he came with a driver, and it was his job to keep him sober.

"When he arrived, he wasn't how I expected him - I thought he would be tall and lanky, but he had a hunched appearance.

"When he spoke he mumbled, and I said to the driver 'you haven't done a very good job', and he said 'he's not drunk'.

"But when he got into his dressing room he had a whisky - Thai whisky was his favourite, and somebody handed him a bottle. Once he had got a drink inside him, he became the most articulate person you could meet. I suppose that is how the illness works.

"He did a book signing, he had this book called A Drink With Shane MacGowan, and for everybody who bought a copy, he signed it personally to them, he chatted to them, he was very generous with his time.

"He must have had two bottles of spirits by the end of the show, but he wasn't drunk, he was extremely articulate.

"You meet a lot of people in the music industry, and they are characters.

"You can get somebody like Slash from Guns 'n' Roses, and he is exactly how you would expect him to be, because we know almost everything there is to know about him.

"But Shane McGowan was very complex, he had a lot of different sides to his character, which was fascinating and interesting."

Dave, who at the time ran a promotions company called Factory 5, says the concert at Stourbridge's Rock Cafe 2000 – now the River Rooms – formed part of an Irish-themed week, with The Levellers and the Saw Doctors also playing.

MacGowan was best known as the frontman for punk-folk band The Pogues. But during the Stourbridge concert, he agreed there and then to return to the Midlands the following year for a show at Birmingham's Carling Academy with his other band, The Popes. He didn't show up.

"I got a call about four hours before he was due to go on stage, saying he wasn't very well," says Dave.

"I said 'where is he?' and they told me 'Dublin'. I knew then that he wouldn't be coming.

"I didn't even know he was ill. We had Pete Doherty due to perform at that gig, and he did show up, but he had no idea that Shane was ill. We had to refund everybody's tickets.

"The same night we also had Arthur Lee from Love due to appear at the Rock Cafe in Stourbridge, and he didn't show up either, he was delayed at the airport in San Francisco."

MacGowan did turn up to a gig Dave put on in Manchester. He recalls the singer was every bit as charming as when they met in Stourbridge.

Dave, 55, remembers MacGowan as not just an extremely talented songwriter, but also as a kindly and gentle character.

"I was late coming to the party with The Pogues, it took me a while to get into them," he says.

"I'm a words man when it comes to music, but when you start looking into the lyrics, and the words he used, you see how clever he was. I don't know where he got them from.

"I was just a promoter, but when I spoke to him he remembered me clearly from when we met before, and he would chat about it.

"I always imagined an English-born Irishman, who was big on the London scene, to be hard, but he was completely the opposite. He was a gentle man."