You'll find that musicians of a certain era often share the same battlecry: "Punk rock saved my life!" And you'll find that even when they don't necessarily delve into the genre themselves, its tenets—community, political outrage, freedom and so on—work their way into the music somehow. That's at least the story for The Pogues and their illustrious leader/notorious drinker Shane MacGowan.
In Crock of Gold, from Glastonbury director Julien Temple, we get the whole story, and I mean whole story on MacGowan, from his earliest days on a farm upon the Emerald Isle itself to his teenage move to London during a time of major IRA upheaval; and his eventual quest to both preserve and evolve traditional Irish music.
It'd be easy to laugh off MacGowan for those who don't know—the man loves a drink, is famously missing all kinds of teeth and seems to struggle with simple speech, but as Temple digs deeper into where the man was during the rise of punk, how he merged patriotic Irish pride with his love affair with the then-burgeoning 1970s punk explosion and what that means for music even today, we learn Irish sounds had been in danger of disappearing altogether outside of the tiny pubs and communal rooms and the niche listeners (with respect to The Chieftains).
Instead, Pogues bandmates like Spider Stacy and James Fearnley brought instruments like the tin whistle and accordion to punk gigs. MacGowan's lyrics wound up like a sort of dark and shockingly open form of political poetry (though he says in the film that he hates to be described as a poet as it makes him feel like the music didn't matter to anyone). Whether or not most folks know it, in fact, The Pogues impacted modern, punk and mainstream music in a way that might not have made them household names to most, but catapulted them into the pantheon of music scholars, punk hooligans and the keepers of cool culture.
Temple does wonders at showcasing MacGowan's contributions to music without shying away from his issues with drugs, booze, anger, etc. Animated sequences add enjoyable weirdness and an extra layer of artistry. It's sad, though, that producer and longtime MacGowan confidant Johnny Depp felt the need to insert himself in the movie for whatever reason, but it is fun to see Shane stick it to him about the Pirates movie franchise. Depp notwithstanding, Crock of Gold ought to wow the Pogues fans, win a few new fans and maybe even earn MacGowan a little more respect outside the UK. He deserves it and more.
+Mandatory music history; animation
-Builds steam slowly; Johnny Depp
Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan
Directed by Temple
Violet Crown Virtual Cinema, NR, 124 min.