Ireland has many traditions, but among them, music and fondness for the drink are near the top. These two ideas set the tone for the new music documentary Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan.
Prolific music video director Julien Temple takes a deep dive into the life of MacGowan, frontman of the Celtic punk band The Pogues and tortured singer/songwriter who set out to “save Irish music”. Blending traditional Irish music with punk rock edginess, the Pogues took the music scene by storm, becoming something of cult legend, thanks in part to MacGowan’s wild drunken antics and notoriety.
Temple meets McGowan, now confined to a wheelchair following an accident, where the polarizing musician is most comfortable – a pub – as famous friends and well-wishers including Johnny Depp and former Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams drop by for a celebratory pint with the singer to discuss his past. This casual approach humanizes the man leading up to the film’s cumulative and celebratory final moments at MacGowan’s 60th birthday tribute filled with well-wishers, fans, and celebs who pay tribute to the music legend.
Mercifully subtitled, as understanding MacGowan’s speech patterns and accent (long been affected by the drink and his teeth) is something of a learned skill, Crock of Gold expertly mixes archival and repurposed footage, personal home video, animation and behind-the-scenes video from the band in their prime to stitch together not just MacGowan’s personal story, but life in Ireland.
It is, to be certain, a melancholic portrait of a tortured artist whose best work was born out of his worst behaviours. And he knows it.
MacGowan is a complicated character, not wholly sympathetic as he himself has no sympathy for where years of boozing and fighting have left him. Warned he needs to cut back, MacGowan seems content with the suggestion he’s “drinking himself to death”, declaring he’s at his best when he’s “out of it”. His rambling recollections remain poetic and contradictory, much like the man himself.
Clocking in at over two hours, Crock of Gold isn’t the type of film that’s likely to win new fans of MacGowan or The Pogues the way something like the equally-long but more exploratory and high-energy Sparks Brothers might. Best known this side of the Atlantic for “Fairytale In New York” and “Dirty Old Town”, Crock of Gold isn’t likely to spawn an upswing in The Pogues Spotify streams. Though well-executed, the doc is for the band’s long-time fans and the mildly curious only.
Available on digital on March 9, Crock Of Gold manages to capture the wild persona of MacGowan, a man whose fans prove still has a voice in music and Ireland today.