Saturday 25 January 2020

Michael O'Doherty: 'Why Shane's Late Late performance hit the right note'

Shane MacGowan performes Fairytale of New York with Philomena Begley Picture Andres Poveda
Shane MacGowan performes Fairytale of New York with Philomena Begley Picture Andres Poveda

Michael O'Doherty

For many people, Christmas doesn’t start when they put up their first office or home decorations.

And it certainly doesn’t start when Brown Thomas unveil their Christmas window sometime in July.

No, it starts when they hear on the radio those first few piano chords strike up.

And everyone listening instantly recognises the song that means Christmas is here.

Fairytale Of New York.

How unseemly, therefore, that it should be the source of controversy, courtesy of Shane’s appearance on The Late Late Show last Friday.

In a performance of the tune by Shane and Philomena Begley, RTE decided to create a pub setting to give the event some atmosphere.

And, to be honest, given the less than perfect pitch of both performers, anything to provide some minor form of distraction should have been welcomed. And do you know what? It worked.

The boisterous singalong nature of the performance suited it perfectly, and instead of what might have been a flat, nostalgic nod to a song first performed 33 years ago, Fairytale Of New York once again came alive on Friday.

That didn’t stop Alcohol Action Ireland from complaining that the setting glamorised alcohol, suggesting that RTE has tried to “normalise and/or sentimentalise the impact of alcohol in people’s life”.

Of course, RTE has done nothing of the sort.

AAI’s campaign against the scourge of alcohol in Ireland is a noble one, and its complaints about how alcohol abuse in Ireland has been tolerated for too long is extremely valid.

But its criticism of RTE is misplaced. Drink, and lots of it, marks the backdrop to much of Shane’s finest work, never mind the majority of his life.

And the idea that interviewing him in a pub setting somehow normalises or glamorises the consumption of alcohol could not be further from the truth.

As Shane’s wife, Victoria Mary Clarke, so astutely put it, there is nothing glamorous about the song and nothing glamorous in its portrayal of two drunks.

“He could never ever be accused of glamorising it,” she said of Shane’s attitude to drink. “No one would ever want to be the couple in Fairytale Of New York.”

And, it might be argued, if you ever wanted a public health warning about the dangers of excessive consumption of alcohol, you only needed to look at Shane McGowan on Friday night.

Anyone watching the show who was old enough to consider alcohol to be “normalised” by its presence in the studio, would likewise be old enough to spot the frail, shell of a man who, at 61, has been ravaged by years of excessive drinking.

Far from glamorising the stuff, the interview in the bar room should have put most viewers off booze for life. That Shane is still with us is a miracle in itself.

And it’s a miracle that is best toasted with the timeless treasure that he has left us all. Fairytale Of New York.


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