A Rainy Night in Soho

Thoughts on songs and Shane MacGowan...

You’re about to hear a lot about Shane MacGowan.

Partly because tomorrow is December 1st, and, for me anyway, the only thing that really redeems Christmas is the opportunity to hear 'A Fairytale of New York'.

Partly, because he’s just died.

I think it would be presumptuous of me to write some sort of Shane MacGowan obituary.

Mainly because I don’t know anything about him personally that I didn’t learn from the Johnny Depp-produced documentary Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan (which came out a few years ago and is an incredible watch).

I feel moved to write a bit about him though, because of the joy he’s inadvertently brought me for the past 20 years or so.

He didn’t mean to.

I’m sure, if we ever met, he’d probably think I was exactly the sort of bourgeois English tosser he generally had nothing but contempt for.

And he'd probably be right.

But when I think about the most precious songs ever written - songs so powerful that I have to deliberately turn them off if they shuffle on at the wrong moment, because I know I’m not going to be able to stand half-listening to them in the gym, or whilst somebody unwittingly tries to talk to me whilst they’re playing; because, like the words of the Gospel or Van Gogh’s Starry Night they deserve nothing but hallowed reverence  - there are a few that always come to mind.

‘Thunder Road’, by Bruce Springsteen; ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ by Paul Simon; ‘Yesterday’ by Paul McCartney; and ‘A Rainy Night in Soho’ by Shane MacGowan.

These are the song that I have to deliberately ration - that I only listen to on special occasions; maybe once or twice a year - because I know that the day I hear one of them and it doesn’t move my soul the way it used to I’ll feel like an important part of me must have died.

A neuroscientist might tell you that music activates various brain areas associated with memory, such as the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex, but none of us need them to because we already know it does.

We all know that songs become inextricably linked to the moments of our lives.

I remember first hearing ‘A Rainy Night’ in Soho having illegally downloaded The Pogues’ discography (sorry Shane) in my teenage bedroom.

I remember persuading the bemused staff of the ex-pat bar I got drunk in every Saturday night in a nameless city in North-Eastern China to play it on repeat every time the tequila took hold.

I remember singing it at 4am on the couch of some student doss-house in South Manchester with an Irish girl I wanted to sleep whilst we were both training to be English teachers.

I remember hearing it, exhausted, as the day broke over Manchester, commuting via Barton Bridge from Bolton to the first school I ever worked at in Stockport.

And I remember driving through the Yorkshire Dales in silvery sunlight on the way to a wedding I didn’t want to go to - hungover - with the love of my life, and realising that the relationship was slowly but surely coming to an end.

Hearing the line ‘you’re the measure of my dreams’ and knowing, with growing sadness, that she probably wasn’t.

Last night I had the most forgettable of gigs.

It was a two-for-one grill night in a small pub at the crossroads of a farmers’ village; we were the background noise.

My friend and I - a violin player from Dublin - did three sets to absolutely no notice whatsoever.

The reason I’ll never forget it now is because, as I was slowly losing the will to live during the third set, I leant over and asked him if he knew anything by The Pogues.

‘I think I could probably do A Rainy Night in Soho,’ he said.

Just another memory.

Cheers Shane.

Keep dreaming,


Rob Jones & The Restless Dream

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