‘Crock of Gold’ is a music documentary based on the life and career of Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan. But this isn’t just any documentary. Punctuating the feature, the man himself shares pints and stories, and exchanges jokes with his friends and contemporaries.
‘Crock of Gold’ opens on an animated sequence portraying rural Ireland. One initially fears we’re going down the twee ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ route all over again. Fortunately, director Julien Temple avoids falling into stereotypes while still placing MacGowan’s Irishness front and centre. After all, the musician’s national identity is so intrinsic to his persona, his music and his success.
The documentary kicks off with a burst of energy and rarely relents after that. MacGowan is an exquisite storyteller as he recounts growing up in Ireland, unconcerned with including the bold, crass and vulgar details – with language to match. It was a pretty mad (and thus fascinating) upbringing by contemporary standards, and refreshingly liberal (by Irish standards) too.
Relatives offer insights, such as on MacGowan’s unhappy time in London. He escaped through drugs and wound up at a clinic but it was also there he discovered the formative world of punk. While MacGowan speaks of finding a place to belong to in music, being overworked in the Pogues, and addressing criticism that they played up the drunken Irish "Paddy" stereotype, he can be quite cagey. If a question comes up on a topic that MacGowan doesn’t want to discuss, he simply won’t answer. He also proves an admirably humble subject, shirking off praise when he receives too much.
A good portion of the doc, in the third act particularly, addresses the presence of alcohol in the singer’s life. It was there from an early stage, in abundance, and remains so right up to the present day. With Gerry Adams, MacGowan talks of the history, British-Irish tensions, and the IRA; with Johnny Depp, he teases the actor about ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. It’s never stated explicitly but Temple makes more than clear that this is a complex artist, with a multi-faceted personality, who has grown and changed greatly over the years. Fans of ‘Fairytale of New York’ might be disappointed that it doesn’t get a major look in; but that’s because it’s really only a small component of this life. Even the greatest Pogues fans will learn much from this unparalleled documentary approach.