When Mark E Smith met Nick Cave & Shane MacGowan

From Rock’s Backpages this month, an infamous NME pop summit from 1989. James Brown and Sean O’Hagan took Mark E Smith, Nick Cave & Shane MacGowan to the Montague Arms (RIP) in New Cross. Great merriment ensued…

For its second pop summit of the year, NME lent SEAN O’HAGAN and JAMES BROWN £10 each to buy SHANE MACGOWAN, MARK E SMITH and NICK CAVE a drink, and discover what motivates and aggravates rock’s three wise men.

SO THE NME thinks we’re the last three heroes of rock ‘n’ roll, do they?” laughs Nick Cave.

”Smarmy fuckers,” adds Shane McGowan, “what they actually mean is that we’re the three biggest brain-damaged cases in rock ‘n’ roll.”

”Apart from Nick”, jabs Mark Smith, “Nick’s cleaned up.”

”Yeah”, drawls Cave, “my brain’s restored itself.”

A bottle’s throw from Millwall FC, The Montague Arms, a mock Gothic fun pub for morbid tourists, plays host to a bizarre summit meeting. Amidst stuffed horses’ heads, skeletons on bicycles and mocked up corpses, three of contemporary music’s most infamous individuals are gathered at the NME’s request.

Shane MacGowan of The Pogues, Mark Smith of The Fall and Nick Cave all share an outsider’s attitude that informs their respective musical output. Both championed and castigated for their obsessiveness and extremism, this Unholy Trinity are dogged by reputations that precede them.

That they agreed to such a meeting is surprising. What ensues is inspired and insane by turns. The fractured, and often fractious, conversation sprawls between the amiable and the aggressive – Presley to Nietzsche, songwriting to psychology, football to fanatics. 
In an afternoon of sheer psychotic hellishness, Cave plays the diplomat to Smith’s bursts of contentious rhetoric whilst MacGowan transmits his thoughts from his own singular, rarefied wavelength.


Do you think it’s accurate to describe the three of you as outsiders?

Nick Cave: I think we’ve all tended to create some kind of area where we can work without particularly having to worry about what’s fashionable.

Mark E. Smith: Yes, fair enough. But I think there’s a lot of big differences in this trio here. Nick was very rock ‘n’ roll to me but he’s turned his back on it which was cool. Shane’s more, I dunno. To me The Pogues are the good bits from the Irish showband scene, like The Indians. You had that feel, probably lost that now. Your work’s good though.

Shane MacGowan: Fuck it man. Who wants to work in a place where there’s all these people looking at you?

MES: Are you talking about your gigs? You should stop doing them, then.

SM: Can’t afford to.

MES: Fuck it, you could fight not to if you don’t like it.

SM: …and leave the rest of them in the lurch?

MES: Nah, the rest of your band will always complain about not working. If you’re paying them a wage tell them to stay at home and behave themselves.

SM: It’s a democracy, our band.

MES: Why aren’t they here with you then?

SM: Cos the NME didn’t want to interview them.

MES: Cos nobody’d recognize them.

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