Shane MacGowen was a face on the UK punk scene almost from its inception. His face in itself was a remarkable feature, even by British 70’s standards, due to standard abysmal dental hygiene and treatment and aided by a copious intake of amphetamine sulphate, MacGowen,s teeth were in a terrible state and when enhanced by his jug ears made for would could be termed a distinctive visage.
It was MacGowen who was photographed having his ear bitten off (it wasn’t but it looked nasty) by his date for the night at the Roxy Club, he cropped up again in Don Lett’s punk film trashing the Jam’s drum kit. At one point he wrote his own fanzine ‘Bondage’ in longhand declaring ‘only girls use typewriters’, MacGowen was quite a large fish in a rapidly expanding pond.
It was perhaps inevitable that he was set to become the frontman of his own band. His musical accomplice was Shanne Bradley already notable as the put down in ‘Satellite’ one of the Sex Pistols early songs. Like half of the London punks Bradley was learning to play the bass.
And so, the Nipple Erectors were formed. Clearly not a commercial enterprise especially as MacGowen and Bradley were the only consistent members. This meant that although they got to make a few singles, virtually every punk band in London got to make a few singles, they were never distinctive enough to make their presence felt. Musically it was fine, everyone including the drummer and guitarist that week could play and sing, there was a mix going on of punk and rockabilly with a bit of pop, the nipple erectors were not a hard-core punk band but neither were they anything else.
Eventually they shortened their name to the Nips and with their latest guitarist and drummer recorded their final single ‘Gabrielle’ which impressed me enough at the time to go out and buy it. ‘Gabrielle’ remains something of an enigma, for a band firmly routed in London the song is quite transatlantic, the sort of tune that could easily be recorded by Southside Johnny or even Van Morrison. In fact, MacGowen was a big fan of the Jam who themselves were beginning to utilise some American soul stylings. Lyrically ‘Gabrielle’ is gossamer thin, musically it’s pretty much 3 chords. The huge surprise in retrospect is McGowan’s vocals which are ,well, tuneful.
The Nips managed one final line up where the guitarist was James Fearnley. After the band finally spluttered to a halt Fearnley and MacGowen re emerged as Pogue Mahone which in turn became The Pogues. After a slight hiatus Bradley also emerged in the folk based ‘The Men They Couldn’t Hang’
Today MacGowen is mainly known as a graduate of the Keith Richards ‘how come he’s still alive?’ school of life but just months after splitting with the Nips had totally altered his vocal delivery and song writing style and ‘Gabrielle’ stands alone as a pure pop moment never to be repeated.