In terms of procedures “it’s as big as it gets”, admits Darragh Mulrooney, the dental surgeon who has restored teeth to Shane MacGowan’s famously ravaged mouth. Might the task be described as the Everest of dentistry? Possibly, says Dr Mulrooney. But he wants it known that “there was a whole team required to get to the summit”.
For years, MacGowan’s mouth was a monument to rock’n’roll excess; a frightening cavity hollowed out by misadventure and misbehaviour. In the 1980s, when his brilliant, shambolic punk band The Pogues cut a swath through the music scene, his teeth were already so eroded it was suggested that he must floss them with rope. An American record company was so worried that it airbrushed teeth on to a photograph of the band that appeared on their first album. MacGowan’s last two teeth handed in their notice in 2008 and the maverick who co-wrote the Christmas anthem “Fairytale of New York” was left with an empty mouth and a distinct lisp. He had a set of dentures fitted in 2009, but the effect was, he admits, rather bizarre: “I couldn’t abide them. It was a botch job.”
Two years ago, his partner, Victoria Clarke, made an appeal on social media. MacGowan wanted new teeth, she wrote, because he wanted an acting career in Hollywood.
It remains to be seen if the 57-year-old will forge a career on the silver screen. But thanks to Dr Mulrooney he has a full set of teeth for the first time in decades. A nine-hour procedure, filmed as part of a documentary, Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn, has left him with a gleaming set of 28 gnashers on a titanium frame.
“Shane recorded most of his great works when he had some teeth to work with,” Dr Mulrooney says. “The question on everyone’s lips is how it will affect his voice. The tongue is a finely attuned muscle and it makes precise movements. We’ve effectively retuned his instrument and that will be an ongoing process.”
MacGowan’s new teeth make at least one concession to his notorious reputation. A single gold tooth was added to his smile at the singer’s request. Asked what he thinks, MacGowan, a man of few words, says: “I’m getting used to them … it’s good to have teeth again. I feel better about the way I look.”
Is it true he did some of the damage by biting into a vinyl copy of The Beach Boys Greatest Hits, Volume 3? “Yeah, I was out of my head,” he says. “I thought I was conducting talks with the Americans after the third world war. I said: ‘This is what I think of American culture’, and took a big bite out of it. And it’s a good record, actually.”
Now he tucks into fruit, instead. “There was a moving moment when someone gave Shane an apple to eat … something he hadn’t done in 20 years,” Dr Mulrooney says. “The simple things in life are sometimes the most important.”
Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn airs at 10pm on 20 December on Sky Arts
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