More Radiohead… and Shane MacGowan

I just found out an amusing fact about Radiohead. They met while attending Abindgon School in Oxfordshire. I was there too! I took my A-levels there (ok since you asked, I got a B in French, a C in English, and I went to the pub during the History exam). My family at that point lived about 3 miles outside Abindgon, as my father was an Oxford professor, but after being at boarding school in London for 3 years I was a real REBEL and demanded that I move to a local school where I could be a day boy. So I was at Abingdon from 1975 to 76, approximately, and left not long before my 17th birthday to go and get a job in a fruit and vegetable shop. Of course, I was Tom Robertson back in those days. Someone needs to list me as a famous alumnus in the Wikipedia entry about the school! Screw Radiohead being the only famous people to have gone there, along with Zippo the Clown and a rowing cox called Nicholas Bradie.

Shane MacGowan

Oh and another curious thing, while I’m on the subject of famous shoolboys. At my previous school in London I was good friends with Shane MacGowan, of The Pogues. He and I used to sit together in the back row of English Lit. He was extremely smart. On one occasion during a boring reading of some classic novel or other, the teacher spotted me and Shane nattering. He singled me out saying something like ‘what figure of speech is “indubitably”…. Robertson?’ Shane whispered under his breath: ‘It’s an onanism.’ Ha. ‘IT’S AN ONANISM, SIR!’ I blurted out. Deadly pause. ‘Robertson, please come up to the front of the class, take down the Oxford English Dictionary and read out to the class the definition of the word onanism.’ Which I did. Much to the delight of Shane and the rest of the class.

Shane was the most knowledegable kid in school about rock music. A gang of us used to sit all afternoon in a cafe a few streets away from the school, drinking tea and smoking Woodbines, talking about progressive music like Yes, Genesis and Soft Machine. We also loved the Allman Bros who we considered raunchy and Steely Dan who were jazzy, experimental and rebellious. One day—this would have been around early 1975—Shane walks in to out cafe with a scowl on his face. ‘That’s all CRAP!’ he spits out from between his already rotten teeth. ‘The Beatles—bloody Pink Floyd—they’re just a bunch of old FUCKS!’

You could almost hear the collective gasp. How could our music guru possibly utter such sacrilege! We were shocked and upset. Well, who should we be listening to now then, we asked? Shane listed a bunch of bands we’d never heard of, though we’d sure enough rush off to Oxford St later to find them at the Virgin Records shop, where you could sit in an aircraft seat and listen to any album on headphones. ‘The New York Dolls. The MC5. Johnny Thunders. Wayne County. That’s the new stuff! Fuck the old fart bands!’

Of course, Shane’s proclamation was a barometer of the era we were about to live through. Rock music had indeed become staid and self-important. In the mid-1970′s merchant bankers were getting monthly subscriptions to Rolling Stone magazine. It was high time some new kid with a different hairdo, a new cut to his jeans, and a menacing snarl to his lip, came along and shook us all up. And that kid was Johnny Rotten, who appeared on the scene about a year later. The collective intake of breath could now be heard all over the nation. I can remember the review of a Marquee gig by the Sex Pistols in NME: ‘Who do they think they are? They played too loud and too fast while this Rotten bloke spat and sweared at the audience, kicked the monitor, and walked offstage half way through the set. Have young people today no respect for rock music?’

I only saw Shane once after we left school. I bumped into him on King’s Rd in about 1979. He was by then a famous figure in the London punk scene, and he was getting his photo taken standing next to some tourists. He was in bondage trousers and safety pins (I don’t remember what I wearing but in those pre-New Romantic days before the start of the 80′s it was probably a Demob WW2 suit and a fluffy shirt.) It was clear Shane and I had grown apart. He told me he was forming a band of his own. I was not surprised, though I had never suspected he had any singing talent. What kind of music was his band going to play, I asked? ‘Sorta punk folk,’ he said. I suppressed a giggle. That’ll never work, I thought! Wrong again.

Never underestimate Shane MacGowan. I should have learned my lesson with the Onanism thing.

14 Responses to “More Radiohead… and Shane MacGowan”

  1. Wireless says:

    You know…… that is a well written piece TMDR and surprising you only got a C in English!

    I would look forward to you one day putting all this in a book. You have been a pioneer in some music and on the edge in others. Your perspective on music is worth listening to.

    Another string to your bow?

  2. Dreama says:

    The Abingdon School page on Wikipedia has been duly updated with a reference back to this blog entry.

  3. merujo says:

    I’m trying to imagine a classroom with you and Shane MacGowan in it, and my brain just keeps saying, “Get the F out!”


  4. chuckfrain says:

    Nice site you have.

    In the future when you create links you might want to add in the destination in the html:)

    On a more serious note, thanks for all the work that you’ve produced for us. Hope to see you on your next tour!

  5. TMDR says:

    There’s something buggy in the code, because the destinations ARE there—you can see them when you mouse over a link, but when you click on it, you go nowhere. I am HTML-illiterate so I will ask Lunesse to look into it. Could be a bug we’ve introduced since we made it so the first chunk of the blog shows up on my home page, which I see has not happened.

    #35 and rising…. STOP VOTING, Y’ALL! This could get embarassing!

  6. duckorange says:

    Shane MacGowan was once sick on my leg. It remains – that unpleasant Uri Geller business notwithstanding – my closest brush with fame.

  7. Lunesse says:

    Link issue remedied. WordPress was being a fussypants for some reason.

  8. MiniCoopGuy says:

    I finally got to see The Pogues this year in Chicago and was amazed by the show. I’d posted on the forum that Shane was completely wasted, but once he got warmed up it was a great show. I’ve never seen someone so wasted that was able to stand up and actually sing. My good friends are massive Shane fans so I’ll be sending your blog to them as they will get a kick out of your story. Thanks for sharing!

  9. 80sGeek says:


    *slaps forehead* Indubitably is an adverb, Thomas! ADVERB!

    Just kidding; I’m sure you know that!!

    I’m gonna go do my German homework now… :lol:

  10. heretic says:

    Isn’t it Abingdon? My wife’s parents own a house there.

  11. mizmusic says:

    Onanism: darn near spit-take on monitor when definition read!!!
    Luckily was not drinking tea @ the time. :D Feel succinct today.

    Peace, Kara

  12. mizmusic says:

    Oh yeah–and I think there’s such a thing as being *too* frickin’
    smart! So you and Shane were the sorts who sat @ the back of
    classes, hmm, Thomas? I always sort of wondered about the
    psychology of who would sit where. I used to get into verbal
    debates with subversive sorts who sat at the back! It was thrilling.
    I sat near the front in Eng. Lit — wonder what that says about me?! Actually, maybe I don’t wanna know. ;)

    Reese’s Peaces,
    Kara, occasionally too frickin’ smart myself!! [When I was in my
    teens, I used to mess with people something awful. I'm kinder

  13. doctordiper says:

    Cool story about Shane.

    Phew….I remember very well these times (Flower Power vs No Future) where the proggers were sentenced up to date (whether music guru’s or not)

    I had a prog band back in France back then, (we were more happy with the word “permissive” allthough) and while sharing a festival stage with a young punkladies band full clad in latex and clothepins. (the first time i saw this)

    When we left the stage before they performed their set, i try to chatt a little with the singer, average words, and i remember their look in their eyes at us, as if we had insulted them with our music.

    And as soon as they were to play, we were flouted by them…Strange: people applauded us as much for us than they did for those young ladies when they began to shout: “Peeeeenissss”!!!!! (one of their songs)

    This in between period was unique in the rock history, i just remember how many musicians turned from their permissive orientation to the punk scene that easely.

    What has become of those average known bands supposed to blow the old “farts” away? And where have Pink Floyd or Genesis ended (if so) ?

    Who was right ?
    One for sure musical influences has always been killed when they were leaving the popular flow, killed to be rebuild…..

    And Thomas Dolby belonged to those fine fine re-builders, making this music again permissive and challenging.

  14. technodrone says:

    The Sex Pistols were a short lived band – they made what, two albums, toured for a year, and then broke up after playing San Francisco, at the end of their American tour. The New York Dolls
    were short lived, as well, two albums? and parted ways, although they reformed recently, and released a new CD, but it doesn’t have the same energy as the original Dolls albums, mainly because they learned HOW to play their instruments, and took singing lessons in the “off” years. It’s fun and accessible, though. Wayne County had a sex change and is now Jayne County, and is still struggling for mainstream attention, it seems. The MC5? Johnny Thunders? Who knows, not me, they would seem to have fallen off the musical roadmap …