Remembering Shane MacGowan

Shane MacGowan, lead singer and chief songwriter of Irish band the Pogues, died Thursday early morning at age 65.

The news was shared through a statement from his family, including his wife Victoria Mary Clarke, his sister Siobhan, and his father Maurice. “It is with the deepest sorrow and heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of our most beautiful, darling and dearly beloved Shane MacGowan,” the statement read. “Shane died peacefully at 3.30am this morning with his wife and sister by his side. Prayers and the last rites were read during his passing.”

“Sorry to hear of the demise, after a long illness, of one of the greatest songwriters of my generation, Shane MacGowan,” wrote Billy Bragg on X. “The Pogues reinvigorated folk music in the early 80s and his songs put the focus onto lyric writing, opening doors for the likes of myself and others.”

“Very sad to hear of the passing of the great Shane MacGowan,” Jason Isbell shared. “Justin Earle would be heartbroken.”

“Gutted,” echoed Frank Turner. “One of the all time greats. RIP.”

MacGowan was born Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan on December 25, 1957, in Pembury, Kent to Irish parents. As a kid, MacGowan spent a lot of time in Ireland and grew up with Irish music (along with rock, reggae, jazz, and other styles) all around him.

When the British punk scene blew up in the late 1970s, MacGowan was captivated. He formed his own punk bands before connecting with a group of players including Peter “Spider” Stacy, Jem Finer, and James Fearnley that became Pogue Malone, later shortened to the Pogues.

The Pogues released their debut album, Red Roses for Me, a mix of punk energy with Irish traditional folk instruments and melodies. They were tapped to open for the Clash in 1984, and Elvis Costello produced their next album, Rum Sodomy & the Lash, which included such now-classics as “Dirty Old Town,” “The Old Main Drag,” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” the latter two written by MacGowan.

Rum Sodomy & the Lash showed the band finding their own ground. When you think of that classic Pogues sound, brilliantly blending Irish traditional folk, punk energy, and emotionally piercing lyrics, this album is top of mind. And it put MacGowan’s writing up front alongside the group’s fresh take on Irish classics like “Dirty Old Town” and “I’m a Man You Don’t Meet Every Day.”

pogues album cover rum sodomy and the lash shane macgowan

After stalling and stuttering for a couple of years, no small thanks to MacGowan’s drinking and erratic behavior, the third Pogues album, If I Should Fall from Grace with God, came out in 1988. It became the band’s best-selling album, thanks in large part to the massive popularity of “Fairytale of New York.” A quasi-Christmas song two years in the making, “Fairytale” was written by MacGowan and bandmate Jem Finer and showcased the incredible vocal talents of MacGowan and his duet partner, singer-songwriter Kirsty MacColl. It remains a gritty Christmas classic to this day.

During a tour in 1991, MacGowan was fired from the Pogues for unprofessional behavior. The singer then formed a new group, Shane MacGowan and the Popes, who released a handful of albums, toured, and stayed together through the mid-2000s.

Respected and admired among his peers, MacGowan also recorded and performed with such musicians as Joe Strummer, Nick Cave, and Sinead O’Connor.

The Pogues reunited in the 2000s, with MacGowan back as lead singer, but after several years the relationship fell apart again. “We just got a bit sick of each other,” MacGowan said of his bandmates in a 2015 Vice interview. “We’re friends as long as we don’t tour together. I’ve done a hell of a lot of touring.”

MaGowan’s health – including his drinking, drug problems, and often troublesome behavior – has been a topic of conversation almost since he started performing.

“People have given Shane six months to live every year since he’s been 19.”

Pogues guitarist Philip Chevron, from a 2006 NPR interview

He was also known for his bad teeth, to the point that, when he finally lost them and had to have implants in 2015, the procedure became the subject of a television special titled Shane MacGowan: A Wreck Reborn. Not many artists find their dental procedures featured on national television.

In 2022, MacGowan was diagnosed with viral encephalitis, and in 2023 he spent a good deal of time in the intensive care unit. He passed away Nov. 30, 2023 in the company of close family members.

Throughout his career, MacGowan fused Irish folk traditions with punk to create high-energy, emotionally piercing songs that have a lasting impact.

As Bruce Springsteen said on his radio show a couple years back, “I know they’ll be singing Shane MacGowan songs 100 years from now.”

This story is developing and may be updated when new information is available.

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