Shane MacGowan obituary


Together with his damaged enamel and huge ears, Shane MacGowan, who has died aged 65, may need appeared probably the most unlikely frontman for a pop group. However the Pogues by no means got down to change into teen idols. They grafted punk model and angle on to the raucous finish of Irish people music, as typified by their heroes the Dubliners, and Shane, specifically, gave the band a status for drunkenness.

Similar to the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who revolutionised Irish people music from the gap of the New York diaspora, the first-generation, London-based Irish group spawned the Pogues. Certainly, MacGowan astutely noticed that the band couldn’t have originated in Eire.

The important thing to the Pogues’ success was the songwriting of MacGowan, in such masterpieces as Streams of Whiskey and A Wet Night time in Soho, however above all in Fairytale of New York, on which he duetted with Kirsty MacColl.

The track, first launched in 1987, when it reached No 2 within the charts, grew to become a spotlight of the band’s Christmas gigs, with rereleased recordings turning into extra poignant after MacColl’s dying in a speedboat accident in 2000. Fairytale of New York has subsequently re-entered the charts many occasions, and is ceaselessly voted one in all Britain’s favorite Christmas songs.

MacGowan was born on Christmas Day in Pembury, Kent, whereas his dad and mom had been visiting family members. He grew up in Tunbridge Wells, typically visiting household again in County Tipperary. His mom, Therese (nee Cahill), was a prize-winning Irish dancer and singer and former mannequin, and his father, Maurice MacGowan, an govt on the C&A retail chain, beloved literature and poetry. Shane was an avid reader; he attended the fee-paying Holmewood Home prep college, close to Tunbridge Wells, the place his artistic writing expertise had been first recognized. He then gained a scholarship to Westminster college in London on the age of 14, however a 12 months later was discovered to be in possession of medicine and expelled.

MacGowan was by now already a eager music fan, and he drifted via informal jobs in a file retailer and as a barman, dwelling in a succession of squats and shared flats. In 1976, he achieved notoriety when a girlfriend minimize his earlobe with a damaged bottle throughout an early Conflict gig. Pictures of MacGowan, his head coated in blood, appeared within the press.

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Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl, whose 1987 duet Fairytale of New York has change into a favorite Christmas track. {Photograph}: Brian Rasic/Getty Photos

By the next 12 months, MacGowan had fashioned his personal band, the Nipple Erectors, later renamed the Nips. They launched 4 singles and an album, however by no means made a lot of an impression past London pubs and golf equipment.

MacGowan had an issue with the names of his subsequent two bands. Singing Irish insurgent songs to a pub stuffed with off-duty British troopers when your band is named the New Republicans was not a great profession transfer, and they need to maybe have caught with the unique identify, the Millwall Chainsaws. The third band was initially known as Pogue Mahone, which in Gaelic means “kiss my arse”, a transparent expression of their Irish heritage and punk angle.

MacGowan was knowledgable a few broad vary of Irish people music, however he discovered bands such because the Chieftains and De Dannan too clean-cut, a lot preferring the environment of a rowdy pub session and the raucousness of the Irish people band the Dubliners, who influenced his new band’s model and repertoire. However, in any case, the people scene was an irrelevance to Pogue Mahone, whose pure constituency was the younger, first-generation Irish group in London.

The band made its debut in October 1982 at what was then the Pindar of Wakefield pub in Grey’s Inn Street. The efficiency was described within the rock journalist Carol Clerk’s historical past of the band as “shambolic however spirited”. At first, the band members might scarcely play their chosen or allotted devices, however they had been all eager to study and shortly attracted an area fanbase in London. By the top of 1983, they had been voted “band almost definitely to succeed” by the commerce paper Music Week, though on the time that they had not secured a file deal. Stress from the BBC and their newly organized file label led to a slight identify change, they usually grew to become the Pogues.

Solely half of the Pogues had any reference to Eire – not one of the authentic members had been born there. Although typically described as an “Irish band”, they had been actually a London band who drew on an emigrant Irish expertise for each model and repertoire. This was seen most markedly in MacGowan’s personal songwriting – he was writing as an outsider in his personal group.

Their repertoire of Irish conventional songs was largely steered by MacGowan, and lots of of them got here from the Dubliners, equivalent to The Auld Triangle, Muirsheen Durkin and Waxie’s Dargle. Ewan MacColl’s Soiled Outdated City, initially written (in 1949) about Salford, is now typically thought to discuss with Dublin after MacGowan’s rendition with the Pogues. The band’s people instrumentation, which included banjo, accordion and tin whistle, had been uncommon within the rock and pop venues during which they carried out.

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Shane MacGowan, third from proper, and the Pogues within the early Nineteen Eighties.
{Photograph}: GAB Archive/Redferns

Alongside the Irish conventional materials had been MacGowan’s songs. Appearances had been misleading – MacGowan was effectively learn, with a sound information of Irish literature, which he used to good impact in his songwriting. He was seen, and maybe regarded himself, as the most recent in a line of Irish literary figures – equivalent to Brendan Behan – whose creativity was boosted by alcohol.

MacGowan was lauded as probably the greatest songwriters of the late twentieth century. His early songs, equivalent to Streams of Whiskey, Boys from the County Hell, A Pair of Brown Eyes, A Wet Night time in Soho, The Sick Mattress of Cúchulaínn, The Outdated Principal Drag and Sally MacLennane, all show related themes – alcohol-fuelled, typically with a touch of despair, set within the seedy aspect of London life. But the fast-paced tunes and MacGowan’s growling, in-your-face supply, gave a celebratory environment to the songs, suggesting that the approach to life portrayed – typically near MacGowan’s personal – was unapologetic.

Clerk summed it up: “A big a part of the Pogues’ enchantment was the whiff of the bar-room wafting via their lyrics, the irrepressible gallop of their up-tempos and the teardrops of their ballads.”

Their first three albums had been for Stiff information: Pink Roses for Me (1984), Rum Sodomy & the Lash (1985) and If I Ought to Fall from Grace With God (1988) contained a wealthy combination of Irish people and songs by MacGowan, every one higher than its predecessor, with Fall from Grace reaching No 3 within the album charts. Their transition from the world of London golf equipment and pubs to worldwide live performance halls had been aided by the group’s bass participant Cait O’Riordan’s romance with Elvis Costello, with whom the Pogues toured. He additionally produced their second album.

Via 1984 and the entire of 1985 they gigged in Britain, Eire and continental Europe, and carried out at Glastonbury. They subsequently toured the US, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. On the Vienna people competition in 1985, the Pogues met up with the Dubliners, and this led, in 1987, to a joint single, The Irish Rover, which reached No 8 within the UK singles charts in March. Additional chart success adopted in December, when Jem Finer and MacGowan’s Fairytale of New York reached No 2 (however was stored off the Christmas No 1 spot that 12 months by the Pet Store Boys’ cowl of At all times on My Thoughts).

The heavy consuming that affected among the different band and crew members grew to become contained by efficiency calls for, however MacGowan was a free cannon. He ceaselessly missed flights, rehearsals, photoshoots and generally even gigs. As the celebrity of the Pogues and the essential acclaim of his songs reached their peak, MacGowan’s cocktail of alcohol and medicines was a matter of great concern. On tour in New Zealand in 1988, he painted his lodge room, face and chest blue, apparently as a result of “the Maoris had been speaking to me”. Shane and his girlfriend, Victoria Mary Clarke, had been spending free time in Thailand, the place medication had been plentiful, however in the course of the 12 months he was hospitalised in Dublin and London.

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Shane MacGowan on stage with the Pogues throughout Greenwich Summer time Periods on the Outdated Royal Naval Faculty in 2011. {Photograph}: Matt Kent/Redferns

MacGowan was regularly withdrawing from his shut involvement within the band; he was extra erratic on stage and introduced fewer songs to the studio for his or her fourth album, Peace and Love (1989), which gave the remainder of the band a possibility to develop their very own writing. By now his drug use had prolonged to acid, however he was nonetheless able to writing good songs, equivalent to White Metropolis, a homage to the London greyhound monitor.

However in 1989, MacGowan missed a six-concert tour with Bob Dylan in California, when the airline refused to let him on the aircraft. The Pogues’ subsequent album, Hell’s Ditch (1990), included a Thailand trilogy of songs that appeared to point he had misplaced the premise of his London Irish pub-based inspiration.

Issues got here to a head in September 1991 when on tour in Japan. MacGowan missed two of the 4 live shows, and the remainder of the band sacked him. He was not stunned – “What took you so lengthy?” he requested. The band soldiered on, however the cracks had already been revealed. The Pogues couldn’t have continued with MacGowan, however they might not proceed with out him. After a number of band members left, they disbanded in 1996.

In the meantime, MacGowan was concerned in collaborations, with artists together with Nick Cave, the Breton singer Alan Stivell, Van Morrison, Christy Moore and the Jesus and Mary Chain, earlier than forming a brand new band, the Popes. His album The Snake (1994) included his love track Aisling and – on the prolonged version the next 12 months – a remodeling, that includes a duet with Sinéad O’Connor, of the Pogues’ Haunted. The only That Lady’s Received Me Consuming featured the actor Johnny Depp on guitar. There was an additional Popes album in 1997, The Crock of Gold.

There was no let-up within the drink and medicines, and MacGowan suffered with abdomen ulcers and alcoholic hepatitis. In 1999, O’Connor reported him to the police for heroin use and, though MacGowan was livid, it served as a wake-up name.

A Pogues reunion tour, with MacGowan again because the band’s frontman, previous to Christmas 2001, led to occasional gigs in 2002, one other tour in 2004, and appearances in Japan, Spain, the US, Eire and the UK within the years following. There have been no new recordings – the audiences had been proud of their in depth again catalogue.

A biography, A Drink With Shane MacGowan, written by MacGowan and Clarke within the type of a dialog between them, was printed in 2001, and the documentary If I Ought to Fall from Grace: The Shane MacGowan Story, had a cinema after which DVD launch, additionally in 2001.

An additional movie documentary, Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan, aired on BBC tv in 2021, and a brand new biography, A Livid Devotion: The Lifetime of Shane MacGowan, by Richard Balls, was printed the identical 12 months. A limited-edition guide of his paintings and handwritten lyrics, The Everlasting Buzz and the Crock of Gold, was printed in 2022.

MacGowan fractured his pelvis in 2015 and thereafter used a wheelchair. Six years later he broke his proper knee after which tore the ligaments in his left knee. In 2018, the Nationwide Live performance Corridor in Dublin hosted a celebratory live performance for MacGowan’s sixtieth birthday, with the performers together with Cave, Bono, Depp and O’Connor. As a finale, MacGowan himself sang the people track Wild Mountain Thyme, earlier than the Irish president, Michael D Higgins, offered him with a lifetime achievement award.

Later that 12 months, MacGowan married Clarke. She survives him, alongside along with his sister, Siobhan, and his father.


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