Shane MacGowan, the lead singer and songwriter of trailblazing Celtic punk band the Pogues, has died aged 65 following a long period of ill health. A family statement said he died at 3.30am on 30 November, and was described as “our most beautiful, darling and dearly beloved”.
His wife Victoria Mary Clarke wrote in a statement on social media: “Shane will always be the light that I hold before me and the measure of my dreams and the love of my life … I am blessed beyond words to have met him and to have loved him and to have been so endlessly and unconditionally loved by him.”
In December 2022, MacGowan was hospitalized with viral encephalitis, and as a result spent several months of 2023 in intensive care.
Shane MacGowan was an Irish singer and songwriter. Born in Kent, England to Irish parents, he was the lead singer and songwriter of Celtic punk band the Pogues. He was also a member of the Nipple Erectors and Shane MacGowan and the Popes, as well as producing his own solo material and collaborating with artists such as Kirsty MacColl, Joe Strummer, Nick Cave, Steve Earle, Johnny Depp, Sinéad O'Connor, and Ronnie Drew.
MacGowan was the son of Irish immigrants. His father was from Dublin and his mother was from Tipperary. His mother, Therese, worked as a typist at a convent and had previously been a singer, traditional Irish dancer, and model. His father, Maurice, came from a middle-class background and worked in the offices of department store C&A; he was, in his own words, a "local roustabout". MacGowan's younger sister, Siobhan MacGowan, became a journalist, writer, and songwriter. He was born in England, but raised in Tipperary in Ireland until the age of 6.
MacGowan lived in many parts of southeast England such as Brighton, London, and the home counties, and attended an English public school. In 1971 he left Holmewood House preparatory school in Langton Green, Kent with a scholarship for Westminster School. He was found in possession of drugs and expelled in his second year. He was first publicly noted in 1976 at a concert by London punk rock band The Clash, where his earlobe was damaged by future Mo-dettes bassist Jane Crockford. A photographer took a picture of him covered in blood, which made the local papers with the headline "Cannibalism at Clash Gig". Shortly after this, he later joined punk band The Nipple Erectors (later known as 'The Nips'), which featured Shanne Bradley.
MacGowan drew upon his Irish heritage when founding The Pogues and changed his early punk style for a more traditional sound with tutoring from his extended family. Many of his songs are influenced by Irish nationalism, Irish history, the experiences of the Irish diaspora (particularly in England and the United States), and London life in general. These influences are documented in the biography Rake at the Gates of Hell: Shane MacGowan in Context. He often cited the 19th-century Irish poet James Clarence Mangan and playwright Brendan Behan as influences. Between 1985 and 1987, he co-wrote "Fairytale of New York", which he performed with Kirsty MacColl. In the following years MacGowan and The Pogues released several albums.
After The Pogues fired MacGowan for unprofessional behaviour mid-tour, he formed a new band, Shane MacGowan and The Popes, recording two studio albums, a live album, three tracks on The Popes Outlaw Heaven (2010) and a live DVD, and touring internationally. In 1997, MacGowan appeared on Lou Reed's "Perfect Day", covered by numerous artists in aid of Children in Need. It was the UK's number one single for three weeks, in two separate spells. Selling over a million copies, the record contributed £2,125,000 to the charity's highest fundraising total in six years. From December 2003 up to May 2005, Shane MacGowan and The Popes toured extensively in the UK, Ireland and Europe.
MacGowan depicted in the painting Boy From The County Hell by Brian Whelan
The Pogues and MacGowan reformed for a sell-out tour in 2001 and each year from 2004 to 2009 for further tours, including headline slots at Guilfest in England and the Azkena Rock Festival in the Basque Country. In May 2005, MacGowan rejoined The Pogues permanently. That same year, The Pogues re-released "Fairytale of New York" to raise funds for the Justice For Kirsty Campaign and Crisis at Christmas. The single was the best-selling festive-themed single of 2005, reaching number 3 in the UK Charts that year.
In 2006, he was voted 50th in the NME Rock Heroes List. He has been seen many times with The Libertines and Babyshambles singer Pete Doherty; on occasions MacGowan joined Babyshambles on stage. Other famous friends include Johnny Depp, who starred in the video for "That Woman's Got Me Drinking", and Joe Strummer, who referred to MacGowan as "one of the best writers of the century" in an interview featured on the videogram release "Live at the Town And Country Club" from 1988. Strummer occasionally joined MacGowan and The Pogues on stage (and briefly replaced MacGowan as lead singer after his sacking from the band). He also worked with Nick Cave and joined him on stage.