Shane MacGowan dies aged 65

Updated: 9th December 2023

Shane MacGowan's family and friends held a "monster hooley" at his funeral in County Tipperary on Friday, 8th December – dancing to Fairytale of New York.

Hundreds of people gathered inside and outside the church in Nenagh to say their farewells to the songwriter, who died last week aged 65. Nick Cave, Johnny Depp, and Bob Geldof, among other luminaries, were there to sing MacGowan over to the other side.


Updated: 8th December 2023

From Dublin-Born Author, Kevin Holohan . . .

I was in a public house yesterday evening — more of a rarity these days than in years past. It was filled with the boisterous, pre-Christmas, after-work, bonhomie: that cozy sense of being warm and indoors intensified by the chilly New York evening outside. The Guinness was good, the pint glasses Imperial size. The playlist in the background was decidedly seasonal: Slade, Last Christmas I GEV you my heart, Mariah Carey...

“Can’t be long now,” I remarked to one of my companions. No sooner had I picked up my pint again than there it was:

It was Christmas Eve, babe, in the drunk tank

An old man said to me, "Won't see another one"

I knew it was coming, but it somehow stopped me in my tracks. I waited to see what would happen. Would the hubbub in the room soften? Alter? Steer itself in a different direction to acknowledge that it was THAT song, THIS week? I scanned the room and listened more intently to the white noise around me. Nothing changed. Though the trappings of the bar were Irish, the crowd was the crowd you find in any bar in the Financial District of Manhattan: from everywhere, soon to depart back to everywhere on the 4, 5, A, C, N, PATH, 7:27 Metro North, 7:32 LIRR, 6:53 NJ Transit. It was just one more Christmas song to be talked over. My hopes of the place spontaneously joining in with the chorus were dashed on the rocks of their volubility.

Then I noticed her, the bartender who had served me, and apologized for my pint dripping down the sides. I think she was from Galway. I'd bantered that a good full pint was better than an over-generous bishop's collar any day. She chuckled politely. Now she was at the taps again pulling a pint. Staring off into the middle distance toward the door with a wistful look on her face, you could see her lips move as she sang quietly along:

The boys of the NYPD choir

Were singing, "Galway Bay"

And the bells were ringing out

For Christmas Day

That was somehow enough, somehow perfect. You could see it in her face. The song touched her and she knew full well that it was THAT song THIS particular week.

KEVIN HOLOHAN's debut novel, the critically acclaimed The Brothers’ Lot is a “witty, brilliant, devastating expression of outrage.” (Times Literary Supplement). His stories and essays have appeared in the Sunday Tribune, Whispers and Shouts,, and the Irish Echo. His latest novel So You Wanna Run a Country? launches March 5, 2024


Original post - 30th November: It should be no surprise. Shane MacGowan, erstwhile songwriter and singer for the Pogues, had over the years downed oceans of whiskey and porter and ingested enough recreational drugs to get the whole bloody EU bolloxed.

Although news of his death was long expected, it was still a shock to learn that MacGowan died today. And even more so because it came not four months on the heels of the majestic Sinead O'Connor's death. The cause of Shane's death wasn’t specified, but decades of abuse surely played a part. One is reminded of the famous description of Bob Dylan in the 1960s: “He wasn’t burning the candle at both ends. He was using a blowtorch on the middle.”

Dylan’s famous motorcycle accident in 1966 afforded him the chance to step away from his incendiary habits. MacGowan never found – or didn’t take advantage of – such an opportunity. The tales of wretched excess are legendary and play all-too-neatly into the “drunken Irish poet” cliché epitomized by Brendan Behan and, latterly, by Mister MacGowan. Genius is often used as an excuse for addiction and the damage to oneself and to others that follows in its wake. MacGowan’s descent was a long, slow, and painful one to observe.

Born in Kent, England on Christmas Day, 1957, MacGowan’s parents were Irish. He spent a portion of his boyhood in Tipperary. Back in England as a young man, he was one of many inspired by the punk movement to start a band. One thing led to another and the eventual result was the Pogues. (As their fans know, Pogue Mahone, the band’s original name, is Irish for “kiss my arse.”)

Much ink will be spilled recounting epic tales of the Pogues and MacGowan's atrocious habits and even worse behavior. Such as quotes from Neil McCormick of The Telegraph, who describes Shane's songs as "succinct narratives of the Irish diaspora in Britain and America that drew on the poetry and culture of his homeland. His songs were peppered with finely observed details, and had, at their heart, a bittersweet romantic longing for a shattered community clinging to its historical identity, and a beautiful empathy for outsiders and the downtrodden." And the best description of that snicker, "he laughed frequently, emitting a sound halfway between white noise and an industrial accident."

I could go onnn, but let’s focus instead on the reasons we loved – and worried about – Our Shane in the first place.

MacGowan and company officiated at the shotgun wedding of Irish Trad and Punk Rock. He brought a cold eye and a gift for the vivid detail to his lyrics, evoking the listeners’ sympathy for the rebels, runaways, and misfits who live on the rough margins of cities. “The Old Main Drag” is about a rent boy’s decline and fall:

In the cold winter nights the old town it was chill
But there were boys in the cafes who'd give you cheap pills
If you didn't have the money you'd cajole or you'd beg
There was always lots of Tuinol on the old main drag

One evening as I was lying down by Leicester Square
I was picked up by the coppers and kicked in the balls
Between the metal doors at Vine Street, I was beaten and mauled
And they ruined my good looks for the old main drag...

The Pogues - The Old Main

A Rainy Night in Soho” offers a far more tender remembrance:

I'm not singing for the future
I'm not dreaming of the past
I'm not talking of the first times
I never think about the last

Now the song is nearly over
We may never find out what it means
Still, there's a light I hold before me
You're the measure of my dreams
The measure of my dreams

The Pogues - A Rainy Night In

Years of hard living exacted a toll on MacGowan. His notoriously rotten teeth were (finally!) replaced in 2015. A fall that same year resulted in a hip injury that put him into a wheelchair. In December 2022 he was hospitalized with viral encephalitis. He’d been released from another hospital stay shortly before his death. He’s survived by his wife, the journalist Victoria Clarke, his sister, Siobhan, and his father, Maurice MacGowan.

We at Popdust adore Shane. He was one raucous lad. And this one’s for...the Mighty Kevin.


Reflecting on the Life & Music of Shane MacGowan with 60th Birthday Concert

Pogues' frontman is celebrating his 60th with an All-Star Birthday Concert

The bonds that his music has forged will only grow stronger with time.

Shane MacGowan will be honored at the National Concert Hall on January 15th, with a long line of celebrities eagerly anticipating this momentous event. On Monday night, the NCH rolls out the red carpet to celebrate MacGowan's 60th birthday. He lived hard, but the songs he wrote hit home. Considering his life of excess, it is amazing he has lived as long as he has. An enigma. A God among men. Even if he doesn't outlive Kieth Richards, it is clear his songs will continue to capture the hearts of music lovers long after Shane is gone.

Produced and curated in collaboration with Shane, this concert sees his collaborators, friends, artists who admire his work and those who have been influenced by him come together to sing these great songs. Joining them are a newly created band naturally featuring members of The Pogues led by Musical Director Terry Edwards. Hosted by John Kelly. Some of the big names to participate are Nick Cave, Johnny Depp, Bobby Gillespie of Primal Scream, Glen Hansard, Camille O'Sullivan, Cerys Matthews, Carl Barat of The Libertines, Lisa O'Neill, Finbar Furey, when young, Glen Matlock of The Sex Pistols, Clem Burke of Blondie with Cáit O'Riordan, Spider Stacy, Jem Finer and Terry Woods of The Pogues. MacGowan is recognized as much for the poetry of his lyrics as for the power in his songwriting.

MacGowan was born on Christmas Day in Pembury, Kent in 1957. His father worked at a department store, but he shared more in common with his mother. She was a singer and Irish dancer, having also worked as a model in Dublin. After MacGowan earned a literature scholarship to Westminster School, but he was caught with drugs and expelled after less than two years.

MacGowan got his first taste of fame in 1976 at a concert by British punk band The Clash, when his earlobe was damaged by Jane Crockford, later to be a member of Mo-dettes. A photo of him covered in blood made the papers, with the headline "Cannibalism at Clash Gig". He then began "The Nipple Erectors". In 1981 the post-punk band, now called "The Nips", released a single called Gabrielle, its swagger and edgy romantic lyrics gave the first inkling of what was to come.

In 1982, The Pogues were formed! A Celtic punk band that was fronted by Shane MacGowan. Their politically tinged music was influenced by MacGowan and Stacy's punk roots, but used traditional Irish instruments. Many of his songs are influenced by Irish nationalism, Irish history, and MacGowan's experiences in London. He attributes 19th-century Irish poet James Clarence Mangan and playwright Brendan Behan as major influences.

Between 1985 and 1987, he co-wrote "Fairytale of New York", which he performed with Kirsty MacColl. In the coming years MacGowan and The Pogues released several albums. The band was most active in the 1980s and early 1990s. As with many prolific song writers, his addiction got the better of him. MacGowan was forced to leave the band in 1991 due to his problems with drinking. The long years of indulgence had dulled both his songwriting skill and ability to perform.

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.

On Monday evening, his miraculous powers of survival, will be recognized, as a host of fellow performers including Gillespie, Nick Cave and Cerys Matthews will grace the stage in Dublin to sing his songs backed by a band that will include a few ex-Pogues as well as the Hollywood actor Johnny Depp on guitar. Like Cave, Depp is a close friend of MacGowan's who directed and appeared in the video for That Woman's Got Me Drinking, and considers Shane "... a special being and one of the most important poets of the 20th century".

"I regard Shane as easily the best lyric writer of our generation," says Nick Cave. "He has a very natural, unadorned, crystalline way with language. There is a compassion in his words that is always tender, often brutal, and completely his own."

"Shane always seems to be channelling something when he sings," says Cave. "Some kind of energy that exists beyond himself. I saw him at a soundcheck at a festival in France, and he walked up to the mike and stood with his hands in his pockets and sang A Pair Of Brown Eyes, and for the few of us that were there time stood still. There was so much emotional power coming out of him, without him doing a fucking thing, that you had to question your ideas of divinity." 5 hours later, though, MacGowan was unfit to perform. "That is the other side of him, of course," says Cave. "But we love that too."

It has been a long time since MacGowan played a live show. Partially due to the fact he is in a wheelchair most of the time, after a heavy fall damaged his back a few years ago. He is currently focused on his health, so he has given up alcohol ...and is now committed to only drinking wine.

Listen to this classic album on Spotify and think of the poetic 'Punk of Irish' that just couldn't help himself, and yet somehow he has survived.

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