Shane MacGowan, the lead singer and songwriter of trailblazing Celtic punk band the Pogues and one of the all-time great bandleaders, 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 hospitalised with viral encephalitis, and as a result spent several months of 2023 in intensive care.
MacGowan sought to bring the power of Irish folk music to the rock scene, with his writing drawing from literature, mythology and the Bible. “It became obvious that everything that could be done with a standard rock format had been done, usually quite badly,” he told the NME in 1983 as the Pogues were getting off the ground. “We just wanted to shove music that had roots, and is just generally stronger and has more real anger and emotion, down the throats of a completely pap-orientated pop audience.”
He frequently wrote about Irish culture and nationalism and the experiences of the Irish diaspora, reclaiming the racist “Paddy” stereotype – or reinforcing it, depending on who you asked. Early in his career, he often performed in a union jack suit – but in Julien Temple’s 2020 documentary, Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan, he said: “I was ashamed I didn’t have the guts to join the IRA – and the Pogues was my way of overcoming that.”
His dedication to his craft earned him the Ivor Novello songwriting inspiration award in 2018, following five albums with the Pogues and various solo releases. The Pogues’ highest-charting song, Fairytale of New York, a duet with Kirsty MacColl, reached No 2 in 1987 and became a Christmas classic.