LONDON — Shane Macgowan, the singer-songwriter and lead singer of the “Celtic Punk” band The Pogues and best known for the Christmas song “Fairytale of New York,” died Thursday, his family said. He was 65 years old.
“It is with the deepest sadness and heaviest hearts that we announce the passing of our most beautiful, dear and beloved Shane Macgowan,” his wife Victoria Clarke, sister Siobhan and father Maurice said in a statement.
The statement stated that the singer died peacefully with his family.
The musician was hospitalized in Dublin for several months after being diagnosed with viral encephalitis in late 2022. He was discharged last week ahead of his birthday on upcoming Christmas Day.
The Pogues combined traditional Irish music and rock’n’roll into a unique, intoxicating blend; but MacGowan became as famous for his loud, chatty performances as his strong songwriting.
Their songs blended the hard-hitting and the sentimental, from sultry anthems to down-and-out slices of life to unexpectedly tender love songs. The Pogues’ most famous song, “Fairytale of New York,” is a bittersweet Christmas classic that begins with decidedly unfestive lyrics: “It was Christmas Eve, baby, in a drunken tank.”
Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald was among many people in Ireland who paid tribute to MacGowan.
“Shane was a poet, a dreamer, and an advocate for social justice,” McDonald said. “No one has told the Irish story like Shane – stories of migration, heartache, displacement, redemption, love and joy.”
Born to Irish parents in England on Christmas Day 1957, MacGowan spent his early years in rural Ireland before the family moved back to London. Ireland remained the center of his imagination and longing throughout his life. In addition to the Irish music he received from his family and neighbors, he also grew up with the sounds of rock, Motown, reggae and jazz.
He attended London’s elite Westminster School, from which he was expelled and spent a time in a psychiatric hospital after a teenage breakdown.
MacGowan embraced the punk scene that exploded in Britain in the mid-1970s. He joined a band called Nipple Erectors, performing under the name Shane O’Hooligan, before forming The Pogues with musicians such as Jem Finer and Spider Stacey.
The Pogues, shortened from their original name Pogue Mahone, a rough Irish expression, combined the angry energy of punk with traditional Irish melodies and instruments such as banjos, tin whistles and accordions.
“It never occurred to me that you could play Irish music to a rock audience,” MacGowan recalled in “A Drink with Shane MacGowan,” the memoir he wrote with Clarke in 2001. “Then it finally clicked. Form a London Irish band that plays Irish music with a rock and roll rhythm. The original idea was just to get the old stuff back up, but then I started writing.
The band’s debut album, “Red Roses for Me”, was released in 1984 and featured raucous versions of Irish folk songs as well as originals such as “Boys from the County Hell”, “Dark Streets of London” and “Streams of Whiskey”.
MacGowan wrote most of the songs on the next two albums, “Rum, Sodomy and the Lash” (1985) and “If I Should Fall from Grace with God” (1988), writing songs that ranged from rousing songs to ballads, such as the second album’s title track. Like “A Pair of Brown Eyes” and “The Wide Majestic Shannon.”
The band also released an EP called “Poguetry in Motion” in 1986, which included two of MacGowan’s best songs, “A Rainy Night in Soho” and “The Body of an American.” The latter was prominent in the early 2000s TV series “The Wire,” where it was sung at the funeral of Baltimore police officers.
“I wanted to make pure music that could belong to any time, to make time unimportant, to make generations and decades unimportant,” he recalled in his memoirs.
The Pogues were briefly on top of the world with sold-out tours and US television appearances, but the band’s output and appearances became more erratic, in part due to MacGowan’s struggles with alcohol and drugs. He was fired by other band members in 1991.
He performed with a new band, Shane MacGowan and the Popes, before reuniting with The Pogues for a series of concerts and tours in 2001.
MacGowan had health problems for years and used a wheelchair after breaking his pelvis a decade ago. He was long notorious for his broken, rotten teeth until he received a full set of implants in 2015 from a dental surgeon who described the procedure as “the Everest of dentistry.”
On his 60th birthday, MacGowan received a lifetime achievement award from Irish President Michael D. Higgins. The occasion was marked with a celebration concert at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, featuring artists including Bono, Nick Cave, Sinead O’Connor and Johnny Depp.
“There is no way to describe the loss I feel and the longing I have for just one more of her smiles that lit up my world,” Clarke wrote on Instagram.
“I am lucky beyond words to have met and loved him, to have been loved so infinitely and unconditionally by him, and to have experienced so many years of life, love, joy, fun, laughter and so many adventures,” she said. she wrote.