Shane MacGowan, who galvanised Britain’s punk scene with his incorporation of Irish traditional ballads into that genre in the late 1980s, has died at 65.
MacGowan’s wife Victoria Mary Clarke released a statement announcing his death on Thursday, saying that The Pogues frontman, famous for haunting lyrics and his turbulent relationship with addiction, had died peacefully, surrounded by his loved ones.
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“Thank you for your presence in this world, you made it so very bright and you gave so much joy to so many people with your heart and soul and your music,” Clarke said in an Instagram post, also saying that MacGowan had gone to join “Jesus and Mary, and his beautiful mother Therese”.
Born in the British county of Kent to Irish parents on Christmas Day in 1957, MacGowan was shaped by summers in the Irish countryside and was known for his innovative use of Irish traditional themes in punk music.
— President of Ireland (@PresidentIRL) November 30, 2023
He won fame for songs like A Pair of Brown Eyes and his bittersweet, expletive-strewn 1987 Christmas anthem Fairytale of New York, before being ejected from The Pogues in 1991 as he struggled with substance abuse that sometimes led to erratic behaviour.
“So many of his songs would be perfectly crafted poems, if that would not have deprived us of the opportunity to hear him sing them,” Irish President Michael Higgins, who is also a poet, said in a statement.
“His words have connected Irish people all over the globe to their culture and history, encompassing so many human emotions in the most poetic of ways.”
Other icons of Britain’s tempestuous punk scene, which raged against the UK’s Thatcherite turn in the late 1970s, also praised MacGowan as a visionary artist.
Joe Strummer, the punk singer-songwriter who led The Clash and later played with The Pogues and briefly replaced MacGowan, called him “one of the finest writers of the century”.
While MacGowan embodied the hard-charging image of Britain’s punk scene — with irreverent songs, missing teeth, and an ear that was allegedly bitten off at a Clash show — his lyrics were noted for their prose and affiliation with the downtrodden.
“He has a very natural, unadorned, crystalline way with language,” Australian punk singer Nick Cave said of MacGowan, a close friend. “There is a compassion in his words that is always tender, often brutal, and completely his own.”