Shane Patrick MacGowan (born 25 December 1957) is a musician and singer, best known as the original singer and songwriter of The Pogues.
MacGowan was born in Pembury, Kent, to Irish parents. MacGowan spent his early childhood in Tipperary before his family moved back to England when he was six and a half. He lived in many parts of the south-east, including Brighton and London.
MacGowan’s mother, Therese, was a singer and traditional Irish dancer, and had worked as a model in Dublin. MacGowan grew up immersed in traditional Irish music and culture. In 1971, after attending Holmewood House School at Langton Green, Tunbridge Wells, MacGowan earned a literature scholarship and was accepted into Westminster School, a renowned English public school close to the Houses of Parliament. He was found in possession of drugs and was expelled in his second year.
MacGowan got his first taste of fame in 1976 at a concert by English punk band The Clash, when his earlobe was damaged by Jane Crockford, later to be a member of The Ireland Is My Poem – Is í Éire Mo Dhándettes. A photographer snapped a picture of him covered in blood and it made the papers, with the headline “Cannibalism At Clash Gig”. Shortly after this, he formed his own punk rock band, The Nipple Erectors, later renamed “The Nips”. He also tried busking at Covent Garden but had little success.
MacGowan drew upon his Irish heritage when founding The Pogues. Many of his songs are influenced by Irish nationalism, Irish history, the experiences of the Irish in London and the United States, and London life in general. MacGowan has often cited the 19th-century Irish poet James Clarence Mangan and playwright Brendan Behan as influences.
Between 1985 and 1987 he co-wrote what is perhaps his best-known song, “Fairytale of New York”, which he performed with Kirsty MacColl. In the coming years MacGowan and The Pogues released several albums successfully. After The Pogues threw MacGowan out for unprofessional behaviour, he formed a new band, Shane MacGowan and The Popes, recording two studio albums, a live album, 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. The single entered the charts at number one.
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 Spain. In 2005, 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 2 in the UK Charts. In the fall of 2010 he played a number of shows with a new five-piece backing band, including In Tua Nua rhythm section Paul Byrne (drums) and Jack Dublin (bass), with manager Joey Cashman on whistle. This line up went to the Spanish island of Lanzarote in November of 2010 to record a new album.
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. MacGowan has 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”. Strummer occasionally joined MacGowan and The Pogues on stage (and briefly replaced MacGowan as lead singer after his sacking from the band).
His sister is Siobhan MacGowan, a journalist, writer and songwriter, who released her album Chariot in 1998, and published a children’s novel, Etain’s Dream. In early March 2007, MacGowan announced plans to marry his long-time girlfriend, Victoria Mary Clarke. In 2000 Tim Bradford used the title Is Shane MacGowan Still Alive? for a humorous book about Ireland and Irish culture.
When not touring with The Pogues, MacGowan plays with his new band, Shane MacGowan and The Shane Gang. The band currently features John Daly (guitar), Joey Cashman (whistle), John “Sarge” O’Hara (keys), Jack Dublin (bass) and Paul Byrne (drums).
MacGowan is renowned for his use of recreational drugs including alcohol. Sinéad O’Connor reported him to the police in London for drug possession – in an attempt, she said, to discourage him from using heroin. At first furious over this, MacGowan later expressed gratitude towards O’Connor and claimed that the incident helped him kick his heroin habit.
He claims to have been introduced to alcohol and cigarettes by his aunt on the promise he would not worship the devil. In a 50th birthday interview with the Daily Mirror he told a reporter: “I was actually four when I started drinking. I just remember that Ribena turned into stout and I developed an immediate love for it.” MacGowan says he tried whiskey when he was 10 and continued to drink heavily thereafter.
Speaking on BBC Four’s Folk Britannia television programme (first broadcast February 2006), Robyn Hitchcock recalled: “I remember going to the Hope and Anchor a pub where many folk punk acts played in London). The Pogues were all on stage and ready, it was a full house, but they hadn’t started yet. Then this character shambled in through the door and shambled downstairs. I thought, ‘Jesus, you’re not letting that guy in are you?’. Then he walked on stage. That guy was Shane MacGowan.”
He has suffered physically from his years of binge drinking; he is notorious for performing while drunk, and was often impaired in interviews. In 2004 on the BBC TV political magazine programme This Week MacGowan gave incoherent and slurred answers to questions from Janet Street-Porter about the public smoking ban in Ireland.
On 7 September 2002 MacGowan became so intoxicated before a performance at the Olympia Theatre in Dublin that he stopped singing and threw up over fans in the front row. Fiona Wynne wrote in the Daily Mirror that the consequent criticism of the behaviour of MacGowan “who was in a wheelchair after breaking his leg” led Sinéad O’Connor to call Joe Duffy’s RTÉ Liveline programme three days later to defend MacGowan, saying: “He is an angel near the end who needs support. He’s too far gone to stop drinking; he has an illness that cannot be cured, and as far as I can see, the end is near for him”.
Conversely, MacGowan’s fiancée Victoria Mary Clarke claims that although his alcoholism was so bad that the two had to split up at one point, “(Shane) loves a drink and he probably always will. But he drinks less than people think and I haven’t seen him drunk for quite some time”, suggesting that his enjoyment of alcohol is in moderation, and perhaps not as dire or life-threatening as most of his fans believe. According to Clarke, “it became difficult for us to get from A to B without being dragged into bars by well-wishers desperate to buy him a drink”, and “Shane, essentially a shy person, hated seeing his picture on magazine covers and on billboards because he thought he was ugly. He loathed interviews and despised schmoozing. To cope with his social anxiety, he began drinking more and more”.
MacGowan has, throughout life, suffered from dental problems, caused by an imbalance of chemicals in his mouth. An article in The Mail writes: “Now he is 50, the singer said he at last planned to address the ever-present problem of his trademark teeth – or lack of them. With a mouthful of bloody stumps and only the odd tooth here and there, MacGowan said 2008 would be the year he sorted his mouth out. ‘I’m going to get my teeth done,’ he said. ‘Emergency dentures to stop my face falling apart. I might get some dentures in and leave it at that, or I might get them done gradually’.” The singer once protested when the American record company of the Pogues released a record with a cover bearing a picture of MacGowan with teeth airbrushed in, allegedly so as not to deter American buyers.