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Rock

Shane MacGowan, Pogues Singer Dies at 65

The singer had recently been hospitalized with encephalitis.

Shane MacGowan, Pogues Singer Dies at 65

Shane MacGowan, the legendarily shambolic, magnetic frontman of Celtic rock band The Pogues, died on Thursday (Nov. 30) at age 65 following a recent hospitalization. The band confirmed the passing of their notoriously hard-living vocalist, whose yearning, howling vocals super-charged the Pogues’ meld of traditional Irish music and punk rock spirit on such beloved songs as “Dirty Old Town” and “A Pair of Brown Eyes.”

The group issued a statement in honor of their beloved bandmate on behalf of MacGowan’s wife, Victoria Mary Clark, sister Siobhan and father, Maurice. “It is with the deepest sorrow and heaviest of hearts that we announce the passing of SHANE MACGOWAN. Shane died peacefully at 3am this morning (30 November, 2023) with his wife Victoria and family by his side. Prayers and the last rites were read which gave comfort to his family,” it read, alongside a picture of MacGowan in his prime, a cigarette and glass of wine in hand, flashing his signature infectious, crooked smile.


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In an Instagram post, Clark wrote, “I don’t know how to say this so I am just going to say it. Shane who will always be the light that I hold before me and the measure of my dreams and the love ❤️ of my life and the most beautiful soul and beautiful angel and the sun and the moon and the start and end of everything that I hold dear has gone to be with Jesus and Mary and his beautiful mother Therese.”

The singer, who the BBC reported had been unwell for quite a while, struggled openly for many years with drugs and drink and was booted from the band in 1991 after his alcohol abuse made him unreliable; he returned to the fold in 2001 for a final thirteen-year stint before the band split for good in 2014. MacGowan was hospitalized in Dec. 2022 with viral encephalitis and spent several months in intensive care earlier this year as a result.

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MacGowan was as mythical a figure on the British music scene as the grizzled characters he inhabited in the Pogues’ songs, which were inspired by figures from literature, the Bible, mythology and the hard-scrabble lives of working class heroes. His vocals, filled with a mix of anger, pugnaciousness and sad-eyed resignation, could swing from a howl and a growl to a grizzled tenderness in the span of a single track.

His death just weeks before Christmas added an extra layer of poignancy to the loss, as this is the season when the Pogues’ 1987 holiday standard, “Fairytale of New York,” is often in heavy rotation. The swaying, sentimental ballad featuring MacGowan trading vocals with the late singer/songwriter Kirsty MacColl has been in the UK’s top 20 19 times since its release, perennially charting around Christmastime and peaking at No. 2 on the UK charts during the year of its release.

After an opening scene in which MacGowan’s characer laments sleeping off a drinks binge in a New York drunk tank, the tune has the two trading (not-PC) insults as they lament dreams deferred by addiction, brought home by the crooned chorus, “The boys of the NYPD choir/ Still singing Galway Bay/ And the bells are ringing out/ For Christmas day.”

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Born Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan on Dec. 25 1957, in Kent, England to Irish parents, MacGowan showed creative promise from a young age, earning a scholarship to the prestigious Westminster school for his literary skills, only to be expelled in his second year for drug possession. He burst onto the English music scene in an incident that was fittingly chaotic and tinged with punk-fueled violence when he was photographed covered in blood while attending a 1976 gig by The Clash at which his ear was ripped open, spawning the NME headline “Cannibalism at Clash Gig.”

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After briefly joining a punk band called The Nipple Erectors (aka “the Nips”), MacGowan formed The Pogues in London in 1982 with tin whistle player Peter “Spider” Stacy, banjo player Jem Finer and former Nips accordion player James Fearnley; they were originally known as “Pogue Mahone,” a winking twist on a Gaelic phrase that roughly translates to “kiss my arse.”

With the addition of bassist Cait O’Riordan and drummer Andrew Ranken the band began playing London pub gigs and signed to punk label Stiff Records, which released their 1984 debut, Red Roses For Me. The album set the table for the Pogues’ signature sound from the very first song, “Transmetropolitan,” a rousing pub rocker featuring MacGowan’s excitable vocals, which fronted a collection of originals mixed with a number of traditional Irish songs.

Quickly establishing a reputation for high-energy, chaotic live shows, the group’s profile was kicked up several notches when Elvis Costello signed on to produce their breakthrough 1985 album, Run Sodomy & the Lash, which featured such classics as the lament “A Pair of Brown Eyes,” “Sally MacLennane,” “The Old Main Drag” and the frenetic pirate tune “Billy’s Bones,” all written by MacGowan.

Their next album, 1987’s If I Should Fall From Grace With God, (which featured “Fairytale”) was their best-seller and their most eclectic, swapping some of the traditional Irish sounds with more world music touches, including a epic take on the the Australian anti-war lament “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda.”

That was followed by 1989’s Peace and Love and 1990’s Hell’s Ditch, whose U.S tour was scotched due to MacGowan’s unreliability, which led to his sacking in 1991. The singer quickly formed the solo band Shane MacGowan and the Popes, with whom he released two studio albums and a live album. In 2000, Sinead O’Connor reported MacGowan to the police for heroin possession, which angered the singer at first, though he later thanked her for helping him kick the drug; when O’Connor’s son Shane, 17, died in 2022, MacGowan paid tribute to the “Nothing Compares 2 U” singer, writing, “You have always tried to heal and help.”

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MacGowan returned to the Pogues in 2001 and the group toured for much of the next decade while stories of MacGowan’s life and times were chronicled in the autobiography A Drink With Shane MacGowan and the 2020 film Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan.

Hailed by late Clash singer Joe Strummer — who briefly joined the band in 1991 — as one of England’s greatest songwriters, MacGowan won the prestigious Ivor Novello songwriting award in 2018. His passing was honored by Irish president Michael Higgins, who said, “His words have connected Irish people all over the globe to their culture and history … The genius of Shane’s contribution includes the fact that his songs capture within them, as Shane would put it, the measure of our dreams – of so many worlds, and particularly those of love, of the emigrant experience and of facing the challenges of that experience with authenticity and courage, and of living and seeing the sides of life that so many turn away from.”

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See the family’s statement and listen to some MacGowan’s most beloved songs below.

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Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Joey Martinez

Neil Young & Crazy Horse

Rock

Neil Young's New Album 'FU##IN' UP' Has Live Recordings from Intimate Toronto Venue The Rivoli

FU##IN' UP, the new album by Neil Young & Crazy Horse, features performances of songs from his 1990 album Ragged Glory, recorded live at Toronto's Rivoli, seemingly during a much-rumoured secret show last November. He'll bring his upcoming tour to Toronto's Budweiser Stage in May, 2024.

Canadian icon Neil Young is adding to his immense discography with a new release this spring, a live album titled FU##IN UP'. The album, featuring Young's longtime band Crazy Horse, consists of nine live recordings from 2023 and is set for a limited edition two-LP release this April, in partnership with Record Store Day. According to the album's credits as noticed by Exclaim!, it was recorded at Toronto's Rivoli club, meaning it likely captures Neil Young & Crazy Horse's secret show at the Rivoli last November.

At that show — supposedly a private birthday party for Canada Goose CEO Dani Reiss — according to reports that generated a lot of buzz when they appeared online days later, Young performed most of his 1990 album Ragged Glory. FU##IN' UP features primarily songs from Ragged Glory, with new titles taken from lyric fragments. ("Over and Over," shared as a single, is now "Broken Circle.") The album features performances from Crazy Horse members Billy Talbot on bass, Ralph Molina on drums, and Nils Lofgren and Micah Nelson on guitar and piano, and Reiss is credited as a presenter.

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