Remembering Shane MacGowan
Published on 08 December 2023
Today marks just over a week since Shane MacGowan’s passing and it is also the day the great Irish Bard is to be laid to rest in his beloved family town of Tipperary.
Shane had an exceptional way with the pen; his poetry-like songwriting painted a picture so vivid it could take the listener on a journey to a place they never knew existed. He loved life and he never shied away from its realism, often putting himself through painful human experiences to give us the true gift of art.
Shane MacGowan with Frankie Hepburn (guitarist for Sinéad O'Connor) - photo courtesy of Andrea & Frankie Hepburn.
His family, friends and fans around the world have poured their hearts out in writing incredible stories they shared with Shane to remember him as the genius he was as well as tell some witty stories or two from what seems like a thousand lifetimes MacGowan had lived. From his wife Victoria Mary Clarke through Flea & Tom Waits to contemporary Irish folk singers like Damien Dempsey, musical elegies have flooded every social media platform known to man.
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For many of us his group The Pogues were a band that shaped our youth, carved a path of musical adventure and somewhat informed our circles, cementing friends for life.
Shane was not only a one of a kind songwriter in every meaning of the word imaginary, but also a self-taught guitar and mandolin player. He creatively led the band with the instrumental song arrangements often playing on traditional compositions but also coming up with exquisite original melodies.
As a folk rock musician myself, I don’t think I’d ever ventured out into the depth of the genre if it wasn’t for Shane’s mesmerising lyricism and the way he poured his heart and soul into The Pogues.
Shane MacGowan onstage in Kilmarnock, 15/12/1995 - photo courtesy of Frank Rawding.
A fiery trailblazer of a whole new genre, celtic punk, or folk rock, in times when public rebellion - especially against a strongly controversial political background - MacGowan felt compelled to create in his own way. Even after his ejection from the band, Shane successfully continued on with a new formation The Popes, and eventually as a solo artist; his writing unchanged and as gripping & beautiful as ever.
Shane MacGowan onstage with The Popes at The Barrowland Ballroom aside the bassist, Bob Dowling - photo courtesy of Bob Dowling.
Almost all modern bands combining traditional Irish, Scottish or any other cultural folk music, with punk, rock or metal, who came after him, never fail to mention the immense influence Shane had on their songwriting. Amongst them, many dear friends of mine who had either shared the stage with the Bard, toured with him or simply had a drink at the bar. I’d like to thank them for their contribution to this blog and allowing me to use photographs from their private collection.
Shane MacGowan onstage at a Christmas show in Kilmarnock's Palace Theatre, 1995. Photo courtesy of Frank Rawding.
A selection of songs to remember
If you love The Pogues (or The Popes), then Shane’s passing will be a sore one to take.
Those of you who happen to be in that wonderful point in your life where you’ve only just discovered The Pogues, let me tell you: you’re in for an immeasurable treat.
A collection of The Pogues concert tickets. Photo courtesy of Frank Rawding.
After all, there is much more in their catalogue than the Fairytale of New York. If I may recommend a selection of some of my favourite Pogues tunes, then gather round and take your time; for if you pay attention, it is a feast that requires your feelings to surface.
Shane onstage with The Pogues at the MEN Arena in Manchester, 2006. Photo courtesy: Annie L Brooks.
So here we go, one top song pick per album (a task almost impossible, trust me, but then again one is enough to highlight Shane's genious).
Red Roses for Me (1984)
"Boys From The County Hell"
Rum Sodomy & the Lash (1985)
"The Sick Bed of Cúchulainn"
If I Should Fall from Grace with God (1988)
"Sit Down by the Fire"
Peace and Love (1989)
Hell's Ditch (1990)
"Summer in Siam"
Since the 1993 Waiting for Herb and 1996 Pogue Mahone albums were both written without Shane, I'll allow myself to skip them here. However, with the Fairytale of New York aiming to reach nr 1 this Christmas, I guess it won't hurt to help it a little bit so I'll finish off with this anthem.
Shane MacGowan’s lyrics and musical input are forever etched into the modern rock culture and his legacy will live on. According to some online sources, Shane finished recording an album with an Irish band Cronin, shortly before he departed from this world. It shall no doubt be cherished by all no less than his previous works.
One of the last remaining old souls, an ancient seanchaí who graced the modern world of music with his talents through expression of which he suffered immensely. As often is the case with a tortured artist, the works are ahead of their time and only begin to be truly understood and intensify in value once their author has left us. He has given us his best gift.
And so now it is time to Let Him Go Boys, let him go to a place where the Streams of Whisky are flowing endlessly and the Irish music lulls his weary head to eternal sleep.
Shane MacGowan 1957 - 2023