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Friday’s Top Stories: Shane MacGowan went from céilí-punk rebel to feted genius

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Shane MacGowan: From céilí-punk rebel to feted genius, addict to national institution

Considering that Shane MacGowan was a protean fixture in Irish life for so long, by turns hell-raising maverick, gritty romantic and idiosyncratic icon, his creative heyday was surprisingly brief.

But MacGowan, who has died aged 65, produced songs of such incandescent brilliance while frontman of the Pogues that this achievement remains the bedrock on which his reputation rests, no matter that he became arguably more famous for his hedonistic image as his career faltered.

Initially framed as an iconoclast taking a sledgehammer to the hidebound conventions of trad when he and the London-based Pogues first made their mark nearly 40 years ago, English-born MacGowan was far more respectful of the Irish folk tradition than his rambunctious persona suggested. The mythology and ballads he absorbed during childhood stays in his mother’s native Co Tipperary remained a touchstone throughout his life, whether as the wayward son of Irish immigrants in the Home Counties of southern England, the bug-eyed singer of a rising céilí-punk combo or the troubled solo performer tussling with addiction and ill-health.

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  • Shane MacGowan talks to The Irish Times, 1985: ‘They call us drunk because we’re Irish, or maybe because we are’: The Pogues present the Irishman as hellraiser, the alcoholic as social critic and the artist as victim of tooth decay. From obscure origins under the tables of various north London pubs they have risen to the point where Elvis Costello is producing their third album and Alex Cox (director of Repo Man) has just made a video of their Pair of Brown Eyes single. When I met singer-songwriter Shane MacGowan and tin-whistler Spider Stacy at their recording studio last week they had returned from a tour of Germany, Finland and Scandinavia. And last Sunday they travelled to their heartland to play at Kenmare Arts Weekend.

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