Shane MacGowan, Pogues Frontman, Dies at 65

Shane MacGowan, the frontman and songwriter of the Irish punk band the Pogues, died this morning (November 30), BBC News reports, citing an Instagram post by his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke. A spokesperson confirmed the news to the BBC, saying he died peacefully with his wife and and sister by his side. He was 65 years old.

MacGowan was best known for his tongue-in-cheek, cranky delivery as the frontman of the Pogues, chronicling the misadventures of Ireland’s residents and diaspora in raspy, whiskey-ravaged tones. Coming up in the early 1980s, he and the Pogues welded Irish pride with the volatile, rebellious energy of punk, often incorporating the nation’s classics and pop tunes into their repertoire. Their legendary bacchanalian antics, on and off stage, were as much a part of the band’s philosophy as the music. As MacGowan told Melody Maker in 1991, “The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks. They spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does.”

Born on Christmas Day, 1957, in the English county of Kent, MacGowan was raised by his mother and father, both of whom were Irish immigrants at a time of severe tension between the two countries. He graduated with a literature scholarship from a Kent preparatory school, playing music and talking up his Irish heritage from an early age. Aged 18, he graced the cover of the local papers after his ear was bloodied during a concert by the Clash. The same year, he formed his first band, the punk rock group the Nipple Erectors—later renamed the Nips—with Shanne Bradley.

MacGowan met his future bandmate Peter “Spider” Stacy in the bathroom at a 1977 Ramones show in London and the two formed a casual group called the Millwall Chainsaws with Jem Finer. The trio welcomed former Nips accordionist James Fearnley into the fold in 1982, naming themselves Pogue Mahone (an anglicized translation of which means “kiss my arse”) and eventually adding Cait O’Riordan on bass and Andrew Ranken on drums. In 1984, opening for the Clash, they caught the attention of Stiff Records, which released their debut album, Red Roses for Me, under their new name: the Pogues.