Shane Patrick Lysaght MacGowan was the original singer and songwriter of The Pogues. Born in Pembury, Kent, England in 1957,to Irish parents, he spent his early childhood in Tipperary before his family moved back to England when he was six and a half. His 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 Mo-dettes. A photographer snapped a picture of him covered in blood that was published in the newspaper, 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 on 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" (see video,) which he performed with Kirsty MacColl.
"Fairytale of New York" was released as a single in 1987 and reached #1 in the Irish charts and #2 in the British charts over Christmas. The song has become a classic in the UK and Ireland over the years, and was voted the best Christmas song of all time three years running in 2004, 2005 and 2006 in polls by music channel VH1 UK. It was also voted as the 27th greatest song never to reach UK#1 in another VH1 poll, and also voted as the 84th greatest song of all time by BBC Radio 2 listeners in their "Sold on Song" top 100 poll.
In 2007 the record was briefly censored by the BBC because of the word "faggot" being deemed potentially offensive to gay people. Following protests from listeners, including the mother of Kirsty MacColl, the ban was lifted.
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Afterwards, MacGowan and The Pogues released several albums successfully. After The Pogues threw MacGowan out for unprofessional behavior, 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 he was kicked out.