“Magnificent loser”, “celestial charlot”…Shane McGowan, who died Thursday, November 30 at the age of 65, carried this reputation throughout his career. First there is his incredible “mouth”, his bulging eyes, his prominent ears and his unattractive teeth. A personality with a self-destructive tendency, a notorious heavy drinker, who is also addicted to narcotics of all kinds, the singer of the Pogues has never hidden his preference for the bottom of the cl, the forgotten. The success of his group paradoxically only increased this unease within him, this idea of not being in the right place. And then there is the exceptional lyricist, the raw and funny poet, of the caliber of Tom Waits, teller of stories filled with compion for the marginalized and shattered destinies.
Born on December 25, 1957, in Kent, England, to Irish parents, Shane McGowan grew up in the Irish countryside until the age of 6 and a half, before his family returned to England to settle in the London suburbs. . His father is an employee in a department store, his mother, a former singer and traditional dancer, was notably a model during her youth in Dublin. A shy boy, raised in the Catholic faith, the teenager has difficulty adapting to his new school environment, has a series of runs away and expulsions (he is caught in possession of amphetamines). An episode marked him forever: at the age of sixteen, he spent a stay in a psychiatric hospital in Dublin, following overconsumption of doses of valium prescribed by mistake. “ To see and hear all this ing horror and misery, it changed a lot of things in me », he confides to the journalist Nick Kent in The Dark Stuff (The other side of rock) (2006).
Just out of the asylum, he takes the full brunt of the punk explosion after attending a Sex Pistols concert. His first hour of glory, so to speak, took place during a Clash concert in 1976, where he had his earlobe torn off. The scene immortalized in a photo made the headline of a popular daily, “Cannibalism at a rock concert”. He formed a punk rockabilly group in 1978, the Nipple Erector, with James Fearnley, future accordionist for the Pogues, as well as Jon Moss, who would later found Culture Club with Boy George. Then he formed a second group, the Chainsaws, more short-lived.
Bored with punk, he turned to Irish folk music with some squat knowledge under the name Pogue Mahone (literally “kiss my ” in Gaelic). In addition to James Fearnley, he is joined by Jem Finer on banjo, flautist Spider Stacy, bist Cait O’Riordan (future wife of Elvis Costello) and drummer Andrew Ranken. The group opted for the shortened name Pogues in 1983, then signed the following year with the independent label Stiff Records, which licensed their first self-produced single. Dark Streets of London. The Pogues’ first album, Red Roses For Me (1984), with modest sales, lays the foundations of their style: Celtic music inspired by veterans The Dubliners, all sprinkled with punk banter or a unique intoxication, it depends.
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