Shane MacGowan by John Voos, 14th October 1991, The Independent

 By Alan Sparrow

This moody portrait of Shane MacGowan, creator of the modern day Christmas anthem A Fairytale of New York and whose death aged 65 was announced on the last day of November, was taken by The Independent photographer John Voos.

Voos is comfortable photographing people from all walks of life, from prime ministers to Russian soldiers. His skills were tested daily while working for the Independent from 1986 to 2002 where his photographs featured extensively, sometimes with an unconventional twist.

After studying photography at the Harrow College of Technology and Art, John started as a full-time photographer with the Fleet Street News Agency. He subsequently went freelance, and worked for the Fleet Street nationals, before becoming a regular freelance with The Times in 1982 and then joining The Independent as a staff photographer four years later.  

Over the next 16 years Voos travelled extensively, covering major international news events, such as the Reykjavik Summit meeting between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, the Russian troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, the first Gulf War and the Palestinian Intifada.

In 2002 John Roos moved from taking photos to editing them, transitioning to features picture editor and acting picture editor for both The Independent and the Independent on Sunday, later leaving the Independent to join the Reuters News Agency as a picture editor, spending the next two years in the Reuters Singapore bureau. Now he enjoys the opportunity to shoot photographs for himself, for stock agencies. 

This portrait was taken by John Voos during a Pogues tour during which the band fired MacGowan “for unprofessional behaviour|, but they were later reconciled. But his reputation for heavy drinking and outrageous conduct was matched by another side of his personality, shown by his wife, the journalist Victoria Mary Clark, who said after his death that she had been blessed “to have had so many years of life and love and joy and fun and laughter and so many adventures. Shane… will always be the light that I hold before me and the measure of my dreams and the love of my life and the most beautiful soul''. The Pogues frontman had been suffering from ill health, but had the opportunity to celebrate his wedding anniversary recently when he was allowed to leave hospital for a few days.

Shane MacGowan was born on Christmas Day in1957 in Kent when his parents were visiting relatives, but returned to Ireland where they lived until Shane was six and they came back to the UK. He attended Westminster School but was expelled when he was found in possession of drugs.

After the  expulsion MacGowan worked in pubs and music shops and later, in 1981, he founded a punk rock band Pogue Mahone - which is "Kiss My Arse" in Gaelic – later shortened to The Pogues. He wrote A Fairytale of New York in 1986 and performed it with Kirsty MacColl a year later when the record reached No 2 in the charts, he song going on to become the Christmas theme tune for a generation.

I think the Christmas Number One for this year has just been sorted.


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