“The death of a man who sang and played the guitar overshadows the news from Poland, Iran and Washington tonight,” is how CBS newsreader Walter Kronkite announced the death of John Lennon on December 8, 1980.

Circumstances aside, it isn’t hyperbole to say the passing of another singular voice will have a similar impact four decades on – at least if you’re one of that generation who encountered the lyrics of Shane MacGowan and the music of his band The Pogues, and who found in its synthesis of wit, rancour, poetry, politics and cock-eyed romance both an antidote to and a thrilling escape from everything that was inauthentic or depressing in the last decades of the 20th century.

Was that you? It was definitely me.

The Pogues formula has been well analysed and barely needs re-stating. The band took the attitude and energy of punk rock and fused it with the instrumentation and rhythms of Irish and Scottish traditional music. To that, MacGowan added his immense skill as a lyricist, one who gave the impression that words simply flowed out of him. Those words in turn became pictures, and the pictures vivid snapshots of lives lived to the full.

READ MORE: The Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan dies aged 65

Sure, he was actually born in Kent (though to Irish parents). And yes, in many ways his Ireland was recognisable as the one of dreamers, sad lovers and sadder emigrants which you find everywhere in the traditional music canon.

But it was also a place where stranger characters could be glimpsed. Where Brendan Behan could come to a fellow in a dream and be questioned on “the crux of life’s philosophies”. Where Powers-drinking pub psychos could be soothed by a harmonica-playing larrikin who would ghost into their memories. Where the sounds of a police choir singing Galway Bay could soundtrack a drunken boy-girl spat, and that vicious (and roaringly funny) to-and-fro become the greatest Christmas song ever written. You know the one. It was probably already scheduled to be played on rotation for most of this month, but its power and reach will now be increased tenfold in the wake of its author’s death.

MacGowan’s London was a different world too. It wasn’t the Girls On Film city of Duran Duran. Not the one of Boy George or the King’s Road or the glamorous Blitz Kids of the famous Covent Garden night-club. His London wasn’t glamorous at all. It was a city of bookies and pubs – proper ones, with dartboards and beer mats – where there were real people to meet and real places to go: Valtaro’s in Camden (for fried eggs), Tottenham Court Road (for ice creams), the Euston Tavern (for whatever is your poison).

The Herald: Shane MacGowan and the PoguesShane MacGowan and the Pogues (Image: free)

Of course Shane MacGowan knew all about poison. He did like a drink, and it made him at a times a difficult man with a difficult problem. I interviewed him once in the mid-1990s, ahead of a television documentary about his life. He was a reluctant subject who arrived late, nursed a pint of Cinzano and bordered on the incoherent at points. Never meet your heroes. Only do, especially if they have a talent as incandescent as the one which burned in Shane MacGowan.

Perhaps my first encounter with The Pogues is the one I’ll cherish the most. It came a decade earlier – December 1985, a few months after the release of their second album, Rum, Sodomy & The Lash, arguably the band’s masterpiece.

I’d seen them perform at the Edinburgh Playhouse the night before in a gig that was memorable in many ways, not least for being my first encounter with plastic beer glasses and the fact that Elvis Costello joined the band on stage for an encore that almost didn’t happen – Shane had strayed too close to the crowd, a veritable sea of green and white football scarves, and someone had pinched the tie he had bought in Glasgow the previous day. At first he refused to come out again unless it was returned. It never was, though he eventually relented.

The next morning in Waverley Station I saw the members of The Pogues waiting for a train. I sauntered up to Spider Stacy and Jem Finer, tin whistle and banjo player respectively, and we had a chat. It was the usual congratulatory fan boy stuff until: “Where’s Shane?” I ask.

The pair of them roll their eyes and Finer says: “That’s what we’re wondering.”

So long, Shane. You always were a chaotic spirit. But thanks for the music, and thanks especially for the words that made – makes – it all so special.