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Once more a fall from grace, but hardly the last of the Irish Rover

He may already have had a visage so battered that it made Keith Richards look like Miss Pears, but Shane MacGowan was nursing serious facial injuries yesterday after being the victim of an alleged attack in a pub lavatory.

He may already have had a visage so battered that it made Keith Richards look like Miss Pears, but Shane MacGowan was nursing serious facial injuries yesterday after being the victim of an alleged attack in a pub lavatory.

The former singer with the Pogues, who is known as a man of many words but few teeth, suffered cuts and a fractured cheekbone in the incident at The Joiners Arms in central London on Monday evening. MacGowan, 46, who now performs with a band called the Popes, is understood to have initially sought treatment for his wounds at St Thomas' hospital, in south London, but then changed his mind.

Scotland Yard said a London scaffolder, Liam McInerney, 23, had been charged with grievous bodily harm in relation to the alleged incident at the pub.

The episode is the latest in a long list of drink-related escapades involving MacGowan during a life of excess that has had even his fans wondering how he has survived.

Martin Daubney, editor of Loaded magazine, described MacGowan last night as the perfect antidote to "today's tailor dummy pop idiots".

Mr Daubney said: "Here's a man who was drinking two bottles of stout a night when he was four, and betting on the horses aged six. In his biography he said his idea of heaven would have constant horse racing and boozers that never close. That'll do for us. When he finally pops his clogs it will be a sad day indeed."

The author Tim Bradford wrote a book called Is Shane MacGowan Still Alive? and Viz magazine lampooned his adventures in a comic strip called "The Adventures of Little Shane MacGowan".

The singer, known for his jug ears and teeth as crooked as medieval tombstones, even wrote an account of his life (co-authored with his wife, Victoria Mary Clarke) called A Drink With Shane MacGowan, detailing his drunken adventures and featuring cameo appearances by the likes of Sid Vicious and Elvis Costello.

Despite his current problems, MacGowan remains an important figure in the story of British and Irish music over the last 30 years. He regards himself as "completely Irish" (he spent six years of his early childhood on his grandparents' farm in Tipperary) and thinks England is a "waste of time". But the singer speaks in a broad London accent, having been raised in the city.

MacGowan can be seen among the crowd in footage of the earliest punk gigs in London in 1976 and released his first recording with the Nipple Erectors in June 1978, a track called "King of the Bop". His next project, Pogue Mahone, began in 1984 with the single "Dark Streets of London", but the band quickly renamed itself the Pogues after signing to Stiff Records. The Pogues came to prominence in 1985 with the release of the album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash.

At the time, MacGowan gave an interview to the music paper Sounds in which he said that "alcohol is the path to awareness I feel". Asked if he drank "to blot out reality", MacGowan responded: "No, not at all. I think drink increases reality. I always feel a hundred times more depressed once I've had a bottle of whiskey."

Three years later came a second album, If I Should Fall From Grace with God, which dedicated a track to the Birmingham Six but was best known for Christmas favourite "Fairytale in New York", on which he duetted with Kirsty MacColl. Two more albums followed - Peace & Love and Hell's Ditch - before the slide into compilation territory with Best of, The Rest of the Best and The Essential Pogues.

MacGowan's drinking was reportedly the reason why he left the band in 1991. Five years later the Pogues broke up, prompting MacGowan to say: "I don't know why people thought they'd outlast me."

The singer had already resurfaced in 1994 as part of Shane MacGowan and the Popes, who have released three albums, the last of which was Crock of Gold in 1997.

Despite - and because of - his wild lifestyle, MacGowan has remained a cult figure on the alternative music scene and retains an international following. His vocals might not be the sweetest on the circuit, but few would deny the poignancy of some of his lyrics. After turning 40, MacGowan claimed he had curbed his partying: "I'm looking after myself these days. I'm cutting back on booze. I feel pretty good."