It’s actually quite an unbelievable coincidence that the above cover of the NME appeared exactly 30 years to the day when Cathal Coughlan‘s death was announced by his family. It’s also quite poignant that the photo has Cathal pictured alongside comedian Sean Hughes, another who died well before his time.
I can’t claim to be the fount of all knowledge in respect of the late musician. I have but a handful of releases in the collection, dating back to Microdisney singles in the mid 80s, having taken a bit of shine to the band after seeing a live appearance on Whistle Test on BBC TV. I only ever saw him live on one occasion, when Fatima Mansions played King Tut’s in Glasgow on a hot summer’s night in 1991. I’ve a copy of a single he co-recorded with Martin Stephenson in the early 90s – talking of which, I’ve some sort of vague recollection of him appearing on stage once with the Daintees, although that may very well just be wishful thinking on my part.
I know I should have paid more attention, especially when many folk wrote such incredibly positive reviews about Song of Co- Aklan, his sixth and what proved to be his final solo album, which came out just a couple of months ago. It honestly was on my list of things to pick up, but I was holding back as Rachel always asks for a few ideas for my upcoming birthday. When I do give it a listen, it will be with real sadness.
The tributes flowed freely last week when the news finally emerged that Cathal had passed on 18 May after a long illness. It was typical of the man that he chose to keep his poor health to himself, with not one feature on his new album indicating that it had been recorded under difficult circumstances and that it was certain to be his last piece of music. I was in Bristol for a few days last week and picked up the news via a social media posting from a friend, and found it hard to take in. I listened to Gideon Coe‘s show on BBC 6 Music that night, and he took the opportunity to read out various tweets and messages from fans, as well as air some songs recorded for BBC sessions over the decades.
My thanks to flimflamfan and chaval for taking time to share some thoughts about Cathal when they left comments on the Leonard Cohen/Ian McCulloch piece the other day – having no laptop with me, I was unable to do anything with the blog and was feeling awful at the thought of the death not being recognised in any shape or form.
As I said a few paras ago, I am no expert at all on Cathal Coughlan. But what I do know is that he was responsible for writing and singing on one of my favourite singles of all time. Here’s a recap of something I wrote back in February 2013:-
“Someone on Discogs described this 1990 single as having the voice of an avenging angel having a bad day and guitar chords like a firing squad.
I wish I could sum up songs as brilliantly as that.
The only reason this never made my 45 45s at 45 countdown all those years ago is that I missed out on it when it was originally released. My first exposure came via an end of the year round-up on some late evening show on Radio 1. I bought the CD single the next time I was in a shop and paid almost £5 for the privilege.
Since rekindling my love for vinyl, I’ve got my grubby hands on bits of plastic both here and over in Canada. This is a record that should be in every music fan’s collection”
The music Cathal Coughlan was involved in over the decades was rarely on the commercial side of listenable. It always seemed as if he didn’t care about being anything more than a cult figure, seeming to even go out of his way to sabotage things when Fatima Mansions opened up for U2 on various dates across Europe in 1992, none more so than in Milan where be baited the 12,500-strong crowd with a number of derogatory comments about the Pope. This was after he had pretended to stick a bottle of holy water, in the shape of the Virgin Mary, up his arse. It was his way of dealing with an audience that had been hostile to his band from the off, the type that wanted only to see U2 and nobody else.
By all accounts, this sort of behaviour was at odds with his real life persona, described by many as a gentleman.
I’ll finish with one of the singles I bought back in the day:-
In reaching #55 in 1987, this lovely piece of indie-pop was as close to having a hit as that band ever got.