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”

mp3 : Fatima Mansions – Blues For Ceausescu

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:-

mp3: Microdisney – Town To Town

In reaching #55 in 1987, this lovely piece of indie-pop was as close to having a hit as that band ever got.


9 thoughts on “CATHAL COUGHLAN

  1. Thank you for this, JC.

    A Fatima Mansions fan first and foremost I tinkered with Microdisney and know nothing musically beyond 1994 – the last LP.

    I was at that same gig in Tuts. I always came away from the gigs soaked to my skin in sweat. The gigs were primal, visceral yet with slower songs poetic, anthemic and moving. The band crammed a lifetime of songs into 5 years. My Keep Music Evil was worn with the greatest of pride.

    While I was saddened to hear of the death of Andrew Fletcher, Cathal’s death came with an emotional punch.

    For years I would cajole DJs to play Blues for Ceausescu – sometimes successfully. I’ve no idea why I didn’t continue with Cathal’s output but… when I seemed to need him most, there he was.

  2. There is more from Cathal after Co-Aklan – he just released an album with Jacknife Lee as Telefis, a hAon. Some really good dubs with Jah Wobble.

    I’ve been a fan since We hate you South African Bastards (a Microdisney compilation). His recent stuff has been great, which makes the loss sadder. He was tweeting about doing more as Telefis.

  3. A great tribute, JC. I remember the NME cover well, but I misremembered this as being about their collaboration as Bubonique – it seems that the 20 Golden Showers album didn’t come out until the following year. Like Flimflamfan, my entry point was The Fatima Mansions and whilst I’ve been digging back into Microdisney since, I’m sorry to say that I’ve also sorely neglected Cathal’s solo outings.

    As mentioned in my tribute post, I saw The Fatima Mansions live in 1994, touring their last, great album and Cathal and co. were superb.

    I only became aware of Telefis via the obituaries and whilst I’m looking forward to hearing it, sad to read Pawa’s comment that Cathal planned to do more.

  4. Microdisney were a great pop group, made special by the tug between Sean O’Hagan’s melodic sense and Beach Boys influences and Cathal’s scabrous lyrics and majestic vocals. The Clock Comes Down The Stairs was probably their zenith, although Crooked Mile was a bit poppier. Some of their Peel session tracks were better at capturing the live passion of Microdisney than the album versions.
    I used to knock around with Sean Hughes when he was in Edinburgh and he worshipped Cathal (second only to Julian Cope in the Hughes canon) while being a little bit scared by his intensity and vicious wit.

  5. I only have one Fatima Mansions album and no Microdisney, but “Lost In The Former West” was a blistering ride. But I never came across any other CDs over here. Cathal Coughlan could go toe-to-toe with Jaz Coleman for fiery intensity. I can’t think of anyone else.

  6. Crikey, that’s sad news. I only really knew the Fatima Mansions period – Microdisney passed me by at the time and I was oblivious of the solo work until now. I saw Fatima Mansions at the Cambridge Junction around the time Bertie’s Brochures came out and it was a blistering show despite the place being half empty with the atmosphere of a derelict community centre. Who could fail to be impressed by a man who conjured up the image of the returned Christ running a corner shop in Crouch End, telling his assistants: “If you can’t shift this crate of brillo pads by Friday, vengeance will be mine…”

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