SOME WORDS ON MICRODISNEY

Microdisney was an Irish band that was founded in Cork in 1980, with its two mainstays being Cathal Coughlan (keyboards, vocals) and Sean O’Hagan (guitar). The band broke up in 1988 with Coughlan going on to form the Fatima Mansions while O’Hagan fronted the High Llamas.

After some 30 years, they got back together and then broke-up again following live shows in London in the summer of 2018 before Dublin and Cork in February 2019.  An extensive interview, given subsequently by Cathal Coughlan to an Irish newspaper, provides all the explanation you need. Here’s an edited version of it:-

Where there is an end, there might also be a cautious beginning. Cathal Coughlan, the Cork man perhaps best known for being the vocalist and lyricist of Microdisney, is wrapping up the group, setting alight to the package and scattering the ashes on to waters that will transport them to the afterlife.

“There are a number of things that persistently matter to me,” says Coughlan of his next creative step, “and one is the art song. Whether it’s German theatre, Sinatra, Tin Pan Alley, Northern Soul or discordant, pernickety song composition from the late 20th century, those are the things I care about. A lot of what I’m doing is in that range. The challenge is: how do you do something noir that doesn’t allude? I don’t want to allude if I can help it.”

Now in his late 50s, with robust features, Coughlan has much more a measure of himself than he once had. He is the exact opposite of Joni Mitchell’s pronouncement as a songwriter to comfort more than disturb. He speaks slowly, cautiously. He has the manner of someone who has come through conflict intact yet is very much in charge because of it, and he has a knack for closing circles with precision.

He did the same with his post-Microdisney groups, Fatima Mansions and Bubonique, but this time last year he had to re-open the box that his first band had been sealed in for over 30 years. The reason was Microdisney being, in 2018, the first recipient of the IMRO/NCH Trailblazer Award, which celebrates culturally important albums (in this case, 1985’s The Clock Comes Down the Stairs) by iconic Irish musicians, songwriters and composers.

“I felt very humbled,” he says of the award being bestowed. In acceptance, he includes the other band members, particularly fellow Cork colleague Sean O’Hagan. “Obviously, Sean and I are more rooted in Ireland, and so it possibly meant something different, but everyone was blown away by it.”

It shows how Ireland has changed, says Coughlan, who recalls that in the mid-1980s, the band could never have afforded to self-finance a journey from London to Dublin. “It would be unwise not to accept that there was a generational aspect to it, but it meant a hell of a lot to be given such an award by a major cultural institution.”

Was there a sense that Microdisney had either been completely forgotten about or were little more than a fond memory for a certain demographic of music fan? “The dust had settled for us,” says Coughlan with an unsentimental air of finality. “Any emotional stuff that we had from the ’80s had long ago drifted off into the ether; we knew we could play the material, and I knew that I could relate to a lot of the emotional aspects of it.”

If the Microdisney shows last June (two at the National Concert Hall, one of which was invite-only, one at London’s Barbican) proved anything, it was that their songs have stood the often perilous test of time.

Regarding talk of further Microdisney shows, Coughlan says: “There was an ellipsis more than a discussion. Other than we had all enjoyed it and that the shows exceeded our expectations – which were high enough to begin with – we all had other stuff going on, so it got a bit quiet.”

Cue a promoter’s offer, however, to play gigs in Dublin and Cork. “We just decided to do it, yet not the same as last year. The two shows, however, is really the extent of it.”

Why such a definitive end?

“Because in the context of being a songwriting and recording outfit, Microdisney ran its course. Yes, people appreciated it, and it made a big difference to my life, but let’s just leave it, for the most part.” He says the band can be revived, and that fun would certainly be had, “but that’s about the size of it”.

So there you are…..a band that was well-loved in their native land doing the decent thing by playing a very small number of shows in acknowledgment of a major award then calling it a day before their legacy runs the risk of being tarnished. A number of their peers should take heed…

Here’s a 12″ single, complete with two b-sides, from the 1985 album, put out on Rough Trade Records, that received that IMRO/NCH Trailblazer Award:-

mp3: Microdisney – Birthday Girl
mp3: Microdisney – Harmony Time
mp3: Microdisney – Money For The Trams

The a-side is very poppy and radio-friendly….a sort of cross between Prefab Sprout and Deacon Blue.

Selected today as it is Mrs Villain’s actual birthday…..

JC

IN PRAISE OF CATHAL COUGHLAN

CathalCoughlan_large

One of the oldest and most valued friends of this blog is ctel, aka Acid Ted.  He was one of the first to pick up on things at the old place back in 2006 and he was even kind enough on two occasions to step in and run the place for me when circumstances dragged me away from things on temporary but extended periods.

These days, his blog is probably the best out there in terms of dance/club music but please don’t be thinking his tastes are restricted to that genre.  We bonded initially over Paul Quinn, discovered that we were both huge Carter USM fans and then he revealed his love for Cathal Couglan in two guest posts that I happened to stumble across again within the limited archives I was able to salvage when google shut down the old blog. And it seems appropriate, on St Patrick’s Day, to offer them up again for your pleasure:-

From Feb 2008

Microdisney were a classic Peel band. Formed in the early 80s in Ireland, they soon moved to the UK. A mix of soft instrumentation with biting lyrics, they never achieved their full potential.

In time, trying to ride the twin horses of Cathal Coughlan‘s raging anger and Sean O’Hagen‘s romantic almost countrified music they split. Cathal went on to form the almost psychotically angry The Fatima Mansions and Sean the laid back High Llamas.

Signed to Rough Trade, they were best known for their later album The Clock Comes Down The Stairs. They followed this by moving to Virgin and releasing Crooked Mile.

But, for me, their best work is their earliest stuff from Love Your Enemies (Microdisney 82:84). Originally called We Hate You South African Bastards, this drew together early singles and unreleased tracks. The sleeve notes by Cathal ended:

“Some of you (the Freemason pederasts, for instance) may be a trifle confused or even annoyed by the packaging and name of this record. For all your dumb coyness, I don’t think you need to be told. Just don’t go anywhere, don’t call anyone. Bastard.”

Anyhow, enjoy something from the album:

mp3 : Microdisney – Helicopter of the Holy Ghost

And as a bonus:

mp3 : Microdisney – Loftholdingswood (Peel Session)

 

———-

Following on from the Microdisney post (and to the rapscallion who claimed they are shit, go wash your mouth out with soap and water), here’s one about Cathal Coughlan’s follow-on band – Fatima Mansions. This time Cathal would have abrasive music to go with his abrasive lyrics.

Fatima Mansions, named after a run-down Dublin housing estate, was to be a vehicle for his world-view, and Andrias O’Gruama (guitar), Hugh Bunker (bass), Nick Allum (drums) and Zac Woolhouse (keyboards) were enlisted for the supporting roles.

Coughlan’s lyrical fixations of religious bigotry, imperialism and death was spelled out in parables of increasing hysteria and black humour, while the safety of Microdisney’s rock arrangements was abandoned in favour of an all-out aural assault.

Against Nature (1989) was lauded as a startlingly well-rounded debut, establishing a broad territory from the driving single Only Losers Take The Bus, to the synth-pop pastiche of 13th Century Boy, and the occasional brooding ballad like Wilderness On Time. The single Blues For Ceausescu (1990) took the band on to a higher level of ferocity and invention, heralding in the eighteen-track onslaught of Viva Dead Ponies (1990).

Meanwhile, regular gigging quickly built their reputation as an extraordinary spectacle, with Cathal hurling his hulk around the stage like a man possessed. In early 1991, Cathal performed some acoustic gigs billed as Fatima Mansions Singular, showcasing the control and mellowness of his voice – ‘I know you all think I’m a brute’, he observed.

Normal service was resumed with the release of Valhalla Avenue (1992), which contained the customary doses of rancour and strident guitar riffing on tracks like Evil Man and Go Home Bible Mike. The album’s ferocious tone did not prevent it from becoming their biggest seller yet, reaching #52 in the UK. They even had a surprise Top 10 single later that year with a near-psychotic reworking (for which read – makes Machine Head sound like Sarah Records) of Bryan AdamsEverything I Do (I Do It For You), although this was largely due to the Manic Street Preachers‘ flip-side cover of Suicide Is Painless.

While their uncompromising style may have ruled out any greater commercial success, their standing as a live act secured a support slot on a U2 tour. But Cathal refused to be on best behaviour for the big occasion, infamously causing a near riot on the Italian leg with some on-stage Catholic baiting.

Cathal continued his prolific output by releasing the almost-unlistenable 20 Golden Showers (1993) under the name Bubonique, featuring compatriot comedian Sean Hughes, followed by a new Fatima Mansions album, Lost In The Former West (1994). Once again this was not for the faint-hearted, tackling international affairs with the usual rage and humour. But it was as if his heart was no longer in it and Fatima Mansions simply faded away. Cathal continued to make music as a solo artist but would never again reach the heights he did in Fatima Mansions.

mp3 : Fatima Mansions – 1000%
mp3 : Fatima Mansions – Blues For Ceausescu
mp3 : Fatima Mansions – Only Losers Take The Bus (Dump The Dead)

Ctel, February 2008