Singer and songwriter who never stopped exploring musical boundaries – The Irish Times

Birth: December 16, 1960

Died: May 18, 2022

Cathal Coughlan, who died aged 61 after a long illness, was among the greatest singers and songwriters of her generation, her tremendous body of work spanning more than 40 years, from Microdisney and from the Fatima Mansions to the series of solo albums and collaborations that followed.

Known primarily for his involvement in rock, he saw himself as belonging to the larger song tradition: lyrical songs. His commercial success was modest, partly due to his ambivalence towards the music industry and partly because of his no-compromise approach; but his sonorous baritone and his songs – intelligent, literate, emotionally complex and rarely anything but searing – made him not only influential and respected but also, by many, revered, with the 1985 release The Clock Comes Down the Stairs , the artistic work of Microdisney. peak, widely regarded as one of the greatest albums ever released.

Born in Cork, Coughlan grew up in Glounthaune, a village to the east of the city. Her mother, Eleanor, was a schoolteacher and her father, Paddy, was a civil servant. After attending secondary school at Presentation Brothers College, he had begun studying at UCC when, on a New Year’s Eve party in 1979, he met English expatriate Sean O’Hagan, a factory worker. factory with whom he quickly bonded over their mutual interest in music. , notably in the Fall, Suicide, Magazine, les Seuls and Erik Satie.

Coughlan and O’Hagan formed Constant Reminders, which turned into five Micro-Disney tracks, the name coming from one of their early songs. Members of a vibrant young scene that coalesced around the Arcadia venue, the group quickly established a reputation for combative performances, with Coughlan’s confrontational approach and sulphurous lyrics having something in common with another band. Irish of the time, the Virgin Prunes, which Coughlan loved.

Avant-garde frontier

Acquaintances of that time describe Coughlan as an elusive figure, somewhat aloof and carefully unfocused on his past of relative privilege, someone who despised much of post-punk, who was interested in jazz and traditional Irish music. , a nascent avant-garde. already eager to push musical forms into new territories.

By mid-1982, the group had shrunk to Coughlan and O’Hagan, now calling themselves Microdisney. Dubliner Garreth Ryan’s early Kabuki Records singles led to a session for BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel which they recorded less than a week after arriving in London in 1983, Coughlan and O’Hagan even preferring the brutality of Thatcher’s restless Britain with enervating entropy. from Ireland. They recruited more members to become a live band and went on to record five more sessions for Peel, a key champion who described the band as an iron fist in a velvet glove and said he could listen. Coughlan sing the phone book.

A record deal with independent label Rough Trade gave Microdisney the freedom to write, and what followed was the purple patch that secured Coughlan’s reputation. The band’s 1984 debut album, Everybody is Fantastic, was quickly followed by a compilation that included the much-admired Loftholdingswood; then came their masterpiece, The Clock Comes Down the Stairs, whose evanescent melodic beauty, influenced by the Beach Boys and Ennio Morricone, whom O’Hagan loved, was undermined by Coughlan’s lyrical obsession with the themes mortality, dislocation and complicated love. . “The existence of death seems like such a glamorous toy when you’re 25,” Coughlan tweeted last August during an online reading of the album. “Now not so much.”

Cathal Coughlan, former lead singer of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions, died May 18, 2022.

The prospect of a financial cushion lured the band, once again in dire straits, to mainstream label Virgin Records, known for its brutal eliminations of underperforming acts. The band’s mixed feelings are apparent in the cover image of their 1987 album Crooked Mile: golden handcuffs. The first single, Town to Town, was a radio hit, but it wasn’t enough: a few months after the 1988 release of the band’s next album, 39 Minutes, Virgin dropped them. Coughlan and O’Hagan’s relationship had already soured, their onstage interactions were visibly strained, and the band quickly broke up.

Coughlan soon formed the Fatima Mansions, named after a ravaged apartment complex in Dublin, and in guitarist Andrias O’Gruama he found another ideal collaborator. After 1989’s conventional-sounding debut album Against Nature, the band hit on what became their signature industrial sound with Blues for Ceaucescu, an incendiary, scabrous, post-apocalyptic single. They honed this aesthetic over the course of the three albums that followed – Viva Dead Ponies, Valhalla Avenue and Lost in the Former West – with the band’s commercial appeal gradually waning in the burgeoning era of grunge despite Coughlan’s songwriting reaching heights of dyspeptic paroxysm with songs such as Popemobile in Paraguay.

Allergic to praise, Coughlan tended to look forward to the next project rather than go back over his catalog. Other musicians understood how special he was. He and Prefab Sprout singer Paddy McAloon had a long, mutually admiring friendship. Go-Betweens co-founder Robert Forster, another friend, considered Coughlan an outstanding ethical example for his artistic probity. During The Mansions’ supporting slots on a European leg of the Zoo TV tour in 1992, members of the U2 headliners hovered backstage, delivering the lyrics to Behind the Moon, one of the most tender but sour from Coughlan. In 2000, Scott Walker, one of Coughlan’s few heroes, hired him for the Meltdown Festival he hosted, an honor that meant a lot to Coughlan. They stayed in touch.

Ascetic reset

After a long relationship ended in the early 1990s, Coughlan reformed his self-destructive hedonistic lifestyle, becoming a teetotal vegan and taking up running, this ascetic reset allowing him to focus on his work as an athlete again. songwriter, although he stayed, as he said. him, a very compartmentalized person.

Contractual difficulties stalled his solo career for a while after Mansions split. Frustrated but optimistic, he took up web development, before moving on to a senior position in the BBC’s online division.

Between 1996 and 2021 he released a series of solo albums – Grand Necropolitan, Black River Falls, The Sky’s Awful Blue, Foburg, Rancho Tetrahedon and Song of Co-Aklan – which allowed influences ranging from Tommy Potts to Jacques Brel to permeate his writing. Curious and voracious, he continued to explore music to the end, his interests spanning a wide range from contemporary classical music to Brazilian music.

In 2018, the first IMRO/NCH Trailblazer award inspired Microdisney to come together to perform The Clock Comes Down the Stairs from start to finish. Three more shows came full circle, allowing the band to appreciate just how much they and the album meant to so many.

Lately, Coughlan has taken a new direction in another of his many collaborations, working with producer Jacknife Lee on Telefís, a project that blended Krautrock and techno with distorted Irish nostalgia. They released an album, A hAon, recently and have completed a follow-up. Having surpassed the career lengths imposed on him by the music industry, Coughlan was determined to keep moving forward.

He is survived by Julie, his wife, and Pat and Denis, his brothers.