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Making the world unsafe for Louis Walsh

One of Ireland's great maverick musicians, Cathal Coughlan, makes a welcome return to a music scene where he still refuses to fit in.

Cathal Coughlan is one of Ireland's great alternative heroes. Emerging from Cork at the start of the 80s, Mr Coughlan has been like an anti-Bono, producing challenging and interesting music, first with Microdisney and the with the Fatima Mansions, and rarely getting any credit for it. Despite a few minor brushes with celebrity, such as massacring Bryan Adams' awful 'Everything I do' on the b-side of the Manic Street Preachers' hit version of 'Suicide is Painless', Cathal's perpetual inability, or unwillingness, to provide commercially successful music has led to major disputes with record companies and the successive disintegration of both bands.

[IMAGE: Cathal Coughlan]

Now, however, he's doing things on his own and he's just released the album, "Black River Falls". In fact, he's been playing and recording solo since '96, but the virtually non-existent sales of his label-less album "Grand Neopolitan" means that many will see the new album as his first solo release. He accepts that this view is out there, but it's not the way he looks at it.

"It would have been a lot harder to make this record if it hadn't been for 'Grand Neopolitan'. I learnt a whole new way of working on my own on that record."

The new album is very different to the kind of thing the Fatima Mansions recorded and played over the years. There is more of a dark, brooding feel and a stronger concentration on melody, when compared to the raw anger of his previous output. However, Cathal rejects any suggestion that he is moving towards the mainstream that he has always avoided.

"This is just as uncommercial as the old stuff, it's just different. My tastes and kind of performance have changed over the years, that's all."

Ironically, some of what Cathal did with the Fatima Mansions is closer to a section of the mainstream than his new material. Long before industrial music sold more than a few thousand records and Nine Inch Nails t-shirts became part of the uniform of rebellious teenagers, Fatima Mansions did a cover version of 'Stigmata' by Ministry. Cathal has since lost interest in that side of music.

"I liked Ministry, they had a retro sound, but they were blowing away the cobwebs of the music scene. They had a sophistication, even if it was buried under the dense production. Trent Reznor swallowed it whole and made a success of it. And good luck to him, I'm just not interested in it - 'though I do like the remixes of their stuff by other people. But Ministry had humour that I don't see in Nine Inch Nails."

He has no interest in doing any more music of that sort, pointing out that performing requires technology, which takes money, which means dealing with record companies. Cathal is repelled by the idea of dealing with them again. He denies that what he did then was before its time, he says that he was against time. He does, however, admit that some of what they did, like dropping acid and listening to country music, did become more fashionable.

Microdisney have, in the years since their demise, received far more critical acclaim than they ever did whent they were around. Cathal says that this doesn't bother him.

"It's quite easy to rave about people who aren't around. I'd rather people remember me well than badly if Microdisney is the only way they remember me."

He says that it would have been a lot easier if they had received some of this support when they were struggling. But, Cathal ended up leaving Ireland for London, from where he observed the post-U2 rise and collapse of the Irish music scene.

"The bubble was built on people who had deals and a gig circuit was built around them. When they were dropped by their labels, the circuit collapsed. Ireland is a small market, there is always going to be more emphasis on big companies coming in and selling their products. A lot of lives were fucked up, but it's all water under the bridge now. They were just making the world safe for Louis Walsh. As for himself, he has plans for only a small amount of touring in the future.

"No slogs around the provinces of Britain, none of that bollox - Dublin, Cork, Paris, Berlin, maybe London. Then I'll go over to the US. If the record takes off, I'll have to do more work. I don't miss touring, it was something I had to do to pay my way. I'm much cheaper now I'm on my own."


by Donnacha DeLong

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