Cathal Coughlan, the great Irish indie rock singer, dies

With Microdisney then Fatima Mansions, he jostled with deep, passionate ’80s British pop songs. In Solo, he continued to follow his path, also mingling with theatrical experimentation. The proud Irishman from Cork died on May 18.

Cathal Coughlan is an outspoken singer. He kneaded them, crushed them, pushed them, with the shouts of tongues and the fury of fury that was the great specialist of the Irish for centuries. He knows how to spit it on the ground and throw it into the ether, in a powerfully expressive voice, a voice you’ll never forget once you hear it, like Van Morrison, John Cale, or Scott Walker. But the sound that people believe is indestructible listening to Telefís’ latest album, the electro-rock duo he co-founded with Jacknife Lee (producer emeritus for REM and U2, among others), this telluric and breezy sound just died with its holder, “after a long illness” (As the saying goes). Sickness, death, ghosts, Cathal Coughlan always lunges at them, lifting them up, greeting them in songs that come out of the pop and rock canons to borrow lyrics or freaks from theater or cabaret.

When a band called Microdisney hit the indie scene in 1984 with the album Everyone is Fantastic (heavy title with irony, we got it right away), the music doesn’t resemble anything that was done at the time. Rough and melodious, heavy and ready to fly, it plays in contrasts, like the duo that fueled it: Sean O’Hagan, looking like a quiet hippie, is a velvet glove; Cathal Coughlan, quickdraw from punk who can punch anything, iron fist. Hailing from Cork, a port city in southern Ireland, these disparate allies have half-conquered London. 1985 when their masterpiece, Clock Down the Stairspeaking at the top of the indie charts, the brilliant folkloric Irish band The Pogues would grab anything in its path.

Three years and two albums later, Microdisney gave up. O’Hagan is on his way to the country prairie High Llamas, a proven follower of the Beach Boys. Coughlan throws all his demons into the adventures of Fatima Mansions (named after a real estate project in suburban Dublin). Mostly threatening, even angry (just listen he’s crazy Blues for Ceausescu), sometimes in a state of extraordinary weightlessness, he then harmonizes a chaotic album (Against Nature, Valhalla Street) and unforgettable performances. We’re in the early 90’s and britpop will soon be sweeping away the remnants of a new wave that it was never a part of. Under her own name, Cathal Coughlan went on to sign the uneven but always strong album with some classics (at .) Black River Waterfall2000, or Terrible Blue Sky, 2002), his penchant for piano sound ballads worked wonders in particular. It is on this list that we are touched to find him, even a little weaker, with the Telefís album. Falun Gong dancer and picadores will remain the final outburst of an irreducible man who never ceased to take off his indie rock jacket, multiply the original stage experience, at Edinburgh festivals or even in France (into green, 2014, with François Ribac and ve Schwabe). Definitely maverick.

Serena Hoyles

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