LEESIDE music was yesterday mourning the loss of a musical innovator and keen social and political intellect, after the announcement of the passing of Microdisney and Fatima Mansions frontman Cathal Coughlan, at the age of 61.
“He slipped away peacefully in hospital after a long illness,” his family wrote in a statement about his passing on May 18.
One of the pillars of a post-punk community that converged on the Arcadia Ballroom in the early eighties, Coughlan first came to attention as the co-founder of Microdisney, one of four bands recorded in live action on the legendary ‘Kaught at the Kampus’ EP, albeit in an early incarnation.
Cathal Coughlan's music with Microdisney and the Fatima Mansions was a critical part of carrying me from an NME-obsessed teen, buying In The World, to an NME writer, reviewing Viva Dead Ponies. RIP a remarkable artist. https://t.co/hYCA10hPwV— John Mulvey (@JohnRMulvey) May 23, 2022
The band’s subsequent excursion to London bore fruit, with Microdisney becoming favourites on the UK’s independent music scene, releasing records like 1984’s ‘Everybody is Fantastic’ and cult-classic 1985 album ‘The Clock Comes Down the Stairs’, and confounding expectations with a juxtaposition of co-founder Sean O’Hagan’s knack for poppy, optimistic guitar and Coughlan’s pointed lyrical broadsides.
After Microdisney’s 1988 disbandment, Coughlan’s disdain for society of the time shifted into rage with new band Fatima Mansions, whose 1989 single ‘Only Losers Take the Bus’ railed at late-stage Thatcherism, and served as a portent for further disquiet, including 1990’s ‘Blues for Ceauşescu’, a bilious anti-fascist statement.
No stranger to the line between dissent and controversy, Coughlan oversaw the release of second Microdisney LP ‘We Hate You South African Bastards!’ at the height of the anti-apartheid movement (later retitled ‘Love Your Enemies’ in post-Apartheid reissues), while a 1992 Fatima Mansions gig in support of U2 in Milan, Italy has gone down in Irish rock infamy.
Cathal Coughlan, music genius, has left this realm. His brilliant songs remain. Play them loud and remember him— Tim Burgess (@Tim_Burgess) May 23, 2022
Pursuing numerous musical and artistic projects in the late nineties and early 2000s, including a run of critically-acclaimed solo albums, Coughlan had mounted something of a renaissance in recent years, with solo record ‘Song of Co-Aklan’ garnering strong Covid-era reviews.
It was in the release earlier this year of ‘a hAon’, the first album of new project Telefís, alongside producer and fellow Jacknife Lee, that saw an older and wiser Coughlan reach a state of reflection on the Ireland of his childhood and adolescence.
After a lengthy illness Cathal Coughlan died on the 18th of May. He was one of the best songwriters Ireland produced. He was also one of the kindest, most compassionate, caring, and gentlest people I’ve met. Celebrate the unique and wonderful life and work of Cathal Coughlan. JL pic.twitter.com/JDbzb6r6t3— Jacknife lee (@jacknifelee) May 23, 2022
Speaking to this paper in January about co-writing the Telefís song ‘Picadors’, he said: “It just made me think about my dad's generation really… It's about re-evaluating the dismissive attitude that I certainly had as a young person, and Jackknife and I have talked about this, so I can't really speak for him, but I think we both did that re-evaluation.
“...the song just examines the way life does things to you that bring that realisation.
"That sounds really, really obvious, but it can take a lifetime to understand the extent of it.”
Coughlan is survived by his wife Julie and wider family. Yesterday's statement has said that a memorial ceremony for close friends and family will be held in the near future.