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Stereo Embers The Podcast: Cathal Coughlan (Microdisney, Fatima Mansions)

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Somewhere Between Joe Gould And Lee Mavers”

“The supreme question about a work of art,” James Joyce once wrote, “is out of how deep a life does it spring.” If you tried to plumb the fathoms for a measurable reading of the life of Cathal Coughlan—well, the depth finder would crack right in half. Coughaln’s life has been a rich and textured affair and his talent is vast and incomprehensibly majestic. With his band Microdisney, The Cork -born musician put out several of the most affecting albums ever made. Efforts like The Clock Comes Down the Stairs in 1985 or the following year’s Crooked Mile, are front to back classics. After he and his bandmate Sean O-Hagan dissolved Microdisney and O-Hagan went on to form the High Llamas, Coughlan fired up the Fatima Mansions—an aggressive, fiery and angular outfit, that played synth-laced alternative rock that churned away with grinding and brutal beauty. Viva Dead Ponies and Lost In The Former West are two personal favorites, but the fact is, I love every album in their discography. Over the course of his career Coughlan put out a series of brilliant solo albums, collaborated with the likes of comic Sean Hughes and British singer/songwriter Luke Haines, scored movies like The Last Bus Home and The Mapmaker, toured with U2, appeared onstage in a contemporary opera, and reformed Microdisney for a brief series of triumphant shows. His new album Song of Co-Aklan is a work of startling beauty and precision. Imbued with poetic invention and finesse, haunting melodies, riveting ballads and an unmistakable wisdom and pop grace, Coughlan has never sounded better. This is a deep and focused conversation that can’t be encapsulated in a sentence or two—you just have to listen. But we do touch on Lee Mavers, friendship, Sting, the legend of Joe Gould, the vulnerability of solo shows and staying prolific during lockdown.

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