Mary Coughlan talks to Shelley Marsden about music, mellowing a little and turning 60…
SHE’S had her fair share of controversy in her own career and personal life, and Galway’s Mary Coughlan, who comes to London’s Bush Hall on Tuesday, November 19, says the high-profile antics of young pop stars like Miley Cyrus are nothing to get uppity about.
“I remember when Madonna was at her height and my eldest daughter, now 37, was four years old and running around the living room dancing and singing to Like A Virgin. She didn’t have a clue what she was talking about!” she recalls.
“There have always been controversial pop artists… People have their lives to lead, their mistakes to make, and if you want to sit naked on a wrecking ball no record company could either dissuade you or persuade you.”
The flame-haired jazz and blues singer, who has returned from the brink of alcoholism and celebrates 25 years in the music business this year, with The Whole Affair, a ‘very best of album’, is discussing how much music has changed.
At home, taking a break from building a Halloween bonfire with her grandchildren (she’s even got marshmallows ready for roasting, lucky kids), Mary tries to keep up with social networking, and can “flog a gig” on Facebook – just don’t ask her to Tweet: “I don’t know, I don’t think I’d like to be a young thing starting out in music now, it’s extremely difficult.”
As for the album, the 57 year old says, for some reason, picking tracks for it made her focus on the dark times rather than good. But it wasn’t all bad, she qualifies:
“When I was putting it together, and I listened to all the songs, I realised – there’s been a lot of great stuff written! The Ice Cream Man, Magdalene Laundries… It was a trip down memory lane. You tend to overlook your work, and with the drink, I kind of think I must have been awful, but clearly I wasn’t, all the time.”
“Every song has an absolute total set of memories to go with it… Mag Laundries is getting lots of press recently which is great. I’ve been singing about it for 26 years and highlighting all of that, sure I’ve known of it since I was a child. Ancient Rain is all about Halloween…”
A disc of live recordings forms part of the release too, going back to gigs at the Mean Fiddler, Galway, to sold-out concerts in Sydney, to the Olympia Theatre in Dublin in the very early days.
More than others, perhaps, it’s hard to imagine Mary as an artist without that live aspect – where she truly comes into her seductive own on stage and the gravelly, raw power of her voice, similar you imagine to that of her idol Billie Holiday, pulls you in.
She says: “I wouldn’t say I live for the live shows but then, I couldn’t really go without them. I love to sing. That’s the way it is.”
For the full interview, see this week’s Irish World newspaper (issue 16 Nov 2013).
For tickets to Bush Hall, see www.bushhallmusic.co.uk or call 020 8222 6955. Also see this week’s paper for your chance to win tickets to the London gig!