Mary Coughlan tells Joanna Bell how she would like a fan she last met in Liverpool in 1987 to get in touch.
Mary Coughlan is back in action with a brilliant new “best of” album which highlights her biggest hits over the past 25 years years from Seduction to Whore of Babylon . The album does not disappoint and it reminds you of not only what an amazing singer Mary was in her initial heyday but also what a superb singer she has matured into in this present day.
The husky-voiced chanteuse was just about to fly to Sweden when the Irish World caught up with her to talk about the United Kingdom leg of her European Tour which wil take in places like Newcastle and Sheffield which she calls her favourite places in England.
Is it the architecture of these formerly industrial towns that appeals to Mary? “Not at all. I prefer Northern England, the accents, everything about it, something special happens when you’re there, the craic and the music. There are no airs and graces and I have very fond memories of the people in those wonderful places and look forward to performing there again.”
Liverpool is another favourite of Mary’s. The last time she was there she went on the slave tours and discovered a side to the vibrant city that she never knew existed. “I was really thick about the history behind Liverpool and had a wonderful experience the last time I was there. I’m performing in Liverpool for the Liverpool Irish festival, I’m playing on Thursday October 18 at 7:30pm in St George’s Hall Concert room and I’m very excited about the show and seeing one of my favourite cities again.”
“The first time I was ever in Liverpool was in 1987 when my career was taking off and the promoter picked us up from the airport in a limo and showed us all the sights including the Cavern where the Beatles first played, we also took a ferry trip up the Mersey. I did a gig in the Philharmonic and I met a lady there and, I forget her name, she told me stories about the Magdalene laundries. “In fact the reason she came was because I had the song out, Magdalene Laundries, I’d like her to get in touch. Hopefully she is reading this and can make contact with me again.”
In an age of talent-free, get rich quick ‘celebrities’ Mary Coughlan is down to earth yet has more talent in her left nostril than many artists in the charts these days. She famously went from riches to rags in the early nineties when she quite literally lost everything. But has she finally reversed that trajectory? “Jesus no, I’m after purchasing a Honda 1997 and I was saving for it ages and I’m absolutely the happiest woman alive seeing it on my driveway because I’ve been saving for ages.”
Mary constantly faces the inevitable questions about her battle with the booze even eighteen years after completely giving up alcohol. Other musicians and actors have also kicked the habit but aren’t asked about it as often. Her disarming, honest replies to questions about it confirm why but I can understand why Mary could almost be said to have become the poster girl for recovering alcoholics. “I was going upstairs to my bedroom with three bottles of vodka and a bucket for my vomit. I hit rock bottom and ended up on St Patrick’s Day in hospital where the doctor had to make an incision in my throat with a scalpel so that I could breathe. At that stage my family were done with me and I couldn’t even go home after being in intensive care so I stayed in a place called the Rutland Centre but I fell off the wagon about three weeks later. “I have no recollection of it. I awoke from my unconsciousness surrounded by empty bottles. I didn’t remember drinking, acquiring the bottles or passing out subsequently.
“I never drank again and it’s now almost 19 years.’’
“For a while I didn’t want to be around anyone that was drinking but now it’s no bother at all as I have no desire to drink whatsoever and I’m never tempted.
“I’m lucky that the thirst for the bottle has disappeared unlike other people where the thirst is always hanging over them. I have a life beyond my wildest dreams now without alcohol. “Back in the days when I was drinking, alcohol was everywhere and it was more socially acceptedevery dressing room, every record launch, every gig, there was an endless supply, but my worst drinking was in secret at home in the spare room upstairs.
“I could have a few drinks at a gig and be fine though, it was the secret drinking that almost destroyed me and my family.”
The advice she would give to someone in a similar position to the one in which she found herself in is blunt: “You need to get into a clinic for alcoholics and attend regular meetings.”
Asked if releasing a Greatest Hits album means she’s finished with original material or retiring, she replies: “No. I’m going into the studio to record a new album when I come back from Sweden, I’m about to star in a musical and I’m possibly going to be in a movie but I can’t say anything much about that for now.”
Is it true that artists wear their hearts on their sleeves a lot more than people that lead more ordinary daily lives? “It’s very cathartic to do a gig, especially if you are in a difficult place and especially when you feel so tired and so depressed but they are the best gigs.
“I just close my eyes on stage –I have a terrible habit of closing my eyes, a woman in Holland complained and said that I was ignoring my audience and I said I’m not I’m giving it all, I’m going down inside myself trying to drag out everything I can to maximise the feeling in my performance’’.
How did her last UK gigs go? “I did Vince Power’s Hop Farm. I did a tent, although the year before that I was on the main stage because Morrissey was headlining and he is a big fan of mine he made Vince put me on the bill for the main stage. Morrissey was at four of my gigs last year he even brought Chrissie Hynde to see me perform at R o n n i e Scott’s in London. I had a w o nd e rf u l time a t Hop Farm t h i s year I t h i n k it’s one of the best festivals I’ve ever done.”
Has it ever happened that she’s sung the same song over and over so much that it loses its meaning? “No absolutely never, it’s the strangest thing. I’m reviving my old songs and they just take on a new meaning and I love some of them so much I can never get rid of them out of the set’’. Your father was born in Donegal. You must be pleased that Donegal won the All Ireland football and the Sam Maguire?
“My throat is hoarse from screaming so much. I was so happy that they won. My father who is over eighty was absolutely over the moon. But I was born in Galway myself so I’m rooting for Galway in the Hurling final so I can have the best of both worlds’’.
You dedicated one of your albums to Billie Holliday. Was she the inspiration behind your music? “I heard her first when I was seventeen and I went out and bought all of her albums and I still have them because I fell in love with her music.”
Are there parallels between you? “No, I’m white, have red hair, I have five kids, I’m sober and I am still alive.”