Cathal Coughlan, frontman with acclaimed indie bands Fatima Mansions and Microdisney, has died aged 61. The singer’s family announced the news, saying Coughlan “slipped away peacefully in hospital after a long illness.”
Born in Cork, Cathal Coughlan first formed Microdisney with guitarist Sean O’Hagan in 1980, relocating to London in 1983. The contrast between Coughlan’s intense lyrics and O’Hagan’s tuneful melodies immediately gave them an edge all their own and they initially released acclaimed titles such as Everything Is Fantastic and the Indie Chart-topping The Clock Comes Down The Stairs through different indie imprints, before signing to Virgin Records for two albums, the Lenny Kaye-produced Crooked Mile and 39 Minutes.
The band’s Virgin Records period included a brief brush with mainstream success when the single “Town to Town” came close to the UK Top 40, and they were much admired in the UK and Ireland indie scenes and recorded numerous sessions for John Peel. “I probably saw popular music as an easy route to cultural mobility, wherein a person with my then-fitful attention span and limited tolerance for the ‘wider picture’ of learning could live a creative life,” Coughlan later reflected.
Microdisney split in 1988 and Coughlan formed Fatima Mansions, who broadened into everything from intense punk-adjacent rock to Europop and romantic balladry, with Coughlan celebrated for his intense, full-throated delivery on albums such as Valhalla Avenue and Lost In The Former West: records which remain ripe for rediscovery.
Coughlan later described his mindset at the time as “an outlaw mentality. The experience of having been in a band that was doing OK and tumbling out of it was pretty unsettling and I was existing on a hovercraft of alcohol and caffeine.” The band supported U2 for a leg of 1992’s Zoo TV tour, and had an unlikely Top 10 hit that year with an eerie trip-hop cover of Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” on a double A-side single with Manic Street Preachers’ cover of Suicide Is Painless, the theme from MASH.
The band’s last recordings came in 1994. Coughlan also collaborated with comedian Sean Hughes as the duo Bubonique, and released a series of solo albums, most recently Song of Co-Aklan in 2021. This year, he released an album as Telefís, a duo he formed with producer Jacknife Lee. In 2018 and, Microdisney briefly re-formed for well-received concerts in Cork, Dublin and at London’s Barbican.
His most recent release came earlier this year with a hAon, the debut album from Telefis, the duo Coughlan had formed with U2 producer, Jacknife Lee. Described as “a conceptual electro-funk joyride through the past into the future”, the album was warmly received by critics.
Among those paying tribute was musician Luke Haines, who had collaborated with Coughlan on the high concept project The North Sea Scrolls. “I have no words at the moment. Just sadness and anger really,” Haines tweeted. The Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess wrote: “His brilliant songs remain. Play them loud and remember him.”