Mary Coughlan for Longford gig

Jessica Thompson

Reporter:

Jessica Thompson

Email:

jessica.thompson@longfordleader.ie

Mary Coughlan live at Lawlor's, Naas

Mary Coughlan

Mary Coughlan kicks off her Nationwide Tour this week, and will be performing her in Longford on Friday, September 29.

The Backstage Theatre gig is just one of 18 dates on the Irish star's upcoming tour, which will see her travel the length and breadth of the country to entertain fans.

For Mary there will always be two falls. The first happened in Mesopotamia about 5000 years ago, we are told.

The second happened in a sea-front house in Bray, near Dublin, around 1994.

In the first, Eve was expelled from Eden for her sins and women have borne the brunt of it ever since.

In the second, a heavily pregnant and very drunk Mary Coughlan fell onto her kitchen floor in a stupor, a piece of bread and butter plastered to her unconscious face.

That was how her husband and three children found her when they returned from shopping. The next night Mary was taken to hospital where she miscarried. And she has borne the brunt of it ever since.

But this is not why Mary Coughlan is the greatest female vocalist these islands have ever produced. It’s not even why she stands alongside, or even between, the bruised, battered but unbeaten giants of jazz chanson on both sides of the Atlantic, Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf.

Mary Coughlan is the only singer these shores have produced to rival the greatest of European cabaret and American jazz club blues because of one thing: her voice.

She is unique in blending the whisky-blurred, smoke-seared, husky notes and laconic wit of Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee and the line of deep, down and dirty blues singers back to Memphis Minnie and Bessie Smith with the sardonic, bitter-sweet defiance and despair of the Piaf chanteuse, born out of war, in the shadow of Brecht, at war with the world, men and finally herself.

And Mary Coughlan enfolds it all in a delicious and unapologetic Irish drawl, sceptical, rueful, mournful and melting, ardent for love, all in one voice which wraps itself around Cole Porter and Jerome Kern, Elvis Presley and Joy Division, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and sails down that long river of blues that links the Mississippi to the Liffey in her magnificent Irish brogue.

And the most remarkable thing of all is her quarrel with Ireland. She evidently detests the stage Irishry which persists to this day in Riverdance, U2 and The Corrs.

But in her curt consonants, luxuriant plosives and Dub dipthongs she is nakedly Irish, Galway born, the daughter of a Donegal soldier and a Connemara woman.

Yeats wrote, “Out of our quarrel with others, we make rhetoric. Out of our quarrel with ourselves, we make poetry.” Out of her quarrels Mary Coughlan has made some of the best music in these islands for twenty-five years. And it’s time she was applauded for that.

In 1994 she went into rehab in Dublin and with her family’s support defeated her alcoholism and hasn’t taken a drink since.

Mary is our greatest female singer because over twenty-five years and ten albums she’s made the most grown-up, uncompromising, wholly personal and utterly universal music on either side of the Atlantic about what goes on between men and women.

She has taken the classic standards of jazz balladry and the recent gems of rock and Irish song-writing, shaken them and offered them up anew, like jewels dripping from the deep, strewn on black velvet.

She sings in the voice of the wrong and wronged woman and she makes us think what it is men make of women and what women have to do to make do.

Mary Coughlan will perform at the Backstage Theatre on Friday September 29. Tickets on sale at www.backstage.ie or 043 33 47888.