BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES - FIRST SUCCESS
Mary Coughlan was born in Galway in 1956 as the oldest of five. As a young teenager she cuts convent school and develops a taste for drugs and drink. A period of depression and a suicide attempt follow at the tender age of 17. After spells in hospitals and a belated graduation from school she leaves her parents’ home in search for freedom. "It wasn’t that I had a horrible family,” Mary explains, "there was just a lack of communication and trust.” She takes various odd jobs to keep afloat. In 1974 she moves to England and becomes a mother at the age of 20. Up until 1981 she gets two more children and walks out on her husband shortly thereafter with all three of them. In 1984, Mary Coughlan is back in her hometown of Galway. It’s then she starts singing in public and she is promptly discovered by Dutch musician and producer Erik Visser, whose group Flairck is a great success in Europe at the time. Mary’s debut album TIRED AND EMOTIONAL sells 100.000 copies and Mary turns into a self-confessed "earth mother” with an interest in marcobiotic food and natural childbirth at the same time.
This is followed by the renowned "successful-but-naive-artist-gets ripped-off-by-greedy-managers” period. And it’s perfectly true in this case as well. After some years of great success Mary Coughlan loses her house, car and record contract and turns into a severe alcoholic in the meantime. At the age of 29 she starts drinking seriously and is hospitalized more than thirty times. Looking back from a distance she blames herself: "I just couldn’t handle it. I was angry at everyone, angry at myself. Above all, I was angry, ready to blame everyone. I didn’t take responsibility and a lot of people fucked me over.” And so, despite of some success in a side career as an actress, the downward spiral of her personal life continues until Mary Coughlan hits rock bottom in 1993. The public perception in Ireland is no longer concerned about Coughlan the singer and general interest in her music is fading slowly.
Mary Coughlan starts treatment for alcoholism and a new relationship in the mid 1990s. There are two more kids and the AFTER THE FALL album is released in 1997. It’s the album that heralds her return to form. Moreover, due to the fact that she’s one of the many female artists featured on the enormously successful "A Woman’s Heart” CD series, her name has never completely disappeared from public memory. But Mary Coughlan cannot stand the image of the suffering, lonely Irish woman communicated in the series and neither does she want to be considered a victim.
RETURN AND SECOND SUCCESS:
Mary Coughlan returns to the music scene as a survivor. Her public stance concerning the topics of abortion, Catholic moral bigotry, and the role of women in Irish society in general, are still marked by brutal honesty and frank criticism. For the AFTER THE FALL project some of the most talented younger Irish writers contribute exclusive new songs. The jazz and blues-inflected timbre of the famous Coughlan voice is still intact and the album becomes a creative catharsis marked by autobiographical themes: divorce, abuse, self-loathing and redemption – everything is confronted in the new songs.
In the new millenium, Mary Coughlan starts working on the grandest project of her career so far. With the staging of "Lady Sings The Blues” on various Dublin and London stages a dream comes true for the Galway singer. The elaborate multi-media stage production is dedicated to the life and art of Billie Holiday. Mary has a number of elegant 40s-style outfits made and matter-of-factly declares that for this particular occasion she would just put up her hair, get the contact lenses in and put on one of the dresses. In case of desaster, audiences could at least remember the fine dresses - excellent proof that the laconic nature of the famed Coughlan style of Irish humor is still pretty much intact these days. But nothing goes wrong and the show turns out to be a great success.
But it’s not a comeback in the true sense of the word. Mary Coughlan has never really stopped singing even in her darkest hours. So should there be a trace of the the Irish housewife cliché involved here? The always singing woman surrounded by kids, a tune on her lips no matter how deep the clouds of personal unhappiness? Mary Coughlan is very Irish for sure, but things seem to be a bit different in this case...
And so - despite all the positive news on Mary’s recent success - the dreaded question returns: is she still the same or has she become tired after fighting her demons for so long? A distinct "yes” should be the answer to the first question and a clear "no” applies to question number two.