As anyone who has read Mary Coughlan‘s new autobiography Bloody Mary will testify, no other woman has more right to sing the blues than she. A rollercoaster ride of child abuse, alcoholism and heartache, her thunderous lifestyle has often overshadowed the adroit musical career that put her in the public eye in the first place. Her latest album The House Of Ill Repute has earned her the best reviews of her career and harvested a whole new generation of fans. Exploring the seedy world of prostitution, pimps and burlesque, she will be showcasing her vintage cabaret around the country until Christmas, when she will be taking the show to Italy. We interrupted her during the Masterchef final to discuss Babylonian whores, breakfast in bed with Jools Holland and life post happy-ever-after.
You recorded The House Of Ill Repute after your marriage broke up, and you’ve claimed in the past you channelled your pain from the relationship into the record. You seem much more happy with life now though, does that mean your future material will loose its edge?
Well I was only thinking about that yesterday in the car. There is a bit of trouble with one of my sisters regarding the book, and I’ve already starting planning my next album. I think I might call it Family Life. I seem to be on a never-ending journey of healing’¦or unfolding, of stuff that goes on in my life. I’ll never be stuck for something to sing about.
So who’s going to play you in the biopic film?
I don’t know, I doubt anyone could play me.
You’re already working on the next album then?
I’m not really working on it, I have a big list on my fridge of potential songs and I add to it everyday. I’m going to work with Kristina Lee Olsen again. She wrote -In Your Darkened Room’ on the last record, and she also wrote the music for -Mary Mary’, which I wrote the lyrics for. We’re working on some songs for the next album whenever it will be. I’ll have to get some money first of course so it will probably be another year or so.
Have you decided on any covers that we would know?
Well, I’m looking at my list now, and there’s a Neil Young song, a Blue Nile song, and a few Nick Drake songs.
So when you take those songs into the recording studio, do you already know how you’re going to put your mark on them or does it happen naturally?
Sometimes it’s very hard to know what to do, which is where Erik comes in (Erik Visser is Mary’s long time producer). However when you’re working with musicians and everyone comes in with their arrangements, it tends to just come together naturally. When we made the last CD we decided that the whole album was to be based around -The House Of Ill Repute’. That first song set the tone for the rest of the album. Each following song represented a different room in the house, and there are all these women in the rooms wondering ‘how the fuck did I get here?’.
-The Whore of Babylon’ is one of the more memorable tracks on the CD, was it written especially for you?
Johnny Mulhern and I have been collaborating for years. We wrote -Runaway Teddy’ together, and when I told him about the Magdalene Laundries, he wrote a song about them for me. I was reading a lot of books about God and Goddesses and when I came across the Whore Of Babylon I said to Johnny ‘I really feel like the fucking Whore Of Babylon, everyone just shits on me.’ He then spent the best part of a year writing that song for me. When it came to Erik and I taking it to the studio it became our biggest challenge. It was an unfinished, mental song, but fantastic.
The title track for the album is a Cuckoo Savante song, how did that land in your lap?
Well I still have suitcases filled with cassettes and CDs that people have sent me over the years. I have a real superstition about throwing them out so I’ve horded bags of them, and one night I was doing a gig in Galway when Jamie McEleney (lead singer of Cuckoo Savante) gave a CD to my partner John and asked him to pass it on to me. I listened to the CD the next day and called him straight away. To put that in perspective’¦ I don’t think I’ve ever used one of the cassettes that were sent to me in the past. One of the songs on that CD was -Red Apple’, which I ended up recording with Cuckoo Savante. Another was -The House Of Ill Repute’, which of course we based the entire album around.
You have an extensive back catalogue to flick through at your gigs, do you stick to your recorded material or do you throw in a few covers that you haven’t got around to recording yet?
I tend to stick to the recorded stuff, and at the moment I throw in a few covers like The -Killing Woman’ by Echo and The Bunnymen who I was really into back in the day. I missed a lot of the eighties, I had three children by the time I was 26 and I used to hear a lot of music on the radio but I never got to see bands or gigs so I enjoy catching up now. We’re also doing a version of -Love Will Tear Us Apart’.
You’ve dabbled in song writing in the past, is that something you’d like to explore more in the future?
Well, as the fella on that cookery show said, ‘I’d rather be ten minutes late with really good food then serve up shit food on time’. I’d rather sing a really good song in my own style than sing a crap song I wrote myself just to get the royalties. It’s quite strange actually, I always find songs, they just come to me. When I broke up with my husband Frank I rang Erik and told him I was in an awful state, I really have to go somewhere and do something. Within a month of my marriage breaking up the songs were coming to me already-into my car, into my kitchen, into my house. Already they’re finding me and I know the next album is here already.
Does that mean you’re going to sing a song about your sister?
(laughs) No, not about my sister, but there is a lot of stuff that still needs to be said. I thought that it was all out but you know, you turn one page and the next page is staring you in the face. But it’s a wonderful journey, it really is and I’m really enjoying all of it.
So what lies in the future for Mary Coughlan?
Well I have a new manager Paul Loasby, and he manages Jools Holland and one of the guys for Pink Floyd so he might give me a bit of a push. I’ve been on Jool’s show several times actually, and toured with him. I also sang in his band for a while which was outrageous fun. I was even serviced breakfast in bed by Jools Holland. He’s a sweet, sweet man, really wonderful. I haven’t promoted the current CD on his show yet but the record company has just given us some money to plug the CD on TV in January so hopefully all the work I’ve done this year will come rolling in the door next year.
Is it good to be Mary Coughlan these days?
It certainly is’¦ at least I think it is anyway.
Mary Coughlan plays the Button Factory November 15th and 22nd