Image: Simone J Rudolphi
MUSIC TO HELP US THROUGH LOCKDOWN
I am not sure whether Nick Hornby had the same problem when he wrote High Fidelity. For me, no sooner is a list created - favourite this, favourite that - than glaring omissions begin to glare. When posting my top 10s for male and female singers, live bands, acoustic bands and duos in my Lockdown sounds series, I did take care to explain how changeable my selections were.
You'd find competing lists if you had the time and inclination to trawl through the Salut! Live archive ...
One artist who should have found a place in my parade of preferred female singers is Mary Coughlan and I am pleased to have had this hinted heavily in my direction by Simone J Rudolphi, a photographer who also happens to be a massive Coughlan fan.
Mary Coughlan! How could I overlook this wonderful singer?
This minor act of redemption involves slotting Mary into my mini-series, Songs of Endurance, that is to say music to help us is difficult times. Endurance is a good word for her. She nearly drank herself to death and suffered a miscarriage before getting us herself "dry" in 1994 and staying so - unlike her great singing heroine Billie Holiday, who died at 44.
Mary's success in turning her life around preserved what David Kelly describes at her website as the greatest female vocalist these islands have ever produced", a giant of jazz chanson, upscale cabaret songs drawing inspiration from Holiday, Piaf, Peggy Lee and "deep down and dirty blues singers". Even an old folkie like me can relish and wonder at such a treasure of music.
I have seen Mary live at least once, the "definite" being a great gig in a cavernous room - ballroom? - at a hotel in Cork City, probably as far back as the 1990s.
Next day, my wife flew back to London and work as I flew up to Belfast, also for work, in a light aircraft piloted by the same man who checked me in, weighed me + luggage, whisked me to the plane for boarding and served coffee in-flight. I say "at least once" because my possibly faulty memory also tells me I was there again to see her at the Watermans arts centre in Brentford. But then I know for sure that I saw Dolores Keane there and may be confusing the gigs, different as these two great Irish singers are.
Mary's versatility and her passion as an artist are phenomenal. Her version of Ride On is superb even if I once expressed a still greater liking for Christy Moore's.
the photos you see in this post were taken by Simone, two from an outstanding portfolio.
So by way of redressing the balance, let me commend one Mary Coughlan track that, for me stands out from all others, as one of those truly exceptional pieces of music that stand up to repeated listening, say if a wretched and highly contagious virus confined us all to home.
She wrote it herself, the song's called My Land is too Green and it explores the occasional hypocrisies and inconsistencies of her beautiful native island.
My land is bogged down in religious tradition
We nod our heads in humble submission
One foot in the door a hand in your pocket
We export our problems for foreign solutions
My land is naive too scared of the devil
Holier than thou with eyes up to heaven
When nobody looks we tear strips off our neighbour
And to have a good laugh at it all in the end
Shrouded and mist the outlook's appalling
Pressure is rising but temperature's falling
Sunny spells and scattered showers
But still it rains for hours and hours
And as the floods rise we drown our sorrows
Tossing them back like there is no tomorrow
And in the end we'll sit or stand
And p*** it back to the bog holes of Ireland
And now sit or stand and put this brilliant song, written and performed by a star exuding equal measures of substance and soul, on repeat .... with thanks to Simone.
But do not imagine Mary Coughlan's life work can be compressed into one piece, compelling as it. is. Move on, when you are ready, to a fuller exploration of her music and then work out how to buy her next album.