Cathal Coughlan, frontman with acclaimed indie bands Fatima Mansions and Microdisney, has died aged 61. His family announced the news, saying he “slipped away peacefully in hospital after a long illness”.
Born in Cork, Coughlan first formed Microdisney with guitarist Sean O’Hagan in 1980, relocating to London in 1983. Playing variously smooth and jangling indie-pop, there was only the briefest brush with mainstream success when the single Town to Town came close to the UK Top 40, but they became 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,” he 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. He 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 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, Microdisney briefly re-formed for a pair of concerts.
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. Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess wrote: “His brilliant songs remain. Play them loud and remember him.”