Last night I finally got to see Mary Coughlan live for the first time – something I’ve wanted to do ever since I got a cassette of her debut album Tired & Emotional in 1985.
I’ve always had a thing for singers who sing in their own ‘native’ accent, whether it’s the Dublin of Fontaines D.C., Ian Dury’s Cockney, the Jamaican patois of Linton Kewsi Johnson or the contemporary London hybrid of Little Simz.
Mary is unmistakeably a Galway woman, her bluesy torch songs transporting the listener to the West of Ireland, whatever the material. But I never expected her to be able to carry this one off.
Love Will Tear Us Apart is so quintessentially English, so quintessentially Manchester, so quintessentially Curtis; a part of my youth and my life. And yet… Like all great singers she makes it her own, while capturing the emotion and the essence – the quintessence – of the song’s original form. It’s just beautiful; dare I suggest it’s as good as the original?
I should not be surprised: her version of I Would Rather Go Blind – performed last night with its sublime sax solo by Richie Buckley – is a match for Etta James’s original and her take on Leon Redbone’s Seduced (which she also performed) sounds as if it was written just for her.
I had my doubts whether, after 67 years, at least 30 hospitalisations, at least two marriages, at least five children and plenty more water – and whiskey – under the bridge, Mary would be able to sing with the same strength and power and beauty and emotion as she did when I first heard her nearly 40 years ago.
But she does. And she did.