Cathal Coughlan & the Grand Necropolitan Quartet
Review of their gig in Whelan's, Dublin, March 22nd, 2003
At the time of writing, George W. Bush's deepest desires seemed to be coming true: war in Iraq and a relentless drive to establish a new world order. You'd expect Cathal Coughlan to be just a tad peeved, then. Pre-gig, I was worried that he may even eschew the set-list altogether and tell the Grand Necropolitan Quartet to take an early night. A raging tirade against American imperialism seemed on the cards. Yet, there's nothing of the sort.
In fact, this is Coughlan
calmer and quieter. The man who once advised to 'keep music evil' is facing
middle age with a benign smile. Sure, he blasts out the Mansions classic
'Loyaliser' later in the set but it lacks the vitriol of what it once was. How
confrontational can you be with a string quartet anyway? Instead he saves his
frustration for the advertisers trying to sell us bathroom cleaner during ad-
breaks on Sky News' war-coverage.
It's his songs though that continue to beguile. 'Officer Material' is an impossibly beautiful thing, mixed-up and bruised but with a silver melodious lining. And, of course, there's 'Singer's Hampstead Home', still resplendent in its eighties glory, sounding like it was dreamed up yesterday. Then, albeit briefly, the anger returns. Standing at the mic, away from the piano, he manically intensifies proceedings. For a few moments I'm reminded of the man who once said he would like to wrap his hand with barbed wire and shove it up John Major's arse! Nice. But it doesn't last long. Too old for that now. The oil wells are on fire. We're resigned to the inevitable.
In 2003 taking a stand seems harder than ever. Or maybe just more futile than ever. But Cathal, always one of music's most entertaining contrarians, seems decidedly unbothered. Tonight he's simply the man at the piano, accepting the dying of the light. When the music's this good, no one really minds.
Check out a review of Cathal Coughlan live in Wicklow in 2007.