- 19 Feb 19
Cathal Coughlan of art-rock heroes Microdisney on their upcoming final shows, gigging with The Jesus & Mary Chain, and unintentionally frightening David Bowie.
“We’re going to do some of the later stuff because obviously the last time it was all about The Clock Comes Down The Stairs,” says Cathal Coughlan of Microdisney’s upcoming final concerts. “We covered quite a lot of the early stuff as well as some offbeat choices (laughs), which I don’t know if people necessarily wanted to hear. But we are covering the whole arc this time.”
Seated in Dublin’s Library Bar, Coughlan reflects on Microdisney’s shows last year at the National Concert Hall and London’s Barbican, at which they performed The Clock... in its entirety.
“The thing that struck me about having to play those songs again is just how strangely put together they are,” he muses. “We didn’t quite know what we were doing at the time. We had some idea abut rootsy-type music, but we didn’t really know what that meant, so what came out was this strange, music hall-style, bubblegum collection. It’s an odd fusion of things, which has a kind of charm that the later stuff doesn’t, because we’d learned how to do things a bit more properly by then.”
The Clock Comes Down The Stairs was Microdisney’s second and final album on Geoff Travis’ Rough Trade label, before they moved to Virgin and released Crooked Mile and 39 Minutes. Notably, the former found Lenny Kaye at the production desk.
“I think it was our manager who suggested him,” Coughlan notes. “It was the ’80s, and the booming and the clanking were what people wanted to hear. He wasn’t about that, so we thought ‘Yeah!’ It was terrific. We had rehearsed the living daylights out of the material and it could have done with a bit more spontaneity in the studio. But we were stlll finding our way to some extent. Lenny was a lovely man and I really learned a lot from working with him, which actually paid off later more than at that time.”
Crooked Mile spawned possibly Microdisney’s best known track, ‘Town To Town’, which should have charted higher than it originally did.
“We got penalised for some pattern of irregularities that I don’t think were actually skulduggery,” says Cathal. “But there was one of those periodic clampdowns – obviously all the majors were at it some or all of the time.”
An unusual performance of the beloved tune took place on a barge in the Liffey, to mark the opening of the Virgin Megastore in Dublin.
“Yeah and it’s on YouTube,” notes Coughlan. “I think the RTE news item is on YouTube anyway. I’ve seen the holding image – I don’t need to see the clip. But it was a fun trip.”
Microdisney have a colourful live history, once being supported by a fledgling Jesus and Mary Chain in London.
“I remember Alan McGee saying, ‘God, they sound like the Fire Engines!’” reminisces Coughlan. “It very quickly became clear that something was going to happen rapidly. It was only a couple of months after that that they had the riot at the ambulance station on the Old Kent Road, and there was the riot at the Old London Poly after that.”
Microdisney’s last performance in their original incarnation, meanwhile, was on a bill with David Bowie.
“It was an anniversary concert for the ICA, benefiting Amnesty,” explains Cathal. “Bowie was performing a dance piece with La La La Human Steps. I did give him a shock on the staircase! I was going upstairs behind him; he didn’t realise there was someone there, then suddenly turned around and saw there was a stranger behind him. He got really freaked out. I felt bad because I have nothing but the highest regard for the guy… so that is my sole David Bowie story!”
Currently Couglan is working on new solo material and should be recording in March. Will there be a release this year?
“I have no problem with taking a hiding on making recordings,” he says. “Making them available is something I don’t really comprehend anymore. So much gets published about how downloads have really caught fire… I’ve seen my PRS statement. Obviously it’s not going to catch fire for me, but when you see the rate at which you get paid… I need to take some advice on that. It’s going to be the rest of the year before I have something I’m happy with anyway.”
How does he fell about the imminent shows? “I feel a certain amount of trepidation! You can’t do the Microdisney stuff in a wild fashion or it just falls apart. So the idea of a wild night doesn’t necessarily fit, but it is a good way to close the circle.”
Microdisney play Vicar Street, Dublin on February 18, and Cyprus Avenue, Cork (19).