The Fatima Mansions
by Jeff Jolley and Su Chon
The Fatima Mansions rolled into town one day--slid into town, actually,
thanks to a snow storm. They got separated from their equipment and their
show was cancelled. Later their show was changed to a two-song acoustic
set. All in all, this left plenty of time for Cathal Coughlan (Fatima
Mansion's enigmatic lead singer) to talk with RAD Cyberzine. His Irish
accent as strong as the sun is bright, we sat down to talk about
life--from rollercoasters to politics.
- My name's Jeff, this is Su. You're scared of
rollercoasters? Since childhood?
- It's kind of escalated. I've always been afraid of
heights having bluntly informed my father I was going to paint the gables
of the house we lived in at the time. I got up on the ladder about 10
foot off the ground and I was shit scared. That's when I was about 19 at
the time. I had passed my whole life up to that time not knowing I was
afraid of heights.
Somebody made me go on a rollercoaster a couple of years ago. It was
before I quit drinking, when I was still suggestable after a pint. It was
for an interview, actually. The journalist turned the tape machine on and
all he got was like screaming--which was PARTLY me, but it was also him.
It was horrible. And it was on a site where they had recently demolished
a rollercoaster which had killed someone.
- ...which is always fun...
- Some bands I just talk to, but I'm REALLY excited to
talk to you. I really wish you were playing tonight. [this is before we
knew about the acoustic set.]
- So do we. I mean, we've tried the last couple of
days to get here. It gives you a sense of anti-climax about the whole
thing, even though we've known for a couple of hours it was likely to be
- Now, were you on the bus?
- I wasn't on the bus, I flew with my wife, because
she already had an air ticket. It's a long story, she's going back to
England tomorrow, and she should have gone today. It's all a little bit
chaotic, really. I was on the bus until Boise, so I went through all that
stuff yesterday. We don't get this in England, really we don't. You can
get 10 miles away from civilization, but that's about it. You can get
stuck, and then they're not very far off. You can muddle through some
- Yeah, you can get into a lot of snow fast, here. I
wanted to talk to about, first, that New Musical Express has a lot of
good things to say about you. They say that you're the best rock and roll
band in Britain. And NME is known for not being very kind to British
bands. How do you feel about that?
- Well, we've had kind of an uneasy truce with them
for a few years, but it's beginning to evaporate because they've become a
lot more restrictive about what they will write favorably about corporate
The article you mentioned comes from a few months ago, before the tide
turned against us there. I mean, we got a fairly favorable album review,
he said we were treading water, but it wasn't radical like "Smash". But
their minds are on for us, we're not any different that anyone else to
them. What you say about them is absolutely true, in general. They give
you two years at the most and if you're not like world-wide massive then,
they will demolish you. There's no such thing as long-term umbilical to
anything like that. The other thing is that the journalists write like
A&R when it comes to that point. They're behind on the record, but
they'll pay more attention to it's likely chances of getting on the radio
or selling instead of actually what's on the damn thing. Which is
outrageous, because they profess, really simultaneously, this disdain for
those unfashionable people at the radio stations and the record
companies, but of course they depend on the record companies for their
business, because if they didn't have the advertising revenue they
wouldn't be there. And they work for some of the most concordian,
right-wing, politically motivated busnesses in the world. The two
weeklies in Britain belong to a subsidiary of Reed Interntaional, which
is a South African arms dealing company.
- I know that's something from your first band.
- Oh, Microdisney, "We Hate You South African
Bastards." Kind of a record against Apartheid.
- And your strong political statements in all of your
- Well, I'm not really interested in writing about too
many things. I think that global events shape individuals' lives a lot
more than perhaps individuals like to give them credit for. I think the
boom in totalitarity in the last five years is implematic of people's
withdrawal from a consciousness of that kind of thing. I can really see
in Great Britain, as the political opposition gets weaker and weaker, the
people's standard of living keeps getting worse and worse and worse.
Marriages break up, and all the important things in their lives start to
fall apart. And instead of trying to do something about the
macro-picture, they've been conditioned to think of it as an internal
thing of their own. So I've actually become quite militant to the fact
that there's a lot of want on macro-issues on records. I don't think I'm
any less colorful in what I do than someone like Morrissey and his
non-existant sex life, for instance. Or Eddie Vedder or God knows what.
- The music that I like from Fatima Mansions is where
it's from the heart -- it's really something that you feel and care
about, instead of just writing to sell records.
- I got involved in this thing through punk rock, and
probably the only tenet I hold in music is "Fuck Tin Pan Alley." I
couldn't give you a tin pan alley-type song even if I wanted to. It's
got to be something that actually gets through to me first so I get
worked up enough to write about.
- Before Microdisney, what's your musical history?
- Messing around in my bedroom, really, until I was 19
and started meeting people who played music. Trudging out songs at the
piano and that kind of thing a lot. Fool around with electronic gadgets
and stuff trying to be like Kraftwerk or something. It was when I was 19
I started meeting people who were listening to a lot of the post-punk
things like Gang of Four, Joy Division, the Fall, things like that in
1980. We kind of formed groups around.
It was really until the group I was in had whittled down into just two
men, because nobody else could stay interested for that long in a place
where there were no gigs to play in. No real motivation to remain
involved. It boiled down to the two of us and we started making singles
which a friend of ours in London started putting out and getting on the
radio. Which was easier then than it is now. It mattered more
then-getting a John Peel play for your record really was quite something
then. It still is something, but he really has to be backing for you for
it to make a difference. In those days someone's record he would played
a couple of times could be sure of selling 10,000 copies. It was a much
easier climate than how it is in Britain now.
So we moved over to London...took speed, and all these stupid
things...took acid...totally lost our sense of direction ... found
another one, lost that one...signed to Virgin Records...COMPLETELY lost
our sense of direction... slogged on for two more records after
that...and ejected in 1988, which is when I started moving towards what
became the Mansions.
- Has your partner from there gone on to any other projects?
- Yeah, he's got a group called The Highlanders, who I
think put out two albums. I think they might possibly be signing with
Harold Altet and Jerry Martin's new label--they got a new label called
Animorsm. They formed A&M in the '60's and they lost control of it over
that corporate shit that goes on. They started this new label and Sean,
signed with them. He's doing some production.
- Do you get involved in the production side of things?
Or do you just crank it out and let it happen?
- I think I've sort of fire-bombed my chances of ever
being invited to produce anybody else's records because of some of the
silly projects I've done over the last two or three years. I'm not
completely incompetent or anything, but I do tend to make things sound so
extreme that it's unlistenable.
- On the current CD, what's your favorite song?
- Probably the title track, because it was the one
that I had to invest the least time into and I didn't have to sing it
millions of times--because there are no vocals. I originally wrote it
for a film a friend of mine directed in Dublin, of which I have very fond
memories--of that project.
- What's the name of the film?
- It's called "The Bargain Shop." It was made for
German and Irish television. In late '92 I thought I was really going to
break into that, but it didn't happened.
- One of the things we like to do with our magazine, is
it's a way that you can get out anything you want to talk to people
about. If there's anything in particular you'd like to mension at this
time, we'd love to mention it for you.
- Well, one goes to politics at this time with
monotonous regularity. I'd just like to say that until America
terminates the social convetion that turns doctors into millionaires and
health care-providing institutions to be gold mines, the American economy
is just going to have a monkey on it's back which is going to bleed it
white. And the fact that Clinton's isn't able to do anything about it is
- And he won't do anything about it...
- I think he's too scared of them really. I saw him
on television yesterday and he looked like a ghost.
- I don't think the government can handle the health care
industry right now, like they're talking about.
- Certainly not. I mean they're lobbying against any
health reforms that will taint their profits, or anything like that,
which ought to happen, really. Which mindful of social provisions, there
out to be a limit to what these people can charge.
- Oh, sure.
- I mean, as there is for petrol, as there is for
electricity, as there is for phones. However necessary your phone is,
health care is much more important.
(...the interview now skips to kind of in the middle of stuff...)
...Cathal and Su began to talk about the political situation in England.
At this time, the Parliament was trying to pass the Criminal Justice Act,
which would have outlawed all kinds of behavior. It would have made
things like squatting in a house or throwing a rave in an abandoned
warehouse criminal acts. This Act would have taken away almost all civil
rights that most human beings should have. The police would be out of
control - because they could do whatever they want to suspects. They
also talked about Ireland and the truce.
- It seems like it's been holding up O.K, but I'm not
sure. I haven't read the papers quite recently.
- They have the law. There haven't been any fines or
anything like that. The vigilante action still continues.
- I think it's really odd how the ULA have their own
little vigilantes and they go and beat up their own people. I was hoping
that with this truce maybe Britain would say, "we're going to step back
and let Ireland rule themselves and if they kill each other, fine," but
not with Parliament stepping in and saying, "we're going to control
- Well, Britain's position on Northern Ireland
historically has been ambivalent for a number of reasons. In the first
place, it was they who put in place the aristocracy that ran Northern
Ireland until the late '60's; until the trouble started. There is a
historic loyalty between the British in service of the army and those
individuals, which has held up pretty well.
Secondly, the Ulster Unionists MP who sit in the British Parliament have
often in the past held the power of life and death over the British
Government. And that's how partition began in the early part of the
century, before it was established. The basic principle of splitting
away Ulster came about when the British Prime Minister needed votes from
the Ulster Unionists.
On the other hand, it costs the British a lot of money -- not alone to
have the army there, but to keep rebuilding everything, and to keep
paying for protection. Both the Loyalists and the I.R.A. have protection
rackets on those building sites. And that's where they derive most of
their revenue from. If the British were to stop rebuilding all that
stuff, it would take away a great deal of the fuel for fighting. And I
think that would be a major step forward, I mean there are stockpiles
around, sure, but they need to be maintained, they need to buy bullets,
and they need to buy explosives. If they're not able to shake down those
sites, and--in the case of the Loyalists-- if they're not having their
member's trained with the British army, in shooting and explosives, that
removes a lot of the fuel as well.
The British are caught up in this trap and they move a little bit one
way, and then a little bit the other way, according to whether they need
the voters support, whether they want to try and clobber up some cash, or
try and stay in their own country.
- I heard stories that the British Youth are really
discontent, that jobs are really hard to come by, that things are just
terrible all around. Do you notice that?
- They've become very apathetic. They've been living
with mass-unemployment for 13 to 14 years. It's regarded as perfectly
normal to have two to three million OFFICIALLY declared unemployed. And
to be "officially declared," you have to be successfully signing on for
state benefits of a few types. For instance, if you start off on sick
pay and move on to unemployment benefit, you don't count as unemployed.
If you've been in a government training scheme, can't get a job, sign on
the dole again, you don't count as unemployed, even though you are.
Women who are married can never count as unemployed. The likelihood is
that there are over five million unemployed in Britain.
The youth of this time have grown up with this thing. They've never
known a government that hasn't been concerned with extreme right-wing
libertarian government. Their attitude toward politics is that they
don't give a fuck about it, unless it infringes upon one of their
recreational activities. They don't expect employment, they don't expect
to be able to do what their parents have.
The poll-tax thing a few years ago did mobilize a lot of anti-government
feeling and ultimately brought Thatcher down, but unfortunately she was
never voted out by people. So she still -- or her constituents, her
money people, the Arabs and people who rule the country -- are still
pulling strings behind John Major, whether he likes it or not. There
were a couple of people in his cabinet who were actually employed by
those people. And one of them MAY be the next Prime Minister. And if
that happens, the place is going to go from being like Austria or
Switzerland or one of those marginal countries as it is today, to being
The Youth are begining to get more restless, but there's a demographic
shift there the same as there has been here. The bulk of the population
is always sort of the more satisfied middle-aged people.
- What do you think is going to trigger them to make a
change, or do something. I've noticed even around me, people I know very
apathetic about anything. They don't care about any causes. As long as
no one bothers them or takes more money out of their pay checks, they
don't care. Do you have any ideas of what might trigger some sort of
action on their parts?
- It's difficult to say, because my understanding of
the apathetic attitude of American Youth, is that it's conditioned to a
degree by the good standard of living--the fact that food and rent are
quite cheap. In Britain they're not. People's quality of life is
abismally frightening, even if they're in work. And so many of the jobs
-- the big growth area of the British economy in employment -- is
low-pay, part-time work. You know, people working for 100 pounds a week
who might have to pay upwards of 70 pounds a week in rent, I mean, it's
just bullshit. There's no security, there's no great standard of living
I think that if this Criminal Justice Act has the kind of bite that
people think it might have, if there's a lot more harassment by the
police. There's a lot of talk about having mass-tresspasses on land,
because interrupting a fox is a criminal offence. The Tories have
become so arrogant that they think that a marignal thing like some of
their friends being harassed by hunt saboteurs, or animal rights
protesters. They think that's a good enough reason to frame a piece of
Also, they've privatized so many things, that a lot of what was
previously public land was actually was given to water companies which
were then privatized. Mass trespasses there, people having raves on
common land -- if there there were a lot of arrests and violent incedents
from that, that might motivate something. But all the way through the
passage of the bill through the Parliament, there were quite big
demonstrations that were not reported by the newspapers and were given no
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