THE FATIMA MANSIONS

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.

RAD
My name's Jeff, this is Su. You're scared of rollercoasters? Since childhood?
Cathal
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.
RAD
...which is always fun...
Cathal
mmm.
RAD
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.]
Cathal
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 like this.
RAD
Now, were you on the bus?
Cathal
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 how.
RAD
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?
Cathal
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 bands.

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.
RAD
I know that's something from your first band.
Cathal
Oh, Microdisney, "We Hate You South African Bastards." Kind of a record against Apartheid.
RAD
And your strong political statements in all of your music.
Cathal
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.
RAD
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.
Cathal
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.
RAD
Before Microdisney, what's your musical history?
Cathal
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.
RAD
Has your partner from there gone on to any other projects?
Cathal
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.
RAD
Do you get involved in the production side of things? Or do you just crank it out and let it happen?
Cathal
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.
RAD
On the current CD, what's your favorite song?
Cathal
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.
RAD
What's the name of the film?
Cathal
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.
RAD
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.
Cathal
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 a tragedy.
RAD
And he won't do anything about it...
Cathal
I think he's too scared of them really. I saw him on television yesterday and he looked like a ghost.
RAD
I don't think the government can handle the health care industry right now, like they're talking about.
Cathal
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.
RAD
Oh, sure.
Cathal
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.
SU
It seems like it's been holding up O.K, but I'm not sure. I haven't read the papers quite recently.
Cathal
They have the law. There haven't been any fines or anything like that. The vigilante action still continues.
SU
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 everything."
Cathal
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.
SU
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?
Cathal
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 hated.

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.
SU
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?
Cathal
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 to threaten.

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 legislation.

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 advance publicity.

Copyright © 1994, Rational Alternative Digital

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