After the split of Microdisney, Cathal Coughlan -the band's acerbic and political edge- surfaced with a new group and uncompromising vision. Fatima Mansions, named after a run-down Dublin housing estate, was to be a vehicle for his world-view, and Andrias O'Gruama (guitar), Hugh Bunker (bass), Nick Allum (drums) and Zac Woolhouse (keyboards) were enlisted for the supporting roles. Coughlan's lyrical fixations of religious bigotry, imperialism and death was spelled out in parables of increasing hysteria and black humour, while the safety of Microdisney's rock arrangements was abandoned in favour of an all-out aural assault. Fatima Mansions was to become a cult favourite for the 90s.

Against Nature (1989) was lauded as a startlingly well-rounded debut, establishing a broad territory from the driving single "Only Losers Take The Bus", to the synth-pop pastiche of "13th Century Boy", and the occasional brooding ballad like "Wilderness On Time". There was a new-found power and urgency in the vocal delivery, and an incisiveness to the sound, driven by Andrias's raw guitar lines. The single "Blues For Ceausescu" (1990) took the band on to a higher level of ferocity and invention, heralding in the eighteen-track onslaught of Viva Dead Ponies (1990). From the opening track, "Angel's Delight", which took the idea of light and shade in a song to new heights of absurdity, this was an ambitious roller coaster of an album, taking in a huge range of styles and themes.

Meanwhile, regular gigging quickly built their reputation as an extraordinary spectacle, with Cathal hurling his hulk around the stage like a man possessed while the band drove him on, with Andrias in wraparound shades grimacing at the pain of his discords. In early 1991, Cathal performed some acoustic gigs billed as 'Fatima Mansions Singular', showcasing the control and mellowness of his voice - 'I know you all think I'm a brute', he observed. Some of these more restrained songs emerged on Bertie's Brochures (1991), including covers of Scott Walker's "Long About Now" and Richard Thompson's "The Great Valerio", but this was no simple 'unplugged' effort and included a barely recognizable dismemberment of R.E.M.'s "Shiny Happy People".

Normal service was resumed with the release of Valhalla Avenue (1992), which contained the customary doses of rancour and strident guitar riffing on tracks like "Evil Man" and "Go Home Bible Mike". The album's ferocious tone did not prevent it from becoming their biggest seller yet, reaching #52 in the UK. They even had a surprise Top 10 single later that year with a near-psychotic reworking of Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do (I Do It For You)", although this was largely due to the Manic Street Preachers' flip-side cover of "Suicide Is Painless". While their uncompromising style may have ruled out any greater commercial success, their standing as a live act secured a support slot on a U2 tour. But Cathal refused to be on best behaviour for the big occasion, infamously causing a near riot on the Italian leg with some on-stage Catholic baiting. Cathal continued his prolific output by releasing 20 Golden Showers (1993) under the name Bubonique, featuring compatriot comedian Sean Hughes, followed by a new Fatima Mansions album, Lost In The Former West (1994). Once again this was not for the faint-hearted, tackling international affairs with the usual rage and humour. But there was a sense that the format had become too well defined and that some of the shock value of earlier works had been eroded by familiarity.

Currently, the Mansions have been suspended while Cathal worked on a new solo release, billed as the Grand Necropolitan.

Reworked from the Rough Guide to Rock. © Rough Guides Ltd. First edition published Aug 96 / Nov 96 (USA). Distributed by Penguin.

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