‘Mary Coughlan is arguably one of Ireland’s greatest female jazz and blues singers; a true artist who has carved out a timeless and highly regarded career and a legion of devoted fans worldwide. Described as ‘Ireland’s Billie Holiday’, Mary has overcome childhood trauma, alcoholism and drug addiction to become a musical force like no other.
“Her life story gives weight to the truth that the best singers are the ones with the most painful lives.” (The Guardian)
Her seminal first album, Tired and Emotional, rocketed her to overnight fame in 1985 and fifteen albums later, her ability to deeply connect with both the song and her audience remains undiminished – a testament to her inner strength and to the power of transformation and redemption. Mary live is in a league of her own; her glorious husky voice pulling every ounce of emotion from the music. This is the real thing, sung from the depths of a woman’s heart and soul – a survivor who (to paraphrase Leonard Cohen’s famous words) “was born with the gift of a golden voice.” This is why she is so loved. As the Observer rightly said, “Mary Coughlan’s talent is awesome.”
Resonant with the grief of Billie Holiday, the soul of Van Morrison and the defiance of Edith Piaf, to hear Mary sing is to be at the core of the human heart.’
It was an absolute honour to spend some time earlier today speaking with this legendary singer. Lengendary in that she really is one of Ireland’s greatest female vocalists. Sipping coffee and talking to this amazing lady really did kick-start my weekend with full force this Friday forenoon.
An avid fan I really was little star-struck as we spoke this morning. But I needn’t have been such. I came off my phone feeling I’d made a new friend. Such is the warmth and friendliness that comes from this woman.
Mary told me, “This is my first time performing at the Derry Jazz Festival and I’m really looking forward to it.” There’s quite a few folk here in the North West also looking forward! Myself being top of the queue.
I asked Mary how she keeps going. When I spoke with her, she had just returned from a 2 week tour of the UK. She simply said, “I don’t know. I just did 12 gigs in 14 days from Scotland to Kent then back to Manchester and I just keep going.” I was exhausted just hearing of her recent fortnight.
Mary said that coming to Derry is special for her because as a young baby her Dad brought her here to introduce her to his mother. “Shortly after I was born, my father brought me to Derry to see his Mum. He hid me under his coat to surprise her.” I’m sure there’s absolutely no need for Mary to hide under anyones coat next weekend as she arrives but what a lovely story to hear.
How has Mary’s music evolved over the past 35 years? “I’ve been described as a combination of Jazz, Folk and Blues. I have made every album different. I enjoy doing different things and I love what I do.” Mary Coughlan’s music just continues to get stronger with each new year.
I had read recently that Mary had undergone some health problems last year, heart related. “I had four stents put in last year. I’m now bionic! I did cardio exercises for six months and I continue to get and stay fit. I’m feeling great and I’m just going forward.” She certainly sounds in top form and full of good health and positivity.
Mary also told me about a forthcoming project she is embarking on later this year. It’s theater based and tells the story of women through music and dance. This will keep till a later date but it is very exciting and it really will be something for us all to look forward to. Mary feels very strongly about women’s experience of abuse and addiction and life in general and she has put it all together in this new show. She says, “It will resonate with a lot of people. I’m going public with it, because music saved me, and helped me find who I am.
But for now Mary is getting ready to come to Derry next weekend and wow the Derry audience with her authentic voice and music. She said, “I’m bringing the full band and doing a full set.” It’s certain to be a memorable one. Whilst in Derry Mary will be celebrating her birthday. So there’s lots of reasons to celebrate in town next Saturday night.
After Derry, Mary Coughlan is off to Australia for a month and will be performing across the country there.
Mary Coughlan performs at the Millennium Forum next Saturday, 5th May. Tickets are now on sale from the Millennium Forum Box Office. Telephone 71 264455 or visit Millennium Forum.
The Derry Jazz Festival is happening next weekend and as always it’s gearing up to be a great one.