“It’s a wonderful life. I have been given an amazing life – apart from all the shit.”
At the end of this episode of Experience, Mary Coughlan laughs as she says this. She has led an extraordinary life and our conversation touched on all the aspects that made it amazing and also most of the shit.
When we met she had just returned from a gig in Cork where she noticed once again the effect her music has on people.
Her voice affected her too. There was a time when it scared her, as she wanted to avoid where she knew it was coming from, but now she feels less troubled by its power and more at peace.
It hasn’t come easy and she isn’t asking anyone to mistake her for a saint, but her life and her quest for understanding has been something she has given time to.
Her childhood of abuse might have manifested itself in her voice, which is why it used to scare her, but now she feels differently.
But these observations are always made with an awareness of life’s preposterousness. She laughs as she tells the story of resenting The Late Late Show for not booking her in 2020 but she talks too about how she could hold a grudge, how a childhood of living on edge meant she was unable to distinguish between the things that mattered and the things that didn’t.
None of this awareness would have been possible if Mary Coughlan hadn’t stopped drinking 28 years ago.
It was the end of her drinking, she says, but the beginning of something else as she tried to find a way to be more at ease in the world.
But that discomfort may also have been what has made her such a great singer. When I asked her if she felt she was a better singer today than 30 years ago, she didn’t hesitate. But her answer also spoke of that struggle.
“I don’t want to sound conceited, but I think so, yeah.”
“I used to be afraid of it. I used to be afraid of my voice. I know people enjoyed it and it was big and powerful but I would have been afraid before to see that happening and that effect you know, that people, it’s a gift or something you know, it sounds bit corny.
Was she afraid of where it was coming from? “Yes,” she says. “A place of deep pain.”
Everything that comes out helps, she says, and the effect her concerts have on people move her too.
We talked to about the great jazz pianist ‘Professor’ Peter O’Brien, the vision he had for her music and the pain and beauty that was playing a final gig with him as Peter was days away from dying.