The first I heard of Fatima Mansions, those darlings of record shops whom it was cool to like, but who never seemed to break through to popular favour, was the splendid anthem Only Losers Take The Bus. This, their first single, seemed to gloss over their more lyrical side, which they saved for the LPs, in favour of hard-driven, cynical guitar rock. Cathal Coughlan had previously been at the helm of Microdisney, a band that Peel had given exposure to via several sessions, but again who found that fame had passed them by. He subsequently formed this band to disprove the idea that he was a spent musical force, and took the name from a council estate in Dublin:
[My musical history before Microdisney was] 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 play 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. [Cathal Coughlan]
‘The Fatima Mansions forsook Microdisney’s suave soulboy threads for the rent garments of ranting, derelict street preacher’ [Andrew Mueller]. Blues For Ceaucescu (FF 1990 #33), their second single on Kitchenware, resets the mould and brings out Coughlan’s nascent bitterness. Unavailable at the time on album Viva Dead Ponies (until the compilation Come Back My Children appeared in 1992), this single is a blistering slice of rock namechecking the Romanian dictator who had been deposed and executed the previous year. It grabs the attention and doesn’t lose its grip over the 6 minutes plus running time.
Three more albums would follow, further refining their sound. Yet, despite opening for U2 during the Zoo Tour and technically getting a top 10 single on the flip of the Manic Street Preacher’s Suicide Is Painless with Everything I Do (I Do It For You), they are now an explosive contribution to rock’s history: I wonder what Cathal is doing these days?